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October 16, 2020

I ran my first ultra, 53 mile Highland Fling, in 2007 and for the first three years I improved year on year. Then for the next 2 years I had some real struggles especially in the longer 100 mile races. I was proud of the fact that I finished them but it wasn’t pretty as I death marched the final 15 miles or so.

I wondered at 53 yrs old that my ability to ‘enjoy’ a 100 mile race were over and that I would do better to stick to the 50 mile distance but I wasn’t ready to call it a day just yet.

So in 2013 I went back to the West Highland Way with a single goal – to finish well. I wasn’t too bothered about my overall time but I wanted to be able to enjoy the final 14 miles from Kinlochleven and finish with a smile on my face.

I realised that to achieve this aim I would have to start a lot more sensibly. This is what I did and for the first 70 miles or so I looked after myself and made sure I kept my goal in mind. I had a little wobble just after Glencoe but it was almost like my mind was saying if you want to finish well you need to ease off for the next hour or so. 

This is what I did and by the time I reached Kinlochleven I felt in good shape and ready to see if my aim was to be fulfilled.  I ran / walked the final 14 miles as fast as I had when I ran my sub 20hr times and more importantly I did finish with a smile on my face having really enjoyed the whole race.

Over the next few years I worked on this goal of finishing well and one of the things that really helped was running to heart rate especially over the first 5-6 hrs. A friend, Robert Osfield, worked out what should be my target heart rate for different distances based on previous races.

The race that I felt it really came together was the 2015 Lakeland 100. In 2012 I did the race and it took me 34hrs 33mins 59secs and I really struggled over the second half. I felt I was capable of running under 30hrs and that became my goal.

I knew that I had to start a lot more conservatively if I wanted to be able to be running the downhills in the second half of the race.

So I set off with a plan to keep my heart rate below 125 for as long as I could. It took a lot of discipline as on the climb out of Coniston so many people went past me as I had to ease off to keep my heart rate down.

By the time I arrived at the first checkpoint at Seathwaite I was in 201st position out of 304 starters. But from then on I made my way up the field and finished in 60th position in a time of 29hrs 26mins 25secs

Here is a summary of my positions at each checkpoint

 I made a navigational mistake before Braithwaite which accounts for the leg position to CP5!

I was pleased with my pacing. Here is another graph which shows my overall pace compared to my friends Dave Troman and Jonny Rowan.


 I was still slowing down over the course of the race but a lot less than the previous attempt in 2012 which this final graph shows. Red line is 2012 and blue line is 2015

Based on my experiences of the last few years here are my top tips for finishing well.

  • Be realistic with your time goal – if you are aiming for a time which is beyond you then the tendency is to push too hard from the start to keep to it.
  • Start really comfortably – I have heard of runners deliberately starting right at the back. One year in the West Highland Way a lady walked the first mile allowing everyone to disappear and then over the course of 95 miles caught the majority of them finishing in under 23hrs.
  • Walk the hills early on so you can keep your heart as low as possible. Make sure you are not breathing too hard. I have been amazed in races where runners going past me in the first hour or so sound as though they are doing a hard 10k run.
  • Trust your strategy – It does take discipline to allow runners to push on but if you get it right you will see them again!
  • Enjoy the feeling of catching people in the second half of a race – psychologically it is so much better catching people over the last third of a race than being caught!

I love the fact that there are so many ways to run an ultra and many will have a different approach to this one but if you have had some ‘tough’ finishes I would encourage you to try this approach and see if it works for you!

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