Monday, 1 May 2017

Secret Weapons

Approaching Rowardennan (Photo by Alan Robertson)
Saturday was my 5th year of participating in the 53 mile ultra The Highland Fling (Ding Ding), and the way things had been going was shaping up to be a good one. 

Training had been going well, and was consistent.  I'd been more disciplined in doing the speed sessions as well as the longer/hillier (more enjoyable!) stuff.  Improvements were being made.  I was, am, lighter, stronger and fitter than I have been for a long time.

With all that came some pressure, and 53 miles is a long way to try and set split times and goals for.  I tried not to let that get to me too much, and gave myself a challenging, hopefully achievable target PB of 11hrs 30m (my previous best was 11:38 and last year I was 11:48 (worst time 12:06)).  I also had the added bonus of it being a long time after the Fling until the CCC, so I could afford the efforts to push hard, without having to worry about speed of recovery for the next race!

The Fling is a well oiled machine, with everything slick and organised, right from entry, all communications and then the amazement of race day (with well over 200 volunteers on hand, ably led by Johnny Fling and Noanie). And an amazing goody bag - t-shirt, buff, prosseco, car sticker, medal.  AND free post race food with everything from the amazing tomato soup, to baked tatties and ice cream (oh...and beer!). There's really nothing to fault.

As it turned out, I had a great, if not spectacular day, and knocked the ball out of the park. Finishing with a sub-11 finish that I would never have dreamed possible!

Thinking about it during, and after, I've put together a wee list of my #secretweapons for yesterday's success!

Drymen Hill (photo by Michael Martin)
1. Start slow
This is always a tricky one, given the first 12 miles to Drymen is fairly 'easy'.  Looking at my previous times I was usually between 2hr 5m and 2hr 10m.  

This means an average pace of 10:30min/miles which is actually fairly swift for me over longer distances.  it's hard to not get caught up in the pace of others, and a couple of times I consciously took a step down in pace.  I was well aware that several around me were breathing hard, while I felt fairly relaxed and calm.  It's worth the slow start so later on you can make up time and pass people - that alone gives you strength in the final stages.  I don't know if anyone will publish the split times over the next few days and show the position at each, but I'm confident I went from pretty far back to gain many places for my finish position.

I also love eaves-dropping into the conversations on this stretch and hearing little snippets of people's lives and expectations (especially those who were looking for a close to cut off 15 hours as they sped past me!)

2. Carol Martin
Rowardennan drop bag scoff
(Photo by Sandra Beattie)
Carol is an awesome runner with a great history of completing epic events.  Her pacing is brilliant and she's really strong on the hills.  We paired up at Drymen (along with Sharon), and I hoped to try and hang on for a while, gaining from some of her experience, pacing, and great company. 

Carol is making a comeback from major injury, and was down-playing her aims for the day.  I fully expected her to finish ahead of me, as usual.  We were together until the climb after Rowardennan (having lost Sharon at Balmaha), at which point I had a wee burst of something that saw me pull away from Carol, Lucy and Donald (looking resplendent in his new 'naked' tank top!)

Photo by Monument Photos

3. Food
Mini Mars Bars, Haribo and Chedds Nibbles were the order of the day (the latter two come in small easy to swallow pieces!), supported by rice pudding, custard, a couple of SIS gels, coke, Red Bull (Beinglas) and Starbucks Espresso Shot (Inversnaid).  

Oh, and a wee snifter of Macallan, shared with Dario at the most beautiful part of the route.  I used Tailwind throughout (diluting it more as the day went on), and managed to keep eating and drinking regularly.

4. Marshals and support
Beinglas Marshals (Photo by Ally Thomson)
Kind words and a helping hand go a long way.  Having someone at the checkpoints who knows what it's like and instinctively takes your bottles to fill them, opens your drop bag and stuffs things into your pack, opens your cans/packets and feeds you stuff makes all the difference when you're starting to lose real thought.  Sometimes it's too easy to not know what you want and just leave it and move on, resulting in flagging energy which is hard to resolve. 

These folk make the race - Caroline Strain, a friend who was at Inversnaid with the Wee County team, and the girl at Beinglas (who's name I don't know) in particular made a big difference in getting me swiftly on my way.  I tried hard to not fanny around at the check-points this year - even sacrificing on several planned 'hugs' along the way (sorry Helen in particular!!)

5. Kit choices
I chose my kit well, and packed relatively light (for me!), ensuring I had the mandatory phone and bivvy bag (step up from the required foil blanket).  Just as well, given Stan was doing kit checks on the killer stairs after Sallochy, and I hear there were some disqualifications!  Quite right too - these items are not listed for a joke and could save lives. 

I didn't over-dress on the start line as it was already fairly mild (and the day did warm up quite a lot), and even having taken my arms sleeves off after Balmaha, I didn't struggle with the conditions, even during a few showers of rain.  The only improvement I could have made was more liberal application of BodyGlide and vaseline....there were a few sore bits in the shower on Saturday night and still today!

6. Following a training plan - it works!  Who knew?!
Conic (by Monument Photos)
Being married to a personal trainer has it's benefits....only if you actually listen, and follow the advice.  This year, I've been following the plan more diligently, including doing the evil speed-work sessions.  These hurt...and they're meant to.  They make you tougher, as well as faster, and that strength and suffering (all those times around the Carse in Bridge of Allan) played through yesterday, especially in my final 3 miles, when a random supporter said 'well done lass, you could get sub-11 if you're lucky'.  

Sub-11?!?!?  WT-actual-F?!?  While I knew I'd been ahead of target at previous checkpoints, I honesty wasn't looking at my cumulative time, and I'd only occasionally checked that my average pace was in line with getting to 11:30.  With 37 minutes to go at that point I knew it would be close.  Yes, it's relatively flat for those last 3 miles, however, when you've just done 50 hilly miles and 7,000 ft of climb, and you were suffering with knee pain and the start of cramps coming through 'the roller-coaster', it was always going to hurt.  Channeling how I feel in my speed sessions and knowing 'how' to suffer really helped me hit this new target - WOW!

7. Cross-training
I've blogged already this year about the hot yoga and the strength training.  I've probably bored anyone who would listen, and most of my sports massage clients telling them of the benefits that yoga has made, and combined with my early in the year gym sessions, I've gained muscle, and toned up.  I need to find more time to get myself into the gym more often now!  I can actually see muscles in my arms for a change!

I've also been getting a decent sports massage every 4 weeks without fail - eradicating any early signs of trauma and keeping the muscles fully functioning and relaxed!

8. Making life choices
Now we're getting to the really hard bit.  The things that make people think you're a bit weird.....  Early to bed, early to rise....making sacrifices to fit training into my life, and turning down nights out (bailing on a work night that included some actual work last week in order to go to bed, while everyone else completed the tasks, and enjoyed some lovely cocktails and food).  Cutting back on alcohol, snacking and cakes, and trying to be more organised with food choices.  I love food, I love cocktails and prosecco and all bubbles...and cheese.  Food is my nemesis (today I'm making up for it!)

9. Self-belief
There's no easy way to get this, and it's a trait most of the time I don't posses.  Yesterday something clicked and I thought it was in my grasp - the 11:30 more than what actually happened!  

As fortune falls, the same work event above that I bailed on the evening part, we had a motivational speaker - Stuart McInally who plays rugby for Scotland.  He uses a quote from Roosevelt in his session - The Man in the Arena, and I found this quite poignant, and due to the recency it stuck in my head throughout the day (well, that and Justin Bieber 'you should go and love yourself', for god only knows what reason!)

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

I also needed a big dose of swear words and telling myself to 'F-ing get on with it' when I thought my knee was caving in on the roller-coaster!

10. Amazing husband
Photo by Stuart McFarlane
None of this can happen without support.  You have to be disciplined and selfish, and this helps if you have someone who understands, who can pick up the pieces, and who knows how to keep them together, not just on race day, but all year round.  I was pleased to be able to give Clark something different to worry about yesterday by running great splits that made him worry when I went through Beinglas that he wouldn't make it to the finish in time. Ha ha - that's not a problem we have very often! 

And it was his face I was looking for (and his hand I'm holding below) as I did my final sprint down the red carpet (and he was as emotional as I was!)  He also writes a decent training plan, and does some kick-ass effective PT (for clients and on himself #incredibleshrinkingman)......if only I had time to do more!!
Emotional?  (Photo by Stuart McFarlane)

So, a grand day out, as always, and this year all the sweeter for the massive PB!  The training has paid off and I ran more of the route than I ever have, and the climbs, whilst some/most of them still hurt, were definitely 'easier' than I think they ever have been. 

53.2 miles / 7,000 feet ascent

Chip time : 10 hours 56 minutes 06 seconds (12:23 min/miles)
Drymen 2:05:47 
Rowardennan 5:09:16 
Beinglas 8:25:31

Finish position 208/681
Women 33/189
F40 Age Category 12/78

Roll on 2018 when I hope to successfully get through the ballot again, and, with my heart hoping for a WHW place next year too, a different plan for #FlingRace2018.

Thanks to Johnny Fling, Noanie and everyone who makes this race so special!


  1. just fabulous, got bit emotional reading that last bit too, well done again x

  2. Magnificent performance Amanda.x

  3. What a race - that'll live in the memory for a while. You're pretty good at this running lark aren't you?

  4. What a wonderful blog to read Amanda. So chuffed for you on an excellent run on Saturday, and really interesting to read of all the hard work at so many levels that it took. Well done!

  5. Fantastic run! Well done! xx

  6. Inspirational and motivational. Thanks for sharing.