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.
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.
I’m 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.