Sunday, 9 October 2011

West Highland Way Race?

I went for a 'recovery jog' up around arthur's seat this week. Since California I've developed even more of a hatred of mind-numbingly monotonous treadmill running and have missed being out in the elements. I never thought I'd start to enjoy runnning in harsh conditions such as the heat we dealt with through Napa, or the Scottish wind and driving rain, but those are the things I've begun to enjoy most. A far cry from the days when I refused to go out in a slight breeze or took shelter from hailstones under a Mull bridge (although they were pretty painful).

I've been thinking recently that if I can master getting enjoyment from running in all elements, have a firmer grasp on the kit that works for me, and now have more experience at pacing myself through the variety of ultras I've done this year maybe an attempt at the full West Highland Way race next June would be a natural progression. Although not a particularly natural thing to do to your body. For those that don't know the Race folows the 95-mile West Highland Way from Milngavie in the north of Glasgow up through Tyndrum then Glencoe to reach Fort William, with 14,760ft of ascent. There is a 35 hour time limit, and many runners hope to finish in under 24 hours. The male course record (Jezz Bragg) is 15hrs 44 and the female is held by Lucy Colquhoun at 17hrs 16. There have only ever been 5 women who've finished in less than 20 hours, since the year the race started in 1986. It requires motorised backup and a support team of at least 2 people. I've never thought I'd want to attempt this, especially not after the damage I did to my feet last Highland Fling, but I think the raw challenge of it has been slowly seeping into my consciousness, finally becoming an active consideration this month when I found out entries are taken from 1st November.

If any of you lovely lovely friends are free the weekend of 23 June next year and would be up for a different kind of weekend supporting me for a day or so up the WHW do let me know! This is if I am given an entry - with only 200 places, the race is growing in popularity every year and entrants must pass a strict entry criteria: Automatic places will be granted to the following:
• Entrants who have completed 5 or more previous WHW races
• All previous winners of the race, male and female
• Any entrant who, in the opinion of the race committee, has made or is expected to make a significant contribution to the race's overall success

All entries will then be reviewed by the race committee, with the race committee placing each entrant into 1 of 3 categories:-
1. Those who they consider have sufficient experience to take part in the race (fully qualified)
2. Those required to provide further evidence to the committee that they have or will have sufficient experience (provisionally qualified)
3. Those who do not have sufficient experience (rejected)
The decision of the committee is final.

On the theme of amazing friends, thanks to all of my lovely Edinburgh people - firstly for the surprise gathering organised on my return from California and secondly for feeding me delicious meals for what seems like all of this week! Particularly dangerous whilst taking a break from intensive training but incredible nonetheless. Dont think I need to eat for a week now :-)

So anyway I would love to hear anyone's advice on taking on the WHW Race next year.

And as Ric Elias says, don't postpone anything in life:

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

SUMS Done, Ultra Exhausted...

Actually 10 days after the event I've bounced back and ready to rock again but I certainly was in a destroyed state after this final race effort - the River Ayr Way ultra on 24th September.

The last race in the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series (SUMS), RAW is a 44 mile walking route from source (the loch in the tiny village of Glenbuck) to sea in Ayr. New to me, this one has been going for a few years now and this year the distance was reduced to under 41 for a stadium finish in Dam Park.

It never seemed a bright idea to do this race. I'd already run my required 4 out of the 9 SUMS and would be fresh back from 200 miles in the US. But as usual I changed my mind and thought it might be a nice way to finish the season and secure my third overall place in the Series, plus I wanted to see how I felt after TransCon. I could have either been in my best form due to the number of miles and elevation run recently, or worst due to recovery. I'd arrived back to the UK the weekend before and developed a very strange sickness lurgy that I think might've been jetlag - so left the decision up to the last minute.

Promising myself I'd stop the race if I really needed to I set off from Edinburgh to Ayr at the ungodly hour of 5.30am to get to Ayr. A bus deposited us at Glenbuck late for the start so there was just time to sprint to the woods for toilet breaks with 20 others (stopped caring by now)before a few words of briefing. I set off laughing after a start consisting of the marshall shouting 'GO' - reminding me of the 10 mile race Gregg and I ran in Ballater with a similar low key beginning.

Karl Zeiner was running and I knew I'd likely be able to keep him in my sights for 5 or 10 miles or so. Was glad to keep him amused with the cobbled-together race plan I decided on 20 mins before start - 8min miles for 20 then 9 min miles for 20. In reality I just wanted to finish as my body was physically fairly exhausted, more with recent lack of sleep than anything else.

Pace was fine if a little fast over the first 5 miles (did not stick to that 8 min mile thing!) but conditions surprisingly tough. I knew there wasn't much elevation in the route and in fact that we dropped 200metres from Glenbuck to sea level at Ayr - but sadly we were into the wind the whole route. Plus rainfall had apparently been high over the few weeks previous, transforming the race literally into a bogtrot in parts. I think from mile 4 I had wet feet which has shown to be a disaster for me in terms of blister issues. Quickly got used to this though, as well as having to run through patches of nettles encroaching the path - they were everywhere - my vest and capris not appropriate! My running style evolved into some kind of dancing trot as I held my arms above my head to avoid stings and skipped around the bogs, before manning up and just running gritted teeth through it all at full throttle.

Scenery was beautiful at times, with the fast-flowing river, overgrown path and neighbouring woodlands. I kept checking the direction of the river just to check it was flowing in the right direction - yes, I could make that mistake!

From mile 12 I was in discomfort and felt significant lack of power in my muscles, any slight incline was a struggle and my old glute injury was niggling. Very close to throwing the towel in from mile 23, once again this season I was saved by the Mars bar and lovely marshalls at the 27 mile checkpoint.

A few of the race signs had blown down here and there but fortunately I always found myself back on track on the river, though later found my Australian friend Peter - whom I've bumped into during the last three ultras - wasn't so lucky. The nagivational lanyards we'd been given - a first for me in a race - were fantastic to have on hand as reference.

Marshalls kept encouraging me that I was in first female position which spurred me to finish, I'm not sure I would have done otherwise despite having a much stronger second half of race than the first 20 miles. I ran into Dam Head at 6 hours 27 mins, most probably a sight to behold covered in mud and nettlestings.

Karl had finished earlier having run an incredible race in 6.12. Second and third women were Justine Eveleigh at 6.41 and Elaine Calder with 6.54. First overall, as last year, was Grant Jeans with 5.24.

(FYI Karl your running/walking race plan is a clear winner - it worked beautifully - may I adopt it?!)

After seriously long showers we met up with the lovely Sally who'd come from Edinburgh as my prizegiving plus one, before heading over the road for a pint, a pizza and ceremony. Weird to see people you've seen all year in race gear dressed normally!

Here are the final SUMS results for men and women. Brilliantly well done to all who ran especially Frank Skachill who attempted and finished ALL 9 ultra marathons, including the full West Highland Way Race (winning him a unique prize at the prizegiving)! I hope he is having a thorough rest now. Not to mention a visually-impaired woman who ran RAW with a guide, achieving a strong finish. Proof that anyone can take on these challenges with the right prep. And sometimes without!

The North Face Endurance Challenge: a shortlived high and many lows

4am in a freezing park in Sausalito, Marin County, 12 hours after stepping off a plane in San Francisco, two days after running a work event...