Monday, 29 April 2013

A weekend at the Races, Part 1: Highland Fling

Mid week I took the difficult decision of pulling out of Highland Fling due of lingering foot injury, and following a phone call from  race director John Duncan the easy decision of helping out with a spot of Marshalling. While I felt I couldn't risk running 53 miles, to compensate slightly for this loss I decided to enter the Sunday's Balfron 10k, it was my first 10k race three years back so held fond memories.

Saturday Morning : Marshalling the Fling @ Drymen

While I was surprised to get the call from John Duncan, just a few minutes after emailing my withdraw, it was really great to have the opportunity to still be actively involved and witness the great race unfold. My post was about half a mile before the Drymen checkpoint, at the right hand turning off the road and into the field that leads up to the checkpoint.

The half hour drive from Callander to Drymen was really beautiful, cold and clear with fresh covering of snow ontop of the higher peaks.  My thoughts were with the runners now a half hour into their adventure, the clear conditions took me back the stunning conditions we had in last years Fling.  I arrived at Drymen checkpoint at 7am and introduced myself to the BOSS (Mary Connelly) collected my red bib with black trim, Mary complimented my matching Trailroc 255's - by bizarre coincidence black shoes with red trim. All set I headed down to my post.

At around 7:18 I heard the first rapid foot steps through the trees and three lead men appeared abreast, looking fresh and completely comfortable as if in a gentle morning jog with friends.  I am always amazed by just how comfortable the elite runners make it look, it was a real privileged to witness great runners doing what they do best.  A few minutes past then a second wave of elite's arrived and I started to recognize a few faces.  Again they all looked effortless, just gliding smoothly downhill, disappearing into field and uphill as quickly as they came.

As an avoid follower of Stuart Mills' blog I was surprised to not seem mixing it up with lead runners and a little concerned to see him at the back of the second  wave and not looking as comfortable as runner I'd expect of his calibre and competitive instinct.  Ultra-marathoning can be a fickle sport, some-days you fly others the cylinders don't all fire up and respond.   While Stuart's day was unfolding quite to plan he still went on to post another great performance and second sub 8 hours time.  Ohhh what I'd give to have that ability.

Shortly after I spot Richie Cunningham in small group pass and do my Marshalling duty and call out to go right, pointing out the hole in the  hedge you go through.  I do feel a bit of tit telling this to a Grand Master of the West Highland Way!

In the wave of runners was Tracy Dean, the leading lady gliding past and up the hill.  Within a few minutes other ladies appeared. A few minutes and call out to go right and Caroline McKay appeared looking fresh and enjoying the day.  I recently had done analysis of the fat burning on carbohydrate needs during Ultra's and used fitness data of Caroline's so was really curious how she would do, I was expecting here to race well and likely go sub 10hour.  She was ahead of Drymen splits for 10 hours, and so it would stay that way with her finishing in 9:36, a PB by over an hour.  If you ever want proof that Paleo diets and a good training plan work look no further than this astonishing improvement.

I knew John Kynaston's splits so was expecting him to turn out shortly before 7:50 and right on cue her turns out, great big smile and blethering away to what seems to be an entourage around him - all cribbing off his splits no doubt!

Originally I had a plan of trying to take photo's but runners now started pouring past with only a few moments between the gaggles so never had a chance.  My left pointing arm was now feeling rather over-used, not quite the workout I had been planning for 5 months to do on the 27th of April but you gotta take whatever you can to keep fit when injured!

What really impressed me is the good cheer that almost all the runners passed by with.  It was glorious day on beautiful course and no doubt this nourished the great atmosphere amongst the runners and Marshals.  I have to admit pangs of jealously watching the runners head uphill and further on to big adventure along the West Highland Way, I too wanted to amongst them.  Had I been over cautious in pulling out?

My own injuries woes felt rather pathetic when Rhona of RedWineRunner blog came through, despite a painful knee injury she was looking strong and running what looked to be pretty smoothly.  Running with injury requires a lot of grit so I have a huge amount of respect for the fact that she completed her mission finishing in 13 hours.

With the tail end of the runners coming through the field was spreading out and at around 9:20 the last of the relay runners came through and it was time for me to head back up hill to the Dymen checkpoint, give back my big and collect a surprise bottle of bubbly!

All through the day I followed twitter updates from spectators, runners and the organizers and was amazed by the course record being broken, and what an amazingly close finish from the two leading ladies!  And all those other great adventures that runners undertook - I look forward to lots of interesting blog posts in the coming week.

It was privilege to have played even a tiny part of the great day, the organization from the top down was really impressive.  As runner you rarely get to see all what the race organizers have to plan for and coordinate.  Being on the other side marshalling brought it home to me how much ultra running is family that love running and love where we run, whether it's helping run events or taking part, what  makes it's special is the spirit of goodwill that infused the day and will linger long after.

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