Monday, 16 May 2011

Robin Wombill's Fling report

Robin sent me his race report and is happy to share.

The Highland Fling 30/04/11

This was to be my ‘target’ ultra for 2011. For various reasons I never really had a rest period over the winter. I trained hard for the Water of Leith at the end of November but both Anne and I had rotten colds and we woke on race day to a covering of snow in Perth. We knew the journey to Edinburgh probably wouldn’t be possible so WoL was cancelled for us.  As I was so fit it seemed silly to just waste it all and so I carried on so that I could start my Fling training in late December with a good level of fitness and endurance. This winter that meant lots of running in the snow, so all I did was run in my Asic Trabuco trail shoes instead of road shoes. The training went pretty well but I hate the periods I get during my training when it all seems to be hard work and I always feel tired, then out of the blue it all seems to come together and my performance suddenly matches my expectations.  I did the D33 as part of my training and was really happy with the run. I’ve never done a long flat race and just didn’t know what to expect or how to pace myself so I cheated and ran with Sue Walker as she’s so good at pace – and a great mate who I enjoy being with. I had no idea what to expect and would’ve been happy with 12 minute miles, so to come home in 5:53 at sub 11 minute pace was fine by me. I even managed a local 6k Fun Run the next day.

With 4 weeks to go I had one of those awful weekends. I had a 28 and a 10 planned. I did the 10 on Saturday not the Sunday as I felt a bit jaded. On the Sunday I attempted the 28 and went from Kirkmichael to Blairgowrie and back along the Cateran Trail. It was just dreadful, I had no energy and was thoroughly miserable and eventually cut the run short to 25.5. I got home and had all these worries that I’d overtrained because I didn’t have a rest period during the winter. So, I took the week off. My next run was the following weekend, a favourite that I do every year, Glencoe to Fort William. Lochaber is one of  Anne’s favourite marathons and she runs it just about every year and every time on the way up on the Saturday she kicks me out of the car at Glencoe Ski Centre and I meet her in the Premier at Fort William. I had an extra reason to run it this year. I had a ghost to put to bed. I wanted to run without falling over near Lundrava as I did in last year’s Devil. I just love the route and the weather was fine and I had a great time – until I got to Lundrava and fell again, twice ! I don’t know what upset me the most, the fact that I had fallen again, despite being very careful, the cuts and bruises or the £52 pair of skins that I wrote off. I was fed up – but I ran well and enjoyed it and all thoughts of overtraining were banished. It was also funny as I had a big tin of sweets and a ‘thank you’ letter in the car for the A&E staff at the Belford for stitching me up last August. I limped in with them on the Sunday and they were really grateful and then asked me why I was limping. I just said ‘don’t ask’ and rapidly left. It did make me decide to wear neoprene knee supports in ultras, not because I have knee problems but as protection. It also demolished a nasty raised scar on my left knee ( a legacy of 2010 ) and now I have a much neater ‘hole’.

I resumed my training with new heart and got a big boost 9 days before the Fling when I entered the club’s annual 10 mile handicap race. I made my time estimate and set off at my allotted time – and ran like a man possessed to come home first ! I have a huge trophy to prove it.

And now, my first Fling. I couldn’t cheat this time and use Sue’s pacing and planning skills as she wasn’t running. So I tried my best with other people ! Firstly my support crew of Anne my wife and good friends Iain and Fiona Morrison were wonderful as always and I wonder how they put up with me when I’m tired and irrational. Iain got up at 2 am to drive me to Milngavie, and instead of going straight home waited at Drymen to see me through. Then he went home, picked up Anne and Fiona and drove to Bein Glas and dropped Anne off so she could run south and meet up with me.

Anyway, I digress, my first Fling. I never managed to run any of the route before the race so I  looked at other peoples times for last year and using maps showing ascent figures made some guesstimates. I geusstimated 4 hours to Balmaha, 6 to Rowardennan, 8 to Inversnaid  and 10 to Bein Glas farm, leaving me 4 hours to get to Tyndrum to achieve my hoped for 14 hours.  My nerves were better than last year’s Devil and I got quite a bit of sleep during the day on Friday and during the short night. When I wasn’t sleeping on Friday I think I was eating and probably started the race getting on 11stone ! I knew it would be hot and I’m not good in the heat so filled my hydration bladder with Nuun and tried to mentally prepare for a tough race. We were soon off and I ran with Fiona Rennie at first. I knew it would only be to Balmaha, at most, as I pussy foot around at checkpoints and she doesn’t. By that I mean that I stop to eat - remember I’m a man and I can’t run and eat at the same time ! Of course at two miles I went flat on my face, with loads of witnesses. I can tell you that the knee supports worked but I did land bang on the injured left knee and it did make my eyes water. Pete Humphreys said ‘hello’ as he went past at about 17 miles which is amazing to me as he’d started an hour after me. I don’t remember seeing any other runners I know going past me apart from Gail later on. Going up Conic Hill wasn’t too bad but coming down was scary. I got to Balamaha in just under 4 hours loaded up with some banana flavoured Slimfast, a pot of Ambrosia rice and a jelly with fruit in it. I topped up my hydration pack and set off again. At some point I met up with two Stonehaven girls Fiona Smith and Nicola Rhind who I ran many miles with at the D33 and we ran some more miles together. I left them before Rowardennan and I know this as there were no witnesses when I had my second fall ! I think it was a moment’s lapse of concentration and I was down. Again the knee supports worked but I cut my left hand. I was right by the water so stopped at a small inlet to clean up the hand. The water was clear but full of black bits so I went to some rocks where it looked cleaner and deeper. I squatted on the rocks and discovered they were slippery and I slowly slid into the loch ! I was sitting in about 9 inches of water washing my hand when some southern walkers came round the corner. I got a chorus of ‘you ‘avin a barf mate?’ That got me running again. I was soon in Rowardennan for checkpoint 2 in a shade over 6 hours. More food and a hydration pack top up and off again. Not long after this I linked up with Becky Munro and Carla Cesaroni and managed to stay with them until I met up with Anne at about mile 38, at which point the girls were pulling away from me. They were brilliant, Becky was from Inverness and I asked her if she’d done the Loch Ness Marathon ‘ Oh no, I’ve only ever done a half marathon before this ‘. Carla had come from Toronto for the race expecting Scotland to be cool not in the midst of a heatwave. Becky generally lead and Carla and I followed. I found the ‘technical’ bits alongside the loch fun but hard because they seemed to go on forever. When they finally finished and I got back on to something I could run on I no longer had any energy left. Anne met me about mile 38 as Becky and Carla were pulling away and we got through to Bein Glas in 10:34. Plenty of time to walk to the finish, which was good as my plans fell apart as I started to throw up. I couldn’t refuel and couldn’t really stop heaving so decided to carry on as best I could with Anne. I walked up the hills and managed some Nuun, flat coke and a jelly with fruit in it but couldn’t face gels or anything that tasted remotely synthetic so I didn’t get many calories on board. Finally at Derrydaroch Farm it all fell apart completely. I just couldn’t go on. I could hardly put one foot in front of the other and could only mumble. I cannot describe how I felt and couldn’t understand how I suddenly deteriorated into such a state. My mind was still working and I could still picture Sophie with the orange smoke stick going over the finishing line ( from the web site) and I still replaced Sophie with me. I slumped on a rock and thought  that my body just wasn’t going to let me finish. Iain and Fiona had appeared and Fiona was encouraging me. I sent them away ( I hope politely ). Two blokes went past, one was attempting a shuffling run and the other one looked quite like me. This may have helped, I think I thought ‘ if he can I can ‘. I got Anne to pull me off the rock and I tried to get going again. I managed a pathetic walk/stagger and when we finally bypassed Crianlarich and stopped climbing all the time things got a bit better and I even managed some runs (about 100 yards at a time). We met Iain and Fiona where the WHW crosses the A82 and Fiona joined us to run me to the finish. When we got to the Auchtertyre Lodges I recognised where I waited for Fiona Rennie at last year’s WHW race.  I didn’t know where the route went or what it was like but I knew it wasn’t far and that I was going to finish in under 15 hours. The running became more than 100 yards at a time and when Anne noticed a road sign beside the A82 announcing that you were entering Tyndrum spirits really began to rise. Suddenly there was a wall and a gate ( I think – well there was in my head ) and cheering people and we were there. I thought everybody would’ve gone home by the time I arrived and it took me a bit to realise all this noise was for me and I felt guilty because I’d done so much walking. A nice touch was that Neil MacRitchie was waiting to log my chip at the finish line after I logged him lapping the North Inch at the recent 100k race.
I know it’s still very much a learning process for me and I don’t have any hidden ability that’s suddenly going to appear from nowhere, so I don’t expect to get much faster, but I do want to work on my refuelling so that I enjoy the events more and save some time. Again, like the Devil, I estimated my running time and forgot about the time I lose at checkpoints. My estimates weren’t bad until Bein Glas and even my last one of allowing 4 hours to get to Tyndrum wasn’t too far out ( despite the state I was in ). If I can stop falling over as well that’d be a nice bonus !

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Montane Highland Fling 2011

Pauline picked me up at 4.00am and we were in Milngavie just after 5.00am. The sun was just up too and the sky looked clear, it was going to be a cracking day, it also seemed a bit weird seeing Milngavie in daylight.

I wasn’t nervous, I just don’t do nerves before a race, even though today I wasn’t “racing” my goal was purely a no pressure day out just to get to Bein Glas before the cut off. Although I put no pressure on myself for a time, I was still bit concerned though, my tendon which has been recovering has felt a bit tight and tender for the past week, whatever happens DNF will never be an option and I could be in for a very long painful day. I know I will never ever give up no matter what, there have been races where I aimed high but didn’t get the goal I was going for and the bonus is I’ve learnt a lot more from the tough races. I did have a cunning solution, I put two sets of Sorbothane in my shoes, I am a girly I can do high heels! My lack of training didn’t worry me too much either, it does no harm at all practicing how to run tired and sore. I had entered the Fling a fortnight ago just to have a day out in my favourite place and I wasn’t going to let that be spoiled by trivialities!

Murdo’s race briefing was perfectly brief. “There are no rules just tell someone if you pull out and ENJOY!” Damn right Murdo, that’s my plan!

6.00am the old gits and girlies were off. I was running WHW pace and rules, I was aware of my tendon, it wasn’t getting any worse and in a few more miles I knew that my quads will probably be whinging louder so it wasn’t going to stop me. I was running with Robin, he was a bit wary of falling after his bad one at last years Devil O’ the Highlands, at around two miles in it was a mere formality, he was down and up barely breaking stride. I said “Well, there you go, that’s got that out of the way then, you can relax now!”

Heading up towards Conic Hill the sun was shining, but the wind was quite chilly, I still hadn’t taken off my gloves. It was a beautiful, perfect day, I kept whipping out my camera, I told Robin to stop as I took a photo of him with the loch in the background, two fast guys, I presume, from the 7.00am start stopped and said “Shall I take a photo of you both?” I protested saying I didn’t want to hold him back. He waved his arms wide at the scenery and replied “Nah! This is what today’s about!”

At the top of Conic the view of the Loch Lomond was stunning, another wee pause for photies and we headed down. Pauline appeared, she’d ran out from Rowardennan, besides being my chauffer, she was sticking in a few miles having a fun day too, Pauline's photos she enjoyed running towards everyone but wished she had a pound for every time she heard “You’re going the wrong way!”

Out of the wind on approaching the woods I finally took off my gloves, arm warmers and buff scarf. At Balmaha, Davie pointed me towards my drop bag, Robin and I parted company here, he stopped to eat, I walked on with my rice pudding, Pauline had a wee blether with Helen before catching me up.

I love the section heading towards Rowardennan, the ups, the downs, the woods, the view of the loch, the wee beach and… (I’ll shut up ‘cause if you’ve been here you know what I’m on about.) Jim Rogers from a later start caught us up, he and Pauline chatted off to Rowardennan.

At Rowardennan I swapped my backpack for my older one that I had ready, with its bladder filled just to pick up with no faffing, except I decided to ditch the rain jacket and put in my arm-warmers, gloves and extra buff scarf instead then trotted off. I had just tucked my empty milkshake bottle into my bag then had a wee backpack malfunction, my shoulder strap came loose, the stitching had come undone where it joined the bottom of the bag, a wee walk as I tied the adjustment strap though a loop where the waist strap is attached. It was as good as new, no need to replace old faithful yet.

It was a lovely warm afternoon with wall to wall sunshine, I don’t think I’ve seen the loch so blue, I didn’t bother with a drop bag at Inversnaid but stopped for a few mouthfuls of cold water which was refreshing as my juice was warm. A few folk were complaining that it was too hot, but sympathy has no place in ultras, “If you’re too hot you’re going too fast!” was my reply. I looked at my watch, (I wasnae doing race splits just time of day,) it was just after 2.00pm. Brilliant, around two hours running until Bein Glas I’ll get there at the back of 4.00pm, loads of time before the cut off at 6.00pm.

On the rough path my quads were feeling sore, I put it down to a lack of training but I suppose nearly 40 miles probably contributed too. At one big steppy bit a cheery walker heading south waved me forward, I looked up at the gigantic step and joked I might need a pulley. He held out his hand for me, I think I must be lighter than I look or he’s stronger than he looked, both feet left the ground as he hauled my stekky legged body up the boulders. I thanked him and hoped the hand up wasn’t considered cheating. Along the narrow path I was always looking back over my shoulder so I could get out of the way of faster folk, there were loads of encouragement from everyone that went by except for a few runners, when they approached I spoke to them, I was totally blanked, they had their earphones in, and not even a grunt of acknowledgement as they went by. Each to their own I suppose but it did sadden me a bit to think of what they were missing out on, I’m not adverse to listening to music when running but the WHW is a route with its own inspirational sound track, the wind in the trees, the waves of the loch, the babbling burns, the birds, I heard a few cuckoos, I don’t get them in my garden! My consoling thought was that real ultra runners are never so insular or anti-social or at least real WHW runners aren’t! Mind you, one guy made up for the few ignorant gits, as he was passing me he looked and said “Fiona?” I answered “Yeah!” he took my by surprise by sticking out his hand to shake mine. “Legend!” he said “Love the blog!” I have never been called a legend before. I kept repeating “Legend” in my head and having a wee giggle to myself for quite a few miles. Thanks Peter that made my day.

I was quite warm during the hottest part of the day but never uncomfortably hot and didn’t feel the need to take off one of my two tops I was wearing, a vest and a short sleeved top. I liked the thought that the heat kept my quads warm and supple, if they got cold it would’ve been so much harder to move fluidly. (A wee tip if you struggle in the heat – Run warm in winter. Wear lots of layers and keep them on even when you’re feeling toasty. If you’re down to skin in the spring what can you peel off when it really warms up!)

I thought about taking some painkillers but I’d have to stop hanging onto the boulders to do it so, I decided I’d wait until the after the flat grassy bit and see how the legs felt once they got back to proper running… no need, to quote Mark Cooper, motion is lotion! It wasn’t long until I was looking up to Dario’s post, at the top of the hill I got out my wee hip flask, I’ve been by his post a few times now and I’ve always had my hip flask, I wasn’t breaking with tradition because it was a “race”, I spent a minute or two sharing a wee Isle of Jura with Dario before carrying on to Beinn Glas.

With it being so warm I’d drank most of my juice, but I wasn’t concerned, it wasn’t in the original plan but I’ll top up with water at Beinn Glas. Neil MacR helped me filled my bladder and then I trotted off. Oh bugger! With concentrating on topping up with water I forgot to pick up my milkshake, I only put out two drop bags, my rice pud at Balmaha and a milkshake at Bein Glas, a fail by 50%, not to worry, I wasn’t going back for it, I was carrying plenty grub by the way of Rice Krispie squares and cereal bars, I wouldn’t starve and anyone who was behind me were welcome to it.

Tim and I were plodding away together, although he was moving faster on the run-able bits than I was, I did say to him not to prolong his day and to bash on, he answered he was happy to have the company, cheers Tim I enjoy our blether and at Derrydarroch weren’t we both “I Spy” champions! Pauline appeared near Carmyle Cottage, she wasn’t doing support as such but I spied she had a SlimFast in her backpack (See, I am a champion at the game.) I mentioned that I was a numpty and forgot to pick up the milkshake I placed at the checkpoint. She offered me her milkshake, I didn’t refuse. It’s the first time I’ve had a SlimFast, it went down well, I usually just pinch the kid’s Yazoo!

Pauline and Tim were blethering away from me most of the time and as they pulled away from me again on the first big climb of the rollercoaster, Tim laughed at the sisterly concern. Pauline had shouted “Come on, keep up!”
“Aye, I’m comin’!”

On the last big swoop of the rollercoaster Tim descended never to be seen again. My thoughts compared this to the descent into Kinlochleven, ok, my quads were squealing a bit, but I thought again, I haven’t lost two nights sleep or have eighty miles in my legs. Stop wussin’ and get on with it!

Pauline was wearing a Garmin and told me that if I didn’t dither about I would finish under 14 hours, I said I wasn’t planning on prolonging the end but neither would I push so hard that I’d throw up at the finish, I wouldn’t be disappointed if my time was 14.02 because that was the couple of minutes I gave to Dario and I didn’t grudge them.

After crossing the road I found my running rhythm and kept it all the way, finishing in 13.53.49.

Photo by Allan Harley 
I picked up my t-shirt and bottle of bubbly then polished off what was left in my hip flask. What a brilliant day, I loved every minute. Physically I wasn’t at my best but that is irrelevant when you run with a happy heart. My body might be a wee bit drained, that is just temporary. My heart and soul are fully charged.

The West Highland Way is very special to me and has shaped my character and given me strength over the years. Long may it do so.