It has been a long and tough 6 months since I first heard I had got a place in the iconic West Highland Way Race. There had been years of training before that, but the moment I got the place everything got switched up a gear and I have worked my butt off to get to where I am just now. I’m tired, I’m sore, my feet are a mess, I’ve gone through countless pairs of trainers and I’ve had the best tan lines from training runs for months. But I’m strong, I’ve got more power in my legs than I’ve ever had, I’m (just about) mentally prepared and now all I have to do is focus and get to the start line in just under 3 weeks time…. Continue reading →
I’ve been involved with the Highland Fling Race for the past 3 years, but this was the first time I’d actually be running it. In 2014, Jemma and I swept the first half of the race, in 2015 I marshalled at Balmaha after having to defer my London marathon place, and this year I finally got to run this iconic race.
Friday night was spent making final kit choices, catching up with my family and stuffing my face with pizza. I managed to get a decent nights sleep (as decent as 4 hours can be!) and bounced out of bed the minute my alarm went of at 3am. Ouch. I was meeting a few club mates to travel through to Milngavie together and on the walk up the road to meet them was surprised at how mild the weather was. We’d had snow and high winds a few days previously, so these balmy temperatures and lack of rain were unexpected to say the least. I’d worked up a sweat carrying my dropbags up the road at 4am!!
Once we’d arrived in Milngavie we went about our own pre-race preparation and I caught up with Jemma and my little brother who was running not only his first ultra, but his first distance over 21 miles! Big jump, but I knew he’d be more than capable of completing it. Drop bags were handed in to the correct vehicles, hugs were dished out a plenty and before we knew it we were listening to Johnny Fling giving the race briefing and heading to our start pens.
MILNGAVIE – DRYMEN – 12 MILES, 1 hour 46 minutes
I decided to head to the back of the sub 10 hour pen and see what happened. I knew a sub 10 time was probably way too big an ask, but after hearing countless stories of people getting penned in and chugging along slowly for the first few miles, I decided I’d rather be at the back of the first wave and have some room to move than be boxed in going through all the gates. This turned out to be a very wise decision as not once did I feel the route was too busy. And after all… races are for racing, aren’t they? What would my little legs be capable of today?! Just before 6am, a very slow count down from 10 began…. and then we were off! The whine of the timing chips as they went over the start mat made me grin; I was finally running the Fling! All the miles of the year so far had lead up to this and it was brilliant to be back on the West Highland Way and refreshing the route in mind, seeing as I’ll be back in 6 weeks to race the whole thing….
The first few miles slipped by rather quickly. Before I knew it I was leaving Mugdock park and running past the amazing Carbeth fiddler. Everyone was in high spirits and although I did feel I was going slightly too fast, I decided to stick with it and see how I felt a bit further along the road. I’d turned up to the race wearing a jacket which I had taken off just before we started to run and was wearing a long sleeved top over a vest and arm sleeves, but even with just that at not even 7am, I was getting too warm! I decided to push on and take my long sleeved top off when I next got the chance to walk up a hill.
I ran pretty much the whole way to the road section leading up to Drymen, only slowing to walk a hilly section of road at about 10 miles and to try and eat a banana. Up until now I had only eaten one or 2 shot bloks, so decided to try and eat something with a bit more nutritional value, but as soon as I opened it I felt sick. The texture and smell were really not appealing to me and I managed just over half of it before carrying the sticky remains in my hand all the way to Drymen.
I was looking forward to slowing my pace on the climb out of Drymen. The velcro on my timing chip had been rubbing my ankle for a while so I took the opportunity to duck off the path and fix it while I had a bit of space around me. Heading up the hill into Garadhban forest I slowed to a shuffle up the steeper hills and ran the flats and downs. As I crossed the road into the next section of forest, I heard someone shout my name and looked up to see Sue from my club out taking photos. So lovely to see a smiley face at a random point in the race!
The section up to Conic hill was where I had my first struggle. Not even 17 miles in and already my mind was playing games with me. Why was it so warm? I really should take a layer off, but it’ll be cold slogging up Conic, so I might as well keep it on. Why am I running up hills? Idiot. Why is my top wet? Oh great, my bottle has sprung a leak….
.. and so on all the way to the top of Conic hill. I met a few familiar faces on the ascent and exchanged some chat with others who were also feeling the burn on the way up. Just before I reached the summit, I heard someone yell my name and I looked up to see the amazing Ruth Howie cheering me on. Ruth is part of my support crew for the West Highland Way race (which is now less than 2 months away…. yikes!), and it was so lovely to have pop up and support at various locations throughout the day. I’m sure if I’m having a low point on race day, she’ll find a way to pull me out of it with her awesome enthusiasm!
Once over Conic hill, the first low passed. I was in and out the check point a Balmaha within a matter of minutes, stuffing my face with strawberry laces and poweade as I left. Real food still wasn’t appealing to me and all that I’d managed to eat between Drymen and Balmaha was a babybel cheese. I stuffed my backpack with what was left in my drop bag, even though I already had plenty supplies that I hadn’t yet managed to eat and set off on the next section to Rowardennan. This is usually one of my favourite parts of the route as it’s technical but pretty runnable, but today everything was getting to me. The beach section probably saw lot of swearing, but it had to be turned off for a few minutes as there were cameras about – quick, fake a smile!
I picked up the pace for a good few miles and enjoyed the trails and the beautiful weather until I hit the bottom of the stairs a few miles before Rowardennan. If you know the WHW, you’ll know what I’m talking about! I had nothing in me. A couple of walkers I had ran by not long before breezed by me as I huffed and puffed my way up, one step at a time. I swore at myself for thinking running London the week before had been a good idea, even if I hadn’t raced it. Karen Wallace caught up with me and stopped to check I was OK before bounding up the hill like she had springs in her feet. How I wish I could climb hills like that woman!! Soon enough the slog was behind me and Rowardennan check point was in my sights. I bounced over the timing mat and into the bustling area, was passed my drop bag and perched myself on a rock to fill my bottles and have a harsh word with myself. I was only half way there, yes my legs were tired but this was nothing compared to how I’d be feeling when running the whole thing! I managed to eat part of a cereal bar, a few jelly sweets and some more cheese and after refilling my water, I was on the move again.
DRYMEN – ROWARDENNAN – 17 MILES, 2 Hours 49 miles (race time so far – 4 hours 36 minutes)
The hill out of Rowardennan is a slog, but it was a good chance to catch up on some chat with those walking around me and slow the pace and eat some more. The weather was still stunning and I was glad of the shade of the trees for a bit as it started to get slightly too warm! I enjoyed stretching out my legs on the down hill and technical section and by the time I reached Inversnaid I was feeling tired, but ready to get a move on in this race! My only whine so far happens here and I know it has been said before but I feel the need to repeat it; the lochside is no place for headphones. I was stuck behind a runner for a good mile and a bit who couldn’t hear me (or just didn’t want to let me by!) and there was no room for overtaking on the path around him. Please pay attention!!
After some more cheese (seems to be all that worked for me today!) and a mars bar from the left overs box, some help from Paul from my running club to fill my bottles and a quick chat with Karen, I was on my way to the technical section. I love this section, but this would be the first time I was going to run it on tired legs and I was worried I’d injure myself. I’m clumsy at the best of times, so slowed right down and moved aside when anyone was catching up. My legs were tired, but I was enjoying myself. With the technical section over, I picked up the pace again and bounded over the next few miles of tree roots, rocks and rivers. I started to pass runners who had previously caught up me and was feeling strong again.
ROWARDENNAN – BEINGLAS – 13.5 MILES, 3 hours 17 minutes (race time so far – 7 hours 53 minutes)
I was now ready to get this race finished. I bounded through the check point, grabbed my drop bag and was helped by Norrie Hunter to keep things moving. He told me I’d got there in just under 8 hours and was on for a strong finish, but I knew I had the hills of the rollercoaster approaching so I wasn’t holding my breath! Karen caught up with me here and did her awesome hill bounding thing again as I huffed and puffed my way out of the checkpoint. The path along to the sheep under path was pretty ripe but not too bad, the climb back up the the other side was pretty painful but bearable and the jaunt up to forest above Crianlarich was enjoyable as I passed several group of walkers who all cheered me on.
The last set of hills arrived and I was feeling good. My legs were feeling strong, my feet were feeling OK, my head was a little fuzzy and I was running low on water, but I only had 4 and bit miles to go! I powered through the forest section, jogging the ups and flying on the downs. I was overtaking people again and feeling brilliant! I crossed the road and just as I was about to cross the bridge before Auchtertyre, someone out supporing cheered me on and asked if I was OK for drinks etc. Amazing!! You were in exactly the right place at the right time! I refilled my water, thanked him and trundled my way round the last few miles. Under the road, along by the river, into the last section of forest and finally, FINALLY, I could hear the piper near the finish line. A quick watch check revealed I was just over the 10 and a half hour mark and I was elated!!
Coming round the last bend I heard Angela cheer me on. I could hear the cowbells and cheers of the crowd and I lifted my head and picked up the pace for a quick run down the red carpet, high-fiving my friends as I did. I was grinning from ear to ear as I received my medal and goody bag and plonked myself on a chair in the finishers area to get my breath back. What a race!! From feeling so tired and low not even 20 miles in, to finishing feeling tired but still having something left in the tank proves to me that I am ready for the big one. With only a few weeks left for big miles, it’s definitely time to get back out there and keep on trudging on!
The Fling is one of the biggest events is the Scottish Ultra marathon calendar and it deserves all the credit and hype it gets. It’s amazingly well organised and runs seamlessly from start to finish. Thank you to everyone involved both on the front line and behind the scenes. Without you this race wouldn’t be what it is. I’ll definitely be back next year to have another crack at it!!