I have borrowed a few of the great pics from Alan Young, I hope he does not mind (there was a blogger icon next to the pics).
Training went well altogether. Although I was not following a training schedule. And apart from one run with Marco in the Kilpatrick Hills. I have had another run with him and Richie earlier in the year and I had the impression Marco was almost up to par with Richie. On that Kilpatrick run I was no where near his shape and he completed another loop (incidentally wearing a heavy rucksack) whilst I pulled out. Marco is a huge talent but has no luck since he got injured...
All my following training was easy all on tarmac and pavements. No speed work. I did run up that gentle climb up to Loch Thom (the road up to the Visitor Center) a lot. After work. It was great and relaxing and enjoyable training. So I did not even consider coming back to technical stuff. For the very simple reason that I did not want to get injured. It was all a compromise. I had to face the realities. I had run a 100k race which was a 100% effort and also a hard Highland Fling and I do notice that I am 47 years old. My legs did feel all that hard running and I had to treat those legs with respect.
There was something else. I had this nasty fall only two minutes from the finish of the Highland Fling which frankly had left me slightly traumatised. Not just me. Some of my good friends (including my wife) had to go through some form of distress seeing me there lying in the grass and shivering (although it was hot that day). Because of that fall I had to hammer this into my conscious and sub conscious: DO NOT FALL DOWN!
This major task (although you may think this is obvious for all runners to avoid falling) was written all over my race. I was wearing contacts again which gave me a blurry vision. I had to constantly blink when I was scanning the ground to read the line. And all that wet muddy ground, wet tree roots and the rocky and technical bits (end there was plenty of that) had to be managed. Wet grass had to be better avoided since I was running in road shoes. The importance of that safety element did put me under stress the entire race. But this form of "Stress" which I felt from the start was required. A good thing. For my benefit. And to finish this chapter off I managed to maintain this focus for the entire race.
All the technical bits of the race were negotiated rather carefully. That did cost me time but I also think some of that lost time was not actually lost since in particular on the downhills the slower pace put less stress on my legs.
|Neal and Caroline. One of my targets today was to beat Neals 18:42 from 2009.|
OK. Let's move to the start:
|Silke and Nancy supporting me again. Brave girls!|
We are off at 1am on Saturday and it was clear that two of the race favorites Jan Albert Lantink (who had produced a sub 24 hour Spartathlon last year) and the strong American runner Mark Godale would go off fast. Both runners have run the race before, both had finished in second place. Lantink in 2009 and Godale in 2010. And today they were here to win. Both runners were here to beat Richie Cunningham. There was no question about that.
Unlike last year where the pace from the start was rather moderate and I even took the lead for a couple of miles this years start was fast. And I was surprised how large that leading pack was. And I was even more surprised to see Marco joining them. Since he was a) still handicapped because of his injurie(s) and b) had always insisted on a slow start to Drymen... I was however delighted for him that he was going off so confidently and under normal circumstances was certainly capable of running that fast. Unfortunately he had to pull out later. And that is another WestHighlandWay race for him where he can't show his fantastic potential.
The field starts to spread out with the leaders disappearing in the distance. Kate Jenkins has obviously enough of that fast pace and drops back. She has won the race many times before and knows what she is doing. Although she told me after the race that her preparation was not the best. A 20 mile training run on top of her usual races. Well, it was enough for the win but boy (or rather girl) she had to work hard for this win today.
I am running and chatting with Mark Leggett for a while. He would finish in 19:47 a great result and a massive PB for him.
|Mark and Helen (both will be in Chamonix for the UTMB this year)|
I reach Drymen in 1:42 (predicted 1:45).
Feeling a bit depressed. Same as last year. Nothing to worry about. But I do not like the cold and dripping wet feet. Legs are neither sore nor fresh.
There was no such depression in the Highland Fling. I was going fast but enjoying the race and feeling strong at those earlier stages.
I am at Balmaha in 3:05 (predicted 3:05).
That is 40 minutes behind Highland Fling pace. Kate had caught up again since I walked most of the downhill from Conic hill. All under the safety aspect. And to be honest the lack of technical and downhill skills.
|Up to the view point behind Balamha. No smile from a grumpy and distressed runner... but that runner had no idea what was ahead of him! Photo Alan Young|
On the way to Rowardennan Kate passes me again. She is too fast for me. My feet are now so muddy and wet that I am getting worried about blisters (Stu, if you read this, please do not tell me I get blisters because I am expecting them ;-)). My feet are cold and they hurt. The stress of watching my feet and the blurry contacts make the whole experience rather uncomfortable.
I think I reached Rowardennan at 4:20 but leave at 4:30 (predicted 4:25)
Decide for a shoe and socks change and cleaning my feet. Well trying to. But that shoe change was a good decision. My feet had started to wrinkle already and that little bit of added comfort was worth it. I left Rowardennan at about 4:30 and I was a bit disappointed about that.
The wide Forest track climbing slowly which winds towards Inversnaid is usually one of my favourite sections and I usually run most of it. Today I have to take walking breaks where I usually don't. I am dropping into a low now. My legs have already started to get sore, my quads which I had carefully treated in training and which have had plenty of rest are already complaining. Where is this going? It is a massive struggle to negociate the Lochside. Prepare for the low points they say and I know this is a big one. I had provided splits for a 17:50 finish this year (which was a one hour PB) and I certainly knew this was ambitious but before the race I was confident that this could be achieved. Now it was in particular the high self expectation of finishing today's race in such a fast time which depressed me. Also I am rubbush at those technical bits along the Lochside. In particular behind Inversnaid. Plus the blurry vision. Getting down to Rob Roy's cave was difficult and stressful.
Beinglas 7:20 (ish) (not a predicted support stop so no time provided beforehand)
Last year I lost 20 minutes between Inversnaid and Beinglas due to injury. This year I was just as fast. Another socks and shoe change and off I am to Auchtertyre. A long section. Usually one which I quite enjoy. Not today. I just keep my head down and work my way along the path. Kate has been out of sight for a while now and reaching the Bogle Glen above Crianlarich another runner in a red vest gets closer. I cannot shake him off and I do not want to. I need to focus on my own race. I have started to tackle the low points by stopping and enjoying the scenery. We had walked the West Highland Way on our honeymoon. We love the West Highland Way. That's why we love the race. It works! There is spiritual energy floating back into me and that energy feels just wonderful. It does not make me any faster though! In fact I just stop and let that runner in the red vest pass me. A good decision.
Don't know when I was in Auchtertyre since my major milestone has always been Tyndrum. Get to Tyndrum in 9:30 with fresh legs and the rest will take care of itself. That was my mantra.
Tyndrum 9:45 (predicted 9:30)
This is kind of a half way point. In fact it is past that. 53 miles done and 42 to go. It is also the finish of the Highland Fling race which I have done 4 times now. 9:45 was a massive disappointment. Silently I had hoped for more like a 9:15 split. One week later after the race however I am uttlery puzzled about this. Since what was about to come in the later stages would probably not have happened if I was faster here...
I see a lot of familiar faces there and it is uplifting even funny. I am shattered and tired. Something inside me tells me to pull out. Marco has pulled out too. Caroline had pulled out. Why not join them? I tell Neal Gibson that there is no way that I could beat his 18:42 masterpiece from 2009.
Consciously and subconciously I had always thought of that half way point as the point where the race starts. I allow myself the first espresso of the day and I am off to Bridge of Orchy. There is not much technical running involved in that section and apart from a strong headwind I am running quickish. I am moving well, feeling strong and enjoying the race again. That section goes in 1:05 and I am in
Bridge of Orchy 10:50 (predicted 10:40)
I do not spend much time here and off I am over the hill where I am greeted by the magnificent Murdo who has placed the Saltire on top of that shoulder overlooking the magnificent Loch Tulla. "You are looking great", "You are in 6th place". I demand jelly babies from him (an old tradition) and get them.
At Victoria Bridge 11:23 (predicted 11:25)
I leave for the Rannoch Moore and I am only two minutes off my schedule. But I have to say here that I never, ever during the entire race ran towards those splits.
I had spent some time before the race to predict them but I did not accellerate or slow down just to meet them. Incidently they were not much different from last years splits and also leaned on George Cairn's splits from last year. And I was not chasing any runner. I was trying to focus on my own race which I thought would lead to the best result.
The run over the Rannoch More is tough but I feel neither weak nor strong. I stop a few times to breathe in that wonderful scenery. The descent to Glencoe is tough though because I am very careful here, my legs are very sore and that little detour to the Sci Centre is utterly awkward to run.
Silke tells me that 4th and 5th placed runners had just left and that I could catch them. But I do not feel like racing someone. The weather is now very bad. Cold and thick rain. The downhill has cooled me down, I am wet to the bones and freezing. With my body temparature dropping it is a real struggle to Altnafealth. I can see a runner just a minute ahead but I am not getting any closer. In fact he pulls away and looks very strong. Silke told me later that I was down on my schedule when I reached the bottom of the Devil's Staircase. The climb up was ok and probably even quick but I was worried about the technical running which was ahead since I could not see properly and my legs were not fresh and there were sharp rocks all over the place which had to be negociated. DO NOT FALL DOWN HERE!!!
I walked many of that technical stuff but always made some time on the uphills were falling was not really an issue.
My struggle did find an end here once I reached the forest track which leads down to Kinlochleven. Many runners hate that descent because it can kill your quads but I found that track in a surprisingly good state and I felt safe. On top of that my legs were responsive and I could control the downhill quite well. Just before I reach the bridge to cross the river I pass another runner (I think it was Paul Giblin) and once at the checkpoint I am cheered on by Silke that I was in 4th place.
Kinlochleven 15:05 in and 15:15 out
I do spend some time at the checkpoint though. I am weighed. Eat something and drink another espresso. Take on a full bladder with my Nathan rucksack, change vest (takes ages since it sticks to my skin), change gloves (which takes ages since they stick to my fingers), dry the Goretex jacket from the inside and off I am. Once I reach the top though I find it here surprisingly warm (feels like 10 degrees warmer than GlenCoe or Staircase) and have to take the gloves and the buff off and even think to take the goretex jacket off but don't want to squeeze it into the rucksack since it is full of sticky gel all over the place. So I leave it on. In fact I had run the entire race from start to finish in that jacket. Some good piece if kit that jacket!
I do love that Lairig More. I have said that many times. Maybe unconsciously I have saved myself for that last section. Last year I have had the most wonderful running experience of my life in that huge place. But to my utter surprise this year was almost the same. Loose boulders all over the place and footing was difficult but I was just flying again. On top of the world. I do not know how that works but it felt like a miracle.
Lundavra 16:40 (predicted 16:40)
On schedule. Spot on. Again during the race I did not think of a schedule as such, certainly not in the second half. Just run as good as you can and the schedule was pure coincidence. And it was always strange when Silke told me "you are not that far from your schedule" since it was completely out of my control if I was or not.
Silke tells me that I had closed the gap to Mark Godale and he is only 10 minutes ahead. I give it a try and push harder, maybe if I see him I get another boost of energy and catch him but when I reach the highest point and the start of the motorway I still cannot see a sign of him. Now it is all more or less gentle downhill and my anticipation was this would be easy to run. But to my surprise it is not. Maybe it is my central governor has decided to shut down. I slab myself into the face to provoke some energy boost but it does not work. I do not hit the 8 minute mile even once. Last year I was flying down here.
The rest is a slow but sweet struggle. I feel very sore but it's just painful and mentally I am looking forward to the finish. But that sub 18 hour finish requires some hard work. I just wish it was over.
At Braveheart Car Park I am cheered on by Neal and Caroline. I did not manage to smile but lift my arm and try to wave towards them. Or at least I try. Now onto the pavement.
That bloody 30 mile sign is just not showing. And even if I get there the Leisure Centre is much further away than usual.
|where is that bloody finish... I have enough now ;-)|
I finish in 4th in 17:54:47. Greeted by a smiling Race Director Ian Beattie. I instantly apologize in front of everyone for my bad behaviour to my support team. I am utterly grateful for getting here in a massive PB and I am sorry for giving them such a hard job and hard time. Hugs and kisses and I am soo utterly relieved that I am allowed to stop runnning now.
|Those guys know what this race is about. Lucy Colquhoun (WHW Race Record holder), Race directors Adrian Stott (12x finisher) and Ian Beattie (8x finisher)|
|Silke and her sub 18 hours husband|
|Me and Adrian Stott - one of the great sponsors of ultra running in Britain|
|Chuffed and gutted. Marco Consani was certainly in sub 17 hour shape but got injured...|
|Debs Martin Consani. Scottish International and one of the Carscube's "Fantastic Two". Third girl in 19:39! And a PB by 1hour 20 minutes!! (Photo Alan Young)|
|Sharon Law, the other one from Garscube's Fantastic Two. 19:11 and second woman. Guys watch your back, if you think you are a good runner and think you can beat her you need to run sub 19 next year...|
|Kate Jenkins defended her title. Just. 19:08 just 3 minutes ahead of Sharon. Just heard that one week after the 95 mile race she is racing again!|
|More celebrity hunting: The defending Champion defented his title. Like a Champion. More and more unbeatable: Richie Cunningham!|
|We now have a second Goblet! On top of slate coasters from Ballachullish! Well the left glas was for me. I was really thirsty!|
Thanks to the organizers and sponsors who kept this fantastic event alive and kicking. Thanks all marshalls and volunteers for making this possible.