Hoka Highland Fling 2016

What is the Highland Fling?

The Hoka Highland Fling is a 53 mile trail race which takes place every year in April. The route follows the West Highland Way, Scotland’s oldest official long distance footpath, through the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park and encompasses some stunning scenery (and a few hills I might add).

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How I came to enter

I’m sure it was Graham Kelly’s fault!

I met Graham in 2013 when we both travelled down to Urique, Mexico to run in the Copper Canyons Ultra Marathon (also known as Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco) made famous by Chris McDougall’s book ‘Born to Run’ and we’ve run together on and off since then,

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Having been talked into entering the Fling it was only several months later I realised that I would have run the South Downs Way 50 only 3 weeks before so I was likely to have heavy legs as a result which would make the Fling harder. I was right!

 

Night before

I flew up to Glasgow straight after work on Friday night, grabbed a bite at City Airport and was met at Glasgow Airport by Graham and his girlfriend Katie (Wow, just wow!) who first met face to face when she pulled his beard (is that a Scottish euphemism?) when she ran past him during last years Fling, when he was a spectator on Conic hill due to injury.

 

Footwear

Always entertaining as I’ve run in modern Huaraches i.e. Luna Sandals for the last 5 years and so far have avoided any running injuries (not many people in trainers can say that I imagine). As this is going to be a pretty gnarly and rocky trail I had been training both for SDW50 and the Fling in Luna Origen sandals, that are a modern take on the original huaraches Manuel Luna showed BFT to make in 2006, except these have Michelin snow tyre tread for the sole, topped with a modern slip resistant upper. In a word a beast of a sandal.

 Should cause a stir as I doubt anyone has completed the Fling in sandals before.

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Nutrition

Now I have a problem in that I can’t seem to eat after around 25 miles, and even before that I want savoury and salty things not sweet. This caused me to get timed out at 70 miles during a 100 mile attempt last year (SDW100) as the wheels had come off as I hadn’t been able to eat for the last 20 miles (and was getting overtaken by snails!).

As I could still drink I have since been testing Trailwind as if I couldn’t eat, at least I could drink the calories and in SDW50 it seemed to work (supplemented with some honey roast cashews and dried fruit). So I packed my UD pack with a few bags of those to eat, a couple of caffeine Gus, and filled 2 soft flasks and a hand held with Trailwind (with a pile of stick packs of it in the pack to make up at each aid station. I was going to drink the handheld and save the soft flasks as and when needed.

For each of my 4 drop bags I had a bottle of flat coke, a pork pie and a tunnock bar.

 

The morning of the start

The alarm went off at 03:00 as we needed to leave by 04:30 so after 2 bowls of porridge (when in Rome) tea /coffee we grabbed our stuff and yawned towards the car.

The start was freezing! Once I’d dropped off my 4 drop bags and handed my overnight bag to Katie’s mum (who was driving up to Tyndrum) I had to keep walking about as my toes were already cold and it would take 3 miles before I would be able to feel them again. My hands were also cold as I’d managed to flush my lightweight gloves down the loo (not a good start).

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It was tough on the legs running down the other side!

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19.8 miles Balmaha

 A quick in, handheld refilled with water, grab 2 bites of the pork pie and out again! I always try to stay less than 2 minutes at an aid station as I know I will need that time later on as I start chasing cutoffs (this race was going to be no different).

27.2 miles – Rowardennan

A quick water refill and no time for Drop bags here.

34.4 miles – Inversnaid

Same again, water refill and out again.

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40 miles – Beinglas

I was so glad to see this place after a nightmare and very slow run along the Loch which was mainly scrambling and climbing over muddy rocks, roots and boulders. Whilst having a quick swig of coke I was glad to hear it was a runnable trail from now on, as having only just made the last 10 miles along the Loch in 4 hours I couldn’t see how I was going to run the next 10 miles in 3 hours unless something changed drastically underfoot. Folks at the aid station assured me it was runnable from now on, I hoped they were right! A caffeine Gu was just what I needed to kick start the system for some running!

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I had to push miles 40-50 as although the cutoff at mile 50 was 20:30 that would only leave 30 minutes to cover the last 3 miles over unknown terrain and currently I didn’t  think I could run 3 x 10 minutes miles if my life depended on it! I needed to get to the 50 mile cutoff at 20:00 and I literally spent the next 10 miles thinking of nothing but that, whilst taking turns in leading and following a few other runners which seemed to help all of us keep the speed up. The “rollercoaster” (as I discovered it was called) I was almost glad to meet as after my nightmare along the Loch any trail I could actually run on was welcome, even if I could go uphill faster than I could go downhill!

 

Mile 50 to 53 (the finish)

I made it to the 50 mile point at 20:00 which was a huge relief as I’d been hearing traffic for a while and was wondering if I would ever get there.

 Now it was just keeping the pressure on so I stayed the right side of the 21:00 cutoff, and I knew it was going to be close, as I and the other cutoff chasers kept leapfrogging each othe,r all of us trying to keep our speed up to make the cutoff.

 45 minutes later I have never been so glad to see 2 pipers starting up and I knew I was very close, then I saw the barriers and was directed towards the red carpet. I turned the last bend, spied Graham, did a quick high 5 whilst shouting “Mas Loco” before making the final dash for the line, finishing with 9 minutes to spare at 14 hours 51 minutes!

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Several minutes later I was sat in the tent, wearing my first Fling medal, with a bag of goodies, whilst sipping a cup of the most wonderful tomato soup I have ever had!

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Race to the Stones 100Km Trail Ultra #racetothestones #lunasandals

After UMCB in Mexico I was looking for a Summer Ultra, but something a bit closer and easier on the pocket when I saw Race to the Stones. It was pitched as:

“The Race to the Stones is a fully supported 100km trail ultramarathon following in the footsteps of Romans, Vikings, farmers and traders along the iconic Ridgeway. You will pass Iron Age forts, ancient burial chambers, cross the mighty Thames and the mystical down-lands of Salisbury plain on your way to the finish line at the 3,000-year-old stone circle at Avebury”

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Here’s even more info for any history buffs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avebury

100km along a the Ridgeway ending in Avebury Stone circle sounded good, I just needed to sort out the logistics and start planning .

A day of so before, I even cleaned my Luna Leadville pacers which fit like a glove having done around 1,000 miles. They are a bit thin and I’ll probably replace them with the new Oso trail sandal when it is out, but it should be ok (or so I thought.)

I’ll be wearing Injinji toe socks with them which will give me a bit of padding, but mainly so any stones that fly up don’t open cuts on my feet so will give me a bit of skin protection.

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I drove down to Avebury on Friday night, had a dinner (Salmon) in the pub in the centre of the village and retired early as I needed to be up at 4:00am to get the coach from the finish (where I was camping, or sleeping in the car) to the start at Chinnor almost 2 hours away. At least this way when I finish I can crawl to the car.

Breakfast was 2 bananas as I got on the coach at 5:00am which with 3 hours before the start was just about right.

On arrival at the start it was get registered, attach timing tag to my ankle (a short piece of Luna leather lace usually does the trick) and fill up my camelbak & bottle.

Then a cup of tea, and join the queue to the usual little blue houses!

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I knew it was going to be a hot day probably 30C / 86F so my plan was to keep drinking from my hand bottle and refill it every Pit stop / Aid Station (roughly every 10-12k). I had 1.5 litres in my Camelbak should I need it (and I certainly did later on).

For nutrition I was using the following:

  • Clif Shot Bloks (caffeine version) – pretty much from the start, and at the latter stages when I needed the caffeine
  • Justin’s Nut Butters (Peanut & Honey) – They were great, just had to have them at aid stations due to the amount of water required to wash them down.
  • Quesadillas with refried beans & cheese – These I got the taste for in Mexico and were great, not too filling but with high carbs, fat & salt really picked me up
  • Banana Malt Loaf – small pieces to snack on and not as sticky as the normal stuff
  • S-Caps (Salt tablets) I was taking 2 tablets at every Aid Station

(I did have cups of tea and water refills at the excellent Pit Stops / Aid Stations, and a couple of flapjacks but that was all. I wanted to be pretty self sufficient on food I had trained with to avoid any errr …..shall we say “digestive distress” and I had none at all, hurrah)

Then we were off, as usual I started at the back as we were a mixture of people doing 100km non-stop and people doing it in 2 days camping overnight who were a bit more sprightly (though many of them paid the price later as only 60% of them finished).

The scenery was gorgeous and difficult to capture on a phone camera but I did try.

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One became very grateful for any shade as obviously on the “Ridgeway” there was not a lot of trees for shade.

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I did notice after a few hours that the “fluid” was looking a bit “strong” so I increased my water intake a little and upped the salt tablets to 2 an hour after starting to get “sausage fingers”. It was about 10 hours before my next loo stop by which time everything was back to the right colour and my sausage fingers were back to normal. (I seemed to have to stop every 20 minutes for the last few miles of the race as I was clearly emptying my fingers!).

I was also soaking my wrist and neck Buffs in water and pouring water over my head to keep my Visor Buff wet which was refreshingly cooling (and something I learnt in Mexico to keep cool).

Did a couple of Heart Rate checks during a few hiking stages (Normally my Resting HR is 55bpm & Max HR is 194bpm) and it was around 96bpm so not too bad.

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Run to the Stones 2013

 

Run to the Stones 2013

This was around halfway at 50k in 7hrs 40 min something like 16:30 Saturday afternoon.

I had hayfever tablets in my pack in case this field of rapeseed set me off but luckily it didn’t.

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Crossing the Thames at Goring & Streatley and seeing the ice cream vendors was very tempting (as were the pubs)

The Bad

I got to 75k around 23:20 and I was suffering.

My Luna Leadville Pacer huaraches were just not man enough for the gnarly rocky flint trails I was going along. I’m pretty light in them but the sharp stones just kept bruising my feet leading to a blister just forward of the ball of each foot. I stopped and changed my socks (which seemed to have collected a cup of trail dust each), cleaned my feet with the irreplaceable baby wipes (should be renamed “Trail wipes”), applied blister plasters and put on my clean socks, wonderful.

My other source of pain was chafing which I treated as best I could with my Bodyglide stick (oooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww).

I was now slowed to a half jog and “cowboy” type walk.

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This little guy made me smile in the early hours!

By now my Garmin 910XT had finally given out after 20 hrs 26min (which was pretty impressive as it is only advertised as lasting 20 hrs) and I was feeling really tired. The morning sun had come up and I was now walking slowly over rolling hills, each time hoping for a glimpse of Avebury or some indication that the end was near. I knew it couldn’t be more than 8k but it was taking forever.

Then I had an idea, in the last few Pit stops / Aid Stations the same runner would arrive (with his pacer) and snooze in a chair, I’d leave and later on he would pass me seemingly refreshed after his 10 minute sleep. Maybe it would work for me?

I came upon a fairly flat rock at the side of the trail, took of my rucsac and using it as a pillow laid on the rock backwards with my feet still on the floor. It wasn’t that comfortable which I was hoping would prevent me from falling asleep for too long. It was nice and warm in the sunshine and I must have dropped off, hearing some runners walk past as I drifted off.

As my Garmin was dead and my iPhone was in low on power and in airplane mode I wasn’t aware of the time but I reckon I must have dozed for 10-15 minutes, either way when I awoke I felt a lot better. I threw on my rucsac, popped a caffeine shotblok and headed off, with a bit more spring in my….err delicate stride!

I could see 2 runners ahead who kept disappearing and reappearing as they descended and ascended and each hill. Then they didn’t reappear! I kept walking hoping that meant they were descending off the Ridgeway towards Avebury and the finish, but trying not to  get my hopes up. I reached the point where they had disappeared from sight and there they were, descending the Ridgeway towards the little village of Avebury and the finish. I was nearly there!

Now I knew that the last bit of the route involved going into the middle of Avebury, between two of the stones and then following the shape of a letter “U” back the way we had come and then finishing down a long straight path ending in an Finishing arch and the farm where I had left the car.

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As I approached Avebury I pulled out my iPhone just to see the time, I wasn’t particularly bothered (as I didn’t think there was a cut-off time for getting 2 UTMB points, or at least my questions regarding that hadn’t been answered) but I wanted to know.

I glanced at the time and a cold shiver went down my back, it was 7:45am Sunday morning and the race started at 8:00am Saturday morning, if there did happen to be a cutoff for UTMB points it would be at 24 hours, shit thats 8:00am!

I started running, declined the offer to have my picture taken between the stones and headed back the way I had come and the two left hand turns that would lead me to the finishing straight. I glanced again (I was now holding my phone) 7:50am and I was picking up speed across the field towards the final turn and what I guessed to be 500m to the finish.

The pain in my feet and my chafing was fading as adrenalin was kicking in as I accelerated down that straight, mentally I was back in Bushy Park parkrun, throwing everything into that last 100 metres, except this was several times that distance and I was tired, but that tiredness was leaving me, being replaced by a fierce desire to beat that cut-off. I could think of nothing worse than missing the cut-off which I could have made if only I had speeded up for that last mile.

I was now 100 metres from the finish, it would be close, I could see people and the circa 7 minute mile pace I had been doing, gave way to sprinting which I knew from experience would cover the final distance in 16-17 seconds, whatever state I was in.

I crossed the line at 7:57am, stamped on the chip sensors just to make sure the tag I had tied round my ankle registered me finishing and staggered into the shade where someone hung a medal round my neck whilst I tried to get my heart rate to leave the dizzy heights of 190 bpm or so for something a little more sedate.

 The race had started late so my finishing time was 23:45, but better to be safe than sorry.

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My tired old pair of ‪#‎lunasandals‬ Leadville Pacers that got me through 100km of gnarly rocky trails (5,000ft ascent / descent) in temperatures of 30C / 86F are probably due to be replaced with a pair of Oso’s just as soon as I can afford them!

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All in all a great and well organised event, in fact brilliant for their first time running the event under these conditions.

Roll on next year’s, I’ve registered an interest already!