Highland Fling 2018

Before the race report here’s what I’ve been doing so far this year. Just scroll down for the race report. Another long overdue blog update. The resolutions actually went quite well! Heres a recap:

  1. Cross train – I never actually used it as a way to increase mileage. I did however get on it once a week early in the year to increase training time and as a strength building exercise through the use of isolated leg cycling.
  2. Foam Roll/Stretch – Very much and big tick, made a conserted effort to roll more and also to self massage and I’m sure it helped keep the legs fresh. Used the tens machine as a self massage tool to loosen off quads and calves too.
  3. Make a plan – I made my own plan but ended up not using it as Mike Jones got back in touch and we started a training plan, this made a massive difference. He had me running terrain specific sessions working on my speed, endurance and technique. I’m planning a post on what things have changed in my training. Expect that in 2019!
  4. Be more consistent – We had a very busy start to the year in the workshop so some weeks I had to sacrifice a few sessions, however, with a plan to follow and having someone to alter my plan to suit what I could manage on a week by week basis meant I got what I could out of each week.
  5. Get more sleep – FAIL.

 

2018 so far

January – Inskip Half Marathon – Ran in driving sleet and snow, shielding my eyes with my hand during first 3 miles was grim and eyeballs felt frozen. Pretty happy with 1:19, wasn’t expecting much more.

February – Dalemain Trail 10km – First time I’d run this race around Dalemain Estate, Penrith. Total sufferfest, decided to attack the hills. Managed to get a lead on first long drag and ran scared from there to the finish. 1st place and won a rather nice running pack.

March – Edale Skyline Fell Race (English Champs Counter) – An addition by Mike to my plan and my first 20 miler of the year. The goal wasn’t to go eyeballs out, but a more steady/tempo effort. Felt bloody hard if you ask me, but was still running well at the finish. 100th place, more than happy.

 

Highland Fling 53 miles

This post is going to follow the same format as last year, purely because I copied and pasted it. If you want to have a look at that, you can read it here

Fling Eve

Exactly the same as last year, drove up Friday post work, registered in Milngavie, back to Glasgow and out for pizza in the same place again. A rather tasty veg pizza served up by a waiter with the tightest white shirt I’d ever seen. Then back to sort my kit, take a pre race pic of my kit, like a loser, and into bed for 10.30pm. Last year my alarm went off at 4.30am and we were in a bit of a rush. This year it was 3.50am, so I could get some food into me (porridge and banana) 2 hours before race start. I had another 15 minutes of lying in bed fully dressed before we headed to the start. Again, the same as last year, drop bags into the correct vehicles, I only had 2 this time (Rowardennan and Inversnaid) as Rosie was going to be at the other two check points. A loooong queue for the bog for my PMT and it was almost start time.

Milngavie – Drymen 

More nerves on the start line this year, probably due to my higher expectations. I was thinking I could manage around 8:10 if I had a good day and also hoped that I might be able to sneak into the top 10, this would depend on who else was running of course. The 5 minute count down disappeared insanely quickly and the hooter/siren/gun went off (not sure what noise it was).  I set off at a fairly steady pace, and running up the first hill out of the woods my legs felt fresh and strong, good signs.

Having discussed a race strategy with Mike of running a similar pace to last year to Drymen (1:35) and then with the extra work I’d done on running gradual hills and a bit more strength work we were then aiming to pic up the effort a little bit more along Loch Lomond to arrive at Beinglas in Mikes rather poetic term “95% fooked” with that in mind I kept telling myself to go easy and not to worry where in the field I was this early. I passed a runner from the larger quicker moving group in front who had stopped for a run off and he soon caught up, he wanted away from the fast pace and we started chatting for 30 mins, he was the guy who face planted a tree (Gary House), just for the crack I think. He was telling me about his running group, runSTRONG, and if you want a few entertaining videos, I would suggest giving him a follow on Instagram. Before I knew it we’d knocked in a 7:20 6:50 and 7:00 miles, taking my leave I also pulled over for a pit stop and resumed at a more leisurely pace along the road to Drymen.

I arrived in 1:31, 4 minutes up on last year and on the race plan. The pace didn’t feel difficult and I felt like I was holding back still to run 1:31, I also ran straight through as I had plenty of energy drink to get to Balmaha, this may have been an error. I should really have stopped for a bit of water and a salt tab.

12 miles | 1hr 31m

Drymen – Balmaha 

This section again, went better than last year, 8 minutes better. I slurped a load of fluids into me and got some walking in as I made my way through the forestry and up onto Conic Hill. The descent off Conic was a bity dicey as I opted for road shoes this year, trying to avoid the greasy wet patches slowed me down a bit but I wasn’t too fussed as I was well up on where I had planned to be by this stage. I passed a couple of runners on this section and was feeling optimistic about the rest of the race. Spirits were high. I saved time on last year in the checkpoint too as I just did a swap of empty bottles for full ones and grabbed a few gels from Rosie.

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sticking to the dry stuff down Conic Hill

19.2 miles | 2hrs 36m

Balmaha – Rowardennan

Again, as last year I had bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond stuck in my head. Grrrr.

Nothing much to note in this section, was running pretty well, walking any hills I found and making good progress on the flats. Got into a group with a couple other runners who caught me just after Balmaha and we were moving well. Passed the leading lady at mile 22 and was rather enjoying myself at this point. Legs were still good, and no complaints from glutes, groins or quads. I ran into the checkpoint 3rd in a line of 4 and as the marshalls called out our numbers mine was read incorrectly, it was my own fault, I had my number slightly around the side of my shorts and my 342 got called as 842. I hollered my correct number out but as the marshalls were gathering the other drop bags I wasn’t heard. I got my water filled up, but had to wait for my drop bag. I tipped a sachet of energy powder into my bottle and set off after the other three, who had made a minute or so on me. I wouldn’t see 2 of them again. I learned a lesson from this too, don’t try and drink out of a bottle with powder sat at the top. A mouth full of sherbert, a blocked bottle nossle and a sticky hand after using a finger to mix the contents up. 7 minutes quicker than last year.

26.4 miles | 3hrs 41mins

Rowardennan – Inversnaid

Legs certainly started to feel like they’d run a fair distance already. My longest run of the year had been 26 miles and I began to feel the first signs of tiredness. I was still plugging away at a good pace, but I was aware that the climbs and descents weren’t as easy on my body anymore. As it began to warm up, my arm sleeves came off and I instantly felt better with some fresh air against my skin. Had a good spell along some single track into Inversnaid checkpoint, fully aware that it was going to get a whole lot harder from this point onwards. I was now 33 minutes ahead of last years splits and I felt like I had conserved plenty of energy to expend in the last 10 miles. All I had to do was maintain what I was doing, staying within myself and then work hard from Beinglas to the finish, hopefully picking off a few runners in the process.

 

33.7 miles | 4hrs 48m

Inversnaid – Beinglas

This tactic started well, I passed a couple of runners in the slow technical section after Inversnaid, I also passed a large number of cyclists pushing their bikes (fully weighed down with paniers and the works) along a path that it was hard enough to travel along with just your feet. Wouldn’t have fancied hauling them up and over the 8 foot high foot bridges. With the increasingly rough terrain, I was doing a lot more stepping over things, this seemed to kick start a few twinges of cramp that would soon escalate into full leg shakes. I was now taking S!Caps every 30 mins and trying to drink a bit more in a bid to stave off any issues later on. But I rather think it was down to the duration and level of effort that my legs weren’t accustomed to. Blissfully unaware that the worst was yet to come I was still having spells where I was moving well and as soon as I emerged from the lake shore, I thought I was home and hosed. Incorrect. 500m after that, in pretty much the same place as last years bad patch I got a big old dose of cramps up the inside of my left leg, I had to stop and give it a rub then walk for a minute or two. I was passed on the next climb a couple of miles from Beinglas and I was very much desperate for the checkpoint to appear, it did. Eventually. I fannied around too much here but I wanted to get some calories in and some water. I lost the gap I had made earlier on another couple of runners but I was in self preservation mode, certainly not looking to push hard for the next 12 miles. 5 mins quicker than last year (with massive room for improvement).

40.5 miles | 6hrs 16m

Beinglas – Tyndrum

The encouragement I received from everyone at the checkpoint and from Rosie made a massive difference, I was still struggling but I was determined to fight it as much as I could and to keep pushing hard when my legs allowed it. In my tired state I forgot to pick up any gels here and was left with a squeezable baby yoghurt and two gels to get me to the finish line, probably a gel or two short when I was needing to put more energy in all the time. I’d have preferred to get calories in every 20 mins at this stage but 30 would have to do. The rolling hills for the first 3 miles out of Beinglas are a real bitch IMO and I was suffering enough to put music on for the first time ever in a race. It certainly helped. Although I was passed by 2 runners in the 2 miles after Beinglas, I repassed them either side of crossing under the road.

Coming up to Cow Poo Alley, I could see it was a different ball game to last year, this time around it was deep and sloppy and with no routes around it, it was head down and bash on. Having worked on a farm for several years in my youth, cow poo doesn’t really bother me, kicking a stone lurking under the surface, like the iceberg that sank the Titanic, and crashing down on my side certainly did bother me. My right arm was submerged to my shoulder and my left to the wrist. To make things worse I got a spasm of cramps at the same time so I was thrashing around like a beached whale in 6 inches of skitter. Annoyed and stinking, I actually managed to pass the guy in front who was also getting a lot of cramps. I quickly pulled over, washed my arms and t shirt sleeve in a stream and pressed on to Crianlarich where Rosie was waiting, with her cheer squad April and Kellie, whom she met at last years Fling. Getting shouts and cheers from people you have met through the same race and from running other ultras is ace, and very much appreciated! Taking a drink here and quickly getting told to stop farting about and get moving as 14th place was about to catch you I set off into the hilly forest section looking over my shoulder.

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minutes after coo poo alley

I thought I was improving on the cramp front when another bout would bring me to a standstill in a 20m stretch. This continued all the way to the finish, but I actually ran the downhill pretty comfortably. As comfortably as you can with 49 miles in your legs. Crossing the main road without breaking stride I thought I might have put some time into the runner behind me. I hadn’t. After half a mile I had a glance back and the first female, Rachel Normand, was 50 yards behind me, I got to a gate, opened it and immediately cramped up. As a result I just held it open and cheered her through. I actually picked up running behind Rachel, I offered some words of encouragement as she was worried she would be caught. As we got into the last couple of miles she started to pull away but kept having a look back, I assured her there was nobody catching her (especially not me) and she went on to win in an impressive 8:22:23, I snuck into the finish line photo in the distance as I ran down the red carpet to finish in 8:22:47, well happy but also a little frustrated I was held back by cramps, but it’s part of it and getting my nutrition and legs in order is something I can try to improve on heading towards the Lakeland 50. 3 mins quicker than last year, and 42 minutes overall.

53 miles | 8hrs 23m| 14th place

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Happy

The usual first class treatment post finish line, a cup of tea, a catch up with Gary who was sporting a fat lip and a bloody shirt, a hot shower and a massage with a hot water bottle and blankets. Amazing. I was moving pretty well and my legs felt ok. We were staying in Glasgow on the Saturday night too, so we hung around to watch the other finishers come in and the prize ceremony. Several cups of tea and coffee and again, some of the best soup I’ve ever had, and I was starting to feel normal. We saw Rich finish, a fellow DH Runner, who had to battle with a sore leg and pretty much walked the entire last 20 miles to get home in 13:07.

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DH Runners! Rich, looking grey after sticking it out for 20 miles!

I’ve recovered from this race better than any other ultra I’ve run so far. I walked on Sunday and Monday, managed easy runs on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.  Not sure if its because I’ve a done a few now and so my body is adapting to it, or because my legs were better conditioned for the distance. Next up is The Lakeland 50, with a couple of smaller races in there as a build up. I’m feeling optimistic, as long as I can improve my down hill running and not get lost I hope I can have another similar result to this.

 

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Highland Fling Race Report

Mixed feelings on this one. Good, as I got finished close to the time I thought I could run, despite having leg issues from early on. Not so good, because I feel like I could have done so much better, given the training and lack of injuries I’ve had since November.

It was the first of my 2 big races this year and I had DOMS Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the week before. I played cricket in a pre-season game on the Saturday and batted for 25 or so overs. Then, stupidly, I went for a run with the dog. I failed to think what that would have already taken out of my legs, having not played since September. A cold bath, self massage and nightly tens machine stints seemed to have loosened things off and my legs felt ready to go by the weekend.

Fling Eve

We drove up on Friday eve after dropping off Agnes with Jo and the labs. We hit the road around 6pm and went straight to Milngavie to register so we’d save time in the morning. I managed to find a room for 40 quid in The Lorne Hotel in Glasgow, only a 20 minute drive from the start. Perfect. We spied a couple of Italian restaurants close to the hotel while looking for a car parking spot and headed straight out after checking in and dropping off the bags.

The food was quality, I went for a sausage, ricotta and spinach pizza, Rosie had parma ham, rocket and parmesan and a glass of wine the size of her head. While we were waiting for our food a couple of lads came in and sat at the table next to us. As soon as they sat down I said to Rosie “Bet they are running The Fling”, I could just tell. They weren’t wearing running shorts btw. Turns out I was half right. One of them was (Rob Sinclair), the other (Mike Raffan) was crewing him. He won. And set a new course record by 10 minutes! Mental.

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Alarm… 4.30am. Quick shower, tape my toes to TRY and prevent blisters, wolf down some granola, make a coffee for me and a flask of tea for Rosie and we were behind schedule. We set off at 5.10am and were arrived and parked up by 5.35am. Chucked (literally) my drop bags into the correct cars to be taken to the check points along the route and joined the queue to the portaloos for my PMT (Pre Match T**d).

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Missed the race briefing, but figured, had there been a route change it’d be unlikely I’d be out at the front. Standing in the start area, I saw a guy who I follow on Instagram, Jacob. He finished 6th! I said hello and we chatted for a few minutes while waiting for the start. He said he’d like 8 hours and ran 7.45, awesome stuff. He’s also running Lakeland 100 this year so I’ll be making contact to organise some training runs!

Milngavie – Drymen 

The start line was a bit of a funny one, nobody seemed keen to get forward to the front for the start, so while I was chatting to Jacob, I was only a couple of rows back from the front. Not where I wanted to be! When the siren went, I deliberately stood for a second and let a few people passed me. I set off at a nice easy pace, heart rate felt low and I wasn’t breathing hard. My legs felt spritely, for all of roughly 3 miles. The tightness I had earlier in the week was back and while it wasn’t a problem now, I knew that it would have an impact on me later on. The race route for this section is flat packed track and bits of road, and it’s easy to go out too hard and pay for it later on. I tried to stay at an easy level and even walked a couple of hills on the road section. Got a quick water refill and bashed on… didn’t see Rosie, as she got there after I had already passed through.

12 miles | 1hr 35m

Drymen – Balmaha 

The second section heads up and over Conic Hill, with my tightening groin it was a nice chance to have a bit of a hike uphill, eat something and take a leak without losing much time. This part of the course climbs through a section of forestry and then tops out with brilliant views of Loch Lomond. It was also the first time I got to appreciate how bloody long Loch Lomond is. Very bloody long. My feet were starting to bother me here too, having run a fair amount of road and hard trails they were already tender and I was wishing I’d just run in my road shoes. This was the start of a bit of a negative spiral that lasted for the next 30 miles. A few hundred metres from the top of the climb a photographer had set up a flash and was snapping away as runners passed by. “A little run for a photograph mate?” Yeahhhh, I’ll just waste a load of energy running uphill while smiling for a fecking photo! I did, but only because it’ll be going straight on my Instagram account.

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A little wave at the drone on the descent into Balmaha and I arrived at the first checkpoint to pickup a drop bag. The first thing I asked? “How far away is the car?!” I think a few folk thought I wanted to go home. I wanted to put road shoes on, but as Rosie legged it to the car while I ate a banana and drank some IrnBru I wanted to just get going again. Turns out I hadn’t even put them in the van. As I was hanging about looking like an idiot, Mike Raffan came over to say hi and apologised for not saying hello the night before, they didn’t want to have to talk about the race. Totally understandable. I’d have almost certainly asked what time he was looking for… “Umm the course record?” may have sounded pretty bold. Anyways, really nice guys. Onwards to Rowardennan!

19.2 miles | 2hrs 48m

Balmaha – Rowardennan

I’d made it to the shores of Loch Lomond, and for the next 20 miles I had the following in my head…

O ye’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland before ye,
Something something something,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.

Lets just take a moment to think about that.

OK, having told Rosie that I was feeling good and that my legs were “fine” (I didn’t want to admit my legs were sore so early, or worry her, she’s good at that) I set off for the relatively short section to Rowardennan, this was a nice runnable section on shore paths and little bits of wooded climbs, nothing too severe. Even got a couple of honks from passing cars. Spirits picked up, albeit fairly briefly. After running on any uphill section for a few minutes my left hip would begin to tighten, to a point where I had to walk a few strides, luckily this section was flat and any ups and downs were pretty short. Passed a nice chap doing a mandatory kit check on a small steep slope, a good place to do it as everyone was walking it. I asked him if there were many hills I could walk, he said no. I cursed.

26.4 miles | 4hrs

Rowardennan – Inversnaid

More of the same, except that I was starting to feel the fatigue in my feet and my body and not just in my leg. The discomfort had shifted into both groins, but my hip seemed to have freed up, which was nice. It didn’t really affect how quickly I could run. Started to notice that there seemed to be quite a few tissues that had been dropped on the route. I didn’t think it was runners as some were fresh and some soggy. But I must have seen 30 or 40, and that’s not even an exaggeration. In the last 10 miles I saw heaps, I swore out loud a few times “ANOTHER F-ING TISSUE!” It seemed like whenever I looked to the side of the path, I’d see one lurking there. It was kinda getting in my head in my tired emotional state. I was on tissue watch. I was starting to go off solid food now, I had been eating caramel wafers and a few cereal bars but I took my first gel in an effort to get some energy back on these slightly longer climbs.

O ye’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland before ye,
Something something something,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.

I was running in and around about 5 guys, all of us in a similar state, one of us would have a good spell and pass the others and then, 20 minutes later they’d be walking and the others would pass back. This happened a few times, I got talking to one lad, he was Irish and I don’t think we understood each other, we said “aye” quite a lot. But it doesn’t half pass the time if you can talk a bit. The talking died down as the path got more technical and slippery. Every now and then one of us would sigh really loudly or smack our legs to wake them up. We were starting to battle. We eventually chugged into Inversnaid and I drained a welcome IrnBru in one effort. The marshals were amazing all day, taking your bottles and filling them up and making sure you had everything you needed out of your drop bag. The fella sorting out my water here, insisted on putting the bottles into my pack for me so I could eat my salt and vinegar Hula Hoops. What a legend.

33.7 miles | 5hrs 21m | Tissue count 7

Inversnaid – Beinglas

This was the hardest part of the course, and once through this section it was better paths to the finish. I’d spoken to a few people about this section and was told it was technical and that it would slow you down but that it wasn’t difficult (thanks for the info Debbie), shame I wasn’t in much of a state to be able to enjoy this section as its the kind of thing I really like. It did provide a welcome change for my legs and they seemed to be going much better again. There was a mix of rocky outcrops on the path, some bridges and ladders to climb and quite a lot of tree roots. The fatigue of running 35 or so miles was starting to show and I was feeling pretty worked by now.

O ye’ll take the high road, and I’ll…. enough!

At the end of the technical section I was pleased for about 500m where we were able to run across a field. The pins tightened up and I was forced to watch a group of runners all tootle off into the distance! It started to rain, just to improve my spirits. I donned a windproof as I didn’t want to get cold but that squeezed my running pack into my ribs which caused pain in my chest as it was tired as well. I took off the windproof. Walked a bit. Counted the miles until the finish… 15. Nightmare. The only thing I remember about this part of the course was that I felt horrendous and the check point seemed to take an age to arrive. But it did arrive, like an oasis in the desert.

40.5 miles | 6hrs 53m | Tissue count 12

Beinglas – Tyndrum

Rosie had made some new pals and I said hello to them while I rummaged in my drop bag and the bag Rosie had to find something I fancied. Ahh, Frijj chocolate milkshake, pretty sure thats been warming up in the van for 2 days but its getting destroyed all the same. Topped that up with half a can of IrnBru to make a concoction of milky sugaryness. I set off walking, and was certain I was going to be seeing the milkshake again very soon. Two miles later and I was still swilling along burping chocolate IrnBru flavours. It was a case of getting to the finish. A new batch of people had caught me, a lady who was looking really strong came passed and another group weren’t too far behind. I tried to stick with a guy I had ran close to most of the way and found myself feeling better. “Ooo look a tissue…” Checking my watch I noticed I only had 9 more miles to go. Only 9! It was a bizarre change of mindset. One minute feeling like death, the next willing to run, and push through a bit of discomfort in order to get finished. I started closing people down, I repassed a number of runners within a couple of miles. Even felt fleet footed picking my way along Coo Poo Alley, famed for its lack of dirt, gravel or soil and its abundance of cow shite. I stopped to take a wee, adding to the alleys problems.

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feeling good with 6 to go!

 

“C’MON MIKE!” I heard her before I saw her. Its always a massive lift to see Rosie when I’m in an event. She’s such a good supporter, and she’s really rather loud for someone so small. I hadn’t expected to see Rosie again until the finish. She’d followed her new bff’s up here and I’m glad she did. I decided as I ran passed giving out a high five that I’d have a crack at getting under 9 hours. Until now I seemed to have ignored the fact that it was still achievable. My watch said 6 miles to go and 8hrs 3mins elapsed. It would depend on the terrain, but I set off marching up the hill like a maniac. Even got an admiring “Nice stomp going on there mate!” from a fellow runner I was passing. Double tissue. The miles were all of a sudden ticking by nicely, pretty sure its because I was focusing on something other than how long was left. I even ran well downhill to a road crossing 3 miles from the finish, I worked out I needed to run a 26.5 minute parkrun to get in under 9 hours, I was only really able to knock out 8.30 minute miles so it was going to be tight, I didn’t allow for opening and closing gates and a final uphill section to the finish. With a mile and a half to go I was aware I would’t do it. As soon as I knew that it became a real struggle again, but I was now happy to potter along and ran the final 10 minutes with a big grin on my face. I knew it was in the bag.

Coming into the finish of any event is great, but this was right up there! 200m out I passed the bagpipers, and they were playing…. O ye’ll take the high road… they weren’t really, but I wish they were. Turning the corner I was at the top of the red carpet finish straight, lined with flags from the countries of every nation ever represented in The Highland Fling, brilliant! Got shouted at by Debbie Martin-Consani (who was MC-ing the finish line) to “pick your knees up Mike!”… I’d not done that in 7 hours!

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with the DH Kenyan flag!

This is where this race stands out for me, the volunteers. As I crossed the line there was a number of volunteers cheering me in, giving me my medal and a bottle of water and my carrier bag of Fling Bling (bottle of cava, thermos flask, tshirt, sticker, buff). Now, I’m not sure if it’s because I took a couple of sideways sways as I stopped running but I was chaperoned into the marquee and taken straight to the tea & coffee table. A cup of tea (well, half, as I poured a fair bit into my carrier bag trying to sit down) inside me and I was perking up. A gloriously hot shower and a complimentary rub down in the sports massage tent and I was ready for some scran. Think its the best soup I’ve ever had too.

We hung around for a while watching other finishers and cheering them in, ate some food and watched the prize giving. We were walking back to the car and the race winner Rob and his pal Mike ran passed, they were going for a warm down or a leg loosener of some sort, most other people couldn’t manage to sit in a plastic chair! They hit the breaks and came to have a crack. The first thing they asked was how I’d gotten on. What nice folk ultra runners are.

Distance – 53 miles | Elevation – 7500ft | Time on feet – 9hrs 5m | Tissue count – 94

 

fling