Monday, 26 April 2010

Highland Fling Race

I have been looking forward to this event for a long time, almost a year, which may not seem like much but I have only known that ultra events existed for the same length of time. The website said that the entry forms would be posted some time after the West Highland Way Race 2009 and I checked the website daily (and I mean every single day, sometimes twice a day) for a long time before finally getting a chance to send my entry form in days before they were posted on the web. Because of my excitement for this event, my blog entry is extremely long so I apologise in advance.

After escaping a stomach bug for the Compton Challenge, it finally got me and with only two weeks until the Fling I spent 3 days and 3 all nighters camped out on the toilet. I was so weak that I just sat shivering, too weak to do much. I finally got out for a 6 mile run, nearly quitting at mile 1, but progressed through the remaining week up to a steady 10 mile run and a 2 miler two days before the event. I felt good again and my injuries were only whispering. I had no concerns about the run but I had some worries about the strategy that I have devised a day before the event, which was to ditch my 15L backpack with 2L bladder, waterproofs, mountains of food, mp3 player, spare toilet roll, spare socks, map, kitchen sink etc.... Instead I was going to wear a small waist pouch, wear an ultra thin wind stopper that I could tie around my waist, and carry a handheld for water. It should not have concerned me as there were ample drop bag locations where my little parcels full of goodies would be waiting for me. In the end, going light was a good strategy that I would do again.

I had decided to say in the Premier Inn at Milngavie for the night before and after the event because of the 6 hour drive. I planned on getting up early and trying to say hello to John Kynaston as I have been following his blog on almost a daily basis and it has been one of the biggest things that has kept me motivated through the rough patches. Unfortunately, I woke a bit too late and would have missed his start by minutes. I figured he would be finished and long gone before I arrived at the finish but luckily he was still there.... more on that later. I arrived with a good hour before my start at 8am and spent some time soaking up the atmosphere. We finally headed to the famous underpass where it all starts and I shuffled from foot to foot on the line between the sub 12 hours sign which was my goal, finish good and finish strong was my thinking.

20 seconds, 10 seconds, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go. We were off, I had no idea where to go as I have never been on any of the West Highland Way and I had no map. I set a pace that I felt comfortable with and could breathe 4 steps in and 4 steps out. The high street flashed by and we were through Allander Park before I could comprehend that I had started. I continued to just follow the line of runners through Mugdock Woods where I fell in behind a group of runners, two of whom I would continue to follow for the next 18 miles. I do not tend to socialise much when running or much in general but I enjoy the company when running. Out of Mugdock Woods, passed Scroggy Hill and on past Craigallian Loch. My breathing had switched back to my regular 3 steps in and 3 steps out. It was great running up to Dumgoyach Hill at around 5.5 miles but the next 4 miles was on a dismantled railway line and I always find them harder to run on due to the uniformity and straightness of their profile. As far as this one goes, it was well established with vegetation and better than most I have run on. During this section my left knee pain returned, first on the inside then moving to the lower right where it lingered. At the end of the track there was a road section and a small field crossing before reaching Drymen at around mile 12, in 1 hour 47 minutes, where the first timing station and water refill was located.

I still felt great and was appreciating not having a very heavy backpack on. I would recommend it to anyone doing this event. The next section headed into Queens Elizabeth Forest which is a forest still managed for timber. I spent most of this time remembering my forestry education that I have locked away in my brain but alas have resigned myself to the fact that the only outcome has been a degree certificate that one day I may need to be used as emergency toilet paper. The group I was running behind was now down to only two and as we left the forest I got my first proper views of Conic Hill. After reading many blogs and accounts of previous races I was unsure what the terrain and accents would be like. After seeing Conic Hill I was undaunted as many runs in the Dark Peak and Yorkshire have given me a longing for hills (I would not have said that at mile 40 though). After crossing the Burn of Mar the accent started and I only ran if there was a flat section and walked the lot. The two runners in front became one and I walked to the crest before taking about 10 running leaps down the other side and feeling the pain returning in my right abs. I was annoyed because it had stopped me in my tracking in previous events, but fortunately when I slowed down it reduced to a mild irritation. I lost the runner in front but would see him again later at around mile 30. I was relieved when I made it to the bottom with only a slight pain in my left knee and only an aching pain in my abs. I could see runners in front and followed them in to Balmaha car park, the first drop bag point at around 20 miles. As I approached, someone asked for my race number in a very urgent manner and I got all flustered asking if he could repeat the questions a couple of times. I found out that marshals were situated in front of the drop bags to shout the number so the bags are ready for a speedy collection. I am so used to the LDWA runs where you have to wait patiently for the marshal to finish a conversation then proceed to have a conversation with them yourself for the next 5 minutes before finally punching your tally and remembering that you are supposed to be running. I sat down and ate the contents of my parcel. So far I have ate three cereal bars, one every 5 miles and now I ate a bag of crisps, 550ml of coke, a pot of rice pudding, downed an Ensure Plus and reloaded my pouch with a cereal bar and Mars bar. I thanked the marshals before leaving for their amazing effort and I could see the enthusiasm they held for the event.

As I started walking out of the car park I got a shock to bump into Jez, which gave me a boost, and we talked as I walked to the road. It was a good job he was there because I had no idea where to go and he pointed me in the right direction. As I reached the Craigie Fort section I lost the markers and started walking back before another runner told me I was on the right course. I was to run behind him for the next 6 miles to the next drop bag point. I thought this section was great and I loved running through the weaving trail sections with great views of Loch Lomond. I started passing people who had slowed down, but I was feeling great and felt like I was floating on the trails. I am so used to running on muddy slippery farm fields that I was a good feeling to have firm trails underfoot. I am fortunate to have very few problems with my feet in regards to blisters or pain and could just plough my way along without worrying where my feet landed. I don’t remember any landmarks on this section other than the occasional shoreline of the loch and a few short road sections, which mainly had the trail running alongside. The runner in front was running at such a good pace that I stuck behind him the whole way until suddenly I saw a sign for Rowardennan Hotel and was surprised to be there already at mile 27 in 4 hours 28 minutes. I had not eaten anything over the last section as it was only 6 miles but I again wolfed down the contents of my drop bag, which was the same as the first.

I walked out the checkpoint while on the phone but as soon as I started running I could feel that my stomach was feeling a bit dodgy. Too much food I though. Little and often, not lots and often. I was on my own and I found my mood swinging because of my stomach. I was still overtaking people and no one was overtaking me so I remained positive but on a downhill I suddenly started feeling a lot of pain. The pain was mainly around my appendix area but my whole lower stomach was stabbing with pain. It was only a problem on the downhill’s but it is annoying when you are walking the uphill’s and reduced to a slow run on the downs. The wider forestry track turned into a single track and my mood swung back up. I was really enjoying the terrain and got a control of the pain. I was still overtaking people and figured that I could be a lot worse, I still had all my energy and my legs were fresh. I finally arrived at Inversnaid, mile 34, where the third drop bag point was and with all the trouble I was having with my stomach I decided to go light and only downed an Ensure Plus and put an electrolyte tablet in my water as I felt a little dehydrated.

I had mixed feelings about the next 6 miles as I thought this section of the route was the best out of the entire Fling. I loved the single track and the rocks, I loved weaving through the trees and boulders, but it was now starting to go a bit wrong also. My stomach hurt like hell and I was also starting to lose some energy. I think it was mainly because of the heat as it was warming up. I carried a buff on my hand so I could dip it into all the streams I passed and use the water to cool down. I was starting to regret having put an electrolyte tablet in my water because after my very strong tasting fruit punch flavoured Ensure, the last thing I wanted was something sweet. I started craving just plain water and eyed up the streams with envy. I could remember getting to near the end of Loch Lomond and thinking when is this loch going to end. I was still passing people and only relay runners were passing me so I remained positive. As I approached the end of the loch with about 2 miles before the last drop bag point, I caught up with the runner that I had previously been behind in the section between Balmaha and Rowardennan. At a couple of uphill sections he stopped for me to pass, which I declined. He must have thought I was using him as a pacer but I just did not have enough in me to get past. As we approached Bein Glas Farm he pulled away from me and disappeared from view. I finally arrived at Bein Glas Farm, mile 41, at 7 hours 34 minutes. I got my drop bag but nothing in it appealed to me as I had reached sugar overload. All I wanted was something greasy, like a fry up. I managed to get a rice pudding down and drink some coke before loading a packet of mini eggs into my pouch and filling my hand held up with water along with my empty coke bottle. It was now that I looked at the time and realised that I was so far ahead of my 12 hour schedule but knew that the last 12 miles could blow up in my face.

As I set off for the finish, I reminded myself that these events are not meant to be easy, and I should just run when I can and walk when I couldn’t. I remembered that on John Kynaston blog he mentioned breaking down the last section into three sections consisting of a 3 mile, 6 mile, then a final 3 mile section. I could not remember quite where the end of the first section was but when I came up to a farm and saw the name above the door, I recognised it. It was Derrydaroch, and I was surprised that I had done almost 3 miles already which gave me a big mental boost. I was running on empty as my nutrition was down, I was dehydrated and in pain, but I was still enjoying the run. I arrived at the tunnel that passes under the A82 and despite thinking that I was moving too slowly, I continued to pass people. When I pass people in runs, I never get any thoughts of competitiveness because I truly believe that a person can only compete against themselves. Instead I appreciate that although my brain is telling me that I am suffering and that I should feel sorry for myself, there are others felling much worse, so I should just stop listening to my brain and let my body push on. After passing a herd of cows in the path I knew I was getting closer to Crainlarich where the route would swing left through a forest. After the last of the larger inclines of the remaining route I again caught a glimpse of the runner whom I had been trailing most of the day. This time I could not catch him and he disappeared on the downhills where I was reduced to a painful stomach clenching hobble. After winding down the track for some time, I approached the tunnel under the rail line and approached the A82 road crossing. I could hear lots of cars and though how nice it would be to stop and rest while waiting to cross. No luck for me, it was clear and I crossed over. I knew that when I hit the remains of St Fillan’s Church that there was only about 3 miles left. I could tell from the terrain that it was mostly going to be flat and I made a deal with myself that I was going to run as much as possible. I ended up running the small inclines and walking the small descents due to the pain in my stomach. I was so hungry at this point and just wanted to eat masses of savoury food with lots of fat and no sweetness. I instead ate all my mini eggs. I have to admit that this section seemed to last forever. I was wishing to see sight of the finish. As I approached the final wooded section, someone told me I was really close but because of the trees I could not see how far. I finally came out onto a road near Tyndrum Lower Station but did not know where to go. I chose left and could see some runners just up ahead. Before I could see the finish, the runners ahead turned right and I could hear bagpipes erupting into action. I turned off the road, passed the piper and could see the crowds of people waiting at the finish. Again, I am used to the LDWA events, which are usually so laid back that you can arrive in silence back to a hall where it takes you 10 minutes to surgically remove your shoes before entering and wait patiently for someone to retrieve your tally and note the time. This was an electric reception and I pushed myself through the finish line.

After crossing the line someone asked to remove my timing chip and when I looked up I was shocked to see it was John Kynaston. I even said something like ‘sorry, it’s such a shock’, at which point I felt like such a prat that I didn’t say anything else. When my bag was handed to me I nearly dropped it and found it hard to lift it up, before the marshal kindly took my empty coke bottle and I could use both hands. I wolfed down my fish supper but I was feeling a bit rough. When I looked at the time I knew that I had smashed my 12 hour plan and have came in under 10 hours 30 minutes. I decided to get my kit bag as soon as possible and get changed before I got too cold as I was starting the shiver. I bought some pasties from the shop to get rid of the taste of sugar in my stomach. I then got a bit of courage to go and say hello to John Kynaston before retreating to sit on a wall where I did not move for a long time. I was feeling really rough now. I had lost all feeling in both my hands and some way up my right arm. I had waves of dizziness coming over me. But I’ve felt worse and knew I would live, so I sat it out. It was great seeing the awards ceremony. By the time I got on the bus at 9pm to go back the Milngavie, I started feeling better and got feeling back in my hands. What a hell of an event. I will definitely be back before the end of the year to run the last section of West Highland Way..... I will just wait will the midges have dwindled in numbers first.


  1. Congratulations David on a superb run and excellent write up.

    I'm glad you came up and had a chat and I look forward to following your progress.

    To run under 10.30 on your first Fling is a great effort and there's no reason why you can't go under 10hrs next year!!

    Keep in touch.

    I've added your blog to the whwblog list

  2. Congratulations on a great run David. I think I was one of the two runners you followed up to Conic Hill. Unfortunately for me that was the start of a long day of cramps so I very quickly lost you but well done on a great time. Hope to see you back again next year.

    Happy running

  3. Well done David. A fantastic first Fling and a fab write up.
    I remember the first time I met John K too, it was like meeting a film star. :-)

    Enjoy your recovery and hope to see you sometime soon.


  4. Well done on a great first Highland Fling David. I think I am the runner who you mention a couple times and believe me I am no pacer I just do my own thing and the offer for you to pass was to make sure I was not holding you up. Hope you having a nice easy week. Cheers, Graham S