South Downs Way 100

Not written a race report since my WHW triple crown last year. However I felt my experience at the SDW100 was sufficiently epic to merit trying to remember by wordpress password. 

We (Jen and myself), set off for Winchester on Friday morning. However it soon turned into an ordeal where a delay or cancellation in every mode of transport (ironically with the exception of the Edinburgh trams) saw us get in to Winchester over 2 hours later than planned. It would have been even later had we not abandoned the train journey early to get a taxi, when we learned the connection we would miss was going to result in a hours wait in the arse end of nowhere. So by the time we got dinner I hadn’t eaten or drank in about 7 hours. Less than ideal prep for a 100 mile race but I made up for it at dinner…inhaling pizza, garlic bread and a jug of water. We then headed to the hotel to get settled and to let me empty all our luggage back into assorted piles.

Race morning went pretty well. I had got about 5 hours sleep and had my mountain fuel for breakfast. Given I got zero sleep and couldn’t eat before the WHW race…I was doing well. We then jumped into a taxi, registered, faffed and then sat nervously for the start. Along with the obligatory toilet break every 5 mins.

James the race director gave us some brief instructions, then counted down….3,2,1….Go! Let’s run 100 miles. First part of the race went fairly to plan. I was a few minutes bit off 20 hour pace but not much. I knew I’d be a bit behind as the estimates based on previous results seemed to suggest a fast start and slow finish. After a cool, damp start the temperature just kept rising. The cloud cover kept in the heat and constantly teased us with a few spots of rain…only to get more hot and humid. Damion said it was about 24c at one point….6c higher than anticipated. By 35 miles in I was feeling the heat but still moving well. That is, until I emptied my guts on the trail side (and a little on my shoes) at mile 40. I immediately felt better and pressed on getting some food a few miles down the road. Then at mile 47 it happened again (although my aim had improved). Bugger. I got to the aid station at mile 50 and managed to get some food down me. Only had to make it a mile to see my crew (Jen, Damion, and Holly). Ended up heaving at the trail side once more and had to sit down twice just to cover that mile. I couldn’t even walk in a straight line let alone run. I approached my crew with all the vigour and agility of a sack of potatoes. Inside I was begging them to tell me it wasn’t safe for me to go on, I wanted someone else to make the decision for me…surely not a good idea for me to go on. However they must have forgotten to pack the sympathy as they set about re-fueling me and talking me back into the game. So I stopped there for about half an hour, just to get enough energy to make it the 3 miles to Washington where I could get inside out the sun/heat for some pasta. I had a chat with Tim Lambert as he came passed, he was also struggling in the heat, so it helped to know I wasn’t the only one…and he showed no signs of packing it in! He had also made himself a target for me to catch!

I was told to walk and let my body recuperate and cool off. But within a mile I was doing 9m/m and ran all the way into Washington, stopping only briefly to drink some water when I thought I might be sick again. I was back on good form by the time I reached Washington, and I don’t think my crew could believe it was the same runner they dragged off the dirt just 3 miles earlier. I stopped for a while to eat pasta and enjoy being sat down and indoors. I needed to change things up a bit so I ditched the tailwind (hydration/energy drink for those not in the know) for water and salt tablets and left there with a 40min buffer on my 24h pace.

Before I knew it I was running well again…even running up hills and catching all those that passed me in that hellish part of the race when I wanted to quit. I Took my time in the next aid stations to get food in though as I knew I had depleted my reserves already. I continued this all the way through the second half of the race, never really having another bad spell. For the last few aid stations I was just trying to get the job done, so a couple of glugs of cola, and a few of water then on my way again.

The mist descended for the last 16 miles which made navigation a nightmare, and we managed to help a few runners back onto the right route. However it did make things nice and cool … even if you could only see a few feet in front. With 2 miles to go I was completely burst and struggled to get into a run, but I managed to keep things moving along and we continued to overtake a few more runners. I had gone over the last mile on road in my mind so many times, that it didn’t feel as long as I thought it was going to…but I have never been so relieved to get to an athletics track. 400m to go I gave it the beans 1 last time, as if I was running the last of a 400m intervals session (it felt fast….). Crossing the line I collapsed in an exhausted heap, not for the first time in the race…but certainly the last!

I had gone into the race gunning for 20h and was sure I could do it. However with the hot conditions, and my lack of ability to perform well in them, I was (and still am) well chuffed to get a sub-24h finish.

The acknowledgements. No good (or otherwise) blog would be complete without thanking the people who helped you out along the way. Much like Formula 1. The driver just turns up and steals the glory then writes some crap on the internet about how hard they worked for it. The real work goes on behind the scenes. So here goes….

The support crew – Jen, Damion and Holly. Apart from bringing along some pureed beef as food for me to eat …. These guys were on point from the start. Wouldn’t have got anywhere near the finish without them, they got me out of what felt like a completely hopeless situation. Not to mention they gave up their weekends to chase me across the countryside feeding me and dealing with my tantrums. What a team!

Centurion staff/volunteers – There was almost a 1-1 ratio of volunteer to runner. Every aid station was in full swing party mode, and have enough food and drink to keep us all going. Definitely one of the best races I have ever taken part in, and will make the trip down to do another one of their 100 milers.

RunRecover – I started working with Neil MacNicol at the end of last year with the aim of improving my race performance. Despite not making my 20h target, I was still able to finish the race strong in tough conditions, having lost a few hours to the heat. Certainly not something I could have done before. Hopefully I can keep the form going to nail that sub 20h in my next 100 miler!

RaceFitness – Kieron’s fitness classes have been great at improving my overall body strength and agility. Functional outdoor fitness using the environment as a gym definitely beats standing indoors repeatedly picking  up a bit of metal then putting it back down again. Even if it means you are obliged to take part in an obstacle race now and again.

That’s all for now…hopefully my next blog will be a really uneventful tale of how I ran 100 miles, everything went to plan and hit my targets.

For the stat geeks like me….here is my strava link

below: me looking surprisingly fresh with a hard earned belt buckle!

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Devil o the Highlands 2015

Pre race

A very chilled out affair compared with the last race. No 3 week taper. No car full of kit and food. Just hired a car and drove Jen and myself up to Tyndrum to stay in a hobbit hut the night before the race…which wasn’t a 1am start either.

When I woke up about 4am the rain was bouncing off the hut. Not a welcoming start to the day but I nipped over to the green welly cafe to register (thankfully had a car for a change) then back to the hut for breakfast. I finalised my kit for the day and got my drop bags sorted then we headed back to the cafe for race briefing the start of the race.

Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy

I started off fast….Maybe a little too fast. I could still see the leaders for the first few miles but I felt good and the weather had cleared up. So I reckoned I should make progress before the rain starts again.

Met a few familiar faces and chatted away and we churned through this relatively short section.

Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe

I passed straight through the aid station at Bridge of Orchy and pushed on up the hill. It was a shame Murdo wasn’t at the top handing out jelly babies but was nice to have energy in the legs this time.

Quite enjoyed the run over Rannoch Moor as I chatted away to a few race newbies. I was trying out Tailwind Nutrition for the first time in a race so instead of eating I was just sipping away on this strange white power…it seemed to be working. Plus I’m not very good at eating in a race so hopefully would see me through the latter stages.

Glencoe to Kinlochleven

I refilled my bottles with Tailwind and was straight out the checkpoint again. I was still moving well and running near the same group of runners. Should probably give a mention to Mike from Tailwind here too. I asked for some advice before the race on how to transfer the powder along the course, so he posted some prototype containers for me to product test during the race. Happy to say they worked a treat. 200kcal of nutrition, in a little container in the small front pocket of my Ultimate Direction AK vest and poured easily into my bottles (Although may have been trickier in the narrow mouthed bottle.)

Sorry non-runners, back to the race….

Still full of energy I pushed up the devil’s staircase and started the long descent into Kinlochleven. My legs were beginning to tighten up which really slowed things down on the descent…but I managed to arrive into Kinlochleven bang on target. I even managed to resist the bus to Fort William that pulled up on my arrival.

Kinlochleven to Lundavra

I refilled my bottles with Tailwind (still no solid food) and powered up the climb onto Lairig Mor. Stuart Chalmers eventually caught up with me (I’d been waiting for him to cruise passed). We had a wee chat but neither of us were up for much conversation. He was moving quicker than me though so moved on ahead. The weather started to worsen about 30 miles into the race and it was jackets back on. The WHW walkers provided some encouragement but they battling the elements as much as we were. Especially the guy with feet so heavily bandaged that his boots were strapped to his bag and had resorted to sandals.  The quote of the day came from the American tourist I passed…

Walker: good job buddy. Me: thanks…it’s a hard job today. Walker: that’s why they gave it to a tough guy like you.

Gave me a great laugh…What a legend!

Lundavra to Fort William

Having passed the worst part of Lairig Mor I was able to press on a little faster as the trail smoothed and started to descend. I reckon that I was able to run this section faster in the whw race…but a closer look at my stats will probably confirm I’m talking rubbish. The wheels were truly off the wagon now…was just surviving till the finish.

FB_IMG_1438588606155John Duncan decided to add his own branding to the race this year by diverting us off the road into Fort William and up over cow hill to keep us on the trail instead. I appreciated the sentiment of keeping us off the road…but the hill just seemed to keep on climbing. As I had just about given up hope, we stopped climbing and descended into Fort William. When I turned onto the finishing straight it was great to see everyone cheering me in (including my Russell and his daughter Amy who decided to get the train up for the day) and John announcing “Our next runner, Number 139 Fraser McCoull… Triple crown finisher”.

Aftermath

20150801_135448It was a tough race despite being the shortest of the 3. The first 26 miles went grand but the WHW Race must have caught up with me after that. My mind and body felt fine, but I just couldn’t turn any faster speed out of my legs. I claimed that I was running the last few miles faster in the WHW Race, but I’m sure if I checked my stats I’d prove myself wrong. Nonetheless it was fantastic to finish and a great way to round off the challenge. If you fancy reading the stats:

http://www.strava.com/activities/360998288

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It was a fairly picture free race. Apart from me striking a first day at school pose, there were no snaps until the finish. The highlight [left] being my finishing photo looking like something from a certain episode of a popular Irish sitcom.


The final word

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As the final blog of my WHW Triple Crown challenge, there isn’t any other way to finish it, than a tribute to the man who started it all. He ignited my obsession with the outdoors, endurance and the West Highland Way. It is a place in Scotland that I will always treasure. I can only hope I would have made him proud with my efforts, and in my work for SAMH provided a worthy legacy.

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The amount we have raised it truly astonishing, and at time of writing, approaching £6.5k. There is still time to donate at http://www.justgiving.com/fraser-mccoull. Massive thanks to everyone who has donated! 🙂

West Highland Way Race 2015

Pre-race

The day started well, I woke up at 10:30 with 11hours sleep and over 12hours in bed. I wolfed down a giant breakfast and made my way to Lynne’s (of Bodhiworks massage) for a pre-race massage. So far so good. Picked up a big lunch from the cafe, but getting stressed but couldnt quite finish it. Not to worry, it was a lot of food. Started making some of my race food and getting things together….the nerves getting worse, starting to feel a bit sick. Kind of feels like a hangover, except usually when you have a hangover you just survive until nighttime and retreat to bed…but I have 95 miles to run. I gathered my kit together, and jumped in a taxi to Jen’s flat with my stuff (where my cousin Russell was picking me up), and as soon as we got there…disaster! Forgot the keys to Jen’s flat. Back in the taxi, across town, into my flat, grab the keys, back in the taxi, back across town for a 3rd time. By this point I was too ill to eat or drink anything, just holding down what I had eaten for breakfast was challenge enough. A few  hours at Russell’s house managed to calm me down as I was able to eat some tea and toast and  his son Robbie kept me amused with MineCraft  videos (still don’t understand it but it was a welcome distraction). At least now I was feeling ready to run and not like I’m nursing a horrific hangover.

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I quite enjoyed the start line chatter, meeting friends i hadn’t seen for a while and going through the final kit checks after getting registered and weighed in.

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Milngavie to Balmaha (3h 26mins) 11415578_705974466215353_8193693800901888499_o

This is definitely not one of the most interesting sections of the race, but it was good to get the race underway. I ran with Sandra McDougall for while having  good we chat and it certainly helped pass the time through the night. She pushed on when we hit the road section before Drymen, but I was happy keeping the pace a bit steadier on the road. A quick pit stop at Drymen for some more water and some food on the go, and I was off again. Met a guy from L.A. as I approached Conic hill and we had a chat to pass the climb. I then left him behind as we descended into Balmaha. As I arrived in Balmaha I managed to catch my crew off guard. I was about 20mins ahead of my target and they were just thinking about heading up to the trail when I called. Big difference from last time when I was at least 20 mins behind!

Balmaha to Rowardennan (5h 05mins)

I teamed up with Stuart Chalmers for most of this section, he was a bit behind his target but making good progress. Was nice to have some company again as this can feel like quite a long section as you weave through the forest along the loch side for miles. Jen and Russell were waiting for my in Rowardennan with a pot of porridge and some new supplies. I wolfed down the porridge, restocked my pack, grabbed my iPod and trotted off.

Rowardennan  to Inversnaid

Listening to my audiobook I ran on feeling pretty good. Legs werent hurting too much and I still felt quite fresh. Sticking to my plan of staying relaxed and eating well. Another uneventful section….but early into a 95 mile race this is just what i need. Stopped at Inversnaid to chew down a chia charge bar and have a chat with the volunteers who had kindly brought our drop bags across the loch with a plentiful supply of water.

Inversnaid to Beinglas farm (08h 39mins)

This is always a hard section. Some rough trail and scrambling along the loch side and then a nasty climb at the other side. However just like at the fling, this section keeps on getting easier every time I run it. Having eaten well to this stage, and having my audiobook to keep me company I was making strong progress. Jen and Russell were in good spirits when I arrived, and were quick to feed me with more porridge and hear out my stories from the last 2 sections without them.

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Beinglas to Auchtertyre (10h 54mins) 11656122_1148289351854622_95690887_o

Belly full of oats I was cruising again. Another section on my own, another section of easy running, and another section of good weather. This time I had the goal of reaching the far side of “cow shit alley” and the half way point in the course. I even enjoyed the roller coaster forest and the drop down into Auchtertyre.

11402817_10153403420283713_5147030850275722705_oMum and Matt had joined Russell and Jen as I ran into Auchteryre as the 51mile checkpoint. This time in 2013 I had lost a lot of weight and was ready for quitting. This time I was just 1kg down (you are going to lose something over 51miles of running) and full of high spirits.

More porridge (it was doing the trick nicely) and Jen toweled the dead midgies off my arms and legs. I took my time in getting the food in me, but wasn’t for hanging around too long. Make hay while the sun is shining!

Auchteryre to Bridge of Orchy (13h 03mins)

Following a brief stop in Tyndrum where I got to meet my crew again (and to say farewell to Russell who was driving up to Fort Bill for some sleep), I made some more good progress towards Bridge of Orchy. I got a big smile and a wave from Debbie Martin Consani and Fionna Ross running the section towards Tyndrum. This is pretty much the only chance I would have of seeing those 2 running during the WHW race…they would have been much further up the course if they had been racing. When I arrived in Bridge of Orchy I got stuck into…you guessed it…more porridge. I sat down for the first time here as Matt limbered up ready to run. This is the first point I had really started to feel tired. Nevertheless my energy levels were good and I didnt havent any reason not to be running (apart from my legs being sore…but that’s not a reason). I also had Matt to wingman me to the finish.

Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe(15h 39mins)

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This is the section I wasnt looking forward to. Long climb up to the top of Jelly Baby hill (Where Murdo give a jelly baby and a warm welcome to every single runner), then twisty descent to a long flat road, and a long slow drag up over Rannoch Moor.

10648481_10153403420478713_671340169892614901_oHowever with Matt tapping out a steady pace and occasionally speeding up to drag me along, we made some good time. As well and reminding me when to eat, I kept setting him math problems to help me work out how fast I had to run to make a 23 and 24hour finish.

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I felt much better arriving into Glencoe as I knew I would feel a lot more comfortable about finishing once I got here. Stopped for more food …yes more porridge and just before leaving the checkpoint I decided to have a wee check of a blister I had on one of my toes. However as it turned out….there was 3, and 1 of them was the bigger than the other 2 combined. I grabbed the blade I keep in my blister kit and pop…pop…pop. Covered the offending toes in compeed, applied more anti-blister lube and opted for fresh socks and shoes. Once more into the breach….

Glencoe to Kinlochleven (18h 32mins)

I had been walking out of all the checkpoints to let me food settle a little before running, but this time my right foot was nipping, really badly. This was the only point I had a concern of having to hobble to the finish. I gave myself a good talking to…as I was 71 miles into a 95 mile race, of course it was going to hurt, and if a few blisters were my only issue then I was doing well. By the time we crossed the road heading for Kingshouse I was running normally again. I wasnt keen on stopping though so when we reached Altnafeadh I grabbed a cup of cola from Jen, downed it and began power walking up the Devil’s staircase. We passed Neil Rutherford who was having a bad day, struggling to keep food down, but he wasnt for giving up on that 6th goblet. 11046506_10153403422073713_1779320815680641275_o 11402590_10153403423113713_558819841249948840_o

I took my time over some of the more technical parts of the descent into Kinlochleven (having taken a fall here before) but once we hit the fire road I managed to settle into a good rhythm. I caught my crew napping for the second time of the day as I arrived in Kinlochleven. With some time to kill before I arrived, Mum and Jen went for a walk round the town. Their relaxing walk turned to a run as they looked across the bridge to see me charging down the trail about 20mins early again. We then had a flat out race to the checkpoint (I won). Once we finished the mini-race, I got weighed for the second time and a quick health check from the marshals. Some avocado smoothie (no porridge) and a few cups of cola and I was fueled for the trail again. This time with a fist full of energy gels to see me to the finish. I left Mum and Jen for the last time and Matt and myself set off in hunt of the finish line.

Kinlochleven to Fort William (22h 23mins)

The climb out of Kinlochleven is a pretty nasty one but we made light work of it. It was once we reached the top of the hill that the wheels started to fall off. The terrain here is quite rough so even when I managed to run I struggled to get a rhythm. Powerwalking proved the most efficient way of moving here, but people were starting to catch us and passing with ease. I wasnt too concerned about losing/gaining a place but I tend to use it as a guage of how fast I should have been moving. I just ticked off the miles to Lundavra though, as I knew Russell was going to be there on his bike with supplies. A big gulp of cola, some mars bar and a few more gels and we set off once more. 11032403_10153403423663713_4566927685150415101_o

As the trail had smoothed off, we starting tapping out a faster pace as the lights started to dim. As we hit the forest I wasnt for stopping to get my headtorch out so decided to keep my momentum going and just push on for the finish. At some of the darker sections, Matt ran diagonally behind me and shone his headtorch in front of me so I could steal his light and not trip over the rocks and roots. Once we emerged onto the fire road, I knew we were just a few miles from the finish and really started to pick up the pace (relativ11118476_10153403425918713_1637026076239296997_oely speaking) and started passing quite a few people. My legs were screaming for mercy, but I hadn’t listened to then for the last 22hours…I wasnt going to start now. I picked off the milestones along the fire road as we charged towards the Braveheart carpark. Once there, we turned onto the main road into Fort William and we turned up the pace even more. Possibly the easiest mile of the entire race, and it was literally the fastest mile I had ran all day. Matt peeled off as we hit the leisure centre and I let out a roar as I crossed the finish line, 22hours 23 minutes and 4 seconds after leaving Milngavie, 95 miles away. Hugs and handshakes all round….and a real sense of disbelief.

The afterparty

Went we reached the hotel, I was too buzzed to sleep. Then once I got to sleep, my legs were throbbing  like they were going to burst, and feeling very restless. You’d think after 95miles they would be grateful to no longer be moving. We gathered at the Woolen mill in the morning for a big fry up (no more porridge!) and a few cups of coffee and we waited for the prize giving. The prize giving is a pretty special event. We got to see Paul Giblin receive a standing ovation as he collected his 3rd consecutive WHW title right through to the final runner, who also got a standing ovation as Paul presented him with his goblet. I couldn’t finish this off without giving the final word to my support crew. Each and every one of them went the extra mile to see me to the finish and there is no way I would have made it to the finish without them. From Jen staying awake for nearly 2 straight days, my Mum helping with my blisters, Matt running 50km to keep me moving, and Russell riding up to Lundavra after just a few hours sleep to drop off some more energy food. Hopefully they enjoyed themselves enough to return for my 3rd goblet 😉

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Well, when I say my crew get the last word, there is someone else who truly deserves the last word, my Dad. Without him I would never have got this far. I would never had been introduced to the West Highland Way, nor would I have been introduced to the pleasures of spending long days on the trails and hills. If he was still here, there is no doubt I would still have ended up on the start line of the race. However there were many moments during the race that I thought about the times we had walked those trails together, wished that he was also there supporting me, and hoped he would have been proud of what I had achieved. That’s why my 2015 WHW Race goblet is wholeheartedly dedicated to him.

Stats and Links

For the stat geeks like me out there….here is my run on strava. As my watch was on a less accurate mode it measures the course as longer than 95 miles. Either that or taking the racing line up the course makes all the difference over 95miles. The full results and splits can be found here.

There is also still time to donation to my JustGiving page at www.justgiving.com/fraser-mccoull

The countdown is on

“I always start these events with very lofty goals, like I’m going to do something special. And after a point of body deterioration, the goals get evaluated down to basically where I am now – where the best I can hope for is to avoid throwing up on my shoes.” – Nuclear Engineer and ultrarunner, Ephraim Romesberg, 65 miles into the Badwater Ultramarathon

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You’re standing in a suburban area of the city, just north of Glasgow. It’s a little before 1am on a Saturday morning. Ahead of you lies a trail. A trail that until 12 noon the following day will be the all consuming, solo objective in your life. No set meals, no resting on the couch, no sleep. Just relentless movement forwards until you arrive at the end of that trail, 95 miles away. 3…2…1…

It’s a route my Dad walked many times. About 15 if I recall correctly. He made it his objective when he turned 40. Stoppping at Rowardennan, Tyndrum, Kinlochleven and making it to Fort William in time for the early afternoon. The first year we all found it very exciting, waiting for the phone call to hear how he got on that day. We then drove to Fort William to wave him in and I still have vague memories of standing with him at the finishing post (when it used to finish at the Woolen mill). As he grew to walking the route every year, we stopped making the trip up and left him to catch the early afternoon bus back to Glasgow.

After a few people tried (and failed) to finish the route at his pace, I decided to give it a go and was ecstatic to be able to say I finished, even if I was in a world of pain after the first day. So once I started ultra-running, and got wind of a race that takes place on this very course…I couldn’t stop myself from signing up! That year (2013) Dad supported me from the beginning until Loch Lomond, and I was so conservative with my pace, I was 20mins down by the time I reached Drymen (just 12 miles in). I then managed to get myself stressed, not eat enough, and by halfway I was nearly getting pulled from the race for having lost a significant chunk of my bodyweight and I still had 44 miles to go. It was essentially like getting in a bar fight, on the way to a boxing match. Lucky my second crew was on had with some music and plenty food and water to bring me back to life. I wouldnt have made it passed halfway without them, not to mention the finish. I have taken a lot of lessons from my 2013 run at the WHW and hoping to put them all into practice this year to give my crew a bit more to work with!

Training has been going well for this year too. I’ve been running further, faster and higher. My weekly mileage has almost doubled and I have a much more experienced view of what to expect in long races. I have also been focusing on my strength and flexibility to try and prevent me from picking up any injuries during the race. So as long as I can survive a few more weeks of tapering, I will be in as good a position as I could have hoped for come race day.

People tell you that in an ultra “you start slow and ease off from there”. but people say a lot of things. True, you dont want to go out at 5k pace and leave even the elite guys eating your dust. But my WHW pace in 2013 was definitely a forced slow pace, which can take up as much extra energy as running quickly. This was probably through fear of going off too fast and ruining my race. So my strategy this year is to go out as a steady pace, but to stay relaxed. This should afford me some time in checkpoints to stop and take on plenty fuel, without worrying about getting moving again to try play catch up. The more solid food I can eat in the first half, the more energy I will have in the second. I fully expect to jump aboard the sugar train (as Robbie Britton calls it), but the longer I can wait to climb aboard the better.

“Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the face” Mike Tyson

I saw this posted on Facebook this morning, and thought it to be appropriate for the West Highland Way Race. You could turn up with only the key things you need, and hope it all goes to plan. However a race of 95 miles holds a mean right hook, and will be willing to swing at you at any time. So not only have I prepared for my target of finishing under 24hours, I am also preparing for finishing in under 35 hours (the race cut off). When I ran the race in 2013, it took nearly 29 hours. I had been on for about 26hour when my left leg packed in and I ended up hobbling from in from Kinlochleven (about 14miles). Not to mention my poor nutrition up until halfway meant that I was punch drunk by the time I got there.

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I thought I would finish off with an update on the Edinburgh Marathon. I wasn’t running in the event as I did my long training run the day before, but using my skills as a (now fully qualified) Sports and Remedial massage therapist working for ~SAMH. I must have spent about 4-5 hours in total doing back to back to back massages (or should that be leg to leg to leg…). The joy on the faces of the runners as they hobbled in, and their stories from their experience out on the course was truly inspirational. It was a real pleasure to help out the runners who had raised so much money for SAMH and pushed themselves to achieve something special that day.

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Look out for my next blog post, which will hopefully be a tale of a successful WHW Race attempt! In the mean time, there is plenty time to donate on my JustGiving page

And I’ll leave you with a reminder of the man I’m running on behalf of…

Hoka Highland Fling 2015

On Saturday the 25th of may I officially kicked of my West Highland Way Triple Crown attempt. Here is how it went….

Pre-race. I enjoyed a day of work on the Friday, got my race kit and drop bags ready, faffed around a lot, took a nice walk for a coffee, did a bit of studying, and generally relaxed. Neil picked us all up and we went to Glasgow for food, registration, and an hopefully an early night. Most of that went to plan, apart from the lying awake for hours…and hours.

Race Morning Alarm goes off … did I actually get to sleep? Im unsure. took so long to get to sleep if I did, it cant have been for long. No time to worry about not sleeping anymore, Ive got a race to prepare for. Big bowl of porridge with Nicola’s flameless cooker, hot cup of coffee, checked and double checked my kit, then went down to the hotel lobby to meet the others. It had all being going to plan, until we misjudged the walk from the carpark to the start line, so we turned up just as the race briefing was about to start. Frantically we set our dropbags in the right cars, made a last minute pit stop, said hellos and good lucks to the wide variety of characters I have got to know over the last few years (from Donald in his tartan onsie to the ultra-amazing Spiderman) and mustered for the start. My main objectives for the day were to finish strong, and more importantly, in one piece. Time wasn’t to play a big factor but my initial target was to pace myself for a sub-10hour finish. 53 miles Johnny Fling sounds the hooter….here we go. 11174246_939261752785669_3133038368096774637_o

above: Johnny Fling addresses his flock

Milnagvie to Balmaha (19 miles) Started off at a fairly steady pace, felt comfortable, but was careful not to get caught up in anyone else’s race. Saw a few familiar faces and had a catch up on training and whats been what since we last ran together. The field spread out pretty quickly, so there was plenty of room to run (last year I was getting frustrated at the puddle dodgers diving in front of me to avoid getting their shoes wet!!). There is a stretch near Drymen where you feel you are stopping to open gates every few meters, lucky I was in a group at this stage so was happy to let someone else do the gate opening and I just had to give it a push to keep it open for the person right behind me. I took my time going up conic hill and was managing my food intake pretty well then powered down the other side and into the checkpoint at Balmaha.

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above: approaching the Drymen checkpoint, then descending off conic hill into Balmaha

Balmaha to Rowardennan (8 miles) I gulped down the food in my drop bag, topped up my water, grabbed my energy bar and hit the trail again. My quads felt a little tight after the descent, but they loosened off again quite quickly. There are a few nasty climbs after Balmaha, and it is a section I used to not particularly enjoy, but it is another section I have come to look forward to as I realised the bad bits aren’t that bad. As you are in the trees for the majority of the section it is hard to judge your progress, but I’m a lot more familiar with some of the landmarks now. I arrived into the checkpoint about 10 mins behind my pace last year, and wasnt really “feeling it”, so was already starting to think about chucking the time goals. After all there is no sense in forcing it and potentially breaking myself for the WHW race.  I had a good chat with Gavin who helped me fumble with my drop bag and had a good laugh as I spilled my food down my chin and onto my top. Wiping myself down, I then pushed on at my own pace for Inversnaid, having reset my expectations for time. 11156178_10152815630903779_2246677681629578907_n

above: turning off the road to climb up out of Balmaha

Rowardennan to Inversnaid (7 miles) I had brought a chia charge bar to eat on some of the climbs through the forest. They are usually a good place to walk for a while, eat food and recover. However food was taking a lot of effort to swallow now, so I struggled to finish it, probably as I hadn’t eaten anything solid since going up Conic hill. I was feeling ok though so just pushed on. As I left the forest road and entered the inversnaid estate, I hit a bit of a low point. There was a lot of emotional baggage to carry with me today. Thinking about Dad and what the WHW meant to him began to weigh heavy on my shoulders. Might have been the lack of sleep, or lack of food, or even the heat from the sun. but it was exhausting me mentally. Dave Hanna caught up with me just before the checkpoint and was looking strong, could tell he was on for a good time. I wasnt feeling all that great by the time I reached the checkpoint, but I didnt fancy hanging around there for long. I promised myself a rest when I got to Beinglas, so just got some food down me and hit the trail again.

Inversnaid to Beinglas (7 miles) The food gave me a bit of a boost and I managed to get through the rocky section at Inversnaid in good time. This is a horrible section if you arent feeling great so was glad to be bouncing back. This only lasted so long unfortunately and soon I was beginning to struggle a bit. I stopped to fumble about with some salt tablets to try take dehydration of the equation. As I got myself moving again a few guys caught me, I ended up running with them for a while, I just focused on the guy in front and told myself to keep up. In the end, I actually managed to pull away from them and me and David Bruce ran into Beinglas together. A quick split time calculation told me a 10h finish was possible, but I wasnt too bothered by this stage, I was much more relaxed now and just enjoying the run. I took that break I had promised myself to rest my legs and drink some coca cola. I knew the coke would give me enough energy to knock out the next 4-5 miles….and the energy gels would take charge from there.

Beinglas to Tyndrum (12 miles) I always split this section into 4. Along the drove road to the road crossing, up cow sh*t alley to the forst at crianlarich, through the “rollercoaster” forest, then the final stretch through auchtertyre and along to the finish. I wasnt making great pace along the first section up to the road crossing, even stopped to text Mum to give her an idea of my finishing time (I never get my phone out during a race!). Quite a few people caught me here, but as a few caught me at the start of cow sh*t alley, I was able to hold on to their group, and again even managed to leave a few of them behind again. By the end of that stretch people passing me had saved so much energy for this section it looked like they had just started, others were hurting and I was starting to catch them. As I reached the “rollercoaster” forest (nicknamed due to the constant climbing and descending) I was taking a gel every 3 miles to keep my energy levels up. I got a boost when I saw my cousin Russell just as I came out of the forest and was about the cross the road again into Auchtertyre. Either this or the gels, or the fact the finish was in sight gave me a a urge of energy and I started working hard to catch the group in from of me. I managed to catch them…. and then a relay runner who passed me earlier, but then the group caught up one by one, and 3 of us swapped places for the last few miles as we encouraged each other towards the finish. I could feel myself starting to well up, and had visions of myself bursting into tears as I crossed the finish. Fortunately as I turned into the hostel and down the red carpet, that all lifted away and turned to sheer joy! Running down the finish straight of the Highland Fling is a feeling like no other. The finishers and spectators line the red carpet to cheer every single runner into the finish, and you feel like you are sprinting effortlessly (although the pictures tend to prove the reality was different). I crossed the line in a pretty decent, 10 hours 7 mins

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left: crossing the finishing line & my haul for the weekend.

Aftermath It took me a while to get from the finish to my mum and Gran who were waiting on me, luckily it didnt take me as long to get the first beer into my hand (about 60 seconds after the finish). You get to know a lot of people running ultras, and they all want to share stories with you, and likewise I wanted to share my race with them. Eventually thought I got out to see mum and Gran. Russell and his kids had also come to see me in. A brief catch up on the race and I hit the showers (still with beer in hand). We didnt hang around too long at the finish and began the trip back to Glasgow as I refueled on Irn Bru and caught up on the all the texts and emails of well wishers that I had been receiving throughout the day. I now have a few more lessons to take away from my 3rd Highland Fling. And many to add into my WHW Race in less than 8 weeks time, from ensuring I eat more solid food earlier in the race, to wear a cap to keep the sun off my head.  Most importantly a renewed confidence in my ability to run ultras, and finish the 95 mile West Highland Way. Best get hard at work recovering [cue fizz of a beer bottle being opened].

As always there is still plenty time to donate which can be done at my Just Giving page throughout the challenge, by following the link below:

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WHW Triple Crown Part 1 – Hoka highland Fling 2015.

70 mile weeks. 80 mile weeks. 100 mile weeks. 5am alarms. Squats. Yoga. Massage. Hill sprints. Intervals. Fartlek. Tempo runs. Recovery runs. Food. More food. Snow. Wind. Rain. Hail. Even a bit of sun….A lot has gone into my triple crown bid so far. Spending anywhere from 10h to 24h a week training. It has certainly been a journey and a test of my strength and patience. Not forgetting the patience of Jen as the alarm screeches out at 5am, I fumble around the flat for half an hour, then return just over an hour later to describe in great detail how I ran round and round a park for 10 miles.

The training for the challenge has also been a great therapy for me over the last 6 months. Any time things aren’t going so well, or I’m feeling pretty down, I just lace up my shoes and hit the trail. I always come back feeling better…even if it is only for the fact I have taken 1 step closer to WHW success.

For those of you who haven’t been bombarded with my blogs/ pictures / Facebook updates. This Saturday I will take on the 53mile Hoka highland Fling race. This is the first “half” of the West Highland Way, and the first race of my WHW Triple Crown attempt (to complete all 3 WHW races in the same year). I’m running in honour of my Dad, who we lost in October last year. He walked the West Highland Way 15 times since he turned 40 and looked forward to returning every year. Walking it with him just over 10 years ago was one of my proudest achievements, and ignited by own passion for long distance adventures.

I’ll also be running to raise awareness and money for Scottish Association of Mental Health. SAMH provides community based services for people across Scotland, offering support, training and recovery for those experiencing mental health problems, addictions, homelessness and other forms of social exclusion. They are working tirelessly to break down the stigma of mental health issues. I would encourage you to visit their website as it contains so much valuable information.

For your own viewing pleasure, here is a picture of me all SAMHified. Unfortunately the top will be covered up by my hydration vest during the race, so I got the SAMH logo printed on the back of my shorts. Hopefully there will be at least 1 or 2 people behind me to read it!

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My main goal for this weekend is to finish strong and confident for the full 95miles race. I ran the Highland Fling in 9h36mins last year, and while it would be great to match or even beat that…it isn’t a huge goal for me. I’m planning on running the same pace to Rowardennan (about half way), then just taking it from there. I might be faster….but might be slower! Either way, there will be no doubt who Im running the race for…

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Just want to finish this off by thanking everyone for their very generous donations so far! I have tried to thank everyone personally, but there have been so many I will have no doubt missed a few! There is still loads of time to donate, and you can do so by clicking the button below…..

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Eat Sleep Run. Repeat.

“Some seek the comfort of their therapist’s office, others head to the corner pub and dive into a pint, but I chose running as my therapy.” Dean Karnazes

This is the second attempt at writing one of these. Apparently an in depth analysis of a 6 day holiday where all you do is run, eat and sleep…doesnt make the best blogging material (although will be available for those who like that kind of thing …you know who you are). So I’ve written a version that is more, “grab a cuppa and enjoy” rather than “stock up on coffee and clear your diary”.

I had a week booked off work when Jen was supposed be away with work (long story), to do some training and studying up in Tyndrum. I booked myself into a hobbit hut at the by the way hostel, packed my running kit and a weeks worth of food (plus my study books…of course) and prepared myself for a lot of running. Monday’s run set the standard. Blizzard conditions made it tough going both underfoot and lack of feeling in feet/hands/face. However to my luck the weather only got better from there. My morning routine was to get up in the morning, hop over (in sleeping bag) to turn heater on, eat some porridge and a protein shake, drink some coffee and a ginger shot, retrieve my kit from the drying room and set off on the trails. My runs were 12, 20, 30, 11, 7, 14, and 16 miles in all totalling (and I checked the maths) 110miles. Some of those miles I was able to run free on nice clear trail, some of those miles were trudging through knee –waist deep snow. However the other 90 miles of those were in ankle deep snow. “Resistance training”…I assured / convinced myself.  Which was true, but it was slow progress! The low impact and low intensity training, not to mention the built in ice therapy, meant that I was fresh and ready to run each morning.

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above: view from the hut on day 1, and a selfie on the way up to Crianlarich on day 2

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above: view over Loch Lyon on day 3.

There were a few moments on the trails that I was able to stop and reflect. The WHW is a route that meant an awful lot to my Dad, and I know how much he always looked forward to getting to Tyndrum. I remembered the times when we walked that part of the route together (very loose on the definition of ‘together’), and when the running got tough I thought of him and tried to harness his strength. It also gave me focus when I would wake up in my sleeping bag in a freezing cold hut (the hut had lost all its heat over night as the outside air plummeted below zero), of why I was there and what I was doing. My own love for the trails will always be a massive part of it. However honouring the dad who gave me so much, and raising awareness in his legacy.

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Above: couple of snaps on the way up towards Ben Lui.

As well as running and reflecting, the week in the hut gave me time to catch up on some studying. I ditched my huge stack of notes in favour of my lighter muscles book. This was partly so I didn’t have to carry the heavy notes, but also gave me something to focus on and forced me to not try learn everything in one go. I poured over it time and time again until I knew my muscles with their origins, insertions, and actions inside and out. Having spent the last few months coasting through life, and having considered dropping out the course in favour of picking it up at a later date, it was a good feeling to be back on track (not to mention having sent off my homework on time for the first time since the course began!)

To cap off the week nicely, my skills as a massage therapist were called upon at the Fling training camp that weekend, where I got to work on the runners with varying degrees of niggles, injuries and gripes. All the proceeds (including the money I saved by getting my meal paid for) went to my fundraising efforts for SAMH and it smashed through the £3000 barrier!

day 6 (1)

above: my new massage ‘studio’ for the weekend.

Following that week, I took a well deserved rest week, clocking up a huge 10 miles! Only 100 less than the week before. Not wanting to sit still for too long, I have increased the training back to its normal level for the last couple of weeks, and have just 2 more weeks of even harder training, including a 2 day recce of the Highland Fling route, before I taper down for the first race. Its only 53miles… 😉

At time of writing my fundraising total is just shy of £3.5k. An absolutely phenomenal amount! The generosity, kindness and support people have shown has been over whelming and I think we could stretch the target to get to £4k before the race in June!! If you are keen to donate, you can do so through my JustGiving page: www.justgiving.com/fraser-mccoull and for more information on SAMH and the terrific work they do visit www.samh.org.uk