Thursday, 23 April 2015

Highland Fail 440 / 550

Ullapool campsite washhouse
midnight, day 4, 2014
Being a two time non-finisher of the Highland Trail Race, I thought I'd put down some of my impressions. These are mainly for 'enthusiast' riders rather than the experienced long-distance racers, who will likely scoff at my noob perspective.

* Prepare to walk. A lot. No matter how awesome a cyclist you are, there are sections you need to walk. They make up about 5% of the course, but will take up around 25% of your time. Are you ready to push your bike for 4 hours straight, up steep rocky paths, then down again? Are you ready to do that after 4 days in the saddle, doing 16 hour days, tired, and with time pressure? With blisters, maybe a pulled muscle?

* Heed what Alan Goldsmith says. If he says "it's a bit of a push", be ready to spend an afternoon heaving your bike over boulders.

* Beware the Devils Staircase. It got me both times, 1st time an awkward fumble and almost-off set me up for knee muscle injury that put me out the race. Second time, I got blisters walking up it that combined with achilles problems to see me throwing the race 4 days later. It is a steep walk up, and going down is steep, rocky, and busy. Out of all the parts on the 1st day, it is the one that presents the most danger of injury or mechanical.

* Prepare for at least 100 mile days, especially at the beginning. The outward leg has a reasonable amount of straightforward cycling, get miles in the bag for the days you are tired and pushing a lot.

* Faster racers have an advantage. They are out for less nights, so the accumulated sleep deprivation is less, and they get to potential food stops quicker.

* Take less. I always end up carrying food I don't eat. The refueling stops are quite far apart, but you are unlikely to go a day where you can't restock at some point.

* No stove. The last thing I want to do after cycling all day is try to boil water in the rain late at night when I am tired dirty and hungry... so take...

* Sandwiches. They are easy to eat, tasty, don't need heated, quick, easy to find.

* Sports drink in bladder. Tastes nice, keeps you hydrated, gives you carbs. Easy to find en route.

* Keep moving. Keep breaks short.

* Get to race weight for the race. Skinny people go faster.

* Avoid bothys. Noisy, smoky, distracting, busy. Especially early on in the race.

* Train for walking in your cycling gear. Do long hard walks, in your cycling shoes, over rocky terrain.

* Train for sleeping out. Get used to your sleep system so you can maximize your rest time. and minimize the time it takes setting it up and taking it down.

* Train with a heart rate monitor. Know what BPM you can do all day. If you need to, wear it during the race as well. Avoid any big efforts, pace, pace, pace.

* Germoline for crotch / arse. Keeps things clean and lubed down there.

* Put extra stans in your tyres. The extra weight is worth not having to fuss with punctures / air loss.

* eTrek is amazing. 3 1/2 days from one set of lithium batteries.

* Prepare to fail. It is a hard race. just getting to the start line in a ready state is a load of work. You are likely to have taken time off work. You probably traveled
a long way to get to the start. What will you will do if you have to pull out? Have a backup plan to make the most of your time, prepare for physical and mental recovery.
* Take spare cleats. Mine were badly worn after 4 days, from new.

With this years start only a few weeks away, best of luck to everyone taking part!

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