Originally posted on Runner’s World

Our Online News Ed Rhalou runs 53 miles along the West Highland Way and survives to tell the tale.


After a year of plotting, four months of dedicated training and 16 neurotic blog posts, last weekend I finally took on the Hoka Highland Fling. Having decided long ago that I am a flame-haired ultra warrior queen capable of conquering any distance with ease, it was time to put my imagination into action and demonstrate my true mettle.

Since entering the race, a lot of people have asked me why I was so determined to run such a long distance and what motivated me to take on one of the toughest courses in the country. Aside from confirming my warrior queen status and fulfilling a secret desire to push my body to its limits, one of the main reasons I ran The Fling was revenge. I really wanted to piss my ex-boyfriend off; he DNFed the race a couple of years ago. Running an ultra in the highlands may sound like an excessive way to prove a point, but as a bloodthirsty ultra warrior queen, dabbling in a little revenge comes with the territory. I knew in my heart I could run it; I just needed to convince my body to do the same. It’s amazing how a drop of vengeance can propel a girl to achieve her ultra marathon dreams.

With 53 miles of trail and 7,500 feet of elevation along the West Highland Way in Scotland, the Fling sounded like the perfect place to prove I possess true grit. Following 16 weeks of training on London roads and limited experience grappling with the Highlands, what’s the worst that can happen?

My brilliant friend Ed, who I met thanks to this blog, kindly agreed to accompany me on our quest for adventure. Armed with some brightly coloured sportswear, a bag of flapjacks and a ferocious thirst for revenge, last Saturday we set off for our first foray into serious ultra running. At 6am on a damp Saturday in April, 650-something runners gathered for battle in a car park in Milngavie just outside Glasgow to collectively push our bodies to the extreme and begin our search for spiritual enlightenment.

Milngavie – Drymen – 13 miles

Admittedly after getting up at 4am to start the race, I don’t remember much about the first 13 miles between the start and Drymen. I know we deliberately started incredibly slowly and let the majority of the running field pass us by. I also recall being serenaded by a gypsy violinist and a bongo player in a field of cowpats, and forcing myself to consume flapjacks when all I wanted to do was sleep.

Drymen – Balmaha – 20 miles

After Drymen which was a water-only checkpoint, with tired legs and weary hearts, we began the climb up Conic Hill into the unexpected sunshine. As the path ascended up and up into the endless blue sky I wondered on more than one occasion if I was capable of completing this mammoth task. I was already completely knackered and jacked up on painkillers and we weren’t even halfway. Would I make it to the finish line? After all my fighting talk, I suddenly wasn’t sure.

Just when I thought my legs couldn’t carry me another step, I spied a familiar bearded goat in the distance and my heart surged with joy. My friend Graham Kelly was waiting to greet us with hugs and smiles near the crest of the hill. This was the first point in the race I realised the power of healing hugs and continued to manhandle random strangers for the rest of the day. When you’re stripped bare and fighting to survive, human contact is invaluable and a familiar face can carry you for 20 miles.

Balmaha – Rowardennan – 27 miles

After finally scaling the beast of a hill we were rewarded with the first drop bag checkpoint at Balmaha. Manned by my friend Karen, who doled out excellent hugs, I praised the gods of running for giving me the foresight to pack Jaffa cakes and cold pizza. At all the aid stations the extremely efficient volunteers refilled my water and fussed over me and really made the race. I am so grateful to have met such warm-hearted and kind people along the way. (Sorry for being a bit handsy. Ultra running really brings out my burning desire for physical contact).

As we rounded Loch Lomond the importance of good nutrition kicked in. Running an ultra really breaks it down. It’s quite a primitive experience and I suddenly felt very in touch with the earth and my basic needs. It was interesting to feel the instant reward of eating real food and notice how my body responded to fuel. Despite exhaustion and a desperate need to rest, I forced myself to keep eating and this paid off. However this meant that most of my panoramic race photos include a fierce warrior queen bravely clutching a slice of cold pizza and an M&S brie and grape sandwich.

Rowardennan  – Inversnaid – 34 miles

53 miles is a long time to spend with anyone and on several occasions my new friendship with Ed was tested. We were both tired but Ed clearly had the edge and I was anxious that I was holding him back. My fingers swelled up like sausages (running is a glamorous business) and I was struggling, so I told him on multiple occasions to piss off and win the race, but he refused and stuck resolutely by my side for the entire day. He didn’t even complain when I sang the chicken song, stopped holding in my farts and started hallucinating. Ed is a kind, funny, tough and relentlessly positive chap and I owe him the world. If he rang me tomorrow and told me he’d accidentally committed a murder, I would help him bury the body with no questions asked.

The route along the loch was beautiful with gentle undulating trails alongside the glistening water and lush forest trails luring us further and further into the heart of the race. By the time we made it to halfway, after a few wobbles I officially decided I was going to succeed. Aided by a morning of force feeding and a batch of magical caffeine gels, at about mile 30 I suddenly started to feel really high and this was when the race started.

Inversnaid – Beinglas – 41 miles

The section between Inversnaid and Beinglas was completely bonkers and would be enough to put most sane people off the race, but this was easily my favourite part of the day. Clambering over rocks, hopping over roots and wading through streams was hard going on exhausted legs, but I loved it and we were rewarded for our efforts with some truly sublime and majestic views. The route was a roller coaster of mud coated hills, lush woodland and verdant undergrowth and despite being utterly unprepared, I loved every minute of it. It was also a huge relief to make the cut off time that had been hovering above me all day and despite the creeping pain in my legs I surged forward like a warrior in battle.

Beinglas to Tyndrum – 53 miles

The final stretch of the race from Beinglas to Tyndrum was easily the toughest section, with endless rolling hills threatening to rip my knackered legs from their sockets and the sun quickly fading from the sky. But thanks to another surprise appearance by my friend Graham and the desperate need for a beer, we persevered. Having switched to energy gels and mind control, we started to pick off weary runners and make serious progress towards the finish line. As we finally turned the corner through the woodland I could see the crowds and hear the piper playing on the wind.

After 14+ hours on our feet we hobbled down the red carpet through a sea of flags and smiling faces into the arms of Ed’s lovely wife Emily and the tears came. Enveloped by a sea of sweaty runners drinking beer and preparing for the ceilidh, my friend Rhona steered me towards a warm seat and a sense of calm descended upon my shoulders.

Tired, hungry and utterly exhausted, I realised why I put myself through this magical, horrific ordeal. I may be resilient, independent and brimming with vengeance, but even the fiercest warriors need love too. They say the greatest revenge is success, but perhaps true enlightenment comes from admitting you are vulnerable and opening up your heart. I couldn’t have done the Hoka Highland Fling without the support and encouragement of the brilliant volunteers, my amazing friends, my family and fellow runners. But most of all I would never have even considered it had I not met the aforementioned ex-boyfriend who is an intrepid adventurer. I will always be grateful for the gift he gave me: beautiful Scotland.

Sometimes it’s OK to admit you can’t fight every battle on your own and you need a little help. Thank you all so much for being there for me when I needed you the most. Same time next year?



Originally posted on Runner’s World

In the final week of her training, our Online News Ed Rhalou seeks spiritual guidance from experienced ultra runner Robbie Britton and tries not to die of fear.


With four days to go until The Hoka Highland Fling, after four months of intensive training, 15 training blogs and lord knows how many training runs, I’m so nervous I can barely speak, never mind write a comprehensible blog, so bear with me.

Having run several marathons and a couple of little ultras I thought I knew how to prepare for a big race, but it turns out that the length of the run is directly proportional to the pre race nerves, and I am experiencing 53 miles worth of fear.

Thank God for running friends. One of the main reasons I have always been attracted to the ultra community is the spirit of kinship. All runners are fabulous people (obviously) but the ultra runners I have met have gone the extra mile (in more ways than one!) Running long distance is a tough business. You need to be just the right amount of crazy to want to do it, but you also need the support of your pals and ultra runners stick together. Just when I needed it the most, team GB ultra runner Robbie Britton got in touch and offered to give me some coaching tips for tackling the race.

As well as participating in extreme distance races, Robbie runs his own online ultra coaching business RobbieBritton.co.uk, making him the perfect chap to chat to about the impending race. We met over a cuppa in London Bridge and Robbie regaled me with ultra running tales, before offering some sound advice that will hopefully see me through race day.

Run your own race

As with most races, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and set off too quickly, but ultras are one place you definitely want to run your own race.

‘A lot of people get caught up with other runners, but if you’re not comfy in those first 20 miles, you’re going too hard,’ says Robbie. ‘You don’t need to run hard and lots of people shoot off too quick. The average pace of the winners is still 7.5-8 minute miles, no one’s dropping sub 6 the whole way.’

Plan your nutrition

In most race situations you want a quick energy fix to help you speed towards the finish line, which is why gels and sweeties are perfect for running. But the difference with ultras is you’re out there for much longer, so you don’t want to rely on the peaks (and experience the inevitable dips) a sugar hit provides.

‘Don’t get on the sugar train too early, as once you’re on it you’ve got to stay on it.’ says Robbie. ‘If you can eat gels for 15 hours then good for you that’s fine, but slow release food is better.’

‘I start on the sensible stuff such as rice cakes with peanut butter and jam, I eat them for as long as I can, then I go on to the sweeter stuff later,’ he added. ‘In an ultra you want to keep eating from the first half an hour. Think of eating as part of the challenge and keep eating all day – I call it a really long picnic!’

The hills have eyes

As a Londoner I’ve found it hard to train for the Fling with the absence of hills. How do I cope with the hillier sections on race day?

‘In the race, walk the hills, there’s no rush to get up them. It’s less about speed and more about efficiency, and if the most efficient way to get up that hill is to walk it, do it. Add benefit to your walk and eat at the same time.’

Travel light

I’ve been worrying about water, as I’ve found I rarely finish my Camelbak in a 20-mile run and find it heavy to lug about.

‘It makes more sense to go lighter and refill,’ says Robbie. ‘There’s no point in carrying loads as every kg you have on your back will weigh you down. Look at how long it will take you between each section. If it takes you 30 seconds to refill at a station without having to carry an extra kg, that will make your race easier. Bottles are also easier than Camelbaks as you’ll be able to see exactly how much you’ve drunk.’

‘Plan it as you don’t want to get dehydrated,’ he added. ‘A two per cent drop in dehydration could make a huge difference to your performance levels, so if you’ve got to stop to pee but you know the rest you’ll be going steady, it’s worth it.’

Have fun!

It’s all too easy to forget why we enter these crazy events in the first place. Unless you’re a pro athlete, 99 per cent of the running field are there to have fun.

‘Enjoy it, the training is the hard bit, this is the fun bit and why you put all the hard work in,’ says Robbie. ‘Chat to people, learn from their experiences, just enjoy it and have fun. If you have a low point don’t worry as it will pass, and just think of the enormous high when you get to the finish line.’

And how do you cope with the inevitable low points? ‘If you’re feeling shit, look around you and find someone feeling worse and chat to them to try and cheer them up; you’ll be amazed how good it will make you feel. You can feed off trying to cheer up fellow runners.’

Thanks to Robbie for his excellent race day tips and thanks to you lot for reading my endless blogs, it’s been an amazing and empowering journey and I can’t wait to run the race. Look out for runner number 22 on Saturday, you can track me here or send me a tweet @Rhalou I’ll be back next week with a 53-mile long race report!


Originally posted on Runner’s World

In the fourteenth week of her training, our Online News Ed Rhalou runs her last long run before the big day.


Against the odds I have successfully made it through 14 weeks of training for the Hoka Highland Fling, which means it’s time to taper! But this also means there’s just over a week until race day, so the pressure is on. Week 14 was a brutal one and for the first time in my training I was forced to stop and listen to my body instead of resolutely following the plan.

The training plan stipulated some strength and conditioning work, 90 minutes at long pace, two rest days, a 10 miler at easy pace and a 32-mile run the following day. Although I’m generally in good shape, I was still feeling tender from the back-to-back 15 milers the week before and my right glute was a bit angry, so the prospect of running 32 miles in one go filled me with dread.

Terrified I would further agitate my bum by running so far at the weekend, on Wednesday I went to visit my old friend Simon Lamb. He runs his sports massage clinic Six Seconds High from his home in Teddington, which is a bit of a hike, but definitely worth the journey. I credit Lamb with bringing me back from injury following a muscle tear a couple of years ago, so I knew he would be the man for the job. A former chef, Lamb has fingers like plutonic rock and an hour on his massage table is definitely the most painful process I have ever endured. But those monster fingers are also made of magic, and thanks to a good rub down (and some incredibly painful elbow action) I left Teddington feeling ready for action.

Friend in need

However, based on the amount of time it took me to recover from the previous week’s running, I still felt unsure about taking on a 32-mile run only two weeks before race day. Reluctant to mess up my training plan, I decided to speak to the experts. As luck would have it my ultra afficianado friend Rhona McKinnon was in town, so I went for a little city run with her, alongside my lovely girlfriends Cat SimpsonLaura Stewart and Jen Slater. Over post run beers the girls offered there sage ultra marathon advice and put my mind at ease. At times like these I am so grateful to have the support and encouragement of my amazing running friends, all of whom I met through the wonderful world of Twitter.

Listen to your body

I won’t tell you everything we discussed (it was girl time) but the general consensus was that 32 miles two weeks before race day was a huge undertaking and if I ran that far I not only risked further agitating my right buttock, but completely exhausting myself for race day. Rhona also maintained she’s never ran that much further than a marathon in training for the Fling, and if anyone knows how to run that race it is most definitely her. The advice she gave me that really stuck though was listen to my body. If I felt like it I should run all day long, then go hell for leather, but what’s the point in adding extra mileage just to exhaust myself? Surely running quality miles made more sense.

The last long run

Armed with their sage advice ringing in my ears and a determination not to mess things up at this vital stage in the game, I met my friend Ed for our long run the following morning and vowed to listen to my body. And then it started raining. Not one to let a bit of inclement weather put me off my game I ploughed on through and together with Ed we ran from London Bridge to Richmond Park.

Upon arrival the weather rewarded us for our efforts and the sun came out. With its gentle pathways, lush woodland and wild deer, Richmond Park is gorgeous in the sunshine and I could have kicked myself for not doing more of my training there. We ran about 20 miles together before I decided to call it a day and head for an all day breakfast at the local café. I feel like I made the right decision and my body is definitely grateful for going easy on myself. But I’m also a bit nervous that I haven’t covered enough miles and hope this doesn’t bite me on the (already temperamental) arse come race day.

Taper time

There’s nothing I can do now but sit back, relax and enjoy the taper. Sadly this is easier said than done. Tapering is a tough time for any race. I usually rely on long runs to calm my whirring brain, but that’s the one thing I’m not supposed to do, so my mind starts to play tricks on me. Have I run enough? Will a little hill session make a difference now? Surely sitting around eating spaghetti in my pants all day can’t be good for my training?

If you have any tips for combating taper madness, I would love to hear from you. Tweet me your #tapertips @Rhalou




Originally posted on Runner’s World

In the thirteenth week of her training our Online News Ed Rhalou sorts her kit out.


To mark the mighty week 13 of my training for the Hoka Highland Fling, my plan stipulated 80 minutes easy, 80 minutes long pace, some strength and conditioning work and then two back-to-back long runs. I am delighted to say I managed to squeeze out two 15 milers on consecutive days without too much trouble and I’m starting to feel like a bona fide ultra runner.

For the first 15 miler I skipped along the canal in the sunshine without a care in the world. The following day was marginally more challenging, with a trail run from Guildford to Box Hill in the rain. Thankfully I was escorted by my friend Ed who kept me laughing all the way and didn’t object when I wimped out and trundled slowly up the hillier sections. But regardless of the speed, we still covered the miles and now I feel ready for anything.

With less than three weeks to go until the big day, my main concern right now is kit. I have enough to worry about on race day, so it’s important I get my gear right in advance. You can read all the reviews, swot up on ultra blogs and sweat indecisively over kit for a lifetime and still not get it right. The most important thing I have learned on my travels is that everyone is different. One woman’s dream rucksack is another woman’s chafing tortoise shell from hell. The only way to get the kit that’s right for you, is to test it out and follow your instincts. After 13 weeks of trial and error, the following is what I plan to don on the big day.


I always wear my lucky sequin visor on race day to bring a splash of disco to the trails. My sparkly hat has seen me through marathons in Istanbul, Palma, Brighton and Scotland, so I’d be mad not to bring its lucky charms to the Highland Fling. I picked it up a few years ago in Primark for about a quid and it has served me well. Look out for my sparkly head bobbing along the West Highland Way. I will also be carrying a mini disco ball, to remind myself that having fun is the most important part of the day. I gave my good friendSusie Chan one and she’s currently killing it in the Marathon des Sables, so the disco powers definitely bring luck to race day.


To be honest the vest I wear depends entirely on what’s at the top of my washing pile come race day, but I always opt for a cotton racer back. I know most runners opt for technical fabric these days, but I prefer good old cotton on my top half. I’m sure wicking fabric would be snazzier, but I find cotton comfortable and for me that’s the most important thing.

Base layer

I am currently in love with my CW-X Insulator Web Top, which I plan to wear over my vest. Made from WarmStretch™ fabric, the top insulates and wicks away moisture simultaneously, so it’s perfect for running in the changeable Scottish climate. It also features a support web across the upper back, which is apparently good for posture and balance. To be honest my main motivation for wearing it is because it looks snazzy and makes me feel like a ninja warrior. CW-X also do a killer pair of Insulator Stabilyx™ Tights, but I’m still not entirely sure what I’ll be wearing on my legs on the big day.


Ooh la la you want to know about my bra? If you’re really interested in what I wear under there, I am a die hard fan of Shock Absorber’s Ultimate Run Bra. I’m particularly fond of the bright purple one, because it provides magical purple power. It also straps all the necessary stuff in and has seen me through many a race without punching myself in the face.

Shorts/tights/rara skirt

As I said, I am undecided on the legs section; it rather depends on what’s happening in the sky on race day. But I am a big fan of most running tights and shorts by LuluLemon. They’re shockingly expensive but really comfortable and flattering.


I have two jackets to choose from on race day depending on how torrential the weather is. My bright greenPatagonia women’s torrentshell stretch rain jacket will come in handy if it buckets it down all day long. It also goes rather well with my red hair, which is vital for all Scottish running adventures. I also recently got my hands on an Inov-8 Race elite race shell HZ which is now the main contender. Not only is it waterproof and breathable, but weighing only 150g it fits snugly into my rucksack should the weather Gods be on my side. The Race shell also happens to be my favourite colour, and as every good ultra runner knows, wearing your favourite colour definitely makes you run faster; it’s a fact.


After much experimentation, I have settled on the Vapor Shadow race vest by Nathan Sports. It is incredibly comfortable and comes with a plethora of accessible pockets, so I can get to my sweeties easily without having to take it off. The Vapor Shadow also includes a useful Camelbak, (which I had to force myself to get used to wearing around London) and it comes in a brilliant bright purple colour (to match my bra).

Calf guards

Is the argument for compression gear a fallacy or the key to happy running? Who knows, but lately I have grown to like the feeling of having my legs strapped firmly in place. I found compression socks too hot, but calf guards seem to do the trick. It might be the placebo affect, but since ultra running is mostly mind over matter, I’m happy to convince myself they’re doing wonders to my running form. My favourites are 2XU as they stay in place without getting too hot and after a while I hardly notice I’m wearing them.


I suspect I inherited my indestructible feet from my late grandmother, who was a competitive sprinter. I can wear pretty much anything on my feet and I rarely get blisters. However, I’m a big fan of Balega socks. I think I was given a pair once and now I rely on them to see me through most races. They’re nice and soft and do the job.


I spent time obsessing over footwear a few weeks ago and the jury is still out. Do I wear trail shoes I’m not entirely convinced about, or road shoes that fit like a dream but probably won’t fare that well in the Scottish mud? Cast your votes! Tweet me @Rhalou




Originally posted on Runner’s World

In the twelfth week of her training our Online News Ed Rhalou ups her mileage.


Week 12 has arrived, which means there are only four weeks to go until my attempt to conquer the Hoka Highland Fling. Holy guacamole I’m starting to get nervous. My training plan stipulated two rest days in a row (hurrah) a 50-minute easy run on Wednesday, 35 minutes easy on Thursday, some strength and conditioning work and then two 12-mile back-to-back runs on Saturday and Sunday.


This all sounded easy enough, until I stopped to consider the enormity of attempting two long runs on consecutive days. I’ve really ramped up my training since I’ve been preparing for the Fling, but I’ve always been careful regarding long runs. The day after running anything over ten miles and I tend to feel wiped out. The concept of going long two days in a row filled me with dread.

As expected I was under par on day two and took it fairly slow. I also found the hillier sections of Hampstead Heath particularly brutal and my confidence wavered. Fortunately this was also the week I got to interview Nicky Spinks. The fastest woman over Great Britain’s highest peaks, I figured Nicky was the right woman to approach for ultra training advice, and she didn’t let me down.

Fell running guru

During the interview, I subtly turned the subject around and asked her what advice she would give to budding ultra runners such as myself. ‘Pace yourself at the start, eat lots early on and if it starts to get hard, take it one checkpoint at a time,’said Nicky. ‘Break it down a bit.’

And what about tackling the hills? ‘Walk! Walk all the up hills. You might find this hard at the beginning, but make yourself walk; you’ll find towards the end you’ll be able to walk easily.’

Speaking to a fell running hero who took up running in her 30s and survived cancer in the process really inspired me. I have two consecutive 15 milers to contend with this weekend and I will definitely follow Nicky’s sage advice. I will also be cheering her on as she attempts to lower her own Bob Graham time on Sunday and beat a separate men’s record in the process. Read my interview with Nicky here.

Run confidence

One thing I have noticed is that my recovery has sped up considerably. Running long back-to-back is still tough, but I felt absolutely fine a couple of days later. I suspect I might be invincible and capable of conquering anything I put my mind (and legs) to! Or at the very least, a 53-mile ultra marathon in the highlands.

Anyone else got a piece of sage ultra advice they would like to share? Tweet me @Rhalou, I need all the help I can get.