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

 

 

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