41st one standing, my 75 miler.
It’s been over a week since I took part in the Highlander - last one standing event. A backyard ultra running around Blair Castle. Some backyard, eh?
A 4.17mile loop as many times as you can, starting on the hour, every hour.
For me, it was very much a training event. A tester to see how the body is, how my knees, mainly, would respond to miles but also my left calf, Achilles and hamstring which had all threatened recently. Due to surgery recovery and a wee covid intervention I was shockingly underprepared for an ultra event but the beauty (one of them, anyway) of this event is that you can stop any time you want. You’re never far from home, or tent, at least. It’s not like after 29 miles something goes ping and you say “Shit. How the hell am I getting back? What did I do with the race directors number? Oh, man, phone’s out of charge” etc. So in that sense I felt quite safe to try something. I had no idea if I would manage 2 loops or 20 but I did have a plan, I had prepared as much as I could and even tapered (for a week - laughing face!!!) There was a secret target that I held on to - more on that later.
My friends Coco and Fiona Shep were also running (it was Fiona who spotted the event first and entered - see previous blog with fundraising link), Anya was crewing along with Fiona’s cousin, Julie. Poor Julie. She had no idea what she was letting herself in for. We borrowed a pretty cool Gore Windstopper event tent from Anne Weir after realising our own gazebo was ridiculously big and impractical. Anya and I managed a few shopping trips during the week and had gathered a silly amount of supplies to suit most eventualities but certainly with a lean towards actual food. Plenty of protein, salt and some carbs - mostly stuff that is easily prepared and even easier to eat. Although I did spend the first few laps saying to anyone who would listen “I can’t believe I left the bag with the frikadellens and quiche in the fridge”. There were still plenty of food options and the camping kitchen with full gas cylinder but it was the jetboil that probably saw the most action for teas, coffees and pot noodles.
My top nutrition, though was my UCAN. I had a few prepared bottles of cocoa flavour that had been sitting in the freezer and 3 packets of UCAN gels that I had made up with my new tub of lemon flavour. I’m liking the gel option - easy to get down with a few swallows of water. There’s always a bit of a time pressure during an event and getting it down easily either while on the move or at rest is absolutely crucial. It worked a treat for me and meant that I didn’t need too much of the real food until further down the line. I also had my UCAN electrolytes which I made sure I had once a few hours in and after much sweating.
I also had both of my Loomi merino tops - short sleeve and long sleeve - in anticipation of a cool night. Around about lap 5 or 6, after a particularly wet loop, I geared up with short-sleeve Loomi, arm warmers and rain jacket and was quickly sweltering, removed my jacket and rolled down my arm warmers. Once back at the tent it was another quick change back to vest. I love my Loomis but they were just not needed for today - yet.
Forecast was poor and played out that way, overcast and wet - particularly through the night - but temperature was warm and it was also humid. I had a blether with an Irish runner, Finn, for a while and we were talking about it being “close”, a word they also use in Ireland. It meant that I went through a shed load of water, guzzling after every lap. I didn’t take any water out on the loops with me, didn’t want to be carrying anything that would give me issues like chafing or changing my gait.
Some of the dark, wet loops through the night were grim, not much chat at all from fellow runners as we tried to avoid the accumulating puddles. This became increasingly difficult and one part of the fire track became a small loch which was impossible to avoid. For a good few hours I returned back at the tent soaked through head to toe and just sat down, hood still up, for a refuel and blether, changing nothing as there was no point, I was just heading back out into the rain. I think at around 2am I started to feel pretty tired and needed some coffee but there wasn’t enough time to prepare it while I was there, I’m fussy about my coffee and Anya was sleeping so I chewed on Caffeine Bullet. Hadn’t had one of these before. It was like a rocket up my arse as I went scooting round the next lap! As morning approached, the rain lessened, some chatter recommenced and spirits generally lifted. Underwear was changed, chafing tended to, food scoffed.
I had already began to switch off a little having decided that I wasn’t going to push for the 24 hour/100 mile mark (my secret target). Having put in a few quicker laps and ran some sections that I really should have walked the fatigue was starting to settle in. With hindsight I knew earlier than I actually acknowledged to myself that this would happen. I really didn’t want to spend a long time recovering from this and definitely did not want an injury. Anya and I have a plan at the end of August to run/hike the Hebridean way together and with that sharply in focus I decided to see the sun come up and then call it a day.
I came in on lap 17 in about 50 minutes, took some fuel in the tent and prepared to go out again. At that point my watch died and I headed out as Anya was frantically looking for my charger. Before heading out I told Anya and crew that this would be my last lap.
The last lap was one of the cheeriest, plenty of blethers as I skipped round the route. It was mentioned to me a few times that I looked in good shape and shouldn’t think about stopping yet, a good sign for me for the future. My new Irish pal, Finn, said “I’ll shoot ye in the arse if ye stop now!” However, mind made up, stop I did. 18 laps and 75 miles, my furthest run to date.
It was a hugely reassuring experience for me: knees, calf, achilles, hamstring and quads all behaved well. I wondered early on if my right knee would cause me to stop and said to myself that I would if it got worse - it never really got any worse and in fact seemed to ease off as the miles increased. Nutrition was great: UCAN provided the base supplemented by real foods, plenty liquids including Erdinger alcohol free beer and electrolytes. I had a couple of mouthfuls of coke at one point but otherwise no sugar.
In these conditions I chose not to wear my Loomi tops, just a bit warm and humid, I preferred to feel some air around my body if I could but I was glad to have them as an option and they will be pretty crucial as we head out on the Hebridean way at the end of August.
So, do have a look at UCAN, it might be what you need for your nutrition and to help with your fat burning and Loomi merino tops to help with temperature regulation, particularly for those longer events.
Probably most of all I managed to stay positive, all the way to the very end of the 18th lap and the only way I could do that is with everything else hanging together well.
There are a bunch of other things I could mention about experiences and learnings from the event but, I’m not writing a book just a wee blog however I will say that if you’re at all interested in trying out the backyard ultra format I would urge you to give it a go. It’s safe, fun and you’ll meet a bunch of interesting people out there. It doesn’t matter at all who is fast or slow, there’s a reset after every lap and you’re all in the same boat again, and again.
Still can't believe I left the frickin frikadellens.