Monday, 30 April 2012

Highland Fling Race Report

14 months after my previous race, I was finally ready to stand on the start line again and, if you had to choose a race for your comeback, you could not pick a better one than the Highland Fling.

Tracey and I left Keswick on Friday evening, straight after I had had my pre-race haircut (it's the law!) and drove up to Milngavie, stopping of for a calorie filled meal on the way. Once at the hotel, we briefly met with Simon, a work colleague of mine doing his first ultra-marathon whilst his wife, Viv, and two children would spend the next day with Tracey and meet us at the finish in Tyndrum.

I found it difficult to sleep on Friday night, not because of nerves but more like simple excitement. Knowing how bad I can be in the early morning, we set three different alarms at least one of which was across the room so I would have to get out of bed to turn it off. I need not have worried as I was up like a shot on the first alarm and met Simon in the hotel reception at 6am ready to walk up to the start.

Registration was as smooth as always and we were soon ready for the off. I had a brief chat with Ian and Murdo, mainly about the psychology of injuries and they both wished me well for the race. We then found Adam (the guy I did my Bob Graham round with back in 2007) who was also doing his first ultra race. I remember thinking he looked really laid back and relaxed; no nervous energy being wasted there!

Pre-race in the station car park

Straight from the start I had a plan of not running faster than 8:30 min/mile pace at any point for the first 3 hours, thinking that this would stop me from going off like an idiot as I get caught up in the race atmosphere. I was really pleased with the way I stuck to the plan, especially as a large number of the Vet40's went off much faster than this.

The route has a lovely, easy introduction which can ease you into the race or lull you into too fast a pace. I've been on the route enough to know how to do the first option. It was great to get into the rhythm of a proper race again and get chatting to other like minded people. I ran with Dale for a while, chatting in part about the Bob Graham Round which is something he has on the radar. Dale went on to finish in 9:20 hours, so congratulations to him.

I reached Drymen in about 1:50 hours which was a few minutes quicker than I've done before, though it still felt comfortable. The marshals did a great job and soon had me on my way with a fresh bottle and I could finally see the devastation in the forest from the gales in the winter.

This used to be forest!
The climb up Conic Hill went really well, I was almost suprised when I got to the top, though I made sure I took things easy on the way down. The sight of the supporters in the car park at Balmaha was amazing. So much positive energy which was much appreciated. Murdo sorted my drink out for me and I was on my way within 90 seconds.

Within 5 minutes of leaving Balmaha, I was totally on my own which felt strange having spent 3 hours in the company of others. I found a lovely smooth rhythm on this section and made good time, singing Sade, "Smooth Operator" to myself. Hey, it works for me! I caught up Martin, who was aiming for around 10 hours and we ran together for a while (I think he finished in 9:59:55 - how is that for good pacing!?) I always enjoy this section and, for the first time, started to let myself run a bit harder when I felt like it. I caught another colleague, John (how many schools can boast three ultra runners on their staff list?) just before Rowardennan. He was working hard and running with a big smile on his face (or was that just for the camera?)

John Horne
Again, the support at Rowardennan was fantastic and this played no small part in the fact that I managed to run most of the long drag on the forest road up towards the single track. I was definitely starting to get caught up in the moment. It was great to catch up with John and Katrina so we could give each other some support. Katrina looked strong and in full control of the race situation and John was obviously having a great day out.

Katrina and I
On the two previous occasions when I have ran the Fling, I have kept something in reserve during the race, once as it was my first attempt and the second time as it was only 8 weeks to the full West highland Way Race. This time I allowed myself to have a bit more of a "go-for-it" attitude as it is a full 3 months to the Lakeland 100. I was obviously enjoying myself on this section along the loch as I had the 16th fastest split between Balmaha and Beinglas Farm. On a number of occasions, I tried to do the maths and work out what a realistic target time might be, however, I just could not seem to get my head around the complexity of adding times in hours and minutes. I knew I was well ahead of 10 hours but I wanted to give myself something to aim for over the final stages. In the end I gave up and just concentrated on each small section as it arrived.

My lowest point came as I tried to ride the roller coaster through the woods above Crianlarich. You will have seen from a previous post that I devised a fool-proof method to break down the hills in this section. If you did read the post - forget it!! What I encountered on my walk at Easter was in no way the same woodland trail that was laid before me on Saturday. I obviously ran some of the hills I identified as "walkers" and walked other "run hills".

On the positive side, as I hit the A82 again, I was at last able to cope with the maths and add together 1 mile and 2.5 miles, realising that I should get well under 9:30 hours. This thought kept me going and I was particularly pleased with the way I held it together over this section as I was dipping into the red at this point.

You know you have had a good run when you come round the final corner and hear your wife say "That can't be Dave already?" and Viv and the girls call back and tell her "It is! It is!"

Oh, yea of little faith.

After the trials and tribulations of the past year, to run a new PB by over 40 minutes was such a thrill, but more than that, it was just great to be back and part of the racing scene again. I made sure I had a lie down straight away and raised my legs to avoid the blood pressure drop I had after the WHW race back in 2010 - not particularly stylish.

Once I had recovered enough to stand up and convinced myself that my kneecaps were not going to explode out of the front of my legs, We had a walk back to the car for a change of clothes and copious amounts of salt and vinegar crisps. Then it was back to the finish to cheer on the runners and have a chat with a few friends. It was nice to meet Andy Cole, who writes a particularly thought provoking blog on all aspects of ultra running.

The rest of the Keswick School Ultra Squad bounded up to the finish. Simon had an excellent run in his first ultra, finishing in 11:58:16, way better than his pessimistic daughters predicted.

Simon looking pleased with his days work
Adopt the pose!
John came through a bad patch and finished really strongly in 12:47:10. For those that completed the Marcothon in December (run every day, at least 3 miles), John has followed that rule for the last THREE AND A HALF YEARS!!!

Tough guy!
Unfortunately, I missed Adam finishing, but we had a good chat after. He ran an excellent 10:16:25 in his first ultra marathon, saying that he felt as if he learnt a lot in those hours and I have the feeling he will be back.

Possibly the biggest cheer of the day met Katrina and John who came in, all smiles and whoops, with a time of 12:25:19. Pleasingly, Katrina beat John by 2 seconds, so I imagine John will fit in a few extra speed sessions before the next time.

Big smiles!
A big thank you to all the organising team and their countless helpers that make this, surely, one of the best races on the calender.

Race video footage is still with Mr Spielberg, though he assures me it should be ready later this week.


Ali said...

Great run Dave - I think you're splits were just about perfect! It's funny reading your report as it sounds like we had very similar race experiences as well as times, all happening pretty much exactly 1 hour apart. It turns out the extra hour in bed was more of an advantage than starting in the cooler temperatures I guess.

Debs M-C said...

Well done, Dave. Great race. I've got some pictures of you, which I'll email to you! Even if your refused to smile for me :-)
Happy recovery!

Andy Cole said...

Well done on a super run Dave, and I enjoyed your report. You look to be on course for a good performance in the L100.

GERRY said...

Great run Dave, well done. You must have passed me between Rowardennan and Beinglas but I can't remember. I could see Gavin catching you in the distance after that. I felt really tired after Rowardennan but slogged it out. Maybe set off too fast or wrong drinks who knows.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave. seems my brain wasn't too addled whilst I was running with you as i remembered the name of you blog. If I had known that you had annalysised and planned your race that much I might have tried to run with you a bit longer, you make me feel quite un prepared. My plan was more or less to start and see what happens. My sub 10 hours was a bit of luck really as my right foot failed me quite suddenly on the last descent to the A82 and left me limping very badly and wondering if I would finish, I can't walk on it properly now three days later. But I have to say I quite enjoyed it and might have another go next year. Martin

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

Enjoyed your company on Saturday and also your report on how your day unfolded.
It seems you got the pace right to Balmaha and I sure am glad I stuck with you on this stage. When I got to Beinglas I found myself with an unusual amount of energy and went on to finish with a pb.
Can't work out where you passed me.
Sorry didn't get to see you at Tyndrum.

John Kynaston said...

Congratulations again on a great run Dave.

You are truly back in the ultra running world after your operation.

You are looking good for the Lakeland 100.

See you in a few weeks for our next recce run when we can discuss in detail every aspect of your race!!

Rob Leonard said...

Congratulations Dave on getting back into it- really great to hear it went so successfully after all that effort and preparation and really good article too. But Smooth Operator?