Sunday, 26 July 2009

WHW 2009 - a game of two halves

I still can't get the date right on my posts, the last one appeared out of order; never mind I'll learn, it's probably just a date of birth problem. Back to business and this year's race.

A good time in the WHW wasn't originally one of this year's targets for me, I mainly wanted a good Highland Fling and a completion in the UTMB, but you know how these things work, once you get involved it seems impossible to back off from giving it your best shot. My declared aim was to get to Lundavra in daylight, but as soon as the Cole family team assembled for dinner in the Premier Inn at Milngavie I confessed that I was going for the 24 hours; it meant knocking about 2 hours 40 off my previous best, but I felt fit enough and ready to go. I had trained a few more miles than last year and had no major injuries.

Rowardennan: Schedule 5:25 Actual 5:17
I run this at about the same pace as last year, it feels pretty comfortable. Lasting impressions are the midges all the way to Drymen like rain in the headlight, more than I have noticed any previous year; also, turning off the railway line at Gartness I look back, the line of headlamps stretching back into the distance is quite a sight. Also unusual in the biggest field ever starting the race, I seem to be on my own for most of the way. But in these early stages it's all about concentrating on not wasting energy, walking up hills where you know you could run, just keep it steady. I have also decided to be much more disciplined at the stops, so I am in and out of Rowardennan in less than 5 minutes, rice pudding downed quickly and coffee and marmalade sandwich "to go". Camelbak changed, 1,5 litres of flat coke consumed since the start, 1,8 litres of flat ginger beer on board to see me to Auchtertyre. I'm happy to see the team only twice for the first half of the race, it forces me to be steady and gives them a better sleep.

Auchertyre: Schedule 11:15 Actual 10:56
The easy section to Inversnaid goes quickly, then I go cautiously on the trickier ground to the top of the Loch, easy to waste energy here. I still pass quite a few runners on this section, but have found this is normal, a lot of people seem to use the tactic of running the easy ground to Rowardennan fast then slowing down. Warning bells should be ringing however as I pass WHW Runner Ian and Graeme McC, these guys are far and away better runners than me, but it still feels comfortable. After being a bit of a mental downer in some races, the hills up to Derrydaroch pass fairly easily. The scene at Carmyle Cottage is like the finishing straight of a marathon - wall-to-wall support cars and cheering support teams - impossible to slow to a walk here! Everything is on plan, but in the forest above Crianlarich, just around the halfway distance, I make the first of a series of mistakes that will cost me my 24 hour finish. My strategy has been to eat real food in three places, Rowardennan, Auchtertyre, and Kingshouse (sort of breakfast, lunch, dinner); in between these I am diligently popping a gel every 45 minutes, and possibly more importantly using this timing to take a salt tablet ("Succeed" cap) every 90 minutes. At ten and a half hours I am due a gel and a salt tab, but it's only just down the hill to Auchtertyre, I'm looking forward to lunch, I feel OK and I don't want to stop and fiddle. I can catch up with the regime later. At Auchtertyre the team says I'm looking far better than in any previous race, I have a sit-down stop for 15 minutes or so, and take on soup, beans, a banana, grapes, a couple of coffees, oh and I'd really like an orange juice so one is bought from the shop and I down half of that too. I forget the salt tab.

Bridge of Orchy: Schedule 13:30 Actual 13:26
I walk down to the new road crossing, then start to run, but I've eaten too much too quickly, I immediately feel sick and have to walk again. I eventually start to feel better and start running again just after Tyndrum. From the highpoint, the easy track to Bridge of Orchy seems OK. I drink at my regular 45 minute intervals, but I'm now convinced that I have more than enough calories for a while, so leave off the gels. My feeble brain doesn't realise that I have broken a crucial connection, and I still forget the salt tabs. The team are ready with a quick cup of tea at the Station, I grab a half litre of fizzy water (my planned fluid medium to the finish), saying I don't need any more I still have almost a half litre of Lucozade left. Down at the checkpoint I meet Phil R, who has had to pull out this year due to injury, but who has come up anyway to sweep the Devil's Staircase section (another example of the pulling power this event has on everyone!), and we chat for a minute or two, then I'm off up the hill.

Kingshouse: Schedule 16:30 Actual 16:20
I feel great great going up the hill and pass a number of runners, and I am unaware that due to my indiscipline things are now starting to go awry. I go strongly down the other side, this is one of my favourite descents, but as soon as I hit the asphalt I know something is wrong. My legs feel jelly-like and I rapidly start to feel nauseous; but you have to run this bit, it's one of the easiest miles in the whole race, so I ignore the feeling and run to the gate onto Rannoch Moor. I slow to a walk here, feeling worse and worse, and a couple of hundred yards up the track I sit gingerly down on a pile of logs and throw up. I know what's happened of course; I remember Jez Bragg telling me after the last UTMB that if you get nauseous it's usually down to lack of electrolyte, that's why I'm taking a salt tab every 90 minutes, except I haven't had one now for over 4 hours. Worse still, I can't face one now, and I drink most of my fizzy water just getting back to feel human again. I'm always amazed by coincidence, and at this very moment my phone pings, and it's a text from Mike M in Romania - "Hows it going - dig deep!" I'm sure I manage some sort of grin, and I get up and get going again. I cross the moor passing, repassing, and occasionally running with other runners; I manage to get a gel down, finish my water, but really can't stomach the Lucozade. Nevertheless, the last hill comes up soon enough and I'm down to Kingshouse, still up on schedule but not in great shape. I should eat here to see me through to the end, but I can't. I know if I rest quietly for a half hour or so
I'll be able to get some fuel in, but I don't want to give up that amount of time, so I down a couple of coffees and carry on. Still no salt tab, what am I thinking of?

Kinlochleven: Schedule 19:15 Actual 19:14
I've never run beyond Kingshouse before, so it is still with some satisfaction that I set off down the road with Julia at a steady jog. We walk up the "why does it go up here?" hill then jog down to the road at the start of the Devil's Staircase. I am drinking water OK and chewing on a few bits of crystallised ginger. We set out up the staircase at a fairly strong walk, and actually catch up the runner ahead, Graeme R who I've known since this year's Wuthering Hike. He asks how it's going and I reply truthfully that I'm feeling knackered; articulating the thought seems to have its own effect and I feel I have to sit down for a minute while Graeme forges on. For the second time I have a throwing-up interlude, then sit quietly for a few minutes to recompose myself. During this time we are passed by WHW Runner Ian and his support runner George, who I have been seeing on and off all day. They ask if I'm OK, we assure them the halt is temporary and they carry on. I am still sitting a few minutes later, and George calls down from above "Come on No 54, get going!", so I do. The rest of cimb is OK, and we manage a steady jog most of the way down to Kinlochleven, arriving surprisingly still just ahead of schedule. As we reach the smooth track by the pipes and don't have to worry too much about where to put our feet now, Julia starts to say "You know what we should do to improve things next year is...." What a team, decision made before I even started to think about it! But back to this year and I am trying to decide what I have to do to keep going at a reasonable speed. My problem is that I seem to have bags of energy left in my limbs, but as soon as I accelerate I feel nauseous again. I have scheduled no stop in Kinlochleven, but eventually decide that I have to regroup, so I stop until I can eat some soup, a banana, a couple of coffees, and (at last) a salt tablet; but this takes 45 minutes, which I don't have.

Fort William: Shedule 23:45 Actual 24:44
With John now leading the way, and slowing me down when he feels I am likely to blow it again, I take my scheduled time to cover the 14 miles to the end, but to add to the 45 minutes lost at KLL we take a tea break by the bonfire at Lundavra with Julia and Jan - at least I got to there without turning my torch on - and so end up at the finish 44 minutes adrift of my target. Pleased but disappointed, until Julia and John tell me to stop beating myself up about what I didn't do, and think about how many people have done what I've just finished. So we all go home happy, thanks to the superb efforts of the race organisers and marshalls, and for me the dedication of my family support team, who amazingly still think it's fun to spend yet another exhausting, sleep-deprived and midge-infested weekend in the Highlands.

Can I keep fighting off father time long enough to get a 24 hour finish next time? Well I think I can, and I suppose that's half the battle.


John Kynaston said...

Great report Andy.

Of course you can break that 24hrs! It's within reach and will be so satisfying when you do!

I put my watch on a 90min repeat to force myself to take a salt tablet. As soon as it bleeps I take it otherwise I, too, would easily forget.


Anonymous said...

Andy, I have no doubt at all you can get under 24 hours. You were in front of me with 20 miles to go - I didn't have a brilliant last stage, but kept it going to come in under 24 hours with a bit to spare.

If I have left Kingshouse with less than 16 and a half hours on the clock, I am always confident that I'll beat 24 hours (and would normally expect to beat 23 hours). Just think about it - 2 hours 20 minutes to Kinlochleven should not be too difficult, even with tired legs; a 10 minute break there and then you have 4 hours to get to FW to get under the 23 hour mark. None of these are hugely difficult targets for the stages, as long as you can keep moving forward at a reasonable pace, running the bits you can run and walking hard on the bits you can't.

Congratulations on an excellent performance, and look forward to seeing you beat 24 hours next year!

Ian (B)

graeme reid said...

I'm sure you can get a sub 24. As you said, the fitness is there, if you can get the nutrition right you'll be fine. Good to see you you last week although in unfortunate circumstances. Best of luck in the Devil and UTMB.