Monday, 2 May 2011

Highland Fling 2011

This year was a bit different from last year. This year there were other people entering the event who I knew and I had the chance to run with. Karl Wait, Rob Murray-John from Wooler and James Merritt, Robs boss, were taking part in their first ultra event. We all camped at the finish line the night before where I got a shock when it started raining. My plans for the run to go light with two handheld bottles and a few cereal bars in my pockets were quickly changed to a full backpack and waterproofs. No such luck, the next morning proved that the day was going to be a hot one with no clouds in sight. Back to plan A. We were up at 4am and out the door (tent door) at 5am to be at the start for just after 6am for Rob to make his start at 7am. The time flew by and we soon set off at 8am from the famous underpass to the 5.....4....3...2..1. go! The three of us stuck together as we ran out from the start and progressed along the first section to Drymen, holding a steady pace of around 9:30 minute miles which felt comfortable and effortless to maintain despite the rising temperature. By 9am I was already thinking that it was getting too hot.

We arrived at Drymen, dibbed in, topped up on water and departed. I enjoyed running into the forest because it marked the change in scenery and transition in the hillier areas. At this stage Karl was having a number of problems and was slowing a little so I held back while James ran on and waited ahead. There was no way I was going to leave Karl behind and stuck to him like a fly to shit. James was relieved of group duty and pushed on up towards Conic Hill while I continued to talk complete rubbish to Karl to try and distract him from the increasing dark place he was entering. We climbed Conic Hill and made the steep decent which I had to walk the whole way last year due to injuries. Karl told me numerous times to push on but I was adamant that I was sticking with him to the end. We arrived at our first dropbags to feast on the sugary delights and topped up on water. Karl’s sweaty pasta did not look too appealing. My plan was simple, I had already eaten every 5 miles and drank 2L of water, and I was now going to eat a Snickers bar and packet of salt and vinegar rice snacks at every dropbag, along with drinking 550ml of coal (the good stuff) and drink a further 1L of water before the next checkpoint.

We set off from the dropbags and continued on our way. I could tell Karl was now getting angry with the problems he was having and I continued to refuse to leave him. I was just reeling off some more verbal garbage to try and distract him when he stopped dead and sternly told me to go ahead and leave him. I knew not to push my luck and left with the words “don’t you bloody well quit”. Now I was alone and I made my way to the next drop bag. I felt a bit guilty leaving Karl but I soon was distracted by the heat at around the 30 mile mark. I was eating well and drinking well but my brain was getting fried. On the approach to the next dropbag at mile 34, I was starting to slow and welcomed a little sit down and a phone call to my wife. There were other runners lying on the floor looking rough and I thought “I’m glad I’m not like that”.

The next section became increasingly harder in the heat. I was feeling strong but starting to feel a bit hazy and cramping a little in the legs. I have been in this predicament so many times and knew it was a case of ‘getting enough water but need some salt’. I figured that the salt and vinegar rice snacks would be enough and stupidly just put my head down and trudged on (didn’t I just tell the others never to do that). I arrived at the final dropbag and checkpoint feeling rough and sat down for a while next to another runner who I arrived with me and we had a little picnic. After far too long a time, I decided I had better get moving and went to top up my water. The marshal could see I was feeling a bit rough and offered my some electrolytes and I...... refused. This was my downfall and probably one of the stupidest decisions I have made in an ultra. I explained that they were too sweet and would make me feel sick... better feel sick than suffer what I was about to suffer.

12 miles left. Shouldn’t be too bad.... or so I thought. I covered another 6 miles before my world closed in around me and the suffering really began. I started to dry-heave and sway all over the track as I made my way through the woods. The cramping in my legs intensified and spread up into my upper body and I was reduced to only running when I thought I could get away with it. I had to run with my arms above my head to try and relieve some of the cramping. Progress slowed and I was getting worried. I have been in this dark place a number of times before and even ended up overnight in hospital once from heat exhaustion. I finally reached and crossed the road with a little run before the dry heaving and cramps were too much and I entered the death march. I felt on the verge of passing out with only 2 miles from the end, but it could have been 100 miles as far as I was concerned. I lay down on the floor to try and stop the dizziness and a runner went by saying ‘looking good’ (at least I can laugh about it now). I started to lose feeling in most of my fingers now and I could see a repeat of Osmotherley Phoenix 2009 and my 7L of saline post race recovery. My saviour came in the form or a man and woman who picked me up and told me to keep going. After my attempt to convince them that I was going to die they dragged me along with them. I swayed onwards and about a mile from the end I got the worst cramps I have ever experienced. Again they picked me up and dragged me on. I swore the whole way through gritted teeth. The end was finally in sight and although my two saviours had got ahead, the woman came back for me (she wasn’t even in the event and she was still helping me). Someone told me to run for the camera but plodded on thinking ‘I’m going to die, why should I care about a photo’. I remember the sun being in my eyes and I was tending to walk slightly to the left before nearly walking in to crowd and correcting my path. After a number of well-done’s at the finish line all I could say was “I’m fu*#ed” and I staggered off to the tent without even collecting my goody bag or returning my dibber.

I somehow collected myself together enough to return the dibber, get my well earned t-shirt and bubbly, and apologies to a few people for my abrupt responses at the finish. I quickly headed to the showers to try and feel a little better but ended up lying on the shower floor among all the discarded shower gels, reaching up to turn it on and washing myself with one handed. The shower did pick me up and I finally got the feeling back into my fingers, but I think a big saving factor was that the temperature had dropped on the last section cooling me down lots. The cramps were there in force but I felt a bit more human again. My only brief comment to Rob at the end of the race was something like “can’t talk, fu*#ed” but I now managed to use a few more polite words in conversation. We waited at the finish line for Karl and I still worried that he had pulled out because despite all my words of wisdom about continuing, if I was suffering early on in my first ultra I would have probably pulled out. Only a very determined, strong willed and solid character would continue on to the finish, which is what Karl did, crossing the line and joining the others in their resolution to never run an ultra again. No worries I thought, they will be looking for their next one by time they have access to the internet (I was already getting excited about my 100 miler in a month time even though I thought I was going to die only a couple of hours earlier). We got to the Real Food Cafe late and it was closed, by some miracle we were allowed to have a meal in a pub like lock-in. Best food ever.

This event has left me a little frustrated. My body is still feeling fresh and I know I could have pushed so much more physically, but I always make myself ill through bad eating or drinking. This time I thought I had it all sorted with a perfect eating plan and I drank over 8L of water. My downfall was the electrolytes. I’ve done it so many times before so I shouldn’t have made the mistake. I have my 100miler in 4 weeks time and I can only guess it is going to be hot, so I need to fine tune this issue in my training.

Great day, great event.


  1. Sounds like a nasty one but well done toughing it out to the end. You'll be glad you did. I found getting electrolytes sorted was the single most important step in getting reasonable performances in longer ultras. Succeed S-caps work for me, but I know everyone's different so you have to keep working on what works for you.

  2. at least you know the mistakes you've made so you can fix them, good luck for the 100miler

  3. Sounds a tough run David! Congrats on getting to the end.

    Good to have a brief chat at the end but I now realise why you didn't want to talk much!!

    I'll send you the address of where to get the succeed tablets.

    As Andy said they don't work for everyone but I'm been using them since I started running ultras five years ago and have never had a cramp but it's hard to know whether that's due to the succeed tablets or my body.

    But it would be worth trying in a training run before your 100miler.

    Hope you recover well.

  4. I read some advice once that said to up your salt intake for the few days before the race. I've done that for my last few long training runs and ultras, and have avoided cramp so it maybe works. Plus, it's a good excuse for some fish and chips.

  5. Sorry for the late reply, but I have just woke up after my hibernation/rest! thanks very much for the words of encouragement, your words helped me in the dark hours! and its good to hear that others go through these dark places too!