Sunday, 13 May 2018

50th post; sweep-up. Whats next?

Only 3 weeks ago, I had intended on this, my 50th post, being my last. Indeed, two weeks ago, after finishing the Highland Fling Race on such a validating high I was happy to confine my running to the annuls of history and move onto something new. However, following the posting of my subsequent, alternative race report I've been left with a quandary.

As the years have passed, I've been told on and off (by those close to me) that I have a talent for writing. And whilst that is comforting, the lack of feedback from the forum I have been trying to help has led to conclusions that I've been writing for myself alone.

A feeling which has been heightened over the years by witnessing individuals taking my written advice and passing it off as their own and by others taking and offering not so much as a thanks in return. I've even had the indignity of a colleague taking stories of my life and passing them off as his own when writing to the 2012 Olympic committee - an event which led to him being awarded a period with the Olympic torch! 

These parasitic individuals are an inevitability in life and can seem like a good reason to stop trying. However, that would only be the case if we allowed our self to dwell on the issues negatively. They can provide a cleansing effect.

The stand-out feedback received of late is that I appear to have dealt with these issues well enough. It seems that I have inspired a lot of good people, the intended audience, and that I should keep writing (because a lot of them want me to).

My 50th post was always meant to sweep up and look back at my best posts (IMO);

1. Ultra Motivation; what motivates you? Is it time for some internal reflection?

2. Your walk talks louder than your talk talks. However....; trying to come to terms with disappointment.

3. The problem with words; your best qualities shine through at critical times. These are the very same moments that catch out the non-genuine among us.

4. The four pillars of ultimate performance; my thoughts on a strategy for achieving the most bang for your buck.

5. My 3 tips for losing excess bodyfat; speaks for itself, quite a detailed post.

6. Injuries; trying to prevent them and what to do when you get them; another highly technical post.

7. Strength workouts for runners; a fairly short but important post.

8. Fatigue resistance; a key component of running faster; a really important aspect of ultra running.

After mulling it over though, I've decided to keep going, albeit without the pressure I placed upon myself in preparing for the fling. That was a race in which I simply had to achieve my aim despite the many factors that were against me.

I will now work towards the inaugural Mt Snowdon Ultra 50 which is taking place 22nd September. This gives me a few months to prepare specifically and some time to reflect properly with a view to penning other, more meaningful posts for the future.

The caveat to this must be my tibial bone spur; its sore enough just walking up and down stairs! I think I can handle the hip and knee pain, the bone spur is a completely different situation altogether and one I don't think my physio will be keen on helping with anymore. The fling was meant to be my last run after all!

Nevertheless, I want to add more detail to two of my four pillars; physical conditioning and nutrient timing. so hopefully it will work out. If not, if my injuries get in the way so be it. The pressures off now. I hope I can continue to help people though.

Overall, I'm just relieved that I've managed to come full circle with this chapter in my life. One of my biggest incentives to keep going was to provide something worthwhile for my kids, for in years to come, should I fail to be around anymore, for whatever reason. Contributing positively in life is important to me, as it should be.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Unearthing the Holy Grail; an alternative look at the fling.

On Saturday the 28th April 2018 I had one of the greatest days of my life. Having been searching for the Holy Grail for years, this highest of highs would not have been possible without previously battling through the lowest of lows.

From a medical perspective, in signing up to the 2018 Highland Fling Race, I had committed to the impossible; with my injuries and chronic pain, I shouldn’t have been able to run a mile never mind 53!

A few years ago, I wrote a post called ‘my four pillars of ultimate performance’, in which I introduced a thread I intended to build on. Unfortunately, I injured my hip not long after that. The four pillars are; 1. Motivation, 2, Mental Strength, 3. Physical Conditioning, and, 4. Nutrient Timing.


In 2010 and 2011, I did the Bob Graham Round and a Winter West Highland Way; two of the biggest ultra-challenges in the UK, at the time. I also had a pop at the Highland Fling Race in 2011.

Back then I began to tempt myself with the notion that as a novice runner I might have some real potential. This was to be confirmed with a sub 9hr time in the fling.

Unfortunately, I didn’t perform as intended and battled hard to get it done in 10hrs 24mins. In the immediate aftermath, I was absolutely gutted that I had to wait a while for a chance to overcome my failure.

Then the hip injury in 2012 seemed like an unfortunate turn of events. Following words from the surgeon (wouldn’t be able to run again), it seemed I’d be joining the ranks of the ‘I could’ve been ……’ gang. That, for me, was an unacceptable situation.

In the years that followed, I was unable to reflect on my running past with any real positivity. I didn’t want to face the possibility that I was (and had possibly always been) a delusional loser. Intrinsically the fire to face my 2011 disappointment has never diminished.

Intrinsic motivation is far more intense than extrinsic i.e. doing something to satisfy a core need rather than something for associated adulation. I wrote about this in my post ‘Ultra Motivation’. The need to prove to myself that I did used to be a decent runner has been over-bearing and having that opportunity taken from me in 2012, seemingly forever, was heart-breaking.

Then in mid-2017, I mustered the courage to go for a 4mile jog, my first run in almost 5yrs. It was painful but what the hell, I was living with pain every day since I injured the hip; the pain from the run was bearable. How far could I push this?

And as soon as that glimmer of hope became reality I grabbed it with both hands and refused to let go; righting the wrongs of the 2011 fling has been central to every thought process since. My wife will testify to this!

The target was sub 10hrs. 9hrs 59mins and 59secs would absolutely do, 10hrs would not. Sub 10hrs represented a sub 9hrs 30mins run in 2011 which was my realistic target back then; a point substantiated in my previous post. However, to touch on it again, in 2018, I found that I was approx’ 30secs slower per mile for every training run. Not only that, I was also training at approx’ 5% higher in heart rate than desired due to issues encountered in 2018. In short, I was fitter in 2011; if I could get sub 10hrs in 2018 it would represent sub 9hrs 30mins in real terms i.e. relative to 2011.

Mental strength

When I first started running, I had heard about the concept of ‘training’ your mental strength and always thought, ‘What, how do you do that?’

This is simply one’s ability to cope with and overcome demanding situations. I’m certain we can agree, therefore, that ultra-running provides a decent reason to work on our mental strength. I had other reasons and overcoming chronic pain (if possible) was foremost in my thoughts.

1.     Taking ownership of your progress;
Anyone who read my post regarding training for this years’ fling would have noted how monumentally difficult it was. Without going over old ground, what I will say is that despite everything that presented itself, I stayed the course, batted away negative periods and refused to complain. I signed up to this training and if I really didn’t want it, I didn’t have to do it. The whole period was of my own making.

I had to achieve a sub 10hrs time in the race I was training for and in my mind the only way to do this was to do the required training. If I couldn’t manage the bear minimum to scrape a sub 10hrs time, then there would be no point at all in doing the training. The only two choices I allowed myself were do it or don’t. Everything else was middle ground and that was a compromise I refused to consider.

2.     Control as many of the variables as possible;
This could be mentioned under the paragraph above but varies slightly. It means getting hold of the right training equipment, creating a challenging training programme and being able to adjust it weekly/monthly depending on your ability to adapt, sticking to the training at crucial times and pulling back when you have too, planning your logistics in advance for training sessions, regular one to ones with medical practitioners (if as in my case was required), writing an itinerary for important training sessions (and the race), rehearsals, negotiating work-life balance with family and employers in advance, ensuring your nutrition is balanced and timed correctly, remove as many surprises as possible, etc.

3.     Practice mindfulness and deep relaxation;
Back in 2011 in preparation for my Winter WHW I focussed on this every day for 6 weeks before the big day. During that fantastic day I felt like I was floating along the Way, for long periods of time; totally in the zone. I decided to revisit this technique for this years’ fling.

If you wish, copy and paste the following link into your web browser and download the deep relaxation mp3 file.

I have practiced both mindfulness meditation and deep relaxation daily and found that overall, I am more aware of my surroundings, myself and my inner most feelings. I somehow connect more with what’s important and am able to easily let go of things that aren’t. I read a book a few years ago which claimed through meditation a person could achieve 10% more happiness in their lives. I swear to you, off the back of that, I am genuinely living the dream.

The benefits extend to ultra-running because you become better equipped at dealing with negativity, at problem solving on the move and at balancing your emotional response to situations. For example,

Dealing with negativity; during taper I received an email from someone on the fling medical team stating that my position in the race was being considered due to my declared use (my post about training for the fling) of a banned substance (ibuprofen). The person writing the email probably had appropriate intentions, but he used negative language, got his facts wrong and even had the audacity to ask me if I genuinely believed I could complete the distance within the prescribed time limit.

Ordinarily, this would have jolted me off track. After all, this was during taper. I should’ve been recovering from weeks of induced fatigue and trying to get my head in the game. However, I seen it for what it was, ignored any negative connotations, corrected the gentleman in my reply and provided him with the assurances he was seeking.

Problem solving on the move; I set myself with a plan to get to the various checkpoints at the latest possible acceptable time for a sub 10hr race. Having got to Drymen 8mins ahead and then Balmaha 20mins ahead, I decided I would take 20mins longer to get to Rowardennan. Slowing down from Balmaha to Rowardennan might have been mentally difficult given the huge swathes of people that passed me here, had I cared about that. But as I’ve said, my motivation is intrinsic. I was 100% confident in my approach. And so it proved because from Rowardennan onwards I was not overtaken by a single person again.

My hip started hurting just before Conic. I had planned to take two lots of paracetamol during the race and needed the benefits to kick in towards the end of the race. Therefore, 2.5hrs in was not the right time to take my first two tablets. I decided the tablets would be taken at the 4hr point and the next two at the 7hr point. Therefore, I simply decided to box my pain and hide it away (in my head). Every time it resurfaced I put it away. The frequency with which it resurfaced ramped up conveniently to the 4hr mark!

I’ll come onto nutrition later, suffice to say it presented a need for problem solving on the hoof. As is almost always the case, things happen during an ultra that you weren’t expecting. How you deal with them can define your day, quite literally.

Balancing emotional responses; stood at 6am, huddled together at Milngavie Train Station car park I found myself welling up such was the overwhelming emotion I felt in simply overcoming the hurdles of the last few years and getting to the start line. I was quickly able to tell myself that the race was yet to be run and to hold it together until I had at least crossed the finish line. This happened about 4 or 5 times throughout the day and every time I was able to almost instantly seize upon it and put it away.

Whilst emotion is to be embraced, this type before and during the race had the potential to derail my concentration and impact on my sub 10hrs target. This could not be permitted.

4.     Tolerate pain
Almost every single training session in the build-up to the fling was painful. It reached a crescendo during what I call the ‘push’ phase in training (more on this later).

Essentially, my very last technical training run was at the end of an 80mile training week. This itself was the last of 3 consecutive high mileage training weeks meaning that I was heavily set with fatigue. That run was 32miles starting in Tyndrum and was an out and back on the Way. Yes, that’s Cow Poo Ally twice!

The key here was to make the second half quicker or at least the same duration as the first half. Not only that but because of the accumulation of weeks of fatigue and pain, it should come close to replicating the finish to the actual race.

This was my fourth long run on the Way during 2 months of training in which time I had covered all sections of the 53mile races several times. This approach to training replicated my preparation for my two biggest achievements (noted elsewhere).

During the race itself, I absolutely flew on the second half of the race and arguably the tougher sections were where I was at my most fluid; I overtook an unbelievable number of folks in the last half of the race and my first half (to Balmaha) wasn’t slow!

Physical conditioning

We all train differently so there’s no point in me trying to describe something that fits all. However, when aiming to fulfil our potential, there are fundamentals to adhere too.

Working back from race day;
·       Carb load; I’ll come onto this later (Nutrition),
·      Taper; here we aim to get rid of hidden fatigue whilst maintaining high end (VO2 max) fitness; I suggest 2No HIIT sessions per week (15mins each max’). There is absolutely no need to do any long endurance sessions during taper. Some people lack the courage and / or discipline to stick with this then wonder why they are still tired come race day.
·       Push Phase (pre-taper) should be 2, 3 or 4 weeks in duration, depending on ability. This is not a time for taking it easy in terms of volume. Specific race adaptations are achieved here, if you get it right.
·     Having a decent base of fitness. In an ideal world, we would all want a prolonged base training phase. In 2018, this was not possible for me due to many unforeseen circumstances. However, I took some confidence from the fact that at least I wasn’t in a poor condition. Yes, I would’ve liked to train consistently and at a lower heart rate range, but it wasn’t possible.

Due to how my training panned out in 2018, I contend that a person can achieve their aims with less than two months of specific training, IF they have a decent base of fitness to begin with.

Nutrient timing

You’ll have heard the saying, ‘you are what you eat’? Well, being more accurate, what we should say is, ‘your hormones are affected by what you eat’.  

If only it was as simple as that. Clearly, hormones are affected by more than what we eat; stress, weather, relationships, exercise regime, etc.

If you are keen on trying to achieve your very best as an amateur athlete, I advise you to seek out the advice of a nutritionist. I did this back in 2012 (when beginning to prepare for the Triple Crown) just before my hip had other ideas!

Lose excess bodyfat; this is the first thing to do. Before working on your fitness, put together a realistic time frame for losing excess bodyfat. For some, this might be a year, others 3 or 4 months. This is not a time to be focusing on fitness. Trust me, it is stressful enough and taxing on the body. Forget trying to get fit.

Counting Macro’s; once you’ve got to your desired bodyfat percentage start experimenting with daily nutrition whilst building your base fitness. Counting and timing consumption of your macros is a good daily habit to get into and is a useful aide memoir especially when working away from home for example.

Having a good understanding of nutrition will help you avoid many of the commercial pitfalls deliberately placed in our way. Eat more from natural sources and avoid cheap sugary products at all costs.

Training / race nutrition; find something that works but have a back-up plan for when the unexpected happens. When racing long, it helps to get carbs on board from various sources i.e. try not to just have the one thing, the body digests fast acting carbs quicker when they come in different forms.

You should also understand that the body can only digest 200-240 calories from carbs per hour at a race intensity similar to that of an ultra. Note, you do not need to consume protein or fat during the race. Your body (regardless of bodyfat percentage) has more than enough fat stored. Also, try to avoid foods with fibre – your body will struggle to digest this during race intensity, so it will just sit in your stomach until you slow down (or until you puke it up).

Therefore, your drop bags should consist of products containing medium to fast acting (Glycaemic Index) carbs. They do not need anything that has fat or protein in them, unless you’re happy to take as long as you want to complete the distance (you don’t need that snickers, trust me!).

Problem solving on the move; I felt ill a couple of times during the race and it was due to me eating more than I was able to digest. It wasn’t by much and I was able to spot the signs pretty quickly meaning I mitigated it straight away. I did this by taking on board some water and ginger chews; a combination which helps to break down the congealed mess. The key here is to have the confidence to understand that you don’t need to eat anything else for a while as you’ll be getting the required energy from what’s already inside once its broken up.

In my training runs, I liked to eat coconut oil spread and Nutella, white bread sandwiches cut into fingers with tailwind fluids. I also took the odd go-gel as an added supplement. During the race, I couldn’t tolerate the sandwiches. Fortunately, I had some penny chews with me, of different flavours.

Despite planning my race nutrition meticulously, I found that I ditched about half of what was in my drop bags during the race. I am still amazed by how little I consumed, compared with my training runs. I think this might have something to do with…

carb loading; a topic many people think they know about but as soon as they say, ‘big bowl of pasta’, you know they haven’t got a clue. It’s actually really simple and all it takes to get it right is a quick google one week out from your race. Do a depletion state run etc, etc. The key for me is that you don’t want to be weighed down with a bloated belly during your race. All you really need to do is consume an extra 300 calories from clean carbs in each of the two 24hr periods back from race day. For me, this was a yoghurt with an apple and banana cut up and put in. Honestly, it’s as simple as that. Stick with your usual calorie / macros limit and bolt this on. That’s it, nothing special.


The 2018 Highland Fling vindicated my belief in my former self and for this reason was life affirming. It was way more than a 53mile race for me. I started (fell) running in 2008, and apart from the in-between (hip injury) period, I’ve been on a journey of self-discovery with it. To muster everything I had (and I don’t mean on the day) to cross the finish line in 9hrs 46mins is down to thorough preparation in my four pillars of ultimate performance.

The day ranks alongside my greatest achievements given the background to it. The cherry on top of the cake was my brief chat with Debs MC after the race. It was a privilege as she inspired me to write my own blog and to keep going when all felt lost.  

If I could, I would kiss each and every person in John and Noanie’s team of supporters. The whole day was utterly magical and in no small part due to their immense efforts. If you need me next year, I’m there. I’d love to give back on the day if I can. All the best.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Training for an ultra, with the sun going down

As I enter a wind down phase in my training, I feel it’s time to share a story; one of running and life which some of us might relate to; a tale of exuberance and hope which comes to be thwarted by an undeniable truth.

It also happens to chart the training of someone who has been told by two surgeons (independent from one another and for different injuries) that they shouldn’t run anymore. The injuries are;
·       Tibial bone spur (2010),
·       No right hip labrum (following a failed operation to repair a ‘torn labrum’ end 2013),
·       Arthritis to my hip (discovered during operation noted above),
·       A lack of cartilage to my right knee. 

I’ve explained the motivation for attempting this years’ Highland Fling Race in a recent post.

False resurrection?

During the months of October and November last year (2017), I had been running 2 or 3 times a week, doing a bit of weights and dipping in and out of whatever else took my fancy. So, despite my chronic injuries, by the end of this period, I felt strong and healthy;
·       I had reduced my easy running pace to 8.30 m/m,
·       My fat burning efficiency and fatigue resistance were developing,
·       My longest run was 20miles, my peak week was 40miles, and,
·       my resting heart rate (RHR) was down to 31.

I was really looking forward to starting specific training in December, full of the joys. I hadn’t overdone anything up to that point and no stone was left unturned in the preparation of the training programme.

Little did I know it at the time but my fitness didn’t progress beyond this point, for another 16 weeks!

….with best intentions;

This was to be my best-ever strategy for running an ultra. By the end of 2012, prior to the hip injury which had stopped me in my tracks, not only was I at a physical prime but my understanding of all facets of training had peaked. My 2018 comeback relied heavily on putting it all together and simply doing it.

The progressive adaptations to fitness over 5 months of training would ensure a peak for the 53mile Highland Fling Race, no doubt about it. The first 2 months, December and January, were simply meant as bedding in months.

There would be no immediate uplift in volume or intensity. I would just sprinkle in a little bit more endurance training – on the indoor upright bike – to compliment my running which was to be fixed at 3 times per week.

Then to progress in February and March, I would substitute the fitness gained from the bike work for a bit more time on feet; more running. It was hoped this strategy would mitigate against the otherwise continual impact on my body, thereby prolonging my ability to train consistently.

The hammer blow;

Prior to 2018 I had run on the West Highland Way twice; once during the Highland Fling Race (2011) and the other during my winter WHW (end of 2011). For those runs my time for the first 20mile section (Milngavie to Balmaha) was 3hrs 20mins and 3hrs 30mins respectively and from memory, this starting section was straightforward, and save the up & down of Conic Hill, fairly monotonous.

The intention with this training run (end Jan’ 2018) was to plod to Balmaha at around 70% maximum heart rate (MHR) and in around the same time as when I did the full Way. Right from the off, however, I was unavoidably working at a higher intensity. There were several mitigating circumstances (which I’ll come onto) but nevertheless, in working harder than intended, I was disappointed to have finished the run 10 minutes slower than expected.

Truth be told, this session carried more meaning than a simple training run, there was a lot riding on it. I had told myself beforehand that if it went ok then then previous two months could be forgotten, confined to the annuls of non-history. However, a combination of the time it took and the condition of my battered body in the aftermath confirmed my fears.

Those two months;
·       Stress; right at the very start of December (beginning of the training programme) something happened at work which provided me with some unwarranted stress. I averaged 2hrs sleep a night for the first 5 days whilst I dealt with it but by then the damage was done. It took 2 weeks for my energy levels and motivation for training to return. In that time my RHR had climbed to 56, despite very little training.
·      Back injury; just as I was coming back to myself (mid-Dec) I hurt my back simply getting up from a seat at home. Bearing in mind, this was the festive season; 2 sessions of acupuncture were the only thing I could find available; another 2 weeks training were lost.
·       Cold virus / flu; after that and at the end of the year, I picked up what at the time I thought was a virus. My hunger went through the roof and for 3 weeks, I had zero energy for training. Prior to this, I had been carefully tracking my macro’s (food intake) and was consistently eating less than needed, thereby carefully losing excess body fat. This virus meant that in the following months I unintentionally trained at a higher intensity than previous - having lost my conditioning.
·      Knee injury; towards the end Jan 17’, with local forest tracks being inaccessible due to snow and ice, I injured my left knee whilst on a middle-distance road run. I wasn’t meant to be training on the road so on top of everything else, the injury was difficult to take. I was at a low point after this and after arranging an emergency physio appointment had faced up to the possibility that I might not make the start of the Highland Fling Race after all. Turns out it was a collateral knee ligament sprain; a week’s rest and self-ultrasound treatment and I’d be able to resume training.
·     Milngavie to Balmaha training run; it was during this (discussed above) that I realised my memory of the gentle West Highland Way was simply me looking through rose tinted glasses! All off-road training done prior to this was done on gentle terrain, on forest track roads local to me. Routes which lacked the inclines, declines and technical terrain found on the Way. This was an embarrassing mistake. And to compound that a recurring injury reared its head that day.  
·       Tibial bone spur; in 2010, and after months of consultation, I was advised to give up running due to this injury; the surgeon told me he was unwilling to operate as it didn’t affect my ability to work. Subsequently, in 2010 I gave up fell running in lieu of trail running - which seemed to mitigate things, at that time. Fast forward 8yrs, during the Milngavie to Balmaha run, however, I became increasingly aware of pain in my left ankle / foot. It’s difficult to describe but essentially feels like my left leg is attached to my left foot via a pancake of broken glass. I had trouble walking properly in the days after that run too. If this was to hamper me until the fling, there would be no fling!
·     Crisis of confidence; I have records of all training done since 2008 which for 2011 and into 2012 was a good thing in terms of setting targets and realistic training expectations. In 2018, however, I have failed to match any of my previous / historical performance levels, never mind exceed. My capacity for cumulative days of training has also altered significantly. After more than a 5yr lay-off the comparison with previous training specifics had led to an erosion of confidence.

I should be clear; I’m not apportioning blame or seeking sympathy here. I’m old enough to know by now, that if it wasn’t for all that stuff, it would probably be something else. It’s been unfortunate but that’s life, I had to get on with the hand I was dealt.

Into February;
I effectively now had 3 months to get fit for this race, not 5. AND I was in a worse condition 3 months from the race than I was 5 months from it. Despite this, I tried to remain positive. I had to accept that I wasn’t going to get to the start of the fling in the condition I wanted too. So, being in the best condition possible would be my renewed focus. A couple of amendments were needed;
·       The tibial bone spur; this was a big problem and throughout early February, it was beginning to have an impact on my day to day life. A quick google found a possible fix – a corticosteroid injection. Thankfully my physio approved; when I got it done I found instant relief. Honestly, it felt as though I had been given the left leg of someone 10yrs younger, it was like Christmas, my focus became reinvigorated.
·       New training strategy; that Milngavie to Balmaha training run turned out to be a blessing of sorts - did I mention that I had a brief chat with John Kynaston beforehand that very day? I decided my long training runs would now all be on similar terrain to the WHW; no brainer really! To offset these longer (time-on-feet) training runs, I also had to build in more recovery to my weekly schedule.

And then, an eclipse;

Over the next couple of months’, the day job picked up. I did 1300miles on the road one week then worked abroad for the following two. Training was unfortunately, less of a priority and became shoe-horned into fragments of available time.

In between coming back from a 7hr flight and going away for another week, I decided I had to squeeze in a 36miler. After all, I had been unable to do very much in the weeks beforehand and was unlikely to do very much in the following week.

I should have been relatively fresh but predictably, I wasn’t focussed; I wanted to get back home to catch up with my wife and kids before going away for another week, the next day.

Usually, long runs tend to be about concentration; my posture, foot-fall, gait, any little niggles, and food & fluid intake. With about the last third to go, I tend to find myself transitioning into a trance like state. This closing section is all about maintaining focus on the variables mentioned whilst dealing with increasing pain. You can tell when someone has entered that stage just by the wild, intense look in their eyes.

The 36miler was a circular route and with only the first third done I felt myself transitioning! It’s irreversible and of course, I decided to plod on. By the time I had got past half way I had no choice but to battle through the torture. Again, I was at another low point. In fact, at that time, looking back I couldn’t recall a time since I started training for this race that I had been given any reason to be positive.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, my next long run (the following weekend) was a disaster; a 24miler with 10miles of mountain bike technical track to begin with. By the 14mile point I aborted and took a short cut back to the car. My appetite for battling through yet more overwhelming pain had simply expired by this point. It was only the second time in my life that I had thrown the towel in, being reminded of my first Bob Graham attempt – albeit having been hampered by a recent bout of food poisoning back then.

I had been struggling for almost 4 solid months by this point. Yeah, ok for the smart Alec’s among us, training isn’t meant to be easy. But this was something very different. At no point in the years previous did I ever have to contend with such a rapid onset of structural fatigue and pain (below the naval); a familiar theme nowadays. Maybe this was the arthritis? Is this what the surgeon was getting at when he said I probably shouldn’t run anymore? How was I going to manage 53miles if I could barely get through 14?

Fortunately, in this moment, running had again forced me to the depths of despair. It would have been easy for me to fall back on excuses at this point but in my gut, I was reminded that they are simply a masked shortcut to failure. I’ve always maintained that the right path tends to be the most difficult; there was no other option, I would forge on.

There would be no going away for a few years to be tempted back; my conscience and failing body would not allow it. No matter what, I would have to find a way to accept the outcome of the race because I knew in my heart that I had given the training everything.

Finally, a glimmer of light;

For those that aren’t aware, the final part of training (before the taper) is regarded as pivotal in terms of volume and intensity, where recovery is scaled back whilst the finishing touches are applied. An inability to train due to illness, injury or work/ family commitments are like death to progressive adaptations in fitness during this period. If ever there was a time for consistency it was now.

I have explained why I don’t take paracetamol or ibuprofen, in a previous post. However, to turn the tide in this training, I felt I had to become an expert in pain management and to do that, I needed to take every option available to me.

When I asked my local pharmacist for advice, he said that I could rely on any experience running long distances whilst taking painkillers. Back between 2010-2012, I used to take ibuprofen during long runs and fortunately, a lack of adverse effects during those runs gave him sufficient confidence to say that it shouldn’t prevent me from trying it now, in 2018.

The strategy now was to wait until I began to feel the initial onset of pain (if fresh, this is around the 3-4hr mark) and take 400mg of ibuprofen; 2hrs later, 1000mg of paracetamol and 2hrs later ibuprofen.

Well…you know that feeling when you are cold and catch a sun beam? That’s what this phase in my training felt like. The warm satisfying glow, you hope will last a while. And boy did I bask in it. My wife would say I was like an unresponsive zombie at times (due to the accumulation of fatigue) but what did she know!

The best I have ever trained in my life was for my Winter WHW (end 2011); granted I didn’t have a daily 2hr commute back then! However, in training for this challenge I have struggled to match even half of that volume during the first 16weeks.

In fact, it took a full 16weeks from the end of November 2017 until the end of the 3rd week in March for my fitness to match its starting point (see false resurrection above). In other words, I’ve effectively had no base training. As frustrating as that is, I’m at the stage now where I can’t allow myself to dwell on it.

Nevertheless, my mileage for the last 3 weeks has been 40, 63 and 80 respectfully. Considering I was unable to run for 5 of the 7 days in that first week (working on a remote island), I’m quite chuffed. Not only that but I have never run as many technical miles in training as I have the latter stages of this programme.

In fact, I have run on the WHW 4 times in recent weeks. The last one was out and back south on the WHW from Tyndrum with my mate Bridey. This was done specifically to assist with positive visualisation rehearsals. And boy am I glad I did it because it has brought back into focus just how demanding the last 12miles are!

Two minor problems with this phase though are;
1.     The volume of ibuprofen and paracetamol I’ve been getting through, and,
2.     The blood blisters under several of my toe nails (painful).

Race expectations

I’ve always felt I had unfinished business with the Highland Fling Race having walked in the region of 90mins of my race in the spring of 2011, especially as I had not trained specifically for it and was carrying an Achilles bursitis injury incurred participating in a mountain marathon the week beforehand.

Back when I was at my best (2011/2012) I set my sights on returning to post a sub 9hour fling. This was virtually impossible but with a lot of luck I felt it could happen. Realistically, I knew that sub 9hrs 30min was within my capabilities. I obviously never got the chance to return, until now.

A few months ago, predicting I might not reach similar fitness levels, I set my ‘Gold’ target as 10hrs and ‘Silver’ as beating my previous time of 10hrs 24mins. However, as discussed, it seems I’ve had a bigger set back than anticipated during the last few months.

The complication to setting these targets is that the route for the race will probably go low after Rowardennan (technical terrain), for the first time and in my opinion, this adds close to 10mins to the race duration not counting the added impact on the body.  
There are some added complications;
1.     The quicker onset of pain and fatigue these days,
2.     In 5yrs, my pace (across all types of runs) has slowed by more than 30secs per mile,
3.     If the weather is vastly different to training conditions i.e. if it is a hot day.

Therefore, notwithstanding the above, if I run to a similar performance as that in 2011, it stands to reason that I should finish in around 11hrs; 10hrs 24mins plus 10mins for the low road and 26mins for the added 30secs per mile.
I’ve therefore got sufficient reason to revise my targets for the race;
·       Gold; sub 10hrs 10mins i.e. the equivalent of sub 9hrs 30mins in 2011.
·       Silver; sub 11hrs i.e. beating my 2011 time in real terms.
·       Bronze; I feel just by getting to the start line in 2018 I’ve already earnt this!

There is just one other caveat to all of this though. Given the journey I’ve been on over the last few months, I feel it would be remiss of me not to consider the fact that pain might play a big part in this race. I’ve therefore decided that if I get to the end of the first stage (20miles) and I’m suffering, then I will not force myself towards any of my predetermined targets. Instead, I hope I have it in me to finish the race within the time limits and just try to soak up the atmosphere of the day.


In announcing a comeback to running towards the back end of last year (2017), it somehow failed to don on me that I was 5yrs older and had a different body to the runner I once was. It was a mistake to think I could simply bed straight back in to where I left off.

I’ve been assured by other more experienced runners that laying dormant for 5yrs was likely to be the main factor for my woes but as I’ve said, there will be no continuation of this comeback. I’ve put my life on hold for it and whilst my family and employer have been supportive, my injuries wouldn’t sustain a prolonged commitment.

If this was simply an age thing, I’d like to think that I’d crack on; 2019 might have turned out to be more straightforward but I’ll never know. It has become apparent that the 2018 Highland Fling Race will be my final soiree. It also stands to reason that this, my 49th post, will be my penultimate.

At least now I know for certain where I am though. This comeback has removed all guess work from any future running aspirations and oddly enough I feel that is a good thing. Just a few months ago, I wasn’t sure if I’d even make the start of the race.

This last few months has been a bigger battle than any training I have ever done, I’ve got my fingers crossed that it pays dividends. Now all that’s left for me to do is make the most of what sunlight remains.