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

 

 

Highland Fling Countdown

With a week to go until the Highland Fling I thought I’d give an update on what I have been up to in the last couple of weeks and my goals for next weekend.

Running

I finished off my long runs with another loop around Ullswater, this time parking at Dacre, so I was able run a bit more along the Lakeland 100 route. The weather was glorious again, I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna cost me on race day. Being openly and increasingly geeky about all things running I decided to combine two elements I’d read about that week, an irunfar article on runnable long runs and an interview on talkultra with Hayden Hawks about practicing running with little fuel to replicate finishing a race as a shuffling/spluttering mess (and being able to get through it). It went to plan. Kinda. I started to flag a bit earlier than intended, probably due to the heat, so, having travelled clockwise around Ullswater I was feeling the affects when Glenridding arrived after 16 miles. Deciding to top up on sugar I entered the shop/post office/ice cream meca and purchased a can of IrnBru… and a bounty ice cream (don’t judge me). Having put them away I set off for the last 10 miles. Running into Dacre in the last mile the lack of water and food were starting to have an effect. I’ve had it a few times now, when your vision starts to narrow and go blurry at the edges. I only had a mile to get done so all good, got a decent distance in on not much fuel and didn’t collapse. Inhaled a chocolate milk and drove home. Via a well known fried chicken outlet.

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Ullswater Way

Did a couple of hard 5km efforts rather than intervals including the DH Runners 5km time trial. A looped course with a nasty great hill in the middle. I turned up to the club run rather looking forward to a nice sociable 8 miles. Should have checked the run plan before leaving the house. If I had, there’s a good chance I’d have bottled it and taken the dog along the river instead. Mile 1 there was a horrid head wind, mile 2 was Cummersdale Hill and mile 3 was with a tailwind (but I was desperate for the finish). Fair to say I suffered, this pic was taken by Lakesman, DH Runners chief and parkrun bigwig Andy Graham moments after finishing… landed a 5km PB though, 17:19. Good signs I hope.

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**insert expletive**

Easter. The killer of all tapers. I’m running less and eating more! We drove down to visit Matt, Laura and Grace on Easter Sunday then drove to North Wales to see my elder brother Andy, his wife Charlotte and Harri as they’d just had another bambino, Hanna. We were out the house for 30 hours. In that time I had 5 coffees, 6 cups of tea, brownies, cakes, a roast dinner, bacon and egg buttie, pom bears (very nice), a beef sarnie, lemon meringue pie, numerous small eggs from the easter egg hunt, an apple and a banana (being healthy).

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Hanna Holliday & Uncle Mick!

 

Race Aims

I dislike making predictions for what time I will run, mainly because I don’t really use any science behind the times I’d like. Browsing the Fling FAQs, it suggests that a rough guide would be 3 x your marathon time. 3 x 3:04 = 9:12. So, on that evidence I’ll be very happy with a sub 9 hour run. I’m discounting the 4 minutes as I was walking/staggering towards the finish line for those very painful 4 minutes *shudder*. I don’t like to think about it. However, I’ve definitely improved in the last year so on a good day, who knows. A more important goal for me is to be able to run well during the last 10 miles, as this is going to benefit me more for Lakeland 100 than having to walk it in. Hopefully, I can make up some places too.

Race Kit

Having now run a number of ultras I’m starting to get a list of things that work for me. Nutrition wise, I try to eat as much real food as possible to start with, then when I start feeling like death warmed up I’ll use gels. Nuts, cereal bars, bananas and satsumas are all on the list, as well as my luxury item… a bag of Salt & Vinegar Hula Hoops. As the Fling operates a drop bag system I’ll be able to have a few different things at each check point and grab whatever takes my fancy. On top of scran, I’ll be taking a S!Cap tablet every 30 mins, they’re a sodium tablet that prevent cramp getting you. I really like them. Far more than using electrolyte tablets dropped in water bottles. I find those weak flavoured and I much prefer water when my mouth turns dry.

I reeeally hope its going to be dry. The reason for this? Nobody likes the rain. Plus, my waterproof jacket is out of action, as its turned distinctly none waterproof in the 6 months I’ve had it (Inov-8 Stormshell) due to the inside delaminating from the outer fabric. I’ve been meaning to send it back for about 6 weeks, I bought a sealable bag to send it off 2 weeks ago. Really need to be more organised. I have a bulkier more waterproof alternative (Montane Minimus Mountain Jkt), so don’t worry.

T-shirt and arm warmers on the top, much more versatile than just a long sleeve top. You can take off sleeves without having to take off your pack. Patagonia shorts below, my favourite piece of running kit. Bar none. Good fit, lots of pockets, don’t chafe. Big tick. Having asked a number of people what to wear on my feet I have arrived at trail shoes, rather than road shoes. My only worry is whether my feet will be shot after 53 miles, most likely, but I’d rather have a bit more grip if they will be battered regardless of what I wear. Anyways, I’m going with my Inov-8 Roclites, they are swinging 1 from 1 in races entered so far so they’re in good form, I expect that’ll drop to a 0.500 average soon however!

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Other items I will take include phone and foil blanket (race requirement), Suunto watch, vaseline, kinesio tape, cap and gloves if its cold. And of course, my DH Runners buff. I’d like to wear my club vest too but it chafes me something chronic. Not much of a compulsory kit list for this race, but I’ll still be taking my race vest. I’d rather take slightly more stuff than run out of calories or water between check points.

Race Plan

Start slow. Try not to slowdown. That’s all I’ve got.

Wish me luck!