Sunday, 26 April 2009

The Highland Fling (the great escape)

it's sunday tea time. i'm sat here eating my way through a roasted chicken and drinking my way through a bottle of sauvignon blanc. nice. here's my story.

the highland fling is a fantastic but tough 53mile ultra that goes along the west highland way from milngavie to tyndrum. we first tackled it last year ( in a time of12.14) and enjoyed it so much it didnt take long to entice us back for another go.

this post may end up being rather long so apologies if it bores you but i just want to record the adventure for all its worth so i can one day remind myself of what i went through.

im not sure whether our preperation was as complete as last year in terms of the level of weekly mileage (it would be interesting to get charlies take on the matter) required but i was convinced we'd done enough. that said by thursday i was feeling a little jaded through work and travelling and the prospect of a 4.5hr trip up to bonny scotland wasnt looking that attractive. but come friday morning and a fresh head, my positivity had resumed so, with bags packed and several bags of goodies for the run, we set off up north on another adventure.

come saturday it was an early rise to get ready for our 7am start. down in the station car park where registration occurs i managed to catch up with murdo (the friendliest race organiser ever),britnick (the personification of ultra running and a bloody nice chap too), t rex (pictured below,who not content with doing just the 53 miles was afterwards continuing on alone to complee the full 95 miles through the night - also a bloody nice bloke)

and pacepusher (harveys 'dad' - who lived up to his name and was also a bloody nice bloke) plus a few others i've met previously whose names escape me (the guy who came from macclesfield and the chap from sheffield - both of whom did really well i think)

after murdos final instructions we were off and on our way from the start of the whw on a warm still morning.

as usual i ended up chatting to whoever i was running alongside ( the guy with molly - lovely dog , the guy that skydived, the french guy whose accent was hard to dstinguish from that of a person hailing form glasgow, and a long chat wit t rex about the merits of home schooling ).

one thing about the fling i find is that the people appear even friendlier than most other ultras i run..maybe thats the scottish influence. jim kerr would nod with approval at that.

anyway we were running well and after a long bit of gently undulating land i was pleased to have the small challenge of conic hill to tackle.

the views coming off it were breathtaking and it wasnt long before we were at the first checkpoint, balmaha (19.8 miles), feeling good, 10 minutes ahead of our previous attempt. a quick banana, gel and drink (flapjack for charlie) and we were on our way. this was going to be our day. a run in the sun and a pb in our sights. what more could we ask for!

what happened over the next few hours i just didnt see coming and had never really experience the feeling ever before. i stared to feel wave after wave of nausea coming over me..a feeling of sickness without being sick. it was warm but surely not that warm! but hey if it wasnt that warm then why were people sunbathing by the loch !

as time passed the thought of any type of food passing my lips was just too much to stomach. so how could i run another 36miles without anything to eat!

with two miles to go before the next checkpoint at rowardennan (27.2miles) i was feeling terrible could i ever run another 26miles? this time it was different from previous races. this was me starting to feel bad physically. mentally i was trying hard to reckon a way through it all. but however hard i tried i didnt think i could finish (being sensible about it) and eventually texted karen to tell her that i was (advisedly) throwing the towel in and would be back home later that day.

rowardennan. as usual we were greeted by cheers and friendly faces that momentarily lifted my spirits but deep down i thought i'd hit the end. i sat down, drank some much needed water and eventually opened my drop bag. charlie was given his flapjack rations then it was my turn...a nice cheese and ham sandwich. nice! after just one mouthful i could take no more and charlie became the unexpected beneficiary.

i dont know where the next crazy idea came from but in a moment of self delusion i decided to try to make it to the next checkpoint, inversnaid, some seven miles along the loch. luckily i'd packed mumm tablets and some rideshot chews and these proved to be a godsend in the heat of the day. with a newfound determination off we set on a steady climb. it wasnt long before i was questioning the sanity of my choice and was tempted to turn back and surrender but charlie was as ever larger than life so it was head down and try to carry on regardless.

lots of things started going through my mind, the kind of things that in situations like these seem to somehow give you the inner depth of strength you need. i thought of hollie and will and the example (a bad one) id be setting if i pulled out. i thought of how karen had battled when she had a horrific riding accident. and i thought of my dad, shot down during the war and having to swim 4.5miles at sea to save his life having bailed out. and besides im not a quitter, i do have inner strength. all these thoughts came together in my mind and with complete spontaneity i started whistling out loud the the tune of the Great Escape. Slowly but surely with every chorus of the tune i slowly picked up my pace to the rhythm and just like the guys in the film i felt a degree of grit, determination and optimism creeping in. it wasnt easy but helped along by a little encouragement from another chap for a while (great bloke whod only just come out of hospital and so unfortunately ended up retiring at bein glas farm, the final checkpoint at 41 miles)we made it to rowardennan checkpoint at 34 miles.

as usual i saw to charlie first who was full of beans as usual and seeemingly unaware of my struggles. again i had no liking for the sandwich i prepared so again an extra bonus for the pooch but this time i did managed a mini mars bar, a gel and more 'mumm water'. i sat by the loch and again contemplated calling it a day but with the next and final chackpoint just some 6 miles further down the loch i once more decided to give it a whirl. we bid thank you and farewell to the marshalls and headed on our way once more.

this next part of the run is really hard going and i knew i was in for a long slog. occasionally and without thought i would burst into a chorus of the Great Escape but it was an additional thought this time that dragged me along.

for some reason i got it into my head that a full fat coca cola would save the day. id read about other ultra runners drinking it flat so with that thought it was head down as we painstakingly made our way to ben glais farm.

once again we were greeted with applause and as i soon as i could i handed charlie to a very kind marshall to look after for a few minutes whilst i went on a mission to find coca cola. i returned tin in one hand and, bonus ball time, a packet of salty quavers in the other. i drank and scoffed these, along with my cornish pasty (of which charlie also got half!), with such joy. we were just 13 miles from the end and here was i feeling that i was refuelling properly for the very first time in the race. i just hoped that the fizziness of the coke wouldn't come back to haunt me.

now, feeling revived and with just 13 miles to go (again fairly tough going ones)and with over 3.5 hours to complete them in i felt a very positive end in sight. besides, by now time didnt matter. all i head in my head was to finish. to finish today would be a victory. and to add to my newfound optimism the heavens opened and the rain came tumbling down. so refreshing.

unexpectedly, i began to get a steady pace going and bizarrely felt (almost) as good as i felt in the very first leg of the race (im now cokes number 2 fan - will, my son, is their number one). whilst the next three hours seemed to go on a bit i was actaully enjoying myself once more. i was about to pull off my very own Great Escape. i was running continuously, albeit slowly, and i knew i had it in the bag.

the fling really does punch above its weight. the applause and cheers at the finish line is totally disproportional to the size of the race and it was so uplifting and emotional as i crossed the line with the best running companion i could ever wish for. whatever he made of it all charlie was always there for me, an ever present bundle of vitality that probably kept giving me an impetus to continue without me really realising.

i met with lots of familar faces and some new ones as we exchanged tales of the days adventures. charlie was totally fussed around, received his medal again and then it was off to the real food cafe for a fish supper (scotch pie and chips for charlie).
had a lovely chat with britnick who as always looked as fresh as a daisy (amazing) and then spent time with another really nice chap (soon to be a dad) and an aussie ironman competitor as we waited for the bus back to milngavie.

a brief 3.5hours sleep and i decided to head home...though charlie had the luxury of continuing the z's as i drove...well maybe he just deserved it!

on reflection this was an ordeal like no other for me. a mental triumph over physical adversity. and one im proud of. in the end time didn't matter (13:33). actually finishing (in one piece) did. i came home head held high and got the kind of welcome from karen hollie and will that melts your heart. hollie had made me a medal, a card and created 'well done' bunting!

i will always remember this day. the amazing scenery. the fantastic people. the highs. the lows. my running companion who never gives in. but most of all, the Great Escape.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

alone above all

time away from blogging for time with family and lots of great running, simple running.
we had a few days in the lakes where i had two amazingly uplifting runs round wansfell and its neighbouring fells. each just 6miles with around 1300ft of climb (at the start!)but for me perhaps the most interesting and rewarding runs this year. ewes lambing, wild fell ponies grazing, bambling streams, gushing falls, varied terrain and amazing views. oh and two big fields with steep descents to bomb down at the end. and not a sole in site.
it reinvigorated my desire to be one day a lakeland resident.