Saturday, 12 May 2012

Hoka Highland Fling 2012 (53 Mile Ultramarathon Race) Report

Firstly, a brief recap of my 'Highland Fling' history over the lasr couple of years:

2009: 13hrs 26mins 16secs
2010: 12hrs 51mins 12secs
2011: Abandoned at 49miles
2012: Read on....
This year I had an extra hour in which to complete the 53miles in, giving me 14 hours to play with. I could have done with that hour last year! This extra time was due to me turning 40 a few months ago and was now 'categorised' as being a 'Veteran'. Despite this extra hour being seen as a safety net of sorts, I had no intention of having to use it.  For many, including myself, the West Highland Way Race (WHWR) is this years centre piece, the main event, the big one, call it what you want but all my attention has been focused on preparing for the 95 miles that it covers. The Fling was a 'training run' for the WHWR entrants and that was my plan also, but I also wanted to push for a PB and make up for last years nightmare. My training up until now has been very positive and along the way I've been gradually improving my pacing and my nutrition. As much as I felt I was capable of a decent PB, I also needed to ensure that I finished feeling comfortable and capable of continuing, as I'll have to do so during the WHWR (for another 43 miles). I had a plan and split time targets in mind. These target times were the same ones I had given myself last year, which I had managed to stick to until I fell apart from the heat at Beinglas. Part of my plan was to try and run, for the most part, on my own. It's not that I was wanting to be anti-social, but more to do with running at my own pace and have breaks where and when I wanted. Sometimes when I run with others during a race of this or similar distance I feel I'm running too fast in order to keep up with any company I'm in. And sometimes (although very rarely) going too slow because I don't want to be rude by buggering off and leaving someone. I'm sure many others will know what I'm talking about. Sometimes it's benefical to just keep your own company on these long events. Pacing has been my main problem during Ultra's and it's important that I try and nail it in time for the WHWR. I had looked at each section as a separate entity and planned to adjust my pace as per the terrain and conditions underfoot in order to achieve my desired end result. I had taken advice from a few more experienced Ultra runners as regards to pre, during and post race nutrition and wanted to try out some suggestions during the day. Nutrition will be hugely important during the WHWR and if I don't get it right it'll be disasterous. I wasn't using or trying any new kit as the stuff I've been using works for me, so why change it. I stuck with my Osprey Talon 4 waist pack with water bottles and decided to use my Saucony Xodus 2.0 trail shoes (They perform like most technical trail shoes, but feel as comfy as most good road shoes).

So, this years Fling....

Despite my group starting at 7am I was up at ridiculous o'clock (before 4am) to have breakfast of creamed rice with fruit, toast (wholemeal), a banana, two cups of tea and a strawberry milkshake. In previous years being up at this time in the morning has proven difficult to eat a proper breakfast, so I wanted to ensure I rectified this for this year. I had organised my drop bags the day before and what I was wearing during the day. My waist pack was also already sorted so there was no phaffing about on the morning of the race.

In my drop bags this year I had packed less, but more of what I would actually need, rather than faddy and gimmicky energy sweets and sugar filled teeth rotting rubbish! Karen Donoghue, who has given me some great nutritional tips, had suggested more 'real' food rather than sugary sports nonsence which would cause sugar highs and low crashes. So In each drop bag I packed along with a bottle of Lucozade and water (with electrolyte supplement High 5) a variety of Wholemeal pitta pockets with fillings including either Jam, banana or cheese. My favoutite nibble between checkpoints was to be my Peanut and chocolate Cliff Bars. I tried to make sure that I ate something, even just one mouthful, every 20 minutes to keep the muscles of my stomach working to allow the blood to keep pumping oxygen around my digestive system which would keep my appetite going during the whole day. This seemed to pay off, as did drinking more throughout the day.
Fed, dressed, packed and Lubricated from head to toe like a slippery eel, I slithered out the door and drove to Milngavie, feeling relaxed and looking forward to the day, and strangely not feeling nervous about the race this year.

One of the main changes this year was the new Sponsor, Hoka One One (Shoes manfacturer). In addition to the departure of Montane was the departure of Race Director and founder Murdo MacDonald, although I did see him lurking around at the start! I hope Murdo stays involved in some capacity as he created a fantastic event. So, into Murdo's shoes steps John Duncan, who has been involved with the event behind the scenes in previous years and was invited by Murdo to take over. Another difference which was notable was the huge increase in starters this year. Nearly 500 solo runners had entered and an large number of Relay Teams to boot. Most of us are wary of change, but any concerns were laid to rest as the day was as well organised as other years.

It's become a tradition now for me that when I get to Milngavie I leave the busy start area and go for a walk along the first mile or so of the route before the first group starts. So as with previous yearts I did just that. I think it relaxes me more and gets my head ready to run 53 miles. Back at the car park I said hello to a few people including Karen, George and Mike who had set off from Tyndrum the night before to run down to Milngavie to time it so they could use the Fling as their return run as one huge training run for the Hardmoors 110. Unfortunately an injury changed the planned return run and instead they joined in with Johns team at the finish by handing out the finishing line beer! I hung around and chatted with Bill and Terry. I said a quick hi to Fiona and Pauline. I saw the girls at the finish, and discovered Fiona had fallen on her face at some point cutting her chin, lip and nose. But despite having left a face shaped hole on the track she carried on and finished with all her teeth intact, judging by her smile at Tyndrum. As the 6am golden oldies (women and older guys) mustered at the start I met some grumpy wumin (Fiona MacDonald and Victoria O'reilly).
During the day I would meet them at various checkpoints and run on and off with them. Whilst they lined up I ran on ahead to get some photos of their group getting underway. However, I hadn't set my camera on sport mode and as a result, well you can see the result below! If you squint you might recognise yourself. Although in some cases being blurred is an improvement!
 Although I carried my camera during the day, I didn't take that many photos. So I've put on some photos that I've taken during my training runs along the route as well as the handful I took during the day itself (thus explaining the variety of weather in the pictures!)

After keeping warm in Terry's car, with his wife and Bill, I got ready with around 30 minutes to go. I thought I would risk a trip to the Portaloos. Big breath required! I met Dave Morrow, although at first I didn't recognise him from his new caveman look! Also met Jonathan Mackintosh here, after a quick chat I joined the toilet queue. Both the guys had great runs (that's not a toilet related comment). After checking my kit and saying hello to a few more folk I headed over to the muster area for John's quick 'good luck' speech and then no sooner had we gathered in the tunnel, GO! My 4th Fling was underway. Only 53 miles to go. I have to agree with Bill, the Milngavie to Drymen section is my least favourite of the WHW because it doesn't feel like the WHW. Only after Drymen do I feel I'm 'out there'. The first few miles were run as a large group, with everyone chatting to one another, comparing stories and meeting new people. It wasn't far after the first mile that some loonie on a bike came screaming past in the opposite direction at a ridiculously stupid speed screaming at us to move, even though we all had the courtesey to do so. Knob.
By the time we reached the long straight passing Craigallan Loch the 'group' had now fragmented into many smaller groups. I found myself in one of these until just after the Beech Tree Inn and then on my own until Gartness where I caught another group, including Dave Morrow (after Drymen he pulled away and by the base of Conic I lost sight of him). This first section had taken me 1.55.07, which was around 10 minutes faster than my plan but felt very comfortable and saw no reason to change my pace at this point. The sun was beginning to heat up the air now, but thankfully it wasn't anywhere near as hot as last year. I enjoyed the route between Drymen and Conic, through the wide open plain where once Garadhban forest used to be, now gone. With the trees now felled we had fantastic views to Conic, Balmaha and up Loch Lomond. By now the fragmented groups were smaller, with lots of runners either on their own or in pairs. I could see a long line of runners snaking their way up Conic.
When I reached wee bridge at the foot of the climb up Conic I passed Ray McCurdy. Ray completed his 100th Ultra today, Epic achievement. We had a quick chat in Milngavie before the start and had another on the climb after the bridge. After wishing him good luck I pulled away. He looked like he was enjoying his landmark day and hopefully everyone else cheered him on. He finished in a whisker over 15 hours.

I found the climb up Conic surprisingly not as boggy and wet as it normally is which made progress quicker and more enjoyable. I passed a few more of the 6am runners on the climb. It's amazing the difference I felt having started in the 7am group, giving me the chance to actually catch and pass more people. As always, the views were brilliant on this sunny day from the top. On the desent from Conic I stuck to the rocky section of the path as I found it an easier line and better to maintain grip. I desended the quickest I ever have off this lump. I reached Balmaha in 3 hours 20 minutes. Davie Hall welcoming all the runners as they reached the checkpoint. I got my drop bag and as I refilled my bottles and ate my jam piece I talked to John Duncan, who was going round all the arriving runners asking how they were getting on. He had a busy day so it was nice to see he was relaxing a bit here. The Magnificent Murdo was here too!! I didn't hang about too long as I wanted to keep the momentum going. At Balmaha I was now 25 minutes under my projected target time, so I decided to slow a bit so not to suffer later, which I have a habit of doing!
Balmaha to Rowardennan is a short but tough wee section which has a couple of tough climbs to contend with. It was near Milarrochy that Paul Giblin passed me and then after Cashell that Richie Cunningham ran by, both running very strongly. I ran solo for most of this section again. On the brutal climb at Dubh Lochain (Ross Point) I caught up with Victoria and Fiona.
After a quick hello at the top of the hill I ran on. I passed a couple more 6am starters and on the final downhill ,towards the road, someone was standing on the track warning runners to take it easy as someone had fallen. I thought it would be a twisted ankle or similar, so it was shocking to see Ellen McVey lying on her back motionless across the track wrapped in foil blankets. I paused as I passed, but she was being attended to by Sandra, Silke and a paramedic so there was no need for an audience, which I'm sure was the last thing Ellen needed. It's horrible seeing someone in a situation like that and has since raised the importance of carrying safety kit. Speedy recovery Ellen. So I got to Rowardennan and had a longer than planned stop to refuel properly. Fiona and Victoria arrived, had something to eat and left before me. On the Rowardennan to Inversnaid section I felt a bit bloated from probably eating too much which slowed me down. At one point I felt my jam and cheese piece was going to reappear. This, on reflection, was no bad thing as by the time I got to Rowardennan I had been 16 minutes faster than my prediction so it made me pull back my pace. On the first steep climb after Rowardennan Terry caught up with me. Then while we were walking on a particularly steep bit Ali Bryan Jones runs past looking like he was out for a wee stroll! Show off! He looked very strong and went on to finish in a stonking time (He also won the west Balmaha drop bag design. I say he, but it was his daughter who designed it). So as Ali vanished over the brow of the hill I ran on for about a mile or so with Terry before he too pulled away. I normally enjoy this section but the bloated feeling put a dampner on it today. It wasn't until Caithness it wore off. Here Mark Cooper passed me, said a quick hello as he sped on his way. By the time I got to Inversnaid I was 25 minutes behind my schedule. I wasn't too concerned and was confident I could pull some back on the next section. At Inversnaid I once again caught Fiona and Victoria. I refuelled as they ran on. Back in 2009 I had sat on the grass here and nearly fell asleep!! So I stayed on my feet despite the temptation to rip off all my clothes and throw myself into the cooling waters from the pier. Back to the running. Whilst at the Hotel I discovered that Fiona had fallen a few times and Victoria wasn't feeling great but they soldiered on. It wasn't until the steep wooden stairs up to the bridge, opposite Rubha Ban, that I again caught them. Mind you, I heard Fiona a lot longer before I saw her! Shouting at Victoria to get a move on. I ran on and off with them, sometimes in front and sometimes behind them all the way to Beinglas.
This is a hateful section but today with the girls for company it went in very pleasantly. I had a sudden sugar crash at the duckboards just after Dario's post which was rather unpleasant. After a few minutes it passed and didn't happen again. I had made up 10 minutes over this section and was now just 15 minutes behind schedule.
I arrived at Beinglas in 9.05.31, feeling very happy and still comfortable. I refuelled as quickly as I could as time was getting on and I wanted a sub 12 hour finish today. This drop bag checkpoint was very busy with lots of runners arriving and leaving. I thought the girls had already gone on but as I left saw them sitting by the track. I didn't see them again until they finished, well done girls. I'm sure I'll be running with them during the WHWR, lucky them. Shortly after the first climb after Beinglas a runner in front of me went down hard after tripping over a rock. His contact lenses had steamed up and he couldn't see where he was going. I stopped to see if he was ok, luckily it was at a path junction and a marshall was here who checked him over. After about 5 minutes he caught up with me and we ran on together for a mile or so. At Derrydarroch we caught two runners he knew and stopped to walk with them, I ran on. Next came Carmyle Cottage at the low tunnel, I hope everyone remembered to duck this year. I passed a couple of female runners here. Once up the stairs after the second tunnel, under the A82, it's a horrible short steep climb and then you can see all the way to Bogle Glen. The views over to the Crainlarich hills were spectacular. The section from here onto Bogle Glen is fairly flat and easy going to recover in time for the climbing to come. I used this section to eat and drink.
I agree with Tim D, I think the farmer at Keilator sends his cattle up here to shit on purpose on race day (he must have added extra bran into their feed this year, maybe a laxitive too judging by the amount of excrament we had to run through). Shit alley indeed. Just as I approached the Glen junction I met Rachel, down from Skye. She was running out to meet Fiona and Victoria and run in with them. I wasn't stopping to chat and just said hi as I passed. I'm sure I saw Davie Hall again here at the gate. He gets about! It had taken me an hour and 20 minutes from Beinglas to get here and was now only 5 minutes behind schedule. But I knew the last 4 and a bit miles were tough so didn't want too push too hard over the 'rollercoaster' section. I knew I was on for a PB, even a few minutes would do now, no point in breaking myself. I had proved to myself that last years race was finally behind me. I caught a few people who had passed me earlier in the day. The rollercoaster takes no prisoners. It shows no sympathy or remorse as it eats you up and spits you out. It stomped all over me last year. This year I shrugged off its advances, sticking my fingers up at at. Even though my legs and lungs were screaming at me, I wasn't going to loiter and get sucked into it's grasp. You can only grin and bear it, put your head down, hands on knees and just push on. It all ended for me here last year and the difference I felt this year was like night and day. I coped better with the uphill bits and kept my momentum going on the quad busting downhills. I knew it was the final stretch now. Across the A82 and onto Kirkton Farm, them Auchtyre Farm. 2 miles to go. I knew I WAS going to finish my 3rd of 4 Flings. I passed 4 more runners on this stretch, including one strangely running towards me! She thought she had gone the wrong way and was running back to find another path. At first she wasn't convinced when I told her she had been going the right way, but I have an honest face so she turned again and ran on. She was a relay runner. As soon as I turned onto the riverside I hear the Bagpipes, ah the sweet music of a strangled cat. Within 2 minutes I had rounded the corner to see the finishing straight. I heard my parents shouting as I ran past the crowd to finish! And still in daylight too. I crossed the line in 12.12.46, a new PB by just over 38 minutes. Magnificent. After I scanned my chip, I got my medal from Lee. Happy indeed. 'Done and Dusted'. Met my parents, who confirmed my magnicence, well they have no choice but to do so! After I met several others and mutually congratulated one another I had a cup of soup and a roll.
 Taken by Karen Robertson at Beinglas
 Taken by Fiona MacDonald(Rowardennan)/Muriel Downie(Tyndrum)
Everyone I talked to had had a great day, despite the tirdness, aching muscles, injuries and illness along the way. I don't think I saw a sad or miserable face all day. It was good to see Sandra was feeling better now, having had to pull out at Rowartdennan, still happy and smiling. And well done to John K's wife, Katrina, for a stonking time. I think being all loved up from John telling her how much he 'appreciates' her all day spurred her on! Great results all round, espcially to first place Scott Bradley and to man of the moment 'our Ray'. The important thing that I took away from today was finishing and feeling that I could keep going rather than falling down into puddle of my own sweat. For the most part I was happy with my pacing, although I'll continue to work on it. I kept myself hydrated and properly fed during the day. I could ramble on in self adoration but you must surely know by now how Magnificent I am.
A massive congratulations to all who started, which is the hard part, the rest is just running. A huge thanks and well done to John Duncan and his team of marshalls and volunteers all along the route. I'm glad it stayed dry for you guys standing around all day. We runners get it easy while they do all the hard work to look after us. All the checkpoints were fantastically organised, with marshalls opening and bringing our bags to us and helping out where needed with big smiles and words of encouragement. They were the stars of the day. And all the supporters all along the route as well, cheering us on was very much appreciated, especially at the finish. Hopefully Ellen, Karen and anyone else who got injured or withdrew have a speedy rcovery and will be back next year. Huge thanks to my parents for hanging about for hours to cheer me on at the finish and being on hand if I needed any help. Their support at these events is always appreciated.
So the next ultra is the Cateran 55 miler in Glenshee. I've taken away a bucket load of positives from the Fling and hope to continue this at the Cateran and then onto the WHWR. Bring it!


  1. Only one word can describe your run and blog post Colin - it begins with M. You definitely looked like you could keep on going at the finish - as you said, lots of positives to take out of the day. It's all looking good for 23rd June.

  2. Well done on smashing the PB, Colin. And adding the older photos makes for great visual record of what the route looks like - which will be useful to newcomers to the race, or fun for others to reminisce over. Thanks for squeezing them into the blog.
    See you next weekend at the Cateran!

  3. Cracking performance (and write up 'n pix) Colin; well done! I'm certain that you will find on the WHW race itself you will meet / pass / be passed by far fewer people. Unless you make a deliberate effort to run with somebody you may well go for many miles without seeing any other runner at all. I had one year where, after Rowardennan, I didn't see any other runner at all (apart from one guy pulling out @ BoO) until the sports centre finish @ Ft Wm. So it was a bit of a lonely journey! On the other hand you may criss cross with several folk many times during the journey.

    Meanwhile, everything seems to be shaping up nicely for you for The Big One.

    Murdo tM

  4. Brilliant race report Colin Magnificent One! Good to see that Fiona and I got plenty of mentions and photos! You had a great race and interesting to learn that your nutrition tips from Karen paid off...(that's given me food for thought lol). Loved the photos, I recognise every one of then and great memories of a great day out on the West Highland Way