Lessons learnt from the Highland Fling

Another of the things I like to do after an ultra race is write down some lessons that I’ve learnt. I find it really helpful when things have gone well and also maybe more importantly when things haven’t gone as well!

So here are a few things I’ve been thinking about since Saturday.

1. Overall
My overall feeling is one of disappointment in that I know I didn’t run as well as I’d hoped. A couple of days on and I feel a bit better about things. 10hrs 14mins is still a decent time and looking at the results I finished inside the top 50 (just) and 5th MSV. It looks as though other friends had tougher races than I did.

I realise that I have set the bar fairly high for myself and it’s unrealistic to keep expecting that I can run pb’s everytime I race. I want to try to get faster but maybe I have to accept that my best times are behind me.

As I struggled over the second half of the race I did wonder whether this is what it’s going to be like from now on – trying to keep up with my pre-race plan and failing!!

2. Pacing
I set off with a very detailed plan aiming at 9hrs 40mins which I felt was going to be a challenge but was realistic if everything was going well. I stuck with it until Rowardennan which I made in 4hrs 21mins 51secs (the plan called for 4hrs 20mins 30secs!!).

The problem was though that I’d worked far too hard to get there. I’d been a few minutes up at Balmaha but from then on I was behind on every mini-split. I found that quite hard as my dream race was slipping further and further away.

Eventually I had to regroup, forget about the splits and overall time and just grind it out and get there as best I could. It wasn’t pretty and I didn’t enjoy the feeling.

So what have I learnt? If everything is going well then my mini-splits are great. It gives me a focus for the next mini section and it encouraging when I get there ahead of time BUT and it’s a big BUT when things aren’t going well I’m a slave to it and it is so discouraging to be falling behind.

So either I need to ditch them completely or be far more generous with my times. So for example if I worked on a 10hrs 15mins plan for Saturday would that have helped? I could have aimed to arrive at Rowardennan in 4hrs 40mins or so. Then if things were going well I’d be ahead of my plan and very happy but if not I’d be on my plan and still happy!!

I need to give this some more serious thought before the big one in June. Is having a sub 20hr plan realistic? Will I be better aiming for sub 21hrs? or horror of horrors having no plan at all???

I read with great interest Andy Cole’s report of his excellent run from Saturday. Andy finished 4mins ahead of me in a pb of 1ohrs 10mins 43secs, winning the M60 race. In his report he wrote, ‘I’ve set myself just two rules, no quicker than 2 hours to Drymen and no running up significant gradients until after Rowardennan.’

Andy arrived at Rowardennan in about 4hrs 48mins (27mins after me) but in a lot better condition. So that means he ran the second half of the race about 30mins faster than me and I reckon he enjoyed it more too!

So congratulations Andy – a great run. I left a comment on Andy blog saying I’m going to reread his report several times before the whw race as I have a lot to learn from Andy and his approach.

3. Food & Drink
I feel fairly happy with this. I ate small amounts regularly and didn’t have any real problems. I had a ‘perpetuem’ drink made up for each drop bag and took a ‘suceed’ tablet every 90mins or so. I refilled my water bottle at most checkpoints and never ran out.

My favourite food was my ‘fruitus’ bars – a moist organic mixed berry and oat bar! Well that’s what it says on the packet.

4. Friends
I posed a few questions on this blog leading up to the race and one of them was wondering how my friends would get on.

As you would expect some were very happy and others not so! One of the reasons I love being involved with the races on the whw is that I’ve made lots of great friends and love finding out how well they have all done. I also enjoy all the friendly rivalries than provide lots of sub plots.

Anyway here is my take on how a few of my friends got on ….

Thomas Loefndorf – 8.10.05 (pb) 2nd place overall and 1st Vet. An incredible run from Thomas. He looked so strong going past me well before Beinglas. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy and he deserved it. I just hope he can bottle it all up for the big one on 19th June.

Marco Consani – 8.23.19 (pb) 3rd place overall. Marco started 2 hours behind me but almost caught me! A superb run and again one that sets him up for June. I have a feeling he won’t be seeing my smiling face on the route this year.

Norman Neilson – 9.36.53 (pb) 21st overall and 2nd MSV. I’d not met Norman before but we ran together until a few miles before Rowardennan when I stopped for a wee. We have a lot in common with the way we came into ultra running. Norman took 34mins off his time from last year. Very impressive. I hope he can get a place for the big one in June as another pb surely awaits him.

Arriving at Balmaha with Norman just behind (photo from Davie Hall)

Sharon Law – 9.41.52 (just 47secs slower than last year). We ran together until the bottom of Conic Hill when I pushed on. When Sharon caught me just before Inversnaid she looked so relaxed and strong. When she disappeared into the distance after the check point I knew I wouldn’t see her again until the end. So that’s 1-1 in our series and I know who’s favourite to make it 2-1 in June!

Debbie Martin-Consani – 9.49.36 (pb) 31st overall and 3rd Female. What a run. Thomas had predicted Debs to beat me but I thought what does he know?? Well he was right because Debs had a storming run. I’m really pleased for her as she’s been getting stronger and stronger. I just hope she gets pregnant again before the whw in June as that might be the only way I’ll be able to keep ahead of her!!

Helen Johnston – 9.58.39 (just a few mins slower than last year) 39th overall and 5th Female. I ran a fair bit of the way with Helen but when she left me just after Inversnaid she said she’d be happy with sub 10hrs so I was pleased to see she made it. Thanks too for sharing your chips at the finish.

Andy Cole – 10.10.43 (pb) 46th overall and 1st M60. What more can I say? A truly inspirational run and fully deserved. Another pb on its way in June??

Aileen Scott – 10.14.27 (pb) 51st overall and 6th female. Both Aileen and I have run the last 4 Flings and whw races and in all of them Aileen starts faster than me, I catch her and finish ahead but this was different. Aileen started fast as normal, I caught her at Balmaha as normal but then not normal she caught me again at Beinglas and zoomed off. Not quite sure what happened as I caught her with less than 200 yards to go! I almost felt bad going past her with only yards to go. I said ‘almost’ but I know it will give her another incentive for our next run in June.

Brian McIntosh – 10.26.45. Not quite sure what happened to Brian as I fully expected him on current form to be well under 10hrs. Will have to wait for his race report to find out.

Gavin McKinlay – 10.35.41. Same with Gavin though he did say at the end he’d had trouble with cramp again. Hope he gets it sorted out for June.

Stephen Spiers (1st time) – 11.19.11. Stephen is a fellow Kilbarchan runner and is a very strong runner but htis was his first ultra. He ran with his dog and I think found it harder than anticipated. I hope he comes back for more as I know he will get faster.

Ian Beattie (completed all 5 Flings) – 11.48.14. I didn’t see Ian until the finish when I had the privilege of handing him his medal. He did look in a bad way though and I gather he had one tough race. He will be back for more.

David Mackintosh (1st time) – 11.52.23. David was probably the youngest runner at 21 and is a member of Kilbarchan. We have done a number of training runs together and I’ve tried to ‘help’ him as much as I could so it was great to see him finish looking good and saying it was easier than he thought it would be!

Karen McIlvenna (1st time) – 11.52.55. I’ve not met Karen before but we have a mutual friend who asked me could I offer any advise to Karen. She probably didn’t listen to me anyway but I was so pleased to see her finish well inside her goal. Plus as part of the Garscube team (with Sharon & Debs) she won the team prize!!

Ellen McVey (another ever present) – 11.54.24 (not quite her pb but not far off). Another great run from Ellen who not only helps organise the race with Murdo but runs it as well. Impressive and thanks again for all you both do.

Tim Downie – 12.12.18. Another solid run from Tim. Good to see that the Hardmoors experience didn’t stop him getting to the end. It was also good to see that he’s bought a pair of shorts to go over his skins. Whatever he says he can’t carry it off without them!!

Silke Loefndorf (1st time) – 13.23.56. What a superb run from Silke. Furthest she’s every run and I was so pleased I was at the end giving out the medals so I could put it over her head. Silke’s report is well worth reading and her timing was impeccible as she arrived just minutes before Thomas received his prize!

There are loads more people I could mention but I’ll move on before this post becomes longer than my novel!

So well done to everyone.

5. Marshals
Katrina had planned to meet me at the finish this year as I was using the drop bags. When I arrived at Tyndrum there she was taking everyone’s final chip time looking very smart in her sponsors Montane red jacket.

Once I’d got changed, had something to eat, send a few texts to friends I joined in the fun with the marshalls. For the next 4hrs I helped give out medals, took off the chip bands and generally enjoy the finish atmosphere.

It was really good to get a feel of what goes on and my admiration for all the volunteers who stand around for hours on end encouraging us runners went up significantly. Thank you for all your help and support and making the race what it is. Some like Caroline had been at the start from 5am and wouldn’t be finished until well after 9pm.

It was great being able to greet friends as they finished and watch different people’s reactions. You can see just how much it means to people as they finish. There was a steady flow of people, each with their own story to tell.

On seeing how many partners gave their runners a big sloppy kiss at the end Katrina commented, ‘You don’t expect that from me do you!!’

The star prize must go to the girl who ran in with an orange flare blazing away! A very spectacular finish if every there was one.


With Sandra McDougall (who must have told every single friend as they came through that she finished in 11hrs 6mins 33secs!!). I think she was very pleased with herself!

6. Photos
The night before the race when I went to recharge my battery I discovered it was dead and I couldn’t buy a replacement in time. I borrowed my daughter Emma’s camera but I wasn’t sure whether the video aspect was working so didn’t bother using it.

Normally I love doing my video clips along the way but maybe that was another indication that this wasn’t my day as I couldn’t be bothered! I did take the photo that is on my header now but if anyone has any photos of me I’d love to see them!

Caroline at 5.45am … at the start. Thanks for the lift.

7. Results
The results are on the web site with the splits so I’ll look at those more closely soon which will give me more ammunition to beat myself up with!! I’ll also update the pb list.

Here are some comparison’s from last year (2009 in brackets)

under 10hrs – 39 (51)
under 12hrs – 162 (168)
total finshers – 254 (241)

8. Blog
I really appreciated the number of people who mentioned on the route or at the end that they enjoy reading my blog. Sometimes you wonder who is reading it so it was great to put some faces to names.

You may (or may not) have noticed that my hit counter went over the 100,000 mark yesterday! I was going to make a thing of it but I had over 700 hits yesterday so it happened before I realised.

So thanks to everyone who visits and reads this. I hope you’ll continue to come as I’ll be continuing to write!

Finally CONGRATUALTIONS to my good friend John MacLaughlin who ran the London Marathon in 2hrs 59mins 38secs.

John has been chasing a sub 3hr time for quite a few years and I was so pleased that he did it. I was watching the race on TV and following John’s 5k splits on my netbook. He was always right on the limit. When he arrived at the half way point in 1hr 29mins 47secs I must admit I thought he wouldn’t make it. It’s so hard to run an even pace or negative split but he’s not called the ‘metronome’ for nothing and ran the second half in 1hr 29mins 51secs. Incredible.

So well done John. I was hoping that once he’d done it he’d join me on the ultra scene but he loves his road running and is already plotting an Autumn marathon to go even quicker. That’s the problem with us runners – we don’t rest on what we’ve done. We immediately look for the next challenge!

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3 Responses to Lessons learnt from the Highland Fling

  1. Julien says:

    Hi John,
    My two cents:
    1. I think trying to get a PB at every race you run is tricky if not impossible when you've registered for 5 events a year! It takes a while to recover fully deep down. I usually try for a PB on maximum one short (less than 60 miles) and one long ultra per year. The rest is for the landscape and the camaraderie. Your PBs are not behind you if you prioritise.
    2. You might want to take 2 or 3 sets of your mini-splits with you. So you can fall back on a slower one and keep motivated if things are not going as smoothly as planned.
    Take care,
    Julien

  2. Thomas says:

    I always thought your pacing plans were too detailed, but that's just the way you are. I know such plans would not work for me.

    Remember, we need the occasional bad race to make the good runs even better. It was hardly a disaster and off days are always part of the game, in ultra running more so than for shorter races.

  3. Thomas says:

    John, thanks for your kind words. I really hoped you would achieve a much better result and I am really sorry that did not happen (again).

    But I know you have the WHW Race as the main event in your mind.
    And I am sure you will have a great race on the 19th of June!

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