This was to be my 3rd Highland Fling & as it turned out, the most enjoyable. I’d ran it in 2014 with a time of 11:37 & again in 2015 managing 10:48.
After having gotten into a bit of a rut of enduring races over the past couple of years & suffering through them, this was going to be my 2nd attempt to get back to actually enjoying the occasion, (my 1st attempt was The Ring O Fire last September & that quickly turned into a sufferfest on day 2).
The preceding week didn’t help when I developed a really bad chesty cough/cold, that was the 2nd in a matter of weeks! I never get chesty coughs & like buses one quickly followed from another. This meant a lack of sleep for some time & pretty much a week off running, in an attempt to get better. There were a few comments along the lines of ‘are you sure you’re well enough?’ Most people will tell you not to run with a cold if it’s on your chest but it’s ok if it’s above the neck. Well my advice is if you really want to do something, then give it a go but listen to your body.
I had originally hoped if all the stars align, training goes well & i’m feeling good then i’d like to try & go sub 10hrs. Realistically this wasn’t going to happen, but I wanted to give myself every chance I could, so I started with the quick boys & girls in the 1st pen ‘Sub 10’. So far this doesn’t sound like trying to enjoy the occasion & more like a sufferfest waiting to happen! But I still had a vague plan & I was giving it a go.
6am struck & off we went. I knew i’d gone off too quickly & paid for it in the past, so in the run up to the race i’d checked my pacing from my previous ‘Flings’ & come up with a strategy of nothing quicker than an 8:30 mile in the 1st 10 miles, my quickest mile was 8:46, so i’d stuck to my plan 🙂 In 2015 i’d run 5 miles in the 1st 10 that were between 8 & 8:30 & I paid for it later in the race. This time round I was perfectly happy to see other folk run at quicker speeds & disappear in the distance, I was just thankful I wasn’t coughing a lung up!
The forecast was rain pretty much all day but it wasn’t meant to start for the 1st hour. I figured start with my waterproof on, it’ll help stop me running too quick from the start as i’d get hot & it’s only a matter of time before the downpour begins.
Just past Drymen & a couple of familiar faces caught up (John & Jon from Lyon Equipment) & they slowly pushed on. I didn’t want to give myself any pressure by feeling the need to keep at someone else’s pace, so i kept them in sight & caught up a few times for a chat. Going up Conic Hill i did feel my chest objecting a little so i just kept a comfortable pace & watched the others get further away. For some time now it’d been raining but you noticed it a little more the higher you got. Once at the top of Conic thankfully you still got the views even though it was chucking it down.
I like running downhill, I seem to be ok at it & it was one of only two points in the entire race where i’d say i overtook anyone! In fact I overtook quite a few other runners & got the chance to smile for the camera. Towards the bottom I caught up with Jon who like me, enjoys the downhills. It would be about mile 23 that Jon headed off in the distance for the last time. I was quite happy running on my own, most of my training runs involves being out on my own for hours & I like the solitude. I smiled to myself as I passed a marshall who complimented my use of waterproof over mitts. The rain was pretty relentless & without gloves & mitts i’d have struggled big time, having Raynaud’s can be a pain but you get used to managing it.
I reached Rowardennan feeling pretty good & in between my previous two times for the same checkpoint. I was amazed to see another familiar face lying down getting a massage, Ian’s (from Trail Running Scotland) a much quicker runner than myself & I didn’t think i’d see him again after the start, let alone lying down getting a massage (bloody lightweight)! He ended up pulling out of the race at this point, but when I left I didn’t know that & expected him to go storming past me at some point soon.
It gets a little more interesting running along the Lochside & breaks up the monotony of just having to run. Narrow paths, tree roots, rocks, mud & paths that have turned into streams is much more fun 🙂
Inversnaid checkpoint comes along & i’m normally pretty goosed by this point, but this time I actually feel fine, my legs are tired & heavy but i’ve no stomach issues & old injuries haven’t come back to haunt me.
There was a point on the techy section a while after Inversnaid, I seem to be leading a line of runners over the rocks, tree roots & mud, negotiating walkers doing the West Highland Way. No one wanted to pass, so I kept leading this snake of runners, catching other runners along the way. This was the only other point of the race where I felt like I was actually gaining places (apart from the decent off Conic), but I have to say by the time we’d reached the end of the Loch I felt mentally & physically knackered! So I stood aside, started a walk & watched the others going up the next hill way quicker than I could. It’s become apparent throughout the race that I was pretty slow at going up hill but luckily for me it didn’t matter & I was pleased the other runners were doing well. I smiled a lot throughout the race at all sorts of things from taking in the scenery to wanting others to have a good day to even the smallest things like a bunch of wild flowers growing at the side of the trail & the water! Man the water levels were high & raging, the waterfalls were amazing!
I get to Beinglas resembling something like a drowned rat. The marshall’s were great, not just here but all over the race, at least I was moving to keep warm, I felt sorry for them being stationary & getting soaked to the bone, I made sure i’d asked lots of them including the photographers how they were doing & if they were ok? Everyone was in a great mood & this must certainly have helped the runners. Timing wise I was still slower than my quickest Fling but quicker than my 1st attempt. This race wasn’t about the time though, I was getting the hang of enjoying it!
Mile 48, I started to get really cold. I couldn’t have been any wetter, I was going uphill slowly & I was freezing. I had an extra layer in my bag but by the time I could have put it on, it would have been soaking instantly, so I just kept moving forward. I remember at mile 43 thinking it’s only another 10 miles, no problem i’m having a good day out. By mile 49 I was thinking 4 miles! How is there still 4 miles! My left knee had started to play up going down hill & I was still cold, but instead of letting it get to me, I thought I know how to grind out a finish, i’ve done it often enough & there’s not really that far to go.
Once i’d done the road crossing at the bottom of the hill my knee eased up & the rain finally stopped. Run a bit, walk a bit & repeat. There’s still a slow stream of runners passing me & I try to keep with some of them, before you know it i’m almost at the finish. The last 3 miles were hard because you’re tired & cold but they were a lot easier & seemed quicker than my previous attempts because my head was in a better place.
I can hear the bagpipes, I’m close. I didn’t even notice the bagpipes on my 1st Fling. This time I’d noticed everything & I was going to make the most of the finish & the red carpet! You turn the corner & the flags are out, the carpets out, there’s cowbells, music, loads of people cheering you on, I recognise some & I’ve got the biggest grin on my face 🙂 You cross the line to a small army of volunteers cheering you as they give you a hug & say well done. The medal’s over your neck & you’ve done it! Not only did I finish but I managed to enjoy it & take everything in. I think I smiled & laughed to myself more that day, than I have for a long time 🙂
Finish time was 11:22, so in between my previous results, but it’s not always about the time as I’ve now discovered.
Feeding wise, I had drop bags at Rowardennan, Inversnaid & Beinglas, way too much in each drop bag but good to have options. I used throughout sandwich thins with tuna & tomato cut in 1/2 (about 6 in all) which fitted perfectly in the front of my Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest. I ate a few snickers bars, a good few handfuls of salted peanuts with raisins, some Lindt chocolate balls, well it was a week after Easter 🙂 A couple of chew bars of some sort, a couple of weetabix drinks, some squeezy baby food & a couple of bottles of Lucozade & Mountain Fuel in my water. I didn’t get overly hungry & didn’t have the usual stomach issues, I’m sure forcing myself to eat the tuna/tomato thins helped, I say forcing because there were a few times I really didn’t fancy them but I knew they’d help & help they did, you need to eat!
A big thank you to La Sportiva UK , John Duncan & his team for making the Highland Fling another successful event & not forgetting the many photographers snapping away for hours on end!