LONG AWAITED FLING REPORT!!
Aahhhh The Highland Fling… the long awaited and anticipated race which I had entered with much excitement and trepidation… The day was almost upon me. Training had gone well but at the last minute (the Monday before the race… 5 days before to be precise), I had caught a stupid bug in work… (note to self, week off before any major races if possible next time!!)… and was feeling not at my best. However, no fever and headache was largely gone and no symptoms below the neck, so I decided I was in! There was no going back after all the hard work I had put in! Despite a hacking cough, I arose on the morning of the race to the pleasant sound of the 4am alarm, and, having gotten most things sorted the night before, Niall and I got ready and set off in a taxi to Milngavie, having forced down an early breakfast. Once we got there (after having to direct the taxi driver, who didn’t know how to get to Milngavie), we got our drop bags sorted into the correct vans and made sure our numbers were sorted and that our gear was right, (and that Clyde was secure in my Camelbak!). Having bumped into a few familiar faces, there was some time for a little bit of chat, before last minute toilet visits before the quickest runners set off first. I positioned myself towards the end of the middle group but figured I’d be at least at the end of their projected finish times, if not longer, depending on how things went.
We soon were off!!! I started off at a comfortable pace. The light was largely up but it was still early and so it was still a little dim, which was quite exciting. It was going to be a long day, but hopefully a good one! Despite enjoying the first section, and keeping a reasonable pace, my throat was irritating and it made it difficult if anyone attempted to chat, as I had very little voice. I tried to just keep going and enjoy the scenery and as the day brightened up, the sky became bright. Along the first section towards Drymen I felt good, although as I carried on towards Balmaha, I started to get very warm and pretty drained energy wise. I had a feeling now it was probably going to be a bit of a struggle but I was there now and was going to make the best of a less than best situation.
On the way up Conic hill I was very warm and so once down into Balmaha, refuelled a little in the hope that would help. I desperately wanted to ditch my coat but was worried if it rained later, I would end up freezing and that would be worse, so I decided to keep it on as carrying it would be more difficult. At this stage I noticed Finlay who stated he had pulled out at Drymen due to an injury. This made me wonder about myself, but at that stage decided to carry on to Rowardennan and see how at felt at the half way point. I also saw a couple of other familiar faces (Eileen and a couple of other Westies), which spurred me into keeping on.
I have never been very good at eating during long races and today was no different. I do however have the ability to consume vast amounts of Pepsi and so it became more or less my staple nutrition for the day (healthy, I know!!), give or take the odd Haribo, mouthful of malt loaf, crisps or other similar delicacies.
I left Balmaha, and trudged on, feeling less than fabulous but was determined to keep a reasonable pace over the leg sapping climbs and ups and downs of this section. It was only before Rowardennan that I had come across Helen and Gillian, who appeared to be going well (despite Helen’s pleas of poor training). Both John Hamer and Donnelly also passed me at some point around the same time (possibly before Helen although I can’t actually remember). It was just before Rowardennan that I also spotted Roddy!! What the heck was he doing around me? I figured he would be miles ahead!! He informed me he was pulling out at Rowardennan as he had injured himself on Conic Hill and it was becoming more painful… I decided at Rowardennan to give Roddy my jacket, as by now I was far too warm. It turns out that after I got rid of my jacket and refuelled again, I felt much better. I also felt some Westies loyalty 😉 and had to keep going now that 2 of our team had fallen!
From Rowardennan, I knew the terrain would only get worse but having recced this section on my March adventure along the full “Way”, I knew what was coming… and luckily the weather stayed fair. The first section here has a good bit of climb but I was able to chat to some other runners along the way, even managing to come across an Irish lass who as it happens, knows friends of Niall’s. (Typical indeed). I really enjoy this section if I’m honest, as the longer descents give your legs a nice stretch after the long uphills, but this section isn’t technical so pace was kept reasonable. It does get a bit up and down and a little more technical before Inversnaid but it isn’t too bad and by then I still wasn’t too far off my aim, time wise. Every marshall I came across at every check point was so friendly and helpful and the day wouldn’t have happened without them, or been so enjoyable.
I left Inversnaid, having said cheerio to Helen and Gillian, letting them go ahead at their own pace. I wasn’t feeling the best due to my ridiculous cough but knew the next section would be slow going anyway, so in a sense it would be less taxing on my lungs.
Up, down, over tree roots, down rocks, up, down… you get the point!! It goes on for some time. I did however appreciate towards the end of this section (I think), the guys playing tunes for us on the path, just before you turn away from the loch… it was a welcome lift! The next section before the next checkpoint again involves a good bit of climb and it seems like forever before you come to the sign telling you Bein Glass Farm is 2 miles away (which also seem very long!). Up and down some more and eventually you catch a glimpse of Beinn Glass Campsite… but it disappears a number of times before you actually see it approaching you as you drop down to ground level. Through some more forest and finally, you come out at the campsite. I was starting to really fade now. I had trained up to 40 miles on this exact route but I think with my rubbish cough/cold/virus my energy levels were not at their best. I was struggling to run now but knew I was well within the cut off so took some time to re fuel and chat a little to Fiona Main who had just saw her mum through the same checkpoint a short time before. I felt good knowing Helen wasn’t too far ahead but had succumbed to being last Westie finisher… (I was in no doubt I would finish!!). Fiona’s kind words and encouragement saw me off after some more Pepsi (my lifesaver!!) and a little food. My legs were starting to give up the ghost now though so it would be a matter of pushing on as best I could. I marched the climbs and tried my best to run at an easy pace (which was all I had left), the downhills and flats. The last section from Inverarnan to Tyndrum was much easier terrain wise and so meant there was less overall effort. I chatted to a few people on this section who likely felt as wiped as I did. It was nice to know I wasn’t alone. I enjoyed the forestry section and despite my legs now failing me, I knew all I had to do was get to the road before the cut off. Luckily, throughout the day there had only been a few drops of rain that had come to nothing… I was relieved, given that I had given away my only waterproof!! There was no question I was going to get there now. At long last, having let a couple of people go ahead after a brief chat, I heard the road. The marshall crossed us over and I knew that all I had to do was march home. It was all I had left in me. I had somehow managed to overtake a couple of people however on the last descent to the road… and I never saw them again until after the finish, despite coughing like a maniac the whole way! I must have kept just enough in the tank. A call from Niall lifted my spirits and no sooner had I spoke to him but within the last mile I saw him come to meet me!!! He told me that I had less than a mile to go and that within 400 metres I would hear the piper! As the piper played I tried my damdest to break into a jog for those last few metres. I had finished!!!!! And well within the cut off too!! To be honest the rest is a bit of a blur… all I know is the soup was delicious and not only did it warm me up, but it gave me the first non sweet taste I had had all day.
The marshalls made sure I was ok, had water and I sat down with the fear that I wouldn’t get back up!! Clyde also had a great day from my Camelbak pocket, and he for sure will be back!! We didn’t hang around too long, as I was so exhausted I just wanted to get home asap, and I’m pretty sure Niall (who sadly had to do the driving!) and the other Westies we were driving home did too. A few pleasantries later, we were on our way home after what was a trying, exhausting but glorious day. The last section had taken me longer than I had wanted, after being only a few minutes behind schedule at Inverarnan, but by that point I had abandoned all aims other than to get across that line before the cut off, and you know what? I’m happy with that given how I was feeling on the day. I still finished over an hour within that cut off, and on a less than perfect day, that is better than I could have asked for. It also gives me a time to beat!!
It is a day I will never forget, and know for sure I will be back, hopefully next year, and hopefully bug free. I slept only for about 6-7 hours that night but the next night I slept in total for about 14 hours, which is almost unheard of for me. My recovery was fairly swift and I am back training for the next things on the list.. mainly a middle distance triathlon in August.
The Fling for all it’s toughness, seems easy compared to this. If I don’t drown during the swim though, there is hope I will finish!!! Bring it on!!!!!