Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Ultras are about people - a few extra thoughts from the Fling.

Here are a few wee thought's that I thought I would put separately to my main race report.

  • People make ultras.
  • Ultra runners are amazing people.
  • Ultras are the friendliest of races full of comradeship and mutual respect.
  • My friends Maggie and Peter ran the Fling as their first ultra.  And they were AMAZING!!
  • My other fellow DRC members running the race were full of support and enthusiasm when I had none left - they are pretty awesome.
  • DRC member Ali was running her first 50 miler and she rocked! She is going to do so well with her other races this year - I am so excited to watch her progress. She just gets better and better.
  • Susan is great at many things.  Her talents include being an awesome training partner, top notch pre-race banter, motivational speaking during the race and expert application of vaseline.
  • The organisation of the Hoka Highland Fling was like nothing I have ever experienced before.  It really is a class event and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone wanting to run an ultra.  I cannot praise it enough.
  • Scotland is bloody marvelous.
  • Scotland is beautiful, and sometimes a wee bit brutal.
  • Tailwind Nutrition (naked flavour) is the bees knees!
  • There is always time for a bit more vaseline.
  • We should always try and look up and take in the view.
  • There is always a place for a John Kynaston spreadsheet.
  • Monument Photos are a fanastic company letting us have their photos for free!
  • Highland Fling goody bags are the best out there - all killer, no filler.
  • My legs still hurt....

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Highland Fling 2015 - Breaking the curse.

The short(ish) version.

Every time I have returned to a race (longer than a half marathon) for a second attempt I have always come away with a worse result. This has become a bit of a devil on my back, and provided extra pressure when I have gone to races (as if there wasn't already enough). So going into the Highland Fling this year I was feeling more nervous than normal.  I have been super focused with my training and committed myself to trying to break the curse.

You got to fake it to make it - pretending all is great...
The two weeks leading up to the race were far from ideal, and carrying the hamstring and shoulder injuries meant I was feeling pretty negative come race-morning.  I had put in the work and should have been brimming with confidence but the right hand side of my body was yet again letting me down.
I decided to put myself at the back of the starting pen so that I could set off on my own; try and find a comfortable pace and not get pulled or pushed along. The idea worked and I set off at what should have felt a ridiculously easy pace. It didn't.  It was hard work. Too hard.   And I just couldn't shift that feeling.

A sensible descent is not always the best choice - coming off Conic
Everything just felt wrong.  I tried to be sensible coming off Conic (not my normal way of coming downhills - I like to belt down them!) and ended up tweaking my ankle. I managed to get through the check point at Balmaha swiftly, taking the time to read the wee message I left for myself on my dropbag.  Balmaha to Rowardennan is my least favourite section of the route and inevitably I remained in my funk all the way to the halfway point of the race.

This was the turnaround part of the race for me.  I love the next sections.  They are my favourite part of the West Highland Way.  A few motivational words from fellow clubmate Craig, and meeting/chatting to some fellow runners really lifted my spirits.  Sandra's positivity was a great distraction from my pain.  Craig and Sandra then featured repeatedly in the race from thereafter and I was very glad of it.  Then Susan was marshalling at Inversnaid and again, she was full of encouragement.

Feeding frenzy at Rowardennan (with clubmate Craig in foreground)
I love the technical lochside section.  it's completely my cup of tea.  I knew even if  felt rubbish I could run well along here because of the technical nature.  Plus because you have to think about what you are doing it means you get a little distraction from whatever is going on in your head.  I knew that if I could get into Beinglas (41 miles) before 8:30 hours then even if I have a shocker over the last section I should still be on for a personal best.

Beinglas came, and I was on target.  I motored through, barely able to say hello to the DRC relay team before I headed up on the final section.  Hills were killing me because of my hamstring but I tired to run for at least half of them and only walk when I absolutely had to.  The picture of myself running along the red carpet at the finish was the only thing in my head now.  The worst was over.  I just had to knuckle down, grit my teeth and get the job done.  Again I met Craig, and again he was a real pleasure to run with.  I felt bad that he wasn't haven't the best time due to some major blister issues, but at the same time I was grateful for his company.  We finally parted ways just south of cow poo alley (which was shockingly dry!) and he told me to "Go and get that pb."  Other runners around us said that I was in with a shot of sub 11 hours if I really pushed.  I didn't believe them, but I pushed forward anyway.  Just to see.  I was constantly looking at my garmin, literally every quarter mile, trying to do the maths, and all the time thinking it's not possible.  My legs were seething in pain.  I walked a bit.  I scolded myself. "Just keep running!" I shouted.

Past the wigwams, under the road, and onto the final sections of signal track.  A troop of about 15 or 20 children were coming towards me along the track.  I don't know if they were a scout troop or something like that but they were cheering and whistling and I got loads of high-fives from them.  I hope everyone got to pass these amazing kids because they were fantastic.

I was starting to feel emotional but had to keep it together as it's impossible to run well when you're bawling your eyes out! 'Get a grip Vicky, think of the photos!'  Then just as I arrived at the gate with 500m to go, Pauline was out giving support in those final precious quiet moments before you hit all the fanfare of the finish line.  Again I checked my garmin.  "Oh geez, I could ACTUALLY do this," I finally thought!

I heard the bagpipes.  I saw the bagpipes.  I hit the road, turned the corner.  I saw Jacob (clubmate) shouting along to Paul.  I knew he was just round the corner.  I had hoped to run with both Daniel and Annabel along to the finish but it was going to be really tight so in my head I decided it was best just to take Annabel.  Round the corner and there they were.  "Annabel!" I screamed as kept running.  She saw me and started running.  "Run with mummy, run with mummy!" I called to her and she grabbed my hand and we 'sprinted' down the red carpet together.  It was utterly magical.  And as we crossed the finish line we BOTH got medals! I was absolutely buzzing.  I couldn't quite believe it.  I had surpassed my expectations. It's a long time since I have been able to say that about a race.

And I got to finish with Annabel beside me and Paul and Daniel close by.  A family finish to what has definitely been a family affair.  Without their support during my training and their belief in me, this would never have happened.  Thank you xx.

What a day!  From everything going so wrong in the first half, to everything going right in the second half, to a magical race finish.  What more could you want?

John Duncan and his team, all the marshalls, the drop bag helpers, the supporters on the route, the fellow runners, my fellow club mates, my ultra friends all helped create a truely special race for me and I have some very precious memories that I will cherish.  Thank you to you all.

The money shot!!


Rowardennan (halfway) - 5:02:41         326th position.
Tyndrum (finish)            - 10:58:52       242nd position, 32nd lady

30 minute PB!


Tailwind, naked flavour - 36oz per section.  (I drink a lot!)  This stuff is magic.
Cashew nuts and chia charge flapjack - section 1
Banana at each checkpoint.
1 High5 caffeine gel before Rowardennan, 2 in each section thereafter.

No stomach issues!  Happy days.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

March Madness

So the Fling is only 3 weeks away now, which means that crazy month of March is over.  For the most part I achieved what I set out to do in March.  My goal was to ramp up the miles, running at least 53 miles each week and try and run my highest ever monthly mileage.
So how did it go? Well, here are the stats:

Week 1 = 57.8 miles
Week 2 = 70.2 miles
Week 3 = 36.6 miles
Week 4 = 72 miles

My total for the entire month = 251.1 miles!

My highest monthly mileage prior to march was 206 miles so I'm really pleased to have smashed right through that barrier. Unfortunately in week 3 I didn't manage to get as many miles as I had originally planned but a major family trauma put paid to that, and also put running into stark perspective.  However, my average weekly mileage for the 4 full weeks works out at just over 59 miles so I daresay I met the weekly target in a round-about way.

I'm sure many (most?) ultra-runners reading this will consider these stats as pretty paltry and my 70 mile weeks would be akin to a recovery week for them.  But it's all relative to the individual. Some people swear by high mileage, some by lower mileage. For me, I think mileage gives me a mental boost.  It makes me feel like my legs are more capable and if you can believe in your legs, then you can believe in yourself as a runner. Unfortunately my output during March is simply not sustainable every single month.
We all try and squeeze in the miles where we can, and the lengths I found myself driven to have just been daft. A normal running week for me involves me running once the kids are in bed of an evening which basically means I can get out running by 7:45 or 8pm, which gives me time for around an hour's run as still have things to do once I get home.  If my other half is at a club run then I run on the treadmill with 2 child monitors, on full volume, in front of me. We try and do one club run each per week so that we have the opportunity to run with others. I only do this one evening per week however as I don't like to miss that time with my kids and I always feel bad when I have to miss their bedtime.

A great way to work  miles into your day is to do the run-commute. Unfortunately this is out of the question for me as I have 2 kids to drop at nursery and preschool, and then negotiate my way across town in time to get to my work in time (always a challenge as the timings are tight in the morning, and even tighter on the way home!).  I did do a test-run whilst I was still on maternity leave but the timing just wasn't practical. Also, there are no showering facilities at my work, and there wouldn't be time to use it even if there was.
I did try a few lunchtime runs in March but they really were the pits!  I get exactly 45 minutes for my lunch, and not a minute more.  This gave me time to change, run 2.5 to 3 miles, get changed again and get back to work. It was really a ridiculous amount of effort for very few miles.  Plus, with there being no shower I had to resort to baby wipes, dry shampoo and excessive amounts of deodourant!  Not very eco-friendly and I felt disgusting for the rest of the working day.

I didn't enjoy this option at all so I thought maybe I need another strategy - a pre-work run. Well, back in my pre-child days it was manageable, but my kids already get up at silly o'clock, and their sleeping habits are not early morning running friendly. Sleep is and has been a real problem for us over the past 3.5 years (as I have discussed before).  For a few weeks though, we were getting solid sleep between 11pm and 6am! And to take advantage of this I set my alarm for 4:45am to be out the door at 5am to run 5 miles easy, get back home and showered before the kids started stirring at 6am. It was hard going but it really does feel good to get those miles in early (and I am NOT and have NEVER been a morning person!). Unfortunately poor Daniel has been having a very rough time of it so far in 2015 and so his sleep has become, yet again disrupted.  He's been so unlucky, my poor wee boy, but he's such a tough wee thing, and his spirit is always shining through. I'm sure things will settle down again in the future, and maybe some where down the line, we will start to get full nights of sleep on a regular basis.

Milngavie with clubmates

Conic Hill

There was some weather.

During March I really tried to increase the length of my long runs too. This meant setting off very early doors so that I could be home before lunchtime.  it is important that a long run doesn't take up too much of the day as weekends are not just for running, they are for family time too.  With two runners in the family it takes major time management skills to make sure we can fit a run into a family weekend - hence a lot of early doors running when most people are still in their beds on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  Twice this month I have also had to be away for a whole day to travel all the way up to the race route, do a recce run with club-mates and get home again. 3am alarms are not for the faint-hearted!!!  I feel so guilty being away from my kids on a weekend day and I  miss them constantly while I'm away.  I suffer from major parenting guilt!  But I know that I am doing it so that I can do my best in the race and to teach my kids the importance of hard work and dedication. I want them to be proud of me, and to understand that having a passion for something is a good thing. I'm so dedicated that I even took a day's holiday from work to run what was probably the most unpleasant 31 miler I have run in a very, very long time, just so that I wouldn't have to spend another of our weekend days apart.

So March was pretty bonkers.  I was literally running myself into the ground.  I had no time for anything beyond work, kids time and running; sacrificing even more sleep than normal (of which I had none to spare).  I have been worried that I would burn out so I have been taking some blackcurrent supplements that I saw reviewed in one of the UK running magazine last autumn.  They are called CurraNZ and use New Zealand blackcurrants.  They are supposed to help you recover faster and therefore make you able to train more.  I think they helped as I managed to run all those extra miles and I don't have any injuries beyond what I had to start with.

So I made it through March and now it's time for a constructive taper/peaking period to get myself as ready as I can be for April 25th.