This is my post to wallow in my own self pity – I had a bad race. The end.
But not quite. I need to look at why and write it all down, no such thing as the end.
Having bad races is part of being a runner. They make you tough, they motivate you, and they keep you humble. A good runner can bounce back and not give up on their goal, even though it is emotionally hard to do so at times. – Hilborn
This was my second year having a go at the Highland Fling. I had a fantastic, amazing time last year – review here, a moderately comfortable run for an Ultra on the most beautiful course in Great Britain, with such a buzzing atmosphere and to top it coming in around 9 hrs 13 minutes which I was rather pleased about. So, of course, we want to better ourselves, don’t we? We are human after all and of course, I wanted to better myself this year.
Months up to the race
So ‘ The Fling’ was my target race for 2016. After breaking my leg in August last year, all my rehab was based around getting me to the start (and finish) line of this race. I was sensible in January and build up my mileage as slow as a snail. Come March I was ready to tackle my first proper race on home ground ‘Grindleford Gallop‘ for which I had almost a ‘perfect run’ scraping in at my target of a sub 3 hour and bagging 2nd Female as well (all the other top guys were at Edale Skyline the following day – Jasmin Paris, Sally Fawcett, Nicky Spinks etc which I also ‘ran’ steadily in order to get in a b2b).
I was back, rock n rolling and went on to do the 40 mile Oldham Way Ultra, for which I told nobody not even Facebook or Strava or Twitter, some kind of sad satisfaction of keeping it so low key, that even my cat’s wondered what I was up to. Another very comfortable race which I loved outright – mostly going right. My legs got carried away with me and after the brilliant Dark Skies Race around Kielder in the dark I really thought things were going too well. And they were. I started to go downhill.
My calfs were swollen in patches a week later, compartment syndrome came to the physios head, but I had a pulse and not enough pain. A rock solid tibialis anterior , Shin Splints, EILP, MTSS, I don’t know what you want to call it but for three weeks I was in a lot of pain. Icing and regular massage was gradually shifting this excruciating pain and patchy swelling on my shins. Let’s face it, I had done too much and it was my own stupid fault. Doing too much – epic fail.
I never have any training plan or structure due to the nature of my work so I just fit my love for sport around my week, but the sporadic routine I did have all went very wrong, and I found myself doing around 10 miles a week running lightly to and from the Swimming Pool(s) throughout April. I took up spinning again 2 weeks before the Fling, another silly thing to do as I loved spinning 12 months ago but not been for a while. Yes there is such thing as taper but tapering for a 53 miler with 6000ft plus of climb by doing around 10 miles a week for nearly 5 weeks was not big nor clever. No amount of swimming or spinning would replace my love for bouncing on the local trails. Training strategy – Epic Fail.
I am my problem but also my solution
When I got a mention in the pre-race briefing I paniced a bit, expectations on myself to perform as best I could starting nagging at me. The line up was immense, being the UK Trail Championship Qualifer big names such as local ultra superstar Sally Fawcett alongside Beth Pascall , Lizzie Raith, Sophie Grant, Nicola Adam-Hendry and Bonnie and Debbie Martin-Consani were all on the start line list so certaintly no top 10 for me but secretly it would have been nice to make the top 15 or top 20 at the very least and try and match last years time. If not to have a comfortable run and love every minute of it. Expectations and pressure on myself – too high – Epic Fail
There is no satisfaction without a struggle first
I knew I wasn’t in 100% shape and only booked the accomodation and transport 7 days before the race after managing a 10 mile local run with ‘minimal’ pain in the legs. I also decided to swap shoes, I had been running in inov8 ultra 290’s which didn’t give me blisters & had a good wide toe box but something told me they were not as flexible or bouncy as I would have liked. After some considerable research and stubbonness that I pretended I had gone off Hokas I went and got a pair of Hoka Stinsons which I had ran successfully in during 2014. They fit perfectly – half a size up allowed my wide feet to spread quite nicely. But with only one light road run in them this was not the race to be trying out new shoes. Along with new compression socks due to my others being far too grey and holey I was ticking all the boxes of things not to do before a race. Using kit you are familiar with – Epic Fail
And then more excuses, the dreaded cold struck me 6 days before. I even had to leave work early on the Thursday due to feeling absolutely shattered, with the dreaded Helflu. I was downing any sorts of flu type medications I could get my hands on. It wasn’t looking good but I was determined to still go. Physical ‘health’ condition – Epic Fail
I was going through my head the worse case scenarios rather than the best case scenarios. Worse case scenario I do 12 miles (flatish) and pull out at the first CP. I get a nice 12 mile run. Second to worse case scenario I DNF at 18 miles but I get to run/walk up the gorgeous Conic Hill. Third worse case scenario… get the picture?
If plan A doesn’t work there are 25 more letters
I had even taken minimum stuff with me and prepared my finish bag in preparation that I may not make the finish and may not get my contents back for a week or so, I think I had already admitted defeat even before crossing the border into Scotland. Pre day mindset – Epic Fail
The day before – Preparation
Friday morning and it was snowing outside my window and temperatures of 1 degree had been predicated in Milgavie on Saturday morning. And they predicted rain rain and rain last year and the sun had got his hat on hip hip hip hurray, and pigs may fly. I was travelling up with fellow club member John – it was his first Fling and i was very excited for him to experience such a great event. I wish I could have shared the enthusiasm myself but something told me I was not going to have the best of runs. Mental attitude- Epic Fail
My drop bags were all labelled but with less food than last time. I had been trailing this ‘tailwind’ lark which with half a sachet in a water bottle and water in the other alongside bits of food and I thought it had worked for me on the Oldham Way and Dark Skies races. But this was twice as long. Instead I ditched the water one and put tailwind in both. Another mistake as I found out later and didn’t eat enough. This is not to say that Tailwind is not a good product it’s fantastic but for me on this race there were limitations and my body needed more., could have been post flu needs or that I wasn’t listening to my body. Nutrition, think! – Epic Fail
Friday evening registration was a breeze and I was recognised by a lovely lady from Dark Skies Race, even then I had doubts and said I just want to make the finish line I was making more and more excuses which just spun round in my head more and more and radiated into a spiral of negativity. This was not right, this was not me, I was lacking the buzz of the challenge of being in places that I love. Something was just not there for me.
If you want it, you’ll find a way, if you don’t you’ll find an excuse
After a pasta based tea at the hotel followed by a cup of tea it was time to get some sleep. Easier said than done, probably due to forgetting some decaffeinated teabags and drinking far too much caffeinated tea on the way up. With around 3 hours sleep (Ding Ding Excuse number 487 – get more sleep) my alarm buzzed around 3.30am, making a cup of tea for my flask and trying to munch on an energy type bar for breakfast was not a great move either (Ding Ding excuse number 768 – eat more breakfast), I knew this wasn’t enough but didnt want a repeat of a porridge pot stomach disaster of last year. Eat a sensible healthy breakfast – Epic Fail
Nobody is impressed with how good your excuses are
The Ultra day
At the start it was chilly but warm enough to strip down to tee and long sleeved without the waterproof. With a few little mini aldi milky ways and snickers in my rucksack a couple of ’emergency gels’ and not a lot else I was ready for the 53 mile adventure. But again there was little spark from me, little excitement. I felt as flat as an Scottish pancake that I should have had for breakfast as I walked unthoughtfully into the sub 10 hour pen. There was not that pang of nervousness that I usually like before a race, I just felt simply deflated. This is quite sad really for such a fantastic race. Let’s face it – I doubted my ability right from the start. Be nervous but don’t doubt your ability – Epic Fail
Ryan aka @runbyrun35 Came up to say hi and placed himself next to me, just before the start then after a little chat and wishing each other well, we were off. And off I flew. Take your pace steady in a 53 mile ultra – Epic Fail
The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing
Down through the country park paths 750 runners ran. There wasn’t much congestion at all as I ran happily for the first couple of miles, I kept catching up with Ryan and ended up running quite a bit of the first 12 miles with him. Reality set in that I was going out too fast when I found out he had jointly won the Kielder Ultra alongside local boy Simon Green. Yes I was going out too fast but enjoying the crisp morning chatting and running. Ironically no pain was coming from my leg and I was sipping the gunk in my water bottles quite smoothly.
I reached the muddy field just before the Checkpoint at Dryman and had a peek at my watch I had come in a good 2 or 3 minutes faster than last year and was feeling ok, a bit sniffly but ok. I filled up my bottles and then got some more powder in them and went on my way. Hold up I had only eaten a mere mini mini milky way and was beginning to feel the need for proper food. A pang came to me that this was the beginning of the end.
The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow
The first little climb into the ‘real’ countryside I began to feel the effects of the last 12 miles, or the flu or whatever excuses I could dig out of my pockets as my body began to slow down quite a bit. I got a mini mini snickers down me and then gave into an apple Torq gel which I normally like. This didn’t go down too well either my stomach felt a weird, sickly and sticky like. My body was beginning to flag with small steps forward. I tried to smile and feel the love for the race as I chatted to another guy who had done the Fling 7 or 8 times before. We talked broken bones, courses, family and food etc before he flung himself up Conic Hill. I used the hill as an excuse to strip off and find my feet the best I could with a glimmer of optimism as I looked up at the beautiful hill in-front of me and the array of runners digging in deep to reach the top.
Conic Hill photos – smiling
It’s the way you love the trails that count
With cameraman strategically placed at the top of conic hill I smiled as I went passed not looking forward to the descent not my strongest point, but overall only 2 runners passed me so I was rather pleased. Then a very fast downhill run through the easy trails into the first checkpoint where my drop bag was waved at me.
I had already made up my next carton of Tailwind which I poured into my soft flasks and looked at the sad goodies that awaited me – a square of flapjack and a mini mini mars bar and snickers bar – wtf was I thinking? Oh and a gel for good luck. Ha. All wrong. I downed the raspberry flapjack which was far too sweet, took on some more liquid and tried to eat as much as I could. This was not working. I knew something was wrong in the back of my head.
Back on the trails I couldn’t keep up with the guys I had been chatting with previously and a group of people came flying past me on the flat I had no inclination to keep up as my tummy was making all sorts of enduring sounds, spluttering like a car that wouldn’t start. I needed more petrol in the engine.
Run the day, don’t let it run you
Into the woods and I began to feel even more lethargic, I was beginning to bonk already. Once more people had passed me I was on my own running through these delicious trails but really hating every step. The tummy gargling at me, my body so tired I could have just laid down by the side of the path and my eyes just wandering into endless space.
I began to feel very sick. I stopped after checking no one was behind me and managed to throw up what I had in my empty upset tummy, wishing I had some proper water with me. My head was heavy and body lethargic. The left overs of the cold were beginning to haunt me again, should I have taken those flu tablets at 4am this morning? Probably not. I felt light headed, dehydration came to mind, I needed water just simple pure water. The sun had certainty got his hat on, it was a warm day, pigs were flying and other animals were grunting inside me. I started wondering if I could do this.
The voice in your head that says you can’t do this is a liar
Mile after mile ticked on by, more people came past me, wishing them luck as they do to me when I go past, painfully counting down to the next checkpoint. 24 miles there was no one around I needed a wee, so nipped into the dark woods, and my thoughts on dehydration were confirmed so much that my wee looked brighter than my newly painted ‘red’ kitchen and it wasn’t due to downing beetroot juice either. I remembered the salt tabs that I carry and downed one of them but it was too late. 2 miles to checkpoint at Rowardennan, just a mere 2 miles. I ran into the checkpoint at around mile 26 with no energy whatsoever.
My dropbag was ready and I took the contents of it leaned against the table as the kind people filled up my water bottles this time just having water, chucked away my bottle full of made up tailwind and downed some coke I had in my dropbag along with lots and lots of water. Someone commented on the very tall girl who went whizzing through the checkpoint (Debbie Martin-Consani) and left me for dust, she would pick her way through the pack to finish 6th overall, goes to show a steady start works and normally works for me too. I was actually hitting the same time as last year at 4.08 but I felt like I had been dragged through a hedge backwards 53 times.
I walked out of the checkpoint my hopes of finishing diminishing even further, even the lovely guys with the band set up down the trail couldn’t force me a big smile, and I was completly deleriously in my own feeling sorry for myself world that I walked onto a beach off the path of the West Highland Way and a kind runner shouted me back as I scrambled back onto the path to join up where I shold be. FFS this was not meant to happen.
Set back Vs Failure: Set back: you slipped up screwed up lost focus gave in got busy got lazy or distracted yourself or Failure: you decided it wasn’t worth the effort.
7ish miles to the next checkpoint. This time last year I was loving this trail, bouncing about up and down, this year I was hating it every step, I couldn’t fall in love with the beauty around me. My body was refusing. I let runners come past me as I wobbled and politely said ‘after you’ some asked if I was ok, ‘yeah just having a bad patch’ I quipped up we all have bad patches on Ultra’s right? Just this patch was lasting far too long engulfing the whole of my body.
Another salt tab and I tried to force more food into me, a few more chocolate mini’s I think and another gel in hope for a bit of a boost, I wouldn’t normally go for too many gels but sometimes they have their places and this was one of them.
I refuse to give up on myself
More runners past me as I walked / jogged to the next checkpoint thinking I may drop out, my body had run out of energy I needed more food, lots more food. I was hoping the front runners had left their dropbags with lots of food for me. I walked down the steps into Inversnaid where I said to one of the marshals I was feeling really ill. She gave me a big hug as tears came to my eyes. I walked over to the medical tent and just sat there staring, watching all the runners come through with big smiles on their faces, whilst my energy levels were down, I scoffed my mini chedders and some salted peanuts then went to raid the left over box by eating some of those fish and chip crisps, peanuts and downing a can of fizzy coke someone had left. In addition I had a bar of something and something else. I couldn’t get enough food down me, I wanted sandwiches but only a couple of manky looking sandwiches had been left which didnt look appetising at all.
After about 20 minutes of doing nothing I decided to continue. My calfs felt fine it was my head/ body that had given up. I was suprised my calfs weren’t hurting at all maybe the shoes were the one good thing coming out of this.
I have not failed I have just found that it wasn’t working today
This is all too negative I know.
So I continued to walk – 7 ish miles to the next checkpoint with the very technical bit coming up which would take a long time to walk anyway so I thought I may as well give it a go. Again I let a lot of runners past me as I fumbled with the rocks, unsteady and sad. This was not me, my body was drenched in self pity but I had to keep on going.
Finally at the end and a small climb out of the lock, with a gorgeous sign that said….
‘Look back! You have just ran that. You are awesome, now kick the arse out of the last little bit’
Yes that was stunning – breathtaking views of Loch Lomand, I should have taken a photo but even my normal photo taking head wasn’t on today and I truly couldn’t be bothered taking photos – What? no photos – something must be well and truly wrong there. Yes something was wrong. As I hit the top of the hill and started jogging down with more people overtaking me, I felt a jerk in my knee, it was about to cease up, then a few minutes later it ceased up, pain shooting all down my lateral side of the knee. The shin was fine, the calf was fine it was just pain at the top of the calf sending shear pain every time I tried to bend the knee. I thought it was only a mile or so to Beinglas but I was so wrong it felt forever as I stumbled and began to walk in pain down the beautiful trails, letting all the runners whizz past me, kind words asking if I was ok.
At one point someone asked if I was ok, and tears began to well up I don’t know why, I was upset for failing myself and my body for the pain I was in for being ready to DNF at Beinglas, I was 99% sure I was going to quit as I hobbled in tears round to beinglas the pain both in my knee and in my head was just unbearable. This was just stupid, we are supposed to enjoy these events and for the first time ever here I was an absolute mess in a wreck of tears with lots of people cheering me on.
I know what nearly giving up feels like I want to know what if feels like not to give up
A lovely lady at the medical area looked at my knee and did some massage on it, whilst suggesting I eat more so ate more mini chedders whilst they fed me a coke, along with some scottish tablet that someone had left and a mini chocolate roll. After about 20 minutes or so it was suggested I have a walk on it to see how it was. It was 2.30pm I had 12 miles to go I was 3 hours in-front of the cut off so everyone said I had plenty of time even if I walked it, I could walk 12 miles in 6 hours right? I didn’t know to be honest whether I had it in me or not. Apparently, there were still 300 people behind me so I did have plenty of time.
Today was just about the finish line
I raided the left over foods again, taking some more crisps, nuts, a massive protein type flapjack bar which I wolfed down me, another mini roll and some other stuff people had left and filled up my bottles including a spare soft flask water bottle that I had forgotten I had and walked tearfully out of the checkpoint now determined to get to that finish line with 12 miles of rolling hills in-front of me. This was going to be hard. Harder than running it as more and more people came running past me asking how I was. It was those people who kept me going, kept some sort of hope in that I could finish this damm thing as I wished them well. My watch had long stopped so I had no idea of mileage but took some guesses and asked people along the way, 8 miles to go – cow poo alley, not even funny, 7 miles to go oh look stunning views of snowcapped mountains, not even beautiful in my selfish head as I squelched through the mud munching on someone elses left over bar of something or other and eating more salty cripsy type stuff.
As long as you can then take another step
6 miles to go oh that would normally take just over an hour on this sort of ultra, but today I was guessing over 2 hours, its nearly 4pm could I make it for 6pm could I do a sub 12 hour walk / run. Suddenly in my head my walking legs got competitive in myself I needed a reason to cross that finish line, that reason was a sub 12 hour.
Success in life comes when you simply refuse to give up with goals so strong that obstacles failure and loss only act as motivation
I started to perk up thinking I could do it if I challenged myself. The problem with this next section was that the minute it went up the ups were fine that it would drop back down again, rollercoasting through some fantastic woodland but the downhills were just so painful I was almost hobbling on one leg. I found a little stick to help me take the weight off my knee on the last few rocky descents, still determined to finish this course.
Finally, on the flat, I ditched the stick and ploughed on. Cow bells ringing with a few locals cheering me on, along side a kind gentleman who was waiting for his wife and kept coming across me ‘still going’ he would say, making me smile. Still going I thought, yes still going, I will not give in not now. Just 5km to go that’s just over an hour to go of decent walking plus the rest was now flat in the valley to Tyndrum. I tried to run on the concrete farm road but the knee just wouldn’t have it. The body was now full of energy and wanted to run, it wanted to run through the farmers fields, it wanted to run down the road, it wanted to run down the pathway next to the gushing river. It wanted a lot but it wouldn’t. Don’t say can’t.
There is no failure in running as long as you keep moving
Something then clicked in my head and I started a very gentle shuffle along the pathway, it was gentle as I let a couple of people shuffle past me, and up into the heather moorland for the last mile or so as I got chatting to another guy who was shuffling a bit faster than me. I was frustrated as I had energy now but my knee wouldn’t allow me to shuffle any faster. Onto the last little bit of the pathway where I started to break into what you could call a jog, the pain still shooting around my knee but I was careless, I wanted to run into that finish line with a smile on my face, the bagpipes were sounding as I overtook a couple of people, bounding around the corner this is how it should be, feeling the love for running and for the most spectacular event. Up to the red carpet to cheering and clapping, to finish in around 11 hours and 53 minutes. However, I didn’t even summon enough glee to smile at the cameraman.
A medal was placed around my head and a bottle of water in my hand, I felt odd, not happy, not exhausted just kind of odd, just sad that I was unable to achieve what I would have liked to have achieved, bewildered, all endorphins had been washed away, no post race buzz, just odd.
Inside the tent I got some delicious food down me a cup of tea and chatted to fellow runners. It just felt wrong to not feel elated. An odd feeling of disappointment. But on the plus side, I have so many lessons to be learned, so so many that it will be a positive thing next time round.
Evaluate, Tomorrow is a new day, move on
Learning- In retrospect
Today I should have focused on the process. The whole experience not just an outcome that wasn’t meant to be. What have I learned and how can I apply these lessons to future runs. The role running plays in my life and on my mindset is far too important to me to let a bad experience get to me. So you’ve heard the sob story, the excuses, what about the positives? Don’t dwell, learn, move on and Hel-up.
What went right? I didnt give up, I loved the snow capped mountains and the surrounding beauty of the trails. I loved watching others really excel through the course, the buzz of the atmosphere on these remote trails. I spent 12 hours on my feet 3 more than I had planned – that’s all good for endurance training. I loved the whole organisation of the ‘event’, the magic through the trails, it remind me of what really matters, yes I made it, not only did I finish that finish line, I actually made it into the top 50% of runners but so what? That’s just focusing on the outcome rather than the whole process. Yes I had a disappointing performance, so what? Remember how far I have come, 53 miles is a long way, a very long way.
The journey is more important than the outcome
The weather was stunning I am not sure how the Fling gods ordered that sort of weather but if it had been anything but that I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have finished it. The beautiful surroundings, the awesome runners keeping me going, the marshals and first aiders helping not just myself but others in much more pain than I was. The mental barrier that I overcame to just get to that finish line. It was a different type of ‘race’ for me, self belief and learning to overcome frustrations that may happen in events. To learn to deal with your own disappointments, to appreciate the body for what it can and can’t do and adjust your own goals. I should have adjusted my goals a week or so before and appreciated the condition of my body.
The organisation and route of this event is spectacular and although ‘the process’ probably supersedes the pain I went through on only a couple of other races in the past (Edale Skyline 2014 with near on pneumonia and Spooky 10km where I had more than one poo accident) this has to be one of the hardest mentally / physically things I have had to sort out in my body and head.
These types of situations only make us stronger. I will not give up. I have had my moan by writing everything down, reflecting and realising that whatever happened was what it was and I finished it. So that’s my self indulgent review -when things don’t always go to plan and learning to deal with goals that you may not quite meet.
Watch this video to really see what an amazingly electrifying event this is.
Until we meet again. Never ever give up.