Originally posted on Runner’s World

Can an average runner take on 53-miles in the Scottish Highlands? In the sixth week of her training our Online News Ed Rhalou struggles with pre-race anxiety and calls a friend.

Rhalou and Rhona Red Wine Runner

With only ten weeks to go until I embark on a 53-mile ultra The Hoka Highland Fling, as the miles start to add up, so has the hysteria. For week six my training plan stipulated a 35-minute easy run, an interval session, a strength and conditioning session, another 35-minute easy run and an 18-miler at the weekend. My training went well, and I even pulled the 18-miler out the bag with relative ease, but I still have a lot on my mind.

I’m feeling fit and enjoying being able to run long distances without much fuss, but as the event draws close I’m also plagued with insecurities and starting to s**t myself. While my body is responding well to the training plan, my mind has other ideas. This pre race neurosis differs to the usual ‘every twinge is a broken ankle’ feeling you often get before a marathon, AKA maranoia. With 7,500 feet of elevation and 53 miles to contend with come race day, my neurosis has developed into a full-blown obsession.

So what’s the safest thing to do when you’re plagued with worry? Phone a girlfriend. I called my lovely friend Rhona McKinnon, an experienced ultra runner who has tackled the Fling twice, and I’m pleased to say Rhona put my mind at rest. Here are some of the daft questions I put to her, and her extremely helpful replies.

Im worried about getting lost. Do I need a map?

You will not get lost. I’m going to go out on a limb here and promise you won’t get lost. The race is now so big that chances are you will not ever be in a situation where you can’t see the runner in front. The first 20 miles is a constant stream of people and is quite a bit on road, any turnings are marshaled. The next 20 miles is narrow trail that has no deviations. The last bit is either in huge open glen that you can see miles up the trail, or on forest single track. The whole route is marked by posts with arrows or race specific signs.

I can only think of two parts where potentially you could end up on the wrong track and that is purely because the track runs parallel to the road and I’ve seen people continue on the road instead – don’t do this, you’ll get disqualified! In short: the route is obvious, but all smart trail runners always take maps anyway, so I would buy and carry a footprint map.

 Will I be running alone in the dark?

It will be dark at the race muster and briefing, and maybe a bit pre-dawnish at the start if it is an overcast day, but you won’t need a head torch. If you think you may take longer than 14 hours (bearing in mind the cut off is 15) you might want to put a head torch in your drop bag for Beinglas as it gets dark around 8pm that time of year.

What shoes should I wear?

Oh god, the shoe question. Both years I’ve done it I have worn trail shoes, but some people do wear road shoes. This is very much a personal preference thing. There is not a considerable amount of terrain that requires the extra grip of trail shoes, but you would probably appreciate the stability. The downside of that is the compromise on cushioning, which after 40 miles on the rocky trail you will know ALL about. If you’re used to spending hours in hard shoes then you’ll be fine. Last year I wore Salomon Speedcross 3s.

What should I eat?

What works for me may not work for you of course, but in my drop bags I usually have Muller Rice or Devon custard pots, pizza, milkshake and bottles of Powerade, which I eat at the check point, and then I repack my pockets with portable snacks including but not limited to: potato scones, Quorn sausages, Hula Hoops, Snickers bars, cereal bars, cake bars, Jaffa Cakes and vegetarian jelly sweets. My new favourite this season is the Dairy Milk/Ritz cracker combo snack packs. Salty cracker and chocolate in the same bite! I aim to eat 100 calories every 30 minutes. I have nuun in my camelbak but drink energy/calorie drinks in drop bags. I ALWAYS have emergency energy gels in a bag pocket in case I stop being able to eat actual food.

Do I need to carry water with me?

Yes, I did. I would say for anyone other than the fastest you do need to take your own hydration and a way to carry your snacks. Check points have water only. The sections on the lochside between mile 27.5 and 40 can take a loooong time and are sweaty hard work.

My upper body is like a wet lettuce; should I be worried?

Keep up your strength and conditioning, the lochside section is very physical and requires upper body strength too. Practice hiking up steep hills (I know you’re in London, but hours on the stepper in the gym can help, or maybe go and find a skyscraper to run up!) But don’t stress too much, remember there are 60+ year olds out there too. It will just make it a bit easier and enjoyable for you to be in the best condition possible.

I’m a fan of a good press-up session – it seems to hit the right bits. Also from the home gym collection – chair step-ups: put a kitchen chair in the middle of the room and do 30 full step-ups on the right leg and then repeat on the left. Doing that a couple of times a week will help with leg strength for the big climbs, especially since you’re London-based and short of the odd mountain.

Thank God for girlfriends! Tune in next week to see how my skyscraper climbing pans out (can you actually do that?) or come and find me on Twitter @Rhalou.

Originally posted on Runner’s World

Can an average runner take on 53-miles in the Scottish Highlands? In the fifth week of her training our Online News Ed Rhalou starts to find her feet.

London canal run

As a laid back soul runner, I confess I’ve never been one to follow a training plan. Before an event I often start my training full of good intentions, but by week two I usually fall off the wagon in favour of freestyling. However, this time around with a weekly blog to contend with (click here for last week’s) and a 53-mile ultra marathon the Hoka Highland Fling to complete, for the first time in my life I’ve been following my plan to a T. Now that it’s week 5, unsurprisingly I’ve started to see results.

Initially I found it quite tough sticking to such a rigid plan and my rebellious side wanted to sack it off and run it my way. But after a few weeks I’ve settled comfortably into the routine and I’ve started to enjoy it. For week five my training plan stipulated two separate 35-minute runs on the same day, an interval session, an easy 60-minute run, some strength and conditioning work and a half-marathon distance tempo run at the weekend.

Double run

The concept of running twice in one day made me a bit anxious, so I decided to combine the double run day with a run commute. Running into work was a great way to start the day and put me in a brilliant mood all morning. Running home at the end of a hectic day was also surprisingly pleasurable and not as tiring as I anticipated. The post double run commute smug glow was also pretty special, (as was the celebratory gin). I’m going to structure run commutes into my weekly routine, as it not only made me feel great, but multitasking and utilising travel time made me feel like a winner.

Intervals

As a soul runner who shuns gadgets in favour of listening to my own body, I don’t wear a watch. The downside being, it’s a bugger to do interval training when you haven’t got a clue what the time is. Fortunately with the help of a few lampposts, I managed to cobble one together in the park. I simply sped up and then returned to my comfortable pace, alternating between posts, which tend to be evenly placed. The great thing about training in my local park is the sneaky incline, which adds an extra kick to interval training. 40 minutes of that and I was exhausted and had to cruise home on wobbly legs.

Tempo run

At the weekend I had planned to run with a couple of my girlfriends, both of whom are faster than me, to help me keep up the pace. By the time Sunday rolled around I was feeling tired and anxious about tackling a long run quicker than my natural pace. At first I struggled to keep up, but with a bit of effort I managed to maintain my pace and I was delighted to discover that I am definitely getting fitter.

Together we ran just over a half marathon distance along the canal in the glorious sunshine and on more than one occasion I felt grateful for following my training plan. I’ve sped up, toned up, lost a bit of weight and most importantly I think I might just have a shot at 53-miles. Perhaps this training plan malarkey isn’t so daft after all. We’ll make an ultra runner of me yet.

Follow my progress here and find me on Twitter @Rhalou.

Originally posted on Runner’s World

Can an average runner take on 53-miles in the Scottish Highlands? In the fourth week of her training our Online News Ed Rhalou researches superhero footwear.

Inov-8 Race Ultra 270

At officially one quarter of the way through my Hoka Highland Fling training plan (click here for last week’s blog) the miles are sneaking up and it’s starting to feel real. Last week my training plan stipulated a 35-minute tempo run, an interval session, some strength and conditioning work, six miles at long pace, and a 15-mile run at the weekend.

Get the kit

The training is going well, but last week I was somewhat preoccupied with kit research. When facing an extreme distance challenge, one of the most important aspects of training, and the one which could potentially make the difference between success and DNF come race day, is kit.

The perfect trail shoe

As a city girl I spend the majority of my time running around London and just don’t possess enough adequate gear for training in extreme conditions. The first and probably most important stop on my ultra kit exploration is footwear. As a light-footed runner I favour minimal shoes and happily run around town in Brooks Pure Connect, but I’m not adverse to trying out new things if it means I’m more likely to succeed on race day.

Brooks Cascadia

First up I took some Brooks Cascadia out for a spin. With an 11mm drop, they’re a fairly cushioned trail shoe and the opposite end of the spectrum to my road shoes. But they’re also an old faithful that I’ve worn for a number of years, and there’s a lot to be said for staying brand loyal when it comes to trainers. With a generous amount of support, Cascadias withstand pretty much anything you throw at them and I’ve navigated quite a few trails over the years without getting injured. However, since transferring to a more minimal road shoe I am starting to find them a little bit heavy. My search for the perfect trail shoe continues.

Huaka Hoka One One

With 27mm cushioning, 25mm forefoot and just a 2mm drop, the Huaka is unlike anything I’ve ever worn before, but the word on the street is they’re surprisingly comfortable, especially over a long distance. An extremely cushioned shoe that harks back to my Spice Girl platform trainer days, I was surprised how light they are. Admittedly it’s hard to tell how they’ll cope over long distances until I get the big miles in, but they’re very comfortable and at 5″3 I definitely appreciate the extra height! I felt a little bit disconnected from the ground, but the Huaka is still a strong contender.

Inov-8 Race Ultra 270 

After speaking to a few of my trail running friends, I got my hands on some Inov-8 Trailroc 245s. With a 3mm drop they’re ideal for fans of minimal footwear and felt fine skipping around the park. But then I recently ran the Boxhill Fell Race which is quite rocky underfoot and my feet started to hurt. I get the feeling that, 40 miles in to my 53-mile challenge, I might regret wearing minimal footwear, so I switched over to the new Inov-8 Race ultra 270.

A delightfully bright and reassuringly light pair of kicks, I took them for a 15-mile spin last weekend and they felt great. At just 270g, if it weren’t for the hot pink colour you’d hardly notice them. With a 4mm drop they have enough cushioning to protect my soles from rocks without making me feel disconnected from the terrain and a spacious toe box to allow my feet to breathe. Designed specifically with ultra distances in mind, I have high hopes for the 270s so we’ll see how they fare as the miles progress.

Next up, I’m looking for the perfect kit to protect me from the elements. If anyone has any recommendations, let me know! Follow my progress here and find me on Twitter @Rhalou.

 

 

Originally posted on Runner’s World

Can an average runner take on 53-miles in the Scottish highlands? Our Online News Ed Rhalou starts the third week of her training.

Rhalou Elle Running club

Week three of my training plan for the Hoka Highland Fling and things are now in full swing. The plan stipulated a 60-minute easy run on Monday, a midweek speed interval session, strength and conditioning, and a 5-minutes easy 35-minutes long pace and 5-minutes easy run, finishing off with a 12-miler at the weekend.

The problem with training in January is running after dark can be daunting. Once the sun sets, unless I manage to rope a friend in, I’m not wild about running around North London on my own. Fortunately last week I was invited to run with the lovely ladies at Elle Magazine and inadvertently managed to fit an interval session in to boot.

After enjoying weekly lunchtime runs together, the Elle team decided to launch a monthly run club for ELLE Insiders and kindly invited me along for the ride. Led by trainer Tim Weeks and accompanied by glow sticks and a ghetto blaster, a gang of us jogged around the city and the twinkling lights of London town after dark were a sight to behold.

At 6K it was just a small fraction of my running week and not a patch on the 53-mile run I’m preparing for. But our little trot refueled my love tanks and reminded me why I do this in the first place. Ordinarily I’d feel completely out of my comfort zone amongst fashion and beauty editors. But be it the sublime Scottish Highlands or the bustling streets of Soho, it doesn’t matter where you are, the running community will welcome you in with open arms. Running is an equalizer and as we raced through the city streets I felt just as comfortable running with this lovely group as I do leaping through the hills with my crazy Scottish fell running friends.

By the weekend I was so enthused about running and geared up for my training that I skipped out the door and ran my 12 miler with relative ease. Sometimes it’s good to have a little reminder about why I’m putting myself through this. Yes I want to challenge myself physically and mentally and prove that I can do this, but most importantly I want to enjoy the ride.

Admittedly I need to get some serious hill training in, so next week I’m going to do my best to seek out some inclines. Follow my progress here and find me on Twitter @Rhalou.

 

 

 

Originally posted on Runner’s World

Can an average runner take on 53-miles in the Scottish highlands? Our Online News Ed Rhalou starts the second week of her training.

Box Hill

Week two of my official training for the Hoka Highland Fling and I am suddenly (painfully) aware of the challenge that lies ahead. My training plan stipulated a 35-minute easy run, an interval session, an eight-mile run (six of which needed to be at long run pace), some strength and conditioning work and then a ten miler at the weekend.

The week started off well and I combined my mid week run with friends at the Camden Run Club. Having already entered the Box Hill Fell Race, read my review here, this also seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine my long run with an event. At 7.5 miles the race was short of my training plan, but the hills were so mammoth that I figured they counted for extra miles, and it was a rare opportunity to replicate the Scottish highlands.

I was persuaded to run The Box Hill Fell Race last year with friends and I came last, setting a course record in the process. With multiple enormous ascents and descents, sticky mud that sucks you under and scree sections that literally rock your socks off, you might wonder why I chose to run it again. But despite its numerous challenges and difficult terrain, Box Hill is my favourite race and I absolutely love it.

Even though I hold a deep affection for the event, I was still grossly unprepared for another round. As my friends and I hopped on a train on a chilly Saturday morning in mid January, surrounded by track-pant-clad club runners in woolly hats, I did wonder what I was letting myself in for. The first mile headed directly up a steep muddy stairwell hacked into the hillside, so the majority of us didn’t actually start running until ten minutes into the race. When the ground finally leveled off we emerged weak-kneed and sweating into the light, only to be thrust downwards into a horrific muddy descent before we had a chance to find our feet.

Pretending to run uphill may be tricky, but as an inexperienced fell runner, forcing myself to run downhill on a gradient not far off a sheer rock face was actually harder and I tottered down the hill with the words ‘Highland Fling’ ringing in my ears. Note to self: Get better at running up and down hills before April.

Fortunately I wasn’t alone and got to play a fun game of catch up with a Serpentine Runner who was definitely old enough to be my grandpa. We battled it out over various undulating muddy paths (while politely holding gates open to let one another pass) before he finally lost me in the wooded section.

Completely alone in the woods with dappled sunshine sneaking in between lush green foliage, I finally got to do some proper running. But it was around this point when it suddenly dawned on me that The Box Hill Fell Race was only one seventh of The Fling. In four months’ time I’m going to have to run that crazy race seven times in a row. I have some serious training to do. But I am delighted to say I didn’t come last in the race this year, so there’s hope for me yet! Follow my progress here and find me on Twitter @Rhalou.