Lessons learnt from the Hoka Highland Fling

As this was my 7thHighland Fling and 22nd ultra overall I would like to think I’m getting most things right by now!  But there are always things to learn and relearn so I like to write things down before I forget.

I went for an easy run at lunch time yesterday and was thinking about what went right on Saturday and what could have been better.  I’ll mix them up under a few different headings.

I was really positive throughout the whole race on Saturday. I didn’t go through any real lows at all.  My training had gone well, I’d lost some weight and generally I thought that I was going to have a good day and I did!

I set off with an ambitious sub 10hr plan.  I always thought it was going to be a challenge. I could have put 10.15 as my goal and taken the pressure off but I like to set as high a goal as I think is reasonable.  I did think I was in good enough shape to run under 10hrs and in the end I wasn’t too far off.

I was right on my splits until Rowardennan.  I have 11 mini-splits from the start to Rowardennan and I was within a 1min of all them. 7 just under my target and 4 just over. 

From Rowardennan to Inversnaid I lost 7mins and I lost another 4mins to Beinglas Farm,  I’d given myself a slightly more generous 2.41 to Tyndrum and did it in 2.35.  So overall I was very happy that I had accurately estimated my ability on the day. 

Once the official results came out I was able to sort them out into split times and split positions which I always feel helps me to see objectively how I feel my race has gone. 

I finished 73rdout of 417 finishers. I was 106th at Drymen so I had a nett gain of 33 people.  If you have listened to the podcast I did with Stuart Mills you will know that he reckoned I had a 12 mile warm up and then a 41mile race! 

I’ve always shied away from Stuart’s ‘Run as fast as you can for as long as you can’ philosophy as my best ultras have been when I’ve gone off cautiously and worked my way through the field. 

On Friday when I interviewed Stuart it was clear that one of the reasons he likes that approach is he gets a lot of positive energy and buzz from being at the front.  But as I’ve thought about it I definitely get my positive energy from working my way through the field.  I’m never going to be challenging the lead so I don’t get any positive energy from going off too quick. 

I thought it would be interesting to compare my splits with four other runners around me. 

Firstly Andy Cole who finished in 9:57:56, time I targeted.  
Secondly Lorna McMillan who finished in 9:54:45. Lorna caught me just after Derrydaroch so was able to finish stronger. 

Thirdly Graeme Gatherer who finished 10:05:30, one place ahead of me but who I didn’t see all day until he caught me at Auchtertyre. 

Fourthly Murdo McEwan who finished in 10:20:49.  I chose Murdo because we ran together for a good part of the day and I wanted to compare someone who finished after me!!!

I’m sure there is a lot to learn from just these 5 runners so here are a few that stood out to me.  Lorna reached Drymen 4th of this group (120th overall) and fastest to Tyndrum.  Her final split of 2:23:11 was 53rd best overall (she finished 65th).  So she had a nett gain of 55 places from Drymen to Tyndrum. She ran a very sensible race.

Andy Cole let me go at about 6miles and was 2mins behind me at Drymen but finished 8mins ahead at the end. He knows his strengths and saves himself for the run from Rowardennan to Beinglas where he was 39th fastest.  Very impressive for a 64yr old!! Andy gained a very impressive 86 places.

As suspected my best sections were Drymen to Rowardennan (62nd) and Rowardennan to Beinglas Farm (68th) but I started to slow on the last leg were I was 107th fastest. Not a disaster but enough to mean I missed out on my sub 10hrs.

The regret I have with the race was that I couldn’t stay with Andy and then Lorna as they went on to run under 10hrs. Or should I have stayed with Andy to Drymen or should I have followed Stuart’s advice and been there 10mins faster??

Overall I was happy with my nutrition. I ate and drank most of what I took with me.  Here is a quick summary …
Milngavie to Balmaha
1 slice Peanut butter & Jam sandwich
1 Brioche with custart and raisins
5 Belgian white chocolate coated strawberries (really tasty!)

Balmaha to Rowardennan
Mashed sweet potato - went down well but forgot spoon so made a bit of a mess eating it!
1 Banana
Few mixed nuts - really struggled to eat many as my mouth was dry 

Rowardennan to Inversnaid
1 pot of rice pudding
1 small soreen bar - only managed a couple of small bites
5 jelly babies

Inversnaid to Beinglas Farm
2-3 spoon fulls of baked beans - couldn’t manage any more
500ml of flat coke - excellent and I realy felt it kicking in

Beinglas Farm to Tyndrum
1 Fruit pot
500ml of flat coke - sipped this over the a few miles
1 packed of Clif Shot Bloks - took one every 30mins or so 

I also drank about 2.5litres of water and took a succeed tablet every 90mins.  

I’m really happy with what I wear now so a quick summary from head to toe …

Buff - life saver.  Wore it early on as it was cold and I like to keep my ears warm.  Later on when it was hot I love to dip it in any stream I pass and pour it on my head to keep cool.

T-shirt - I wore a short sleeved t-shirt and long sleeved to start (plus jacket for first hour). Took off long sleveed top and gloves at Drymen. Felt just right all day.

Watches - Really pleased with the Suunto Ambit.  Easy to read while running.  I kept it on the lap screen the whole day. Also wore my ordinary stop watch as a back up. I keep this one on overall time so I can see how I’m doing on the main legs.

Shorts- I wore my skins and favourite shorts with deep pockets for carrying head cam etc.

Socks - Drymax - really impressed with these.  This is the longest run I’ve done in them and no problems at all.  The track was wet and muddy in places and I did get wet feet but they dried off very quickly and I finished with no blisters. Result.  The only part of my foot that hurt a bit was my little toe on my left foot but that’s due to a narly toe nail.  I need to get some industrial strength nail clippers to trim it down!

Rucksack - North Face pack - I didn’t carry much in it but it feels more comfortable than a bumbag as it doesn’t push against my stomach. 

So lots of things went right which resulted in a decent run.  I have a few things to work on for the whw race in June.  I’m going to rework my training which I’ll report on next. 
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4 Responses to Lessons learnt from the Hoka Highland Fling

  1. John thanks for detailed post race analysis, certainly lots to learn from this.

    Do you know if Andy, Lorna, Graeme or Mudro used a HR monitor during the race? It would be interesting to compare the HR profile against yours and relative paces.

    Stuart Mills published his HR profile on his blog posts about his Fling race and it's quite different then the figures you posted. Stuart's HR starts high and steadily gets lower to just before his final few miles where he upped the tempo.

    Your HR profile by contrast starts lower to Drymen, higher to Balmaha, then higher still to Rowadenan then drops for the second half.

    My guess Andy and Lorna HR profiles will show a more steady rise through the race, and if it dips at all it'll certainly be less than yours and Stuart's given they were proportionally running these sections faster.

    Looking at your HR profile and splits it looked like the descents in the last part of the race suggests speed wise you took them “easier” than the final uphill and flatter sections. Whether it felt easier to a whole different matter, running with fatigued quads is tough especially going downhill.

    I'm curious, what reasons due you feel most contributed to you not being able to keep up with Andy in the second half? Answering this might help inform training and pacing plans to address this relative weakness.

  2. Debs M-C says:

    Well done, JK.

    I laughed when I read what you ate during the race…recalling the time I did the Fling on five jelly babies 🙂

    You didn't run under 10 hours, because you didn't think you could run under 10 hours. Which you are more than capable of doing.

  3. Hi Debs,

    “You didn't run under 10 hours, because you didn't think you could run under 10 hours. Which you are more than capable of doing.”

    It's easy to say this, but actually achieving what you believe is not easy nor guaranteed no matter how much you want it. Conservative goals certainly make it easier to achieve them, the less conservative the more effort required and the less margin for error and the high the probability of failure.

    What I find interesting is how much the mental side can enable one to work at the very margins of what is achievable. I'd guess this would work at sub conscious level as well at a conscious level. The harder you push your performance envelope the more you have to accept the increased discomfort that comes with it. There are limits to what mental strength can deliver though - you have to have the energy reserves and muscle strength to respond.

    I'd be curious for John thoughts on whether he feels that if he wanted to go sub 10 hour time more passionately then perhaps he could have pushed himself harder in the second half.

    I'm also curious with your own thoughts Debs on how to prepare yourself mentally to make sure you can keep going when things get tough.

  4. Robbie Drummond says:

    Hi John, very interesting and helpful to read your blog and insights. I passed you at Derrydarroch (said thanks for the podcasts)and ended running the rest of the way with Lorna - she mentioned your positive pep talk! It was my first +50mile so I can't offer any observations other than I wouldn't subscribe to the going our hard theory. I took it very easy early on to ensure a finish and this worked. Frustration for me was my Garmin which failed at 45miles to my surprise and then had nothing which I found hard as I always run with it. I find your food choices interesting as seems to be a lot of faffing around but obviously works for you. Best of luck with the WHW.

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