Highland Fling Race 2017

The Race

I told myself that I would be happy if I finished between 10-12 hours, as this was my first attempt running anywhere near this distance. In my head, I thought I could definitely run 10 hours something if everything went to plan. That assumption came from my training plan and race pace previously.

I arrived at Milngavie for 5.30am with my 4-drop bags in hand. Each drop bag contained the following:

2x500ml bottles of tailwind, a banana, a chai charge bar, a protein bar, custard pot, 2xSIS energy gels and a pork pie/sausage roll. My final bag had a protein gel (lifesaver) and salt n vinegar crisp.

The race was to start at 6am. I had seen plenty of familiar faces at the start line. After the meet and greet/a quick toilet stop, I headed to my start section for runners who wanted to finish around 10-12 hours. The tannoy was playing music and not just any music, one of my favourite songs – Wild Mountain Thyme. I had tears in my eyes; I couldn’t believe I was about to set off on the race that I had dreamed of a whole year earlier.

Off I go, trying not to get too carried away, I kept my pace steady. I was feeling strong, no pains or strains anywhere; the miles were ticking down and sections that I had previously recalled as tough were being ticked off with no effort. I arrived at Drymen (12m) feeling fresh, but knowing what was ahead, the section that I had struggled with a year earlier.  My plan was to drink 500ml of fluid every hour and have at least 1 salt cap and 1 energy gel. So far, so good. I soon found myself at the foot of Conic Hill. It was a clear day and I started the climb. As I approached the summit around 300 metres, there was the cameraman. What a place to put a camera, right at the very top of the climb before the brow of the hill! I smiled and start my descent to the first checkpoint, Balmaha (19m).  I had no intention of stopping for long, so I grabbed my bag, changed my bottles and took on the food I could. I had no appetite for any solids. I tried my chai charge, nope, pork pie, nope and protein bar, nope! I felt ok, so I carried on. The miles went passed quickly and I enjoyed the ups and downs of the route to Rowardennan.  I had a kit check on one of the big climbs, which was a welcome break. Foil Blanket and fully charged phone in hand, phew! I got to Rowardennan feeling good. A friend, Lorna Sinclair told me that the plan is to get to Rowardennan feeling like I haven’t done much, as the race starts there. So I got my drop bag and tried eating. Sadly, I couldn’t stomach anything. I tried, but just couldn’t swallow any of the food in my mouth! So off I went with more gels in hand. I didn’t want to focus on what I couldn’t do, just what I could.

Now comes the hard section. Rowardennan to Beinglas. I still felt good, legs were strong, no blisters, plan was on track, but I had fallen approx. 20 minutes behind my planned arrival time of 4hours 40 to RD.  On I went and Inversnaid quickly arrived with another drop bag and no food consumed. Along the way, I was chatting to the odd person here and there, some I was overtaking and some were overtaking me. My wife and kids were waiting on me at Beinglas farm, or so I thought. Approx. 1 mile into the toughest section for me and I felt I was putting in more effort, but getting slower. I always said to my friends and family, if I get to Beinglas at 41 miles in, I will have the mental strength to finish.  I got to Beinglas an hour behind schedule and Donna wasn’t there. We made a mistake with the parking pass and Donna couldn’t get in. My phone beeped explaining the situation. I told her not to worry and I would see her at Tyndrum. Again, no food, just gels. I had to put the fact that I couldn’t see my family out of my head and focus on finishing.

As I left Beinglas, I really I had forgotten just how much climbing there was to be done. My legs and feet felt great, but my body was beginning to get tired. I kept looking at my watch and thinking, what time am I going to do. Just as I reached mile 47, the wheels came off. Oh no! My first bonk and it was a major one. I started seeing little white dots when I blinked and I gone from a 13-minute mile to a 30-minute mile. What was an 11:30 finish became a 12:30 finish or worse; I was wobbling with a little over 6 miles to go. Lifesaver to the rescue. I had kept a protein SIS gel. It was thick, sugary and felt filling. I followed that with half a bottle of Tailwind. BOOM! I was back in the room. I was still on a big hill, but the mile had reduced to 19 minutes, from 30. I took the next 2 miles easy and all of a sudden I had my legs back. 3 miles to go and I was on cloud 9, I was going to finish, I was going to see my beautiful wife and kids, I was going to see and sprint up that red carpet!

My last 3 miles were paced at 9:30, 10:07 and 9:20 and I overtook plenty of people who were wobbling and I tried to cheer them on. I could hear the bagpipes; I could see the silver barriers with the big left turn, which would take me on to the finishing straight. There it was, that red carpet! Joy! As I started my sprint, I seen Donna and the boys. I gave them a huge cuddle and crossed the finish line. I done it! I achieved my goal! 11hrs 55 minutes.

Post race observations/learns.

Apart from the usual photos, medal, t-shirt, champagne etc., it is hard to put into words how good it feels to take a plan, stick to it for 6 months solid and then achieve your goal. I genuinely had so much help and support, aside from my beautiful wife and kids, the ultra running community were great. You know who you are! Thank you!

I genuinely felt strong during and after the race. My legs were great and I felt I could have run another 20 or so miles with some decent food in me. I need to figure out my fuelling. Maybe this was a one off, but I will need to research this more.

I need to run more hills. I struggle to get motivated doing hill reps etc. on my own, that’s the truth! It was the biggest gap in my training!

I am a big fearty running downhill. Maybe with stronger legs that will get better, but I have never been a very technical runner like that!

I have only run 5 miles in the last 2 weeks and done one hike. But now I am ready to start training again for the Devil O Highlands.

What next?

The next race for me will be the Devil O Highlands (42m) and then my major goal has to be the WHW race 2018!

Any regrets!

NONE. Ding Ding!

Gear on the day:

Jacket: Salomon Bonatti wp

Shoes: Hoka Mafate Speed 2.

T-shirt: Salomon Agile 1/2 zip.

Shorts: Salomon Twin Expo Compression

Calf Guards: Salomon S-lab comp.

Socks: Injinji trail 2.0.

Boxers: Saxx Endurance 2.0.

Hydration Vest: Salomon S-lab 5adv.

Thanks to my family, John Duncan, Noanie and the whole ultra running community.


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