I have waited over a week to write this race report, I left it that long on purpose. Tapping my inane ramblings into my laptop I wanted to wait until the pain in my legs had subsided and my memories were purely of the over whelming emotion and achievement of the day. Be under no misapprehension the Highland Fling is a brutal race, 53 miles of unrelenting trails with 7500 feet of climbing thrown in for good measure, it takes a special kind of mad eejit to run it and as this was my second year in a row. I clearly am that eejit and should have known better!
The bit above ^^^ was the intro by the way, the rest of this rubbish is about the race, those of a sensitive disposition (or a decent grasp of the English language) should stop reading now.
My build up had started great but then fell into disaster, last years attempt at the Fling was my first attempt at an endurance running race and I struggled in at 13hrs 51mins, enjoying every single second of that very long time. It had been a tear-stained roller coaster of a day and I was determined to have another go and hopefully crack 12hrs. I am predominately a triathlete and competed/completed Ironman Barcelona last October before running the excellent Glen Ogle 33 5 weeks later. Glen Ogle went well, and although I wasn’t fast, but a time off 5hrs 49mins showed a wee bit of promise. Que the Fling, I had my finger on the entry button the night it opened and sold out in an hour (testament to Jonny Flings excellent race and team) and I had bullied my brother Dougie into have a go at his first ultra. We were to be joined by the usual suspect’s Stevie and Tim with local super athlete and fellow member of the Howwood massive, Jim “I weigh two stone wet through with Irn Bru bottles in my pocket” McPhate. Training initially was excellent, I ticked over through November before paying my annual attention to the “Marcothon” in December. Come January I was feeling fit and training stepped up with vengeance, long runs on the West Highland Way being flavour of the month and it was clear I was streaks ahead of last year and able to match the pace of most of the above named motley crew.
Late February I ran the utterly brutal Glentress trail marathon, organised by the Gestapo it was a hard day out but again I ran well, closing the gap on my faster friends and came away feeling satisfied. I woke the next day in agony and spent a week hobbling about with serious pain in my left foot. It eased off a bit after 7 days and a tried a short run but broke down after five miles. I had torn the planter tendon in my foot! Long story boring the 9 weeks leading up to the Fling involved no running lots of ice and stretching and ten days before hand a trip to a specialist at the Southern General. I was provided with a insoles for my shoes, shown how to strap my foot up and given a big nippy injection of cortisone into the injury site.
So the morning of the race loomed up and smacked me in the face, I hadn’t tested the foot preferring to give it every chance to heel. I genuinely didn’t know if I would manage 53 steps never mind 53 miles!!
My long-suffering wife gave us all a lift to the start and was later to pick us up at Tyndrum, cheer us on, feed us and generally look after us. What a hero!
Dougie had been cool calm and collected in the run up to the race but the smell of nerves was leaking from him as the count down to the start commenced. Jim was in the sub 10hr pen and we were not to see him again that day as he finished in a spectacular 9hrs 35mins. Well done mate. Tim preferred his own company but Stevie, Dougie and I decided to bash out the first few miles together. Off we went and thankfully my foot gave me no immediate pain as we snaked out of Milngavie town centre. That was the least of my worries as a tripped on a tiny tree root half a mile into the run falling flat on my face giving the lads and many others a right good laugh. It must have been really funny as they were still laughing as we rolled in to Drymen (12.5 miles) in a sensible but strong 2hrs 4mins. Quick sip of water and we plodded on stripping layers as the sun started to climb into the sky for what was to be the only good dry day of the week (John Duncan how do you do it?). We climbed steadily up Conic Hill pausing only for an excellent team photo with a beautiful back drop of the snow-capped Lomond hills.
By now my legs were stiff and sore with my quads burning and groin aching, I had kept fit through cycling but my lack of running miles was showing and I knew I was in for a testing day. We traipsed into the first CP at Balmaha (19.5 miles) in excellent time but I faffed as I taped up a toe that was rubbing and took on some food however we left as a threesome although I knew that this wasn’t to last much longer. Over the next couple of miles I started to struggle to hold on to the pace and was continually loosing 4,5 and 6 meters at a time. I decided to ease back and run my own race with the boys soon out of sight.
Walking the hills and running the flats I came into Rowerdennan (27miles) in 5hrs 27mins, 18 minutes up on last year. Some nice guys from the Glasgow Triathlon Club filled up my water, I stuffed a banana and custard in my gob and quickly left with minimal faff, whilst snacking on some pretzels for salt. The next 7 miles are my favourite on the course with some good power marching up a steep forestry road giving a bit of respite from running before some lovely run-able trails appear. I made the Inversnaid CP still up on last years time and was told as I came in that Tim, who is a much better runner than me wasn’t far ahead. This really lifted me and wondered if I may catch him, it turns out that unknown to me at the time I passed him at the CP as he was in the medical tent vomiting a Jackson Pollock painting into a bucket!
Leaving Inversnaid was the first sign of any problems for me as I started to get stomach issues and 2 miles down the track puked my guts up feeding the fish in the loch a horrible mixture of pretzel, dry fruit and gels. It settled me though and I got ready to grind out the difficult mixture of running, walking and scrambling that the loch side provides here. It went better than expected and soon I was at Dario’s post were I allowed myself a reflective glance back down the grandeur of the loch. Someone had left a wee inspirational note on a rock at this point and it was the first time I had to put my emotions in check. The next couple of miles saw my condition and mood come down dramatically and for the second year in a row I came wobbling into the final CP at Beinn Glas farm. I rang my wife to give her an update and embarrassed myself with a bit of pathetic sorry for myself call. I sat down filled up my water and gave myself a bit of a slap. I met a marshal that I knew at the CP and he told me that Stevie and Dougie were not that far ahead which was confirmed by a call to my maw who was tracking us online! Refortified I was up and running again and was a full 22 minutes ahead of last years time. I knew the final 12 miles would take 3 hours or more but once moving I felt stronger than last year and vowed to myself I would run every bit of flat trail.
I hit the roller coaster hill in the forest above Crainlarich which was the site of my darkest moments last year were I had averaged 20 minutes a mile and had thought about hiding in the trees until mountain rescue came to end my pain! However this year I was faster, 3 and 4 minutes a mile faster and I hit the road crossing with 3 miles to go at 12hrs 25 mins, I could virtually walk a PB if I wanted!! Ok it wasn’t the sub 12hrs I wanted but under the circumstances I was overjoyed! I crossed the road and called my wife telling her that I was 45minutes or less away. Stevie had crossed the line in 12hrs 8mins and she hung up shouting excitedly that Dougie was on the red carpet. He finished in 12hrs 24mins, well done Dougie what a great introduction to Ultras!!
I ran the last 3 miles, well shuffled them and then had a wee greet at my welcoming committee of my wife, wee boy Fergus and my parents half a mile from the finish before drinking in the red carpet with my boy. I finished in 13hrs 8mins, a PB by 43 minutes!
Medal, t-shirt (great colour this year), beer, soup (best tomato soup ever) shower then home swearing to my wife that I was over the Fling and wouldn’t be doing it again.
See you next year then!!