Wednesday, September 23, 2015

5 things I’ve learned from 1400 days of running every day.

I’ve been putting off writing a blog post for a while now – largely because I’ve felt daunted by how long it’s been since my previous entry, so it’s seemed like a “catch up” post, would take longer than I could possibly warrant spending writing it. 

It’s not as though nothing has happened this year, running-wise, in fact it’s really the opposite – there’s been so much good / happy / exciting stuff going on this year, that it’s never felt like the right time to take a break from running as much as I can, and instead to spend a bit of time writing as much as I can instead.This year so far I’ve set PBs at every distance from 1 mile, through 5K, 5 miles, 10K, Half Marathon and all the way up to 100km. I’ve also managed my first race victory, at Dukeries Ultra 30 in May, and broken the 3 hour marathon barrier for the first time, at Manchester in April. 
With Alex C, Philip K and Steve T, at the finish of Manchester Marathon. 4 happy runners with 4 big PBs

Around half way at Manchester Marathon. Happily skipping to 1st sub 3. Tutu flowing, wand in hand :)

I could probably write for hours about each of those events / PBs, especially achieving my sub 3 goal at Manchester Marathon, as that was culmination of 4 months of fairly focussed training (a first for me), and about Dukeries too, as I really, honestly never thought I’d win an ultra!
As a lot of people seem to be inspired by / intrigued by the concept of running every day, I’ve decided instead to spend a bit of time writing about what I think I’ve learned in nearly 4 years (and over 12,000 miles) of runstreaking. 

1) The longer my streak continues, the more I enjoy it.

I love running every day, it appeals to my obsessive nature and I’m convinced that I’ve only achieved most of the results I have since I started running through runstreaking (and by results, I mean improvements to my general wellbeing and happiness, as well as running PBs and race results).

Every day I run, every week that goes by, I feel as though my enjoyment of running increases and I personally see the physical benefits running every day has for me, and more importantly, the positive impact that running has on some of the closest people to me.

If I didn’t streak, I’m pretty sure I’d be less happy than I am now, and I’d feel like I was missing out on something which has been an almost entirely positive experience for me, every day for nearly 4 years. I also don’t think I’d maintain a healthy weight or the same fitness level if I stopped runstreaking – I’m pretty sure I’d quickly lapse into irregular running, get frustrated by my decrease in enjoyment and performance, and either start streaking again, or stop running completely. 

For me, for now at least, running every day I can, for as long as it remains fun to do so, is my ultimate goal. I hope when the time comes for my streak to end, I’ll remember that I’ve promised myself (and others) that I’d stop when it stops being fun (unless injury takes that away from me). However…

2) Runstreaking is definitely not for everyone. 

In my first few months of runstreaking, probably well into my second or even my third year of running every day, I used to encourage as many fellow runners as I could to join the #runstreak clan. Now however, I’m a bit more reticent with my encouragement of others to start running every day, as although I know streaking works brilliantly for me, and many of my closest running friends are either current or former runstreakers, I’m more aware than ever that it isn’t for everyone.

Whilst runstreaking has suited me perfectly, it’s not a running panacea: If you’re prone to getting injured every time you increase mileage, it’s unlikely runstreaking will be a good idea, at least not until you’ve got beyond the weekly mileage that normally causes your body to break down. 

Equally, if you’re a keen runner, looking to improve as much as you can at a particular running distance / event, and you have the discipline to follow a detailed training plan or listen to a coach’s advice, then there’s probably no point in deciding you want to runstreak. I’ve never seen any popular training plan or respected coach suggest that the best way to improve at any running event, is to run every day, certainly not indefinitely. In fact, most coaches / training plans suggest that every serious runner should have at least one day a week of rest / cross training, with no running at all. 

I have no reason to suspect that every book / website / coach is wrong, so if you’re serious about reaching your optimum running performance level, and that's more important to you than the benefits you might get from running every day, don’t choose to runstreak.

3) My streak is constantly evolving, as are my running habits and opinions. 

As runners, we all have our “favourites” – the shoes we like best, the routes we enjoy running most and for serious runners, there are favourite (and most dreaded) training sessions. 

Over the past year or so, I’ve learned that for me, running every day allows me to continually develop and adapt – if you asked me a year ago what my favourite pair of shoes was, or my all-time favourite racing experience, my answer would have been different to what it would be now.

I’m sure it’s not just runstreaking that allows me to feel like I’m continually learning and developing as a runner, but being able to run every day means I have lots of opportunities to try new things – whether that’s different shoes, different routes, different training ideas, or anything else that I might feel restricted from testing out, were I following the rules the way a more “normal” person / runner would. 

I’ve definitely learned that the best answer to most running-related questions is: “everyone is different…”. If someone asks me which shoes / rucksack / book / training programme / GPS watch /  whatever is “best”, I hope I’d be able to offer them a steer towards something useful for them, however I hope I’d also remember to caveat it with “however that’s just what I think – everyone is different”. 

I hope I’ve also learned to accept that what might be “best” for me now, or might have been the most suitable choice in the past, might not be what’s best for me in the future. It’s very easy to get stuck in our ways and to think that just because something (whether that’s running shoes, training sessions, energy sources, recovery foods, or anything else) was the best choice for us last year, we should stick with that choice for as long as we can.

I’m not suggesting that we should all constantly change our ways and choose to buy (or not buy) different products for the sake of it, or that we should avoid doing our favourite training sessions or competing in races that we’ve enjoyed in the past. It’s just that as well as being aware that the maxim “everyone is different” is absolutely true in my view, it’s equally true that someone who’s been running regularly for many months or years, is going to have different needs and preferences now than when they started running, and embracing those changes will make it easier to continue to improve and widen our experiences. 

4) We are all inspired by different people, and everyone faces different challenges, so don’t be inspired by me, but by those who manage to overcome much bigger hurdles than I have.

I get a lot of positive comments (in person and online) from people who are kind enough to take the time to tell me that my runstreak provides them with inspiration to run more / further / faster or with a less serious attitude to running (the last one pleases me most). 

I also get a lot of comments, often from the same people, telling me how “lucky” I am to be able to run as much as I do, and how they couldn’t possibly run every day, as their work / family / coach / husband / wife / kids / legs / knees / ankles makes it “impossible” for them to even contemplate starting a runstreak, let alone think about running as much as I do. 

I find it very hard to disagree with anyone who suggests I’m lucky: I know I am incredibly fortunate and I appreciate that my work, family, kids, partner, friends and nearly every other aspect of my life makes it easier for me to run a lot, than it is for most other (at least other non-professional) runners.

However, I also know that there are many people who don’t have it as easy as I do, and yet who still make the time to run every day. I often mention my good friend Giacomo Squintani at this point in any running / streaking conversation when someone suggests they “can’t”, as Gia has gone to extraordinary lengths (such as running two 40 mile training runs, through the night, finishing at dawn, on consecutive nights earlier this year), to ensure that running doesn’t excessively impact on the time he needs to spend working, or wants to spend with his young family. 

I talk about my runstreak mentor @mrafletch too, as his ingenuity (such as running at airports and round the perimeter of foreign hotels), as well his ability to continually make runstreaking seem fun and interesting, have inspired me from the inception of my streak. Then there’s Johnny, aka @dunsrunner, who’s currently running every day with his arm in a cast after tearing bicep tendons whilst throwing dead rabbits (seriously).

There are countless other examples, not just the legendary Dr. Ron Hill (who’s now clocked up over 50 years of running every day), and @lordsmythe (rapidly approaching 8 years), but also those who’ve been streaking a few days, weeks, or months (many of whom had previously said “no way could I do that”) and who are proving every day, that if you want to do something badly enough, you’ll make the time to do it. For me, my runch runstreak colleagues Alex and Chris give me the regular first-hand boost of seeing others enjoying their own runstreaks, which while similar to mine (the three of us run together a lot), are also subtly different and have to fit around differing work and family commitments to mine. 

There are many reasons why someone might not want to run every day, but those who say "I don’t have time to do lots of running like you do”, are very often those who have chosen to watch their favourite TV shows religiously, or who spend large chunks of their free time doing activities other than running (such as reading blogs like this about running!) :). That’s fine: if someone wants to spend their time gardening, knitting, ironing, playing Xbox/Playstation, reading, watching TV, or anything else that takes their fancy, that’s their choice and if it makes them happier than running more would, then nobody can argue it’s a poor way to choose to spend their time – it’s *their* time and their life after all. 

But… running every day doesn’t have to take a lot of time and significantly impact on other parts of your life if you don’t want it to. You can choose to run just one mile a day in your work clothes, jeans or pyjamas if you'd like to. You can choose to run at silly o’clock in the morning like Gia does, or to run to work, or in your lunch break. That decision, whether to run or not run on any particular day is nearly always that – it’s a decision, a choice that you have made and that for most people (probably including you, as you’re reading my running-related blog), it’s almost always possible to make the time to run if we really want to. 

As Gia wrote in his blog on his 1000th day of streaking:

…tell me you don’t want to run, that you can’t stand it (as I used to say)… but don’t tell me you don’t have time to run. Because there’s always time. Trust me on that one."

If you’ve made it this far through this blog post, it’s almost certain you’ve already spent more time reading my waffling about running, than it would have taken you to get your shoes (or in Johnny's case your sandals) on and run a mile. If you’d really rather read this blog than going for a run then I’m very flattered, but next time you think: “I’d like to run today, but I don’t have time”, maybe you’ll remember this post, and think: “actually, I can make time to run today if I if I… “ and make a decision to not do something else you’d normally do – or to get up earlier, to take a lunch break for once, or whatever else you could choose to do, to make that run you say you want to do, actually happen. 

5) It’s still the people I’m lucky enough to run with, and whom I've met through running, who inspire me to run every day. While I'm able to keep running with those people, I'll keep streaking. 

Although a lot may have changed over the past 12,000+ miles of running (as of today, day 1401, the total stands at 12,471 miles), what remains constant, is the inspiration I gain from the people I’m lucky enough to run with. They are the reason I love running so much, and why running every day remains fun. 

I’m now lucky enough to have running friends (and family) in most of the places I regularly spend time, so usually wherever I am, there’s likely to be someone I can hook up with to go for a run at some point during the day. It’s the continual variety that running with other people provides – the chance to have conversations and share experiences with them that motivates me to run so much. 

I often get asked why I could possibly want to run 2, 3 or sometimes even 4 times a day – and the answer is almost always the same. That second, third or fourth run happened because there were people who were happy to run with me – and rather than missing out on a chance to run with @AndyNextDoor, or my mum, or my running club friends, or one of my fellow runstreakers – if I can, I’ll structure my day to run with as many people as I can. 

If I’ve already planned to run to work and back with Chris, if Alex is only free at runchtime and then Andy asks if I can run in the evening, then I’ll almost always say “yes” if I can. This inability to turn down a run if I can fit it in, almost certainly doesn’t help my fitness. It definitely means I’m often behind with chores and other “admin”, but it also means that I get to share even more running experiences with some of the most interesting and inspiring people I know. For now, that choice I’m lucky enough to frequently have: to run more, with more people, in more places is one I’ll always make if I can. I’m sure there will be times in the future when I feel compelled to make different choices, when my life is busier or more complicated, or my legs won’t allow me to run 3 or 4 times a day. When that time comes, I’m confident I’ll look back and be happy with the choices I’ve made now, certain that they are part of the reason I'm happier than I’ve ever been.

I've always said (including in point 1 above) that my runstreak would end when it stopped being fun (unless injury ends it first), and I now know for sure that the "fun" will stop when I'm not able to regularly run with friends / family / colleagues. I just hope that day doesn't come any time soon!
Some of the fantastic group of running friends & family who surprised me on my 40th birthday
by turning up at parkrun in tutus! One of the biggest surprises and happiest moments, ever!
As always, I’ve ended up writing massively more than I intended to, so thanks for reading all this, and happy running!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Shoe Review - first look at the New Balance MT00v2

A very belated post... And a different topic than the posts I had previously planned to write.

I've been intending to do a blog post for a while: firstly I was going to do a recap on the amazing experience that was #Runstreak Day 1000. Next, I was going to write about my 3rd year of streaking (bringing up 3000 miles in 2014 with a 3 mile run in Bratislava), then about the wonderful surprise of having loads of running friends turn up unannounced in tutus for parkrun the weekend of my 40th birthday.

I'll hopefully get round to writing about those subjects sooner or later, but instead, I'm going to do a quick look at some new running shoes that the kind folks at New Balance UK sent me a few weeks ago.

A light, very comfortable and grippy, zero drop off-road shoe, but not at all like the original version.

A bit mucky now - as good off-road shoes should be.

The second edition of New Balance's 0mm drop trail shoe is very, very different to the original MT00 model. I was sent a pair of the first model to review a couple of years ago, but didn't get on with them at all. They were incredibly light, totally minimal in every sense, but didn't fit me well, and for me, the grip wasn't anywhere near up to scratch. I only ran in them a handful of times, and fell over more frequently than in any other shoe I've tried. I ended up giving them away.

The MT00v2 (or Minimus Zero Trail V2 to give it its full name) is a very different shoe, in fact I'm surprised the model identifier hasn't been changed. The new version is still pretty light compared with most similar off-road shoes (it weighs around 250g for UK size 8), but it's almost exactly twice the weight of the original MT00). With road shoes, I'm a big fan of ultra-light racing flats (the 108g Mizuno Wave Universe 4 is my race shoe for half marathon and every shorter distance), but when it comes to off-road running, especially in wet / muddy UK conditions, weight is only one of many considerations.

MT00v2's Large multi-directional lugs across the full sole give great grip 

Where the MT00V2 scores over its predecessor (and many other off-road shoes I've tried) is its grip in tricky conditions. I've only run 40 miles in the shoes so far, as I've been doing lots of road races over the past few weeks, but I have managed to try them out in the muddy woods near home where they were reassuringly secure in some really thick wet mud, and I gave them their first race outing at the entertaining Lakeland Trails Ullswater 14K, where they were great on the wet rocks and hard-packed trails around the lake shore.
Having fun at the Ullswater 14km in the MT00v2s

From the limited amount of running I've done so far in the NB MT00v2s, I've learned enough to know that they'll be one of the shoes that I choose for off-road training runs and shorter races during this winter. The MT00v2s are probably most similar (in weight, grip and the conditions to which they are suited) to my favourite short-distance muddy race shoe, the Inov-8 X-Talon 212s, but the NBs feel a bit more geared towards comfort (they have a very padded heel collar and plush tongue for example), so I'll probably use them for training more than racing.

The 0mm drop of these shoes feels comfortable over short distances for me, but as I've had a niggly Achilles for the last few months, (and also as the MT00V2s don't have a rock plate to protect the foot on longer / rockier runs), I'll probably only wear them for runs below 15 miles or so for now.

Initial Conclusion and an important note on sizing.

I intend to post a fuller review (and a comparison with some of my other favourite off-road running shoes) later in the winter, but for now I'd definitely recommend the MT00v2 for anyone looking for a light, grippy, comfortable and good value trail shoe, that works well in UK conditions.
My only size 11 shoes. 

One important note is that for me (I have very wide feet with a high arch and high-volume mid-foot), I needed to size up in the MT00V2s. I usually wear a UK size 10 in Saucony and Brooks shoes, size 10.5 in Adidas and Inov-8, but in the MT00V2s I'm wearing a UK size 11.

New Balance originally sent me a UK 10 to try, but I could hardly get my foot into the shoe, and as they didn't have a size 10.5, trying size 11 was the only option.

The size 11 (US 11.5, EU 45.5) feels very slightly long for me, but not in a way that adversely affects my running, and width-wise it's pretty much spot on, so I'm not sure whether a 10.5 would have been big enough or not. As with any new shoe, I'd definitely advise trying the MT00V2 on in a running shop if you can.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

#Runstreak Day 1000 is very nearly here! And to celebrate I'm going to attempt to run 100km through the Peak District!

As most readers of this post will probably already know, on 23rd November 2011, having lost 5 stone (70lbs / 32kg) earlier that year, through diet and cycling, and having just run my first 10K race, I decided to try running at least 5km every day for one week

Here's how I looked about a year before starting my runstreak.
it was Movember, honest. 

Here's how I often look and feel when running now :)

I've got a bit carried away.... :)

Since then, my 1 week experiment has snowballed a bit, and by the time I reached my first year of running every day, or '#runstreak' as it's known in the online world, I was totally hooked and I'd run my first half marathon, marathon and ultra marathon, clocking up nearly 3000 miles of running in the process. 

It wasn't just the running itself that had me hooked though, it was the inspiring new people I was meeting through running, and the amazing new places that running was taking me. 

At the end of that first week, I was having a great time, so decided to try running throughout December 2011, and started to connect with other runners online. 

Here's one of my favourite pictures from my first year of #runstreak
on my first run in the Peak District. August 2012

My biggest challenge so far...

On Monday 18th August 2014, I'll reach the landmark of having run every day for 1000 days, and I'm going to be marking the occasion by attempting my longest and toughest ever run - 100km (62 miles) through the Peak District. 

The route for this adventure can be seen here

I'll be very lucky to accompanied on this daunting challenge by several of my friends, some of whom I've met with through running, and others who I've known for a long time, and who I've reconnected with through a shared appreciation of just how much fun running together can be. 

I'm not known for my concise blog posts, or for blogging frequently, but as I'm hoping to do a follow up post after Monday's adventure, I'm going to keep this post free of lots of stats, lists of "lessons I've learned" or excessive eulogising about just how lucky I've been to meet so many great people, visit so many wonderful places and have so much fun over the past 1000 days. 

Thanks to everyone for all the amazing support so far.
I do want to take the opportunity to thank all of those who've run with me, encouraged me online, and supported my obsessive and crazy running antics in person. In particular, I'd like to thank my brilliant other half Sarah, whose support really is always invaluable (not only because she'll be driving round the Peak District on Monday to make sure we're kept supplied with cake and pies), my fantastic parents, and my kids, who've put up with my obsessive running for nearly three years now. 

With Sarah at the end of the Highland Fling 2013. 
my longest run so far - 53 miles

With my Mum, Dad and younger son, Kieran, preparing
for our first  time as a family pacing team at our local parkrun

I'd also like to thank the fantastic group of running friends and family who are going to run some or all of the 100km with me on Monday, I'm really looking forward to spending the day with such inspiring people, and I hope it will be a day we'll all remember.

I'm hoping to raise some money, too... 

I'm also hoping to raise some funds for Beating Bowel Cancer by completing Monday's challenge, so I've created a JustGiving page - any donations greatly appreciated!

Friday, November 22, 2013

2 years of #Runstreak completed - 5855 miles, but it's not about the numbers...

Two years not out! Phew! :) 

With the card and badge that my runch colleagues so kindly gave me today. 
I really need to get back into blogging more regularly - when I leave it as long as I have, I feel as though I have to recap on everything that's happened since my last post. And as my last post was over 6 months ago, there could be an awful lot to tell! 

I could spend a very long time eulogising about the many brilliant running experiences I've had over the last few months - at the Thunder Run, High Peak 40, Robin Hood Marathon, Chester Marathon, York Marathon, White Rose Ultra and dozens of great parkruns, but I'm not going to, as I fear I'd end up with a post that would take far too long for anyone to read, even if I could somehow find the time to write it!

I could also write for a long time about the stats of my streak so far (especially as I really love stats!) - earlier today I decided to check how I was doing and was pretty pleased to see that in the last 2 years I've racked up 5855 miles of running, with 3074 in the last 365 days. I've also been really chuffed to break all my PBs from 400 metres to 40 miles this year, but I'm not going to ramble on about those either. 

In reflecting on the last two years, on how my aim to try running every day for a week back in November 2011, somehow spiralled into a life-changing journey: whilst thinking about what's made me keep going for so long, and what inspires me to now run every day, for as long as I can, I've realised that for me at least, it's not about the PBs, or the mileage stats (though they do provide fun challenges and useful benchmarks along the way). 

It's not even about the amazing new places that I've discovered thanks to running - lovely footpaths and bridleways within yards of places I've lived and worked for years, but never knew existed: stunning hills, mountains and lakes in distant parts the country that I'd never have bothered to seek out in the days before I started running. 

The statistics are motivating and affirming, the new places and sights are wonderful, but I know now with more certainly than ever: what really inspires me to run, what makes running so enjoyable, every day, are the brilliant people I'm fortunate to run with. 

Those people are too numerous to mention by name, but they are what make running special for me - when I think about my plans for days, weeks and months ahead: the races I want to run, the routes I want try, it's always coupled with "who will I be able to run with there?"

Two years ago I knew almost nobody who was a runner, but now with an ever growing number of running friends, colleagues, neighbours and family members, I'm really lucky to be able to run with others almost every day. In fact, I think there have only been three days this year when I've not run with someone else, and I've still run every race and training run longer than a half marathon with someone else, or often several other people. 

Today's runstreak anniversary runs summed up why I enjoy running so much - I was fortunate to be accompanied for some celebratory fun by Mark, Chris, Paul and Adrian: 4 of my brilliant band of runch colleagues, who incredibly kindly presented me with a card to mark the occasion - very touching!

The guys were happy to do whatever runs I fancied - so we ran 2.0 miles round the block to the park, then we drew a GPS "2" at the park, then we tried to write "TWO" (which came out surprisingly well) and we finished the lunchtime fun off with a "jog" back to work, which ended up with Adrian, Mark and I, all sprinting pretty hard to try to get our best times on the final Strava segment back to the office (though Adrian slowed down when he realised he'd forgotten to press "start" on his watch!). 

Runch crew - l to r: Chris, me, Paul, Mark (Adrian took the pic).

Today was a microcosm of what running is about for me - friends and shared experiences - I don't have any specific goals for the next year of runstreak in terms of mileages or times (well not yet at least), but I do have one overriding hope - that when I look back in 12 months time, 2 years time, or whenever my runstreak finishes, I can say that it's been as fun and rewarding as the past 2 years have been. 

So that's it for now, I hope I'll make more time to blog again soon, so that there's less that I feel I'm missing out and fewer people I'm not mentioning who I feel I should. Before I go though, just a quick mention for my fantastic other half Sarah, my amazing mum and dad, and my brilliant boys James and Kieran - without their support and indulgence of my running obsession, I wouldn't be able to run anywhere near as far, with anywhere near as many great people as I've been able to over the past couple of years.

Thanks also to everyone I've been fortunate to run with over the past 2 years, I'm looking forward to many more shared miles with friends old and new in the months and years to come. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Highland Fling 2013 race report, wow, wow, ow! :)

So, after promising in my previous blog post that I'd update more regularly, as usual, I've completely failed to do that! I definitely can't let any more time pass before writing about the amazing experience that was the Hoka Highland Fling though, so here goes...

The background

The Hoka Highland Fling is one of the UK's largest ultra marathon races. This year, the 8th running of the event saw the biggest field ever, with 593 runners and 47 relay teams of 4 people - making 781 runners in total, which I believe is the biggest field for any ultra race, ever in the UK. 

The "'Fling" takes place each year on the southern half of the West Highland Way, the popular walking / hiking route that links Milngavie just outside Glasgow, with Fort William, 96 miles to the north. The nominal halfway point of the route is in Tyndrum, and we'd be running the 53 miles there from Milngavie in a maximum of 15 hours, rather than the 4 to 7 days usually taken by walkers.

I decided to enter the race after completing my first ultra marathon, the High Peak 40, last September, as it seemed another big step forward in terms of the challenge it presented. The other big appeal of the Fling is that part of the route (3 miles from the end to 2 miles from the end) goes through Kirkton Farm, where my sister and her family lived for 3 years, and which is a really stunning part of the world. I hoped the rest of the route would be just as scenic.


I was very lucky to be able to go up to Scotland on Wednesday, before the race on Saturday and was accompanied by my brilliant other half, Sarah. We ran / walked the final 10K of the 'Fling route (from Crianlarich, through Kirkton Farm to Tyndrum) on Thursday, and also drove to all the places around Loch Lomond where Sarah and the rest of my support crew would be meeting us on race day. Then on the Friday, we ran the first 2 miles of the WHW out of Milngavie and checked out where the start was (between a Tesco car park and the railway station). Some pictures from the recce are here: 

Fling Recce Pics

On Friday evening, we headed to a pub for race registration, picked up the timing chip and car parking pass, and spent an enjoyable couple of hours eating lasagne and talking to my inspirational Twitter running friend Trevor who I'd arranged to run the 'Fling with. Trevor and I had only run together a couple of times before, but I think we were both quietly confident that we'd work well together as a team.

We were definitely far less confident about the race itself, as I'd only ever run more than 30 miles once (at the High Peak 40 last year) and Trevor, despite being an experienced and accomplished Fell runner, had never run further than 27 miles, so the 'Fling would be almost exactly twice as far as his previous 'longest ever run'. 

Race day - a day I'll remember for a very long time 

My 'Fling day started with a 4:00am alarm, and after usual pre-race preparations (coffee, porridge, multiple kit checks, shower and bathroom trips), Sarah and I left the hotel just after 5:00am for the 15 minute drive to Milngavie. With plenty of time before the start, I managed to meet up with Trevor, his friend Matt, and Colin, another Twitter running friend who I'd met very briefly in the pouring rain at my first marathon in Manchester, exactly a year before. 

There was a very short race briefing and then at just before 6 am, the almost 600 solo runners lined up in pace pens (almost unheard of in an ultra), with Trevor and I positioning ourselves near the back. 

At the start - a lot of hardcore runners!

Milngavie to Drymen (12.6 miles in 2 hrs 9 mins, position at checkpoint: 318th). 

I'm going to follow the traditional 'Fling report structure and break it down into the WHW sections / race checkpoints. 

The first 12 miles was relatively easy terrain-wise, with only a few minor hills where walk breaks seemed sensible (Trevor and I had agreed that we'd walk every significant hill, and that if there were any sections where we could run for a long time, we'd still force ourselves to walk sometimes, to save our legs for later on). The two highlights during the first section were the first of many amazing views (I'm pretty sure we could see Ben More, 30+ miles away at one point) and spending a bit of time running with another Twitter running friend, Ken

Here are a couple of pictures from that section:

One of very few backwards running pics I took at the Fling

See that snow capped mountain, far off in the distance? We're running past that later!

Me and my shadow (Trevor) running the first section

A typical view in the first few miles
Looking happy with Trevor (left) and half of Ken

Drymen to Balmaha (7.2 miles in about 90 mins, no official timings / positions). 

As we came into Drymen (the first significant landmark on the route), Sarah was waiting to greet us, which was a big boost, as I knew that the first "tricky" section of the route was ahead. There was a diversion in place from the usual WHW path due to forestry work, and as we rejoined the main route we caught up to another Twitter runner, Stephen and talked to him briefly, whilst taking in the first of many amazing views towards Loch Lomond. 

Shortly after, we started the climb up and around Conic Hill. It was the first "technical" section, with single file walking the order of the day most of the time, but where we could, Trevor and I were able to overtake a few people, and it was obvious that our strategy of starting slowly was paying off, as we feeling stronger than most others looked at that point. At the highest point we reached on Conic Hill, we paused briefly for Trevor to take some pictures (I hope they've come out well as the views were totally stunning), and we began the descent.

There's a great video of the race here with the Conic Hill section as its centrepiece:Highland Fling 2013 Video  

Of all the 53 miles, the 1 mile down Conic Hill was probably the most fun, and also the only place where Trevor was able to really show off his fell running expertise, as we dropped almost exactly 1000 feet in the space of one mile. We flew (at times almost literally), past a lot of runners in this section, and I was very glad my legs were relatively fresh at this stage, as I wouldn't have any hope of keeping up with Trevor (and probably would have taken a nasty fall if I'd tried), if this mile had come later in the race. 

As we came into the checkpoint at Balmaha, I was feeling great and it was wonderful to Sarah again, as well as my Mum, Dad, and my son Kieran, who would be our amazing support team for the rest of the day. 

With Trevor at Balmaha, both looking pretty fresh after running 20 miles

Balmaha to Rowardennan (around 7.5 miles in about 90 minutes). Cumulative distance 27.2 miles - official cumulative time at checkpoint: 5 hr 16 mins, official position: 257th). 

After a very refreshing stop at Balmaha, which took a bit longer than planned (we definitely spent more time in the checkpoints than most runners), we set off again along the shores of Loch Lomond. This section wasn't particularly memorable, there weren't any significant hills, but there were plenty of opportunities for walk breaks to take in the views. Again amongst the highlights were seeing other Twitter runners - we caught up to Ken again (he'd passed us in the checkpoint), and then were passed by Simon, who was one of the first of many relay runners to fly past us (the relay runners each ran about a half marathon, so the top guys were running way faster than us).

In fact, from Balmaha to the finish, the results suggest that only 2 non relay runners passed us, and I'm pretty sure that they overtook in the checkpoints, as I don't remember any other solo runners coming past at any time (relay runners had numbers on to identify them, solo runners just had timing chips around their ankles). 

Rowardennan to Inversnaid. (7.1 miles, around 90 mins, no official timings) 

At Rowardennan we were again greeted by our fantastic support team, which was a big boost, and I had my first "real" food of the race (an egg sandwich) and took the opportunity to put dry socks on, which was a relief. As we left the checkpoint, I caught sight of Ken coming in, and didn't realise that would be the last time our paths would cross - I was fully expecting him to overtake us later on, but in fact he had to drop out due to foot issues. 

Sarah getting supplies for Trevor & I at Rowardennan

About to change my mucky socks.

The next section was quite an enjoyable one in hindsight, with a long wind up and then down, along wide forest fire roads, with a chance for some "proper" running, and again we passed many runners. We had a brief chat with the one chap who tried to keep pace with us for a while, a German (I believe) guy, who told us he'd recce'd the section ahead and it was the trickiest part of the course. 

At the checkpoint at Inversnaid, we caught up with Colin for the first time - it was great to briefly see a friendly face before we headed off again. 

Inversnaid to Beinglas (6.6 miles, around 2 hours). Official cumulative time at Beinglas: 8:57, position: 236th

Although I'd read various blogs and reports about the WHW / Fling route, and had just had the warning from the aforementioned German chap, I have to admit I wasn't really prepared for this section. Whereas all the rest of the route was either runnable, or at least possible to walk at a decent pace, most of this bit was best described as a "scramble". The route follows the shore of Loch Lomond very closely, but there were very few good views, instead we spent nearly all of the 2 hours clambering through innumerable tree roots and sliding across wet rocks. We passed a couple of other runners (who had to stand aside to let us pass as the "path" was only wide enough for one person in many places), and were overtaken by one or 2 relay runners, but mostly I'd describe this as a physical and mental slog, during which I struggled more than any other part during the day. 

I was incredibly pleased to finally leave the side of the loch and head towards the farm at Beinglas where I knew the support team would be waiting, I'm not sure how much longer I could have managed that scramble for. It was such a relief to see Mum and Sarah, and from talking to them after, I know that when we arrived there, they could see how difficult I'd found that section and were more concerned about my wellbeing than at any other point during the day. 

Beinglas to Tyndrum (finish): 12.1 miles, 2 hours 7 minutes. Final time: 11 hours 36 minutes, Final position: 193rd. 

After leaving Beinglas, the gloom and struggle of the previous section gradually faded, as we headed towards the Falls of Falloch, then ran close to the River Falloch and the A82 for several miles. Trevor and I both had up and down times during this section, and kept each other going by suggesting walk breaks and alternating who took the lead. We passed a few more runners during this section and were surprised to see a wedding going on under a tree about 100 yards from the WHW - a lovely place to get married for sure. Just before we crossed the A82 for the first time, we had an unscheduled greeting from our support team, who'd found an unofficial place to stop and cheer - and Kieran even ran with us for a couple of hundred yards, before we headed off again, and they drove on to meet us at Kirkton farm. 

Kieran, Trevor and I by the River Falloch

Looking back to where the WHW crosses the River Falloch

After crossing the A82, we headed up towards Crianlarich, a very varied section, which involved some substantial elevation gain, wading through mud and past a large herd of Highland Cows, through a tiny railway underpass and again we passed many runners - it was amazing how closely grouped a lot of runners still were at this stage, after 40+ miles and 10 hours plus of running. It seemed our strategy of going slowly at the start and taking our time at the checkpoints had really worked well, as although we walked a fair bit, and I suffered a bit of cramp, we were running far more, and more freely than any of the people we passed, so much so that one chap grumpily quipped "you two look far too fresh" as we skipped past him (I say 'skipped', but really mean we shuffled slightly quicker than him)...

The view towards Ben More & Crianlarich. A lost boot & glove look on

With 10K to go, we reached the section that Sarah and I had recce'd 2 days before, and knowing what was ahead, and that we'd soon be seeing my family again, I felt better than at any time in the previous 15 miles. We reached the highest point of the whole run (just over 1,100 ft, above Crianlarich) and then enjoyed the final significant descent towards the A82 crossing just before Kirkton farm. 

With Mum & Kieran. Trevor & I look like we're struggling here
As we approached Kirkton, Mum and Kieran ran to meet us, and then after a quick final pitstop to leave our rucksacks in the car, Trevor, Sarah, Mum, Kieran and I ran off together towards Auchtertyre and then under the A82 again. 

Trevor running from Kirkton towards Auchtertyre

We passed a couple more runners in the final stages, including a Japanese lady who nearly fell in one of the many streams we crossed, and then 400 yards from the finish, we could hear the sound of bagpipes and were greeted by a piper, playing by the side of the path. As we reached the final corner, my son James, and my nieces Beth and Anna were there to greet us, and as we entered the very impressive finish funnel, the sense of relief at having made it was overwhelming. 

Into the finish funnel - mucky legs!

Trevor and I crossed the line together in 192nd and 193rd place respectively (he just pipped me on alphabetical order :). We'd moved up from 318th place at Drymen, overtaking 126 runners and being passed by just 2 and for the final section from Beinglas to Tyndrum were 123rd quickest, very pleasing stats for a numbers obsessive like me :).  Just after crossing the line, we  were handed our medals and water, then goody bags containing Fling bubbly (Prosecco) and then shortly after t-shirts, a free bottle of beer, soup and bread. Amazing value for a race that cost £27 to enter! 

Fling Bubbly!

Fling Medal!

These will stand a while!

After some emotional hugs with my superlative support team (I've run out of superlatives for them) in the marquee, I stumbled to the Real Food Cafe, the wonderful fish & chip restaurant round the corner from the finish, and on the way I saw Colin, who'd also finished, just over half an hour behind us. Trevor joined us for some well deserved refuelling, to end what had be a very memorable 13 hours or so together. 

Sarah and I embrace - the hug that says it all...

Some more of the amazing support team

Apologies as always for the length of this post, but I think in this case, the 'Fling deserves it, what an event, what a day. 

Before I sign off, I just want to thank my support team one last time: Sarah, Mum, Dad, Kieran, James, Kathy, Beth & Anna, I couldn't have done it without you and a huge thanks to Trevor too, for putting up with me for so long and helping me to finish in a much faster time than I could have expected. 

And finally... Many, many, may thanks to everyone who's donated to my JustGiving page so far - we've now raised £360 for Beating Bowel Cancer, which is just fantastic. 

I'm not promising to blog again any time soon, but I can promise that the next post is almost certain to be shorter than this one :).