Dhan Uisge! – diary of a fledgling skins swimmer

I don’t really like being cold but equally I don’t like cheating.

This is real dilemma I have at the moment. For me swimming in a wetsuit is a bit like cheating. While it doesn’t make me swim like Katie Ledecky, my swimming hero, it does make we swim better than I do without it. It gives me a better body position and it helps me move through the water more efficiently. While I still  have to be able to swim, it does give a fair bit of assistance. It’s like running downhill compared to running on the flat, a 7 minute mile is a bit easier but you are still having to put in the effort to do it.

I love the open water but I want to be able to immerse myself in it without the aid of the wetsuit. I want to come out of the water knowing that the effort was 100% mine with no help whatsoever. This is where swimming outside differs from running or cycling to me. I feel when I’m running or cycling, I am just a guest passing through the environment. While I’m swimming I feel a certain symbiosis with the aquatic environment. You are immersed in it and you have to become it’s friend to allow you to move through it. You need to learn not to fight it but rather work with it.  I read the other day that when you get into the ocean to swim, you become part of the food chain. As I don’t run in Africa, then that is definitely not the case when I hit the trail.

This is the dilemma that had me standing in my funky trunks on the edge of Loch Venachar at just before 0800 on Saturday morning without a wet suit in sight. There was a wicked cold westerly wind blowing up the Loch. The waves this created weren’t gently lapping into the shore to the rhythm of a sweet ballad but rather crashing  into the small beach like the percussive snare drum on thrash metal track. It wasn’t inviting in the least.

I’d swam in my funky trunks the week before up at Fannyside Loch for 15 very comfortable minutes and my aim had been to swim for 20 minutes here. Upping my time little by little. I’m learning that every day in the water is different and every swim is different. The previous week the water was still and I got into a good steady stroke which, as I’m a mammal, generated some body heat or at the very least stopped me getting too cold.

I meekly took off my towel and walked into the water. It felt really, really, really ………. (like actors euphemistically say ‘the Scottish Play’, we outdoor swimmers don’t ever say the ‘C’ word) but I was committed so with purpose I waded in. I’d spoken with a friend who swims here often who told me that it was quite shallow round the waters edge and would present minimal danger to a solo swimmer. I decided that due to the conditions, I would stay in the shallows and swim the 20 to 30m section which was parallel to the beach.

Immediately I was getting tossed about by the white horses galloping in to crash upon the shore. Now I know how that tennis ball my wife puts in the tumble drier feels. I couldn’t get into any stroke rhythm but it was completely exhilarating. I normally swim with a bilateral breathing pattern but turning to breathe into the incoming waves was near on impossible so I reverted to breathing on two away from the waves. I’ve been practicing breathing on my weak side recently which proved invaluable when I turned to swim north to south as I wasn’t getting a mouthful of water.  Great example of how working hard in the pool makes the hard easy when I’m out in the open water.

I was checking my watch constantly and monitoring how I felt, By the time I hit 15 minutes, I was ready to get out. I quickly through my towel over me and much like the waves, galloped up to my car. I was changed in record time and sitting in my car with a hot cup of tea and a pain au chocolat. Then the shivering started. I’d been told about this and read about it many times but this is the first time I’ve experienced it. Thankfully I had a lid on my cup or I’d have had hot tea all over my  lap. I found that after the initial uncontrollable shivering, I started to be able to control it. It was coming in waves but less and less each time.

Once it had stopped, the magic happened.  A feeling of wellbeing washed over me and an involuntary smile started to spread across my face. I felt amazing. Now I get why people say that cold water swimming is a cure for depression. This feeling lasted with me all day and beyond.

Now I know that there will be people thinking that I am off my rocker. Or there will be people thinking that I shouldn’t be doing this by myself. I would like to say that I am doing this with my eyes opened. I swim between 15-20km every week. I am in the water at least 8 times a week. I can get in the pool and swim for a couple of hours without stopping. I am more than aware of my capabilities as a swimmer. Before I contemplate going on a solo swim, I talk with people who swim there. When I get there I check the environment and look for the safest place to swim. If it doesn’t feel right, I won’t get in the water. Is it dangerous? Yes, swimming outside is dangerous. Can you minimize the risks? Yes, with careful planning and an awareness of my environment and of my abilities I think that I can do this as safely as possible.
Crossing the road is dangerous but using your previous road crossing experience and all the times you’ve practiced crossing the road in your life, you can find, if you look for it, a safe place to cross.

Swim Details:
24/06/2017
Loch Venachar
Swim time: 15 minutes

 

 

Running a marathon? No, I’m racing a marathon

Monday, 27 July 2015 – 0440 hrs, Cumbernauld

Focus: stamina – wup/5 x 1mile + 3 mins/cdown

The rain was bouncing off the ground and there was a westerly wind blowing a hooley along the funnel that is the Forth and Clyde canal when I arrived at point just east of the Castlecary Arches. This was my first test run of running from home to the coalface, running a hard session then using the newly installed shower at the office. I had measured a part of the canal which was exactly a mile from gate to gate on which to do my reps. The reps were hard and the weather was harder but I was hitting targets that I could previously only dream of and confidence was running through my veins. As I finished up by the burnt out shell of the Underwood Loch House and headed back west and onwards towards breakfast, I thought to myself for the first time  ‘things might go well for me at Kielder’

 

Sunday, 04 October 2015 – 0400 hrs, Cumbernauld

My alarm woke me with a start. It had seemed only a few minutes since I shut my eyes but knew I’d managed a good 7 hours shift under the duvet. I sat up with the type of nervous energy and anticipation that only comes on race day. I reached over and switched my alarm clock off with a silent grace that comes from years of early rises and stealthily made my way downstairs avoiding the creaking floorboard on the 4th step down. Once in the kitchen, I popped the switch on the kettle, and as I waited for it to boil my mind drifted and my thoughts turned to the day ahead and the journey I’d been on to get to this point.

 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015 – circa 1800 hrs, Croy

“I don’t think you can run a sub 3:30 hr marathon, I know that you can”. And so it was decided, this was going to be my main Race goal. If James, font of all knowledge in running matters and probably the hardest working runner I know thought this then it must be true. Up until this conversation, my goal had been sub a 4:00hr marathon and I had floated the idea in my own head of perhaps hitting sub 3:45hr. I knew that I had a good time in me but was worried that I had given myself too much of a challenge by trying to PB on the ‘undulating’ trails surrounding Kielder water. My training had been going really well, much better than I’d hoped and expected. I had spent the last 5 months changing everything about my training. With some guidance and encouragement from James along the way, I changed my weekly training cycle to Easy-Hard-Easy-Hard-Recovery-Long-Rest. The hard runs were a mix of intervals – Long and short, tempo runs, hill reps, fast finishes, mixed tempo runs, pick ups etc. The easy runs were, well for want of a better word, easy. I also added daily stretching and started a Yoga class. All in all, I was in the best shape of my life.

Sunday, 04 October 2015 – 0800 hrs, Falstone

The journey down had gone seamlessly. Greg, my companion for the day, had picked me up just after 0500 and we seemed to have the road to ourselves all the way down. Greg is one of the runners I admire most in the world. He is an ultra-runner extraordinaire. He completed the triple-crown of Scottish ultras in 2014 – The Fling, The WHW race and The Devil and was coming here on the back of an epic performance at the Glenmore 24 hour race. He is also an extremely decent human being to boot! I had breakfasted on porridge followed by scrambled eggs but was a little bit worried about running mid-morning and running on empty so was nibbling on cereal bars on the way down. We met our fellow #teamKielder runner Lynne almost as soon as we got there. She had come down the previous evening and had slept in her campervan. Lynne had also set herself the challenge of running sub 3:30hr. She had also had a fantastic year after an amazing performance at the Fling and followed that with a podium place at the Devil. I was indeed in great company. As a side note, the three of us had also ran the Lake Windermere marathon together the previous year. Changed into our running gear and all hugged out, off we went to queue for the bus that would take us to the start line some 6 miles or so away at Leaplish Waterside Park.

Saturday, 19 September 2015 – 0507 hrs, Mollinsburn

Focus: long run – steady as she goes paraphrasing Kielder

This was the day where I knew that I had the capability and training to hit sub 3:30. It was the first long run I had done for a while completely by myself and had hit 23 miles with an average pace of 8:21. More importantly, I knew I could have kept going and knew I could have picked up the pace if need be. I’d spent the last few months doing all my long runs on a 4 mile loop. While not on trails, it was undulating enough to simulate what I’d face come race day. I’d read that this was a tactic that Team USA marathon squad had used leading up to the XXVIII Olympiad in Athens, 2004 (their’s was an out and back as opposed to a loop). What it did teach me was that I had three different pace zones and 3 different stride lengths – uphill, downhill and flat. It also taught my body how to transition between each running stryle effortlessly. I figured that I would not be able to pace Kielder like a flat marathon so would have to rely on overall average pace so my strategy was simple – slow uphill, fast downhill and steady on the flats. Doing the loops also simulated race day in that I didn’t need to carry any water as I had an ‘aid station’ every four miles so could run much as I would on the day.

 

Sunday, 04 October 2015 – circa 1130 hrs, Kielder Water marathon course

I was feeling fantastic. The first 1hr had flown by and I looked down at my watch and saw that average pace was just over 07:30 minute miles. I had been running mostly on feel judging each hill, flat and downhill on perceived effort and figured that it was the terrain that was dictating my pace, not poor judgement on my part. I had been feeling confident from the minute the gun had gone off. We had initially put ourselves in the 3:30 pen but had been moved up to the sub 3:00 pen to fill the gaps. I must admit that I did waiver slightly as I looked around to the runners who surrounded me wearing their club vests. They were also built differently than me – tall, long legs and to quote Freddie Flintoch “seen more meat on a dirty fork”. I did feel a bit out of place but quickly dismissed that negative thought and remembered that I was standing here on the merit of my training and I did have a realistic chance of hitting sub 3:30.

I had put my plan into practice perfectly in terms of terrain management. I wasn’t racing anything but the terrain. I did notice that I was being passed by lots of people on the uphills only for me to re-pass them on the downhills. They seemed to be treating the race as a hill rep session. I knew from experience that this would end in disaster for me so stuck with my plan and didn’t get drawn into any games. Some people stayed ahead but the majority of the people passing me were not to be seen again for the entirety of the race after I re-passed them.

I had been nibbling away before the start of the race polishing off a hot cross bun, Viennese whirl biscuit and a bottle of Lucozade. While I wasn’t hungry at the moment, I decided to eat the chocolate croissant I had with me. I usually got hunger pangs about mile 13 so wanted to cut these off at the pass. Next Time I’ll remember to do it at the water stop and not after. Was super hard to stomach without a drink to wash it down. Lessons learned!

Friday, 7 August 2015 – 0536 hrs, Hopeman

Focus: long run – warmup/13 +7 fast Finish

Oh my goodness gracious, I’ve judged this all wrong. My watch is saying 20 miles but I know that I’m at least a mile away from Burghead. My plan had been 13m steady with a pickup to 07:30 pace for 6m but I started this fast section way too early. I was dying on my feet, right on the edge. I felt sick and really didn’t think I could run another step. I knew I had two options – stop and walk the remainder home (about 3 miles) or do what I said I’d do and finish at the Maltings in Burghead. As I am not a quitter, I went with my original finishing point. This is the moment where, in my opinion, I moved from training to run a marathon to training to race a marathon.

 

Sunday, 04 October 2015 – circa 1300 hrs, Kielder Water marathon course

Things were starting to unravel. I was at the 20 mile marker and looked down at my watch as I had been doing at every mile marker since mile 16 and was watching it progressively creep up closer and closer towards 08:00 miles pace which was the pace for my goal. I was tired and my quads and calf muscles ached from the constant undulations. I’d gone through the half way point at 1:39:11 which was exactly the same time I’d run the GSR to earn a PB the year before but there I was a year on, running the same pace but with still another 13 miles to go. It goes to show how far my training had progressed in 12 months. I still felt good at the half way point but knew I was way too far ahead of schedule. My plan had been to hit half way around the 1:42-1:45 as I knew I had the ability to pick up in the second half. Now at 20 miles, I no longer felt good.

Had I messed up? Had another, future goal lodged in my head and made me take my eyes off this prize? Were all these months of training in vain? Why didn’t you follow the plan? Why didn’t you keep the heid? These are some of the thoughts that went through my head for a couple of minutes. Then I thought back to the run at Hopeman where I last messed up but hit my goal, I thought about all those mornings running up Croy Hill in the pitch dark, I thought about flying along the canal doing mile reps and I thought about the horrible 800m reps where on more than one occasion I’d left my breakfast by the side of the road. I did a quick calculation and realised that I had 52 minutes to do 6 miles to get under 3:30. I had to forget what had been and concentrate on what was ahead of me. I cleared my mind and I thought about my easy 10k route in Stirling – mile 1 to the roundabout, mile 2 to the farm, mile 3 to the car dealership at Causewayhead, mile 4 to the rowing club, mile 5 to the roundabout and mile 6 to the peak. That’s all I had to do and I had 52 minutes to do it………..

Sunday, 04 October 2015 – 1406 hrs, Kielder

There it is, the 400m to go sign. Is this what it’s come down to? 1 lap of the lab? All the stands between me and my ultimate goal is one lap of the lab. I know I’m close but cannot work out if I’m close enough. I look at my watch but I can’t work out how long it takes me to run 400m. I cannot remember the last 50 minutes. My last real memory is the 20 mile sign and the conversation I’d had with myself. I’ve been on auto pilot but now it’s all coming into focus. The crowd are cheering, somebody on the loudspeaker is shouting my name but I cannot focus on them. I close my eyes and push. I don’t think that I’ve actually increased my pace but I feel like I have. I open my eyes and all I can see is the gun time board. I’d visualised this moment for the last six weeks. In my mind’s eye it said 00:03:29:** And now here I was about to cross the line and it said………….

Monday, 05 October 2015 – circa 0730

The kids going about their business getting ready for school wake me from my slumber. I open my eyes and tentatively wiggle my legs in anticipation of moving them to get me out of bed. I reach over for my phone. I want to check that I wasn’t dreaming. I go to my messages and there is one from HSSports that reads “Paul, Congratulations on completing the Kielder Marathon in a chip time of 03:29:11”.

Hoka Highland Fling 2015 – my first Ultra

After all the months of early morning runs, same day AM/PM runs, speed work and generally running at every opportunity, the day I’d been preparing for since October last year had arrived – Hoka Highland Fling 2015. My first Ultra Marathon which took in the first half of the West Highland Way from Milingavie to Tyndrum, some 53 miles and just short of 7,000 feet of ascent.

I did a calculation and since training specifically for the Fling, I have chalked up 1,300 miles and 98,000 feet of ascent. To say that my training had gone well would be an understatement. Apart from a few missed sessions with the usual winter bugs and a brief scare with a particularly nasty virus last week, every session had gone to plan. I felt as ready for this race as I have for anything else that I’ve ever done.

I was feeling relaxed when we arrived just after 5am at Milingavie railway station. First job was to find the cars and vans which would take our drop bags to the checkpoints along the way. Job done we all headed into the station for a wee cuppa and some last minute nutrition. The weather was forecast for miserable but just as the race briefing started, the rain decided to stop and we didn’t see it again all day.

We split up into our groups: Graham, Burnsy and David who were all aiming for sub 10 hours; Raymond and Maggie who were looking for sub 11; and finally team Coos tail, Janey and I. Our primary goal was just to finish but we set out with a plan to do sub 12 hours. Had a last minute panic where I lost Janey for a couple of minutes but we soon found each other again and before we knew it, the hooter had sounded and off we went.

Milingavie to Drymen – 12.11 miles

This section is relatively flat and we had planned on taking 2:12-2:15 minutes. I had worked out that in the sections where we could run, then a pace of around about 10:30 min/mile would be just about right. I’d focussed on trying to develop a feel for this pace in my training so by now it was quite natural to me. I’d planned on, briskly, walking up the hills which I practiced during training and just letting the descents take care of themselves. We settled into our pace quite quickly and maintained this well. I know my body so decided to eat as much as I could in the early stages as I knew I would start to not want food later on in the race. I ate something every half hour and drank about 500ml of isotonic drink every hour. Planned arival time 2:12:00; actual time 2:12. On target

Drymen to Balmaha – Leg 6.84, total distance 18.95

This was the part of the course I was looking most forward to and it was the first real test of the day – up and over Conic Hill. We were both feeling quite strong and commented that the miles were flying by. The sun started shining as we crossed on to the open hillside and we were bathed in it from this point on. Definitely felt the benefit of my training and all those feet of ascent as I was powering up the hills but not getting out of breath. I really questioned practicing walking during my training as I have the mind set that ‘I am a runner’ but it was worth its weight in gold come race day. Continued eating every half hour and drinking 500ml per hour. Planned time 3:43; actual time 3:42. On target

A wee note at this point about drop bags. What a fantastic idea. As you approach, somebody shouts out your number and you are basically handed the bag which you filled with goodies in the house. There is also a table of gemmyness which consists of all the food the runners who have preceded you do not want. You can help yourself to anything you fancy. Balmaha was drop bag station 1. I planned to spend as little time as possible at the checkpoints. Pick up my stuff and go.

Balmaha to Rowardennan – Leg 7.94, total distance 26.97

We got in and out of Balmaha quite quickly. I stuffed the food from my drop bags into my race vest and filled my bottles and off we went. Quite an uneventful section. We held our pace well. I started munching on some of the solid food that I’d been enjoying since the start but it was becoming apparent that I had reached the point where this wasn’t going to be effective. Was finding it hard to stomach anything with substance. Time to make use of those tables at the checkpoints. We were really enjoying the run and the sunshine. It was getting warm now so I put my buff on my head gypsy style and started dipping it into the streams we passed (Janey’s idea). We were of good spirits and had a wee fist pump when we passed the 1/3 distance point. Planned arrival time 5:23, Actual time 5:23. Bang on target

Rowardennan to Inversnaid – Leg 7.17, Total 34.14

As we passed into the checkpoint I got a hug and a shout of Awesomeasaurus from my friend Angela who was a steward and sweeper for #teamFling. Was so nice seeing a friendly face and of course getting a hug. I picked up my drop bag and swapped out my drinks bottles then headed straight for the table. I dumped everything I had and swapped it for more Ella’s Kitchen baby food and energy gels. This would inevitably add a wee bit of time to each stop but I thought it was time well spent.

Off we went again and we were still of good spirits. I think the psychological barrier of passing the half way point lifted our spirits no end. Even though we knew it wasn’t half way in terms of time, each footstep was taking us closer to the finish line. I had ran the full route during training with the exception of the 5 miles which take you into Inversnaid so was the only part of the route about which I was slightly apprehensive. We were ticking off the miles and I think we were both surprised about how well it was all going. We had a wee a hug when we realised we had both surpassed our previous furthest runs. 32 for me and 27 for Janey. This section is quite hilly for the first part on wide Landrover tracks so we were able to chat with our fellow Flingers as we walked up them. It is such a friendly race. As we dropped back down to the loch side and the technical sections started we found that we were getting held up by the traffic. We weren’t going fast but we were slowed down on the rough sections by people gingerly moving across the rough terrain. This continued all the way into Inversnaid and was the first time that we started losing a bit of time. Planned arrival time 7:05, actual arrival time 7:09

Inversnaid to Beinglas – leg 6.68, Total 40.82

The drop bag marshals at Inversnaid surpassed themselves. As I approached the gentleman handed me my bag, unzipped it and asked me if I wanted him to fill my bottles. Yes Please, said I. I took the opportunity to empty all the unwanted things out of my bag and on to the table while I picked up the food that took my fancy. I also decided to re-organise my bag so sat down on the grass. I had only wanted to be here for a couple of minutes but we were probably there for about 7 or so.

I was looking forward to this section as it had went well on a training run. Plus I knew we would get a bit of respite physically as the pace would inevitably drop and a mental change with us having to concentrate on the terrain. We made good steady progress. In fact we were going so well that a Fling veteran who joined us just after Beinglas wished us well and told us to head on as our pace was too quick for him. Overcoming this leg was also a huge psychological boost because all along through my training, I’d known that if I arrived at Beinglas in decent time then I’d be a finisher because it was only 12 miles or so to the finish which if need be, I could walk.. I had jokingly said to a few people that the Fling is just a half marathon with a 40 mile warm up.

We got past the last technical section and made a bit of a rooky error, we decided to have a wee celebratory walk. We had made up the time we lost coming into Inversnaid, the sun was beating down and I think the rough terrain had taken a lot of us physically. In hindsight we should have stuck to the run when you can plan. It was only 5 minutes or so but it counted. As we started the descent into Beinglas, we hit another bottleneck and couldn’t seem to get by the madding crowd. Was pretty glad to see the wigwams as we crossed the bridge into the campsite Planned arrival time 9:04, actual arrival time 9:10. Off target

Beinglas toTyndrum – Leg 11.94, Total 53 miles

I was a little bit thrown when we got into Beinglas. I had expected the checkpoint to be in the same place as it was when I crewed for Greg during the WHW race but it was a bit further up the way. I am not sure if it was this or the fact I’d reached Beinglas but I was a bit emotional. Janey stopped to text her husband that she was almost there so he could leave to come up to Tyndrum. I got my bag and was wandering about a bit aimlessly when somebody called out my name. It was Greg’s sister , who I’d spoken to by text during Greg’s epic adventure last year but hadn’t actually met. Her husband was running and he had passed through just ahead of us. She gave me a hug and told me that we were doing really well. I must have sounded like an emotional wreck because I thought I was going to burst out crying.

By the time we sorted ourselves and hit the road, I knew that the chance of a sub 12:00 was gone. We’d spent about 12 mins at the checkpoint instead of 2 which meant we were 15 minutes behind schedule. I knew the terrain we were about to cross and even if we’d been starting off with fresh legs, it would have been a struggle to do it in 2:40 mins. I had started to feel a twinge in my knee as we had descended into Beinglas and it had started to get progressively worse. Round about the same time I became aware of what felt like a golf ball on the ball of my right foot. I knew from experience that it was a blister. It was like Windermere all over again. I think that I had subconsciously altered my stride to accommodate the blister which in turn annoyed my knee. So with about 10k left we made a decision. Given that we had already fallen behind our secondary target, we decided to concentrate on our primary target, completing the Highland Fling. Although we were walking we made steady progress enjoying the early evening sunshine and eating all the sweets in our bags. We stopped just after crossing the road after the rollercoaster section and had the biggest hug of the day because my watch beeped to tell us we’d hit the 50 mile mark.

We passed by the piper and turned the corner. There right in from of me was my eldest daughter Holly with my nephew Daniel. I grabbed their hands, shouted on Janey to wait up and we all crossed the line together, hand in hand with a tear in our eyes. Planned arrival time 11:59, actual arrival time 12:38.

The race really was an excellent experience. At no point did we have any lows, we remained positive and in good spirits throughout. I put this down to the training. All the miles spent running had prepared my body both physically and mentally for the challenge. At some point during my training, running had become something more than a leisure activity. It has become second nature. I was particularly pleased at how strong I had become on the ascents. Really glad that I practiced walking during my training runs. Lastly, I was really happy with my pace awareness. I had a pace chart but seldom looked at it. I was mostly running on feel and hitting the checkpoints pretty much dead on proves that it was working. I did doubt myself during my training that running so many miles at 10:30 pace and practicing the walking might be a waste of my time but I’m glad that I did because I think this helped during the run. If I was wearing a heart rate monitor I would wager that my HR didn’t go above 130 bpm.

Lessons learned

For me the biggest lesson I learned was in terms of nutrition. I had filled my drop bags with mostly solid food; vegetarian sausages, croquettes, cheese, cake and cereal bars. This worked for the first 20 miles but after that I had no compulsion to eat anything solid. I had purchased Ella’s kitchen baby food as an afterthought and I’m so glad that I did. I ate two on the way to Balmaha, had one in each drop bag and picked up some at the ’table of gemminess’. Having to find then rummage around at the tables cost me a bit of time at each checkpoint. I also picked up and used gels for the first time in my running career. Next time I will fill my drop bags with these from the outset so I can follow through on my plan of stopping, filling and going. I would also drink more water. I relied too much on lucozade and think I may have ended up a bit dehydrated because when I hit Inversnaid I was craving water. Lastly, I would put some flat coke in my bags for the last checkpoint. Somebody had left some on the table at Beinglas and it was like nectar and gave me a wee boost.

Footwear – I chose to run in my Saucony trail shoes that had about 400, blister free miles in them. The socks I wore were Wright socks which have two layers in them and are supposedly the solution to blisters. As the forecast was for rain, I decided to go for my lighter socks thinking that they would dry quicker if they got wet. These had worked really well on my 32 mile training run. In hindsight, I should probably have worn my heavier socks because the lighter socks do leave a bit of room for movement in my shoe. I have two enormous blisters on the outside of each heel on the same place in addtion to the blister which caused me grief in the closing stages. I think that I will go into a running shop and get measured and treat myself to a pair of Hokas which get rave reviews and were omnipresent on the way yesterday.

Descending – I really didn’t practice descending during my training and went with the thinking that I could leave it just to chance. One thing that became apparent was that people make enormous gains on the descents. I was passing people going up only to be passed going back down. If I could get both aspects nailed then I will be on to a winner. Will do a bit of research and try and incorporate sessions into my training.

Pace – I think I nailed the pace spot on. I was at no time out of breath and we passed quite a few people in the later stages who I can only presume went out too fast. I had an idea during my training that this would be important but now can truly appreciate the value of a well executed pace plan.

I really enjoyed my day. It is up there as one of the best days of my life. Most of all I have enjoyed the journey that brought me to race day. I have met some wonderful people along the way and connected with my friends in ways that are only possilble when you share so much time together working towards a goal. The race was great but the training was awesome 🙂

I think Muhammad Ali sums it better than me – “the fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

Trust the process…..

Week one of my plan is over and week two has started this morning with a 5am Fartlek run in the snow. What an awesome start to the week! I have loved the first week. Highlight was running the Antonine Trail Race route on Saturday. We left Croy station at 0530 and experienced all seasons throughout the run. At one point the river had burst its bank and we ran at least a quarter a mile up to our knees in water. It was exhilarating – all hail the trail! It was my first weekend of doing back to back long runs as well. It was hard to get up but knowing that I was meeting up with my fellow flingsters made it slightly easier. Running along the Forth and Clyde canal also helped as it is flat as a pancake!

Although entirely coincidental, I think that our plan for the Highland Fling training starting the first week of the new year has turned out to be quite fortuitous. Everybody is focussed on change and resolutions at this time of year so inserting a couple of my own in doesn’t seem so bizarre to my nearest and dearest. I knew that in order to run 50+ miles each week, I would not only have to change my entire training schedule but I would have to look at other areas of my life where marginal gains could be made from small changes.

I am a great believer that the pillars which hold up healthy lifestyle choices are threefold; exercise, nutrition and rest. Given that I already had a plan to follow for the exercise part, I really only had to make two resolutions – eat clean and get a fixed sleeping pattern nailed. The sleeping part was quite easy. My body clock is programmed to wake me up at 0400 each day and I do so gladly and energetically. I must really annoy my family members as I am a wee bit hyper first thing in the morning. It was the other side of the sleep that I needed to regulate. So starting on the 1st January, I have been going to bed no later than 2130. It’s working wonders for my energy levels. I am waking up at least 4 times more annoying than usual.

About 6 months ago I took the step of fully committing to becoming a vegetarian. I had been introducing more and more meat free days into my diet but hadn’t fully eliminated meat. The push that I needed came from my awesome friend Gregg. I was supporting him through the first night of his epic run in the West Highland Way race and in the months preceding the race he had become a Vegan. I thought to myself, WOW if somebody can run 96 miles powered by plants then I can make the final push. I stopped eating meat that very day. I have to confess though, that I was quite a lazy vegetarian. I basically swapped meat for Quorn. Ate almost identically to how I was eating before. Now I’ve decided to be a good vegetarian. I have been eating only fresh ingredients and eliminated all processed foods from my diet. Admittedly, it does take a bit longer to make meals when you are making everything from scratch but I feel that the health benefits far outweigh the time loss. It also means that on a Monday I have to pass by the coalface on my way back from swimming to drop of an enormous bag of shopping to see me through the week.

12 days into the New Year and I am feeling more energetic than ever. Feel I have the balance just right and can follow the adage eat-exercise-sleep-repeat safe in the knowledge that each part has its own little plan. I am embracing and giving all my trust to the process!