Highland Fling Race

I sent of my entry for the Highland Fling Race in October 2008. It seemed a good idea at the time and I imagined it would be harder than any race I had done before. It was twice as far as I had run before and as such an experiment. I knew it was possible that it was a step too far at this time having only started regular running in January 2008. I set out with only one aim which was to finish last. Anything else was a bonus and if I did not finish I would have learned stuff.

In reality, Saturday extended the limits of my imagination somewhat. It was far harder than any running I have done before.

I am a really lucky boy. My secret weapon is coach Jon who got me to do a ramp test (on the tread mill, start at 5k, 1k increments each minute until you fall off while monitoring the product of your breathing) about 2 weeks prior to the event and pronounced the following wise words:

As to the race at the weekend - DO NOT, 'EVER', exceed 135 bpm, unless you
can see the finish line! Make sure you eat lots, drink lots and walk
before you feel tired.

So I decided to stick with coach Jon's wise words and ran the 1st 25 miles with a heart rate of under 135 bpm. After 25 miles it became academic the bodies natural throttle nicks in and any attempt to raise a heart rate into that region would result in collapse.

There are 3 starts. 6am for female and super vet. 7am for Male senior, Male Vet. and Collie dogs and 8am for the relay runners. A 7am start at Milngavie with some really pleasant running over about 12 miles with little bits of hill to Drymen to the 1st water stop. Running against the heart rate monitor I ended up last for the 1st 10 miles. This meant I got the pleasure of running with Jim the sweeper who was 67, had run 13 West Highland way races [ The Fling is only 1/2 the West Highland Way ] and clearly very wise when it comes to long distance running:

If it looks like a hill, walk it
so I did. I left Jim after about 10 miles as I overtook a few runners and the relay runners started overtaking us. I did not quite grasp how much ascent and decent the race would have. I knew it would not be flat, but I had an image of broad paths along the side of Loch Lomond suitable for easy walking with a little bit of moorland. I knew from looking at the profile of the that Conic Hill had some climb, but it was quite early in the race and by fell running standard it was fine. The 1st bag drop stop in Balmaha I managed to eat quite a lot, I had also had some energy Gel, slaughtered some Jelly babies and some Electrolyte.

The next section was also OK from Balmaha to Rowardennan. Most of this 7 mile section was wide paths running by a road with a few bits of tricky path with roots and rock, but nothing too bad. Weather got a bit warmer. Legs started to feel the distance, but it was OK and still had the energy to run most of this section, though rather slow.

Some people claim to have "out of body" experiences. Between Rowardennan and Inversnaid, I had a an "out of mind" experience where my mind decided it was not too keen on what was happening and had somewhere else to be. I don't remember any of this section beyond I don't think I enjoyed it.

The world appeared a much better place after I bought a pot of tea from Inversnaid Hotel, eat some of the contents of my drop bag and my mind returned.

I actually enjoyed the section between Inversnaid and Bein Glas Farm, even though it was very rough ground. The path was up and down, narrow with rocks and tree roots for much of the way. The West Highland Way web site describes this as the hardest section of the whole West Highland Way. Even fresh there would be sections which would be hard work to run. While my mind was away doing its own thing on the previous section, it had decide we had got far enough that barring getting injured, we might as well put the discomfort to one side and get on with it. The alternative view is that I was hallucinating as a result of low blood sugar, but I still remember quite enjoying this section.

I got to Bein Glas Farm 20 minutes before the 6PM cut off to be greeted by the sky opening and dumping a full on Scottish rain storm with Thunder and lightening for about 20 minutes. Living it Wales, it did not seem so bad, so I put my thermal and waterproof jacket on, had a bit to eat, drink and carried on. 13 miles to go to Tyndrum.

I did not run much of the last section. I was joined by the sweeper runner after about 2 miles (Mary is the name which sticks in my mind, but I am ashamed to admit I can't really remember, one foot in front of the other was the major challenge, sorry if you read this, I am not sure I knew my own name for much of this section). I convinced the sweeper running that I could string a sentence together and we carried on. I ran where I could, the sweeper tried to encourage me into a shuffle, sometime with success and sometime with a response inspired by my 3 year old lad of "I not!". I still felt quite strong on the hill and was able to still dig in and attack them. The flat and downhill were a struggle to do more than walk most of the time. The last few miles to Tyndrum seems to grind on, over the road, past the wigwams, under the road, along the river, through the woods, eventually finding our way to the finish in Tyndrum as the last of the light was fading. Such was my confusion I had to be told to stop running. I was however no where near as confused as coach Jon who I phoned at 9.30 on a saturday when I was within a few 100 meters of the finish (able to see the lights) and asked him if I could now raise my heart rate above 135bpm. It took him a little while to grasp it was my way of letting him know I had finished and his guidance was spot on and a major contributor to being able to finish. In reality, my computer had switched itself off 2 miles before the end and I doubt I could have managed any form of finish beyond the shuffle.

I was very content with the concept of being last, an honor I seem to have lost in the results. Something has to keep you going beyond the thought of berating yourself for being a wimp and for me it was the Real Food Cafe Magic Mug which magically fills with tea or coffee each time I visit, trivial I know. We also got a race medal and a bottle of race Champagne which I saved for a time when we can enjoy it rather than risk seeing it on the way down and up again.

I will probably remember the next 20 minute after finishing as being some of the most positively intensely emotional of my life so far after the obvious ones of my little people arriving into this world. I have no idea what chemicals your body releases at that point, but it was a heady mix. Murdo, the cheeriest race director on the planet and the 2 somewhat more capable Eryri Harrier runners, Sarah who was the 1st lady in 9 hours 19 minutes and Iain who finished 8th helped me stand up against a fence. A medal, bag of goodies and the bottle were thrust into my hand and I was pointed in the direction of the cottage where I was staying. I have never felt so tired with body parts I did not know could get tired got tired, but it felt great. Standing up in the shower was a struggle.

I probably won't be a threat to the Jez Bragg, the male winner who finished in 7 hours 19 minutes, in this lifetime, but that really is not the point. I now know I can do that type of event and also have a lot of scope to improve. A race every ambitious runner should do at least once. I am going back to shorter fell race type events for the rest of the year. I meet a lot of runners who do this type of event most weekends, something that would conflict with the rest of my little world. However, they are in at least the next league up.

I spent the sunday morning in the Real Food Cafe (A fine example of what Little Chef could have been if they had paid attention to what customers actually want, rather than telling them what they should want) making sure my Magic Mug worked in the fine company of Jim and Nick before getting the train back to Milngavie.


Fantastic achievement. Remind me not to go running with you unless I have a bike!

Posted by Chris Gerhard on April 28, 2009 at 08:32 AM BST #

Congratulations for your fantastic race. I enjoyed every line of your report. I did a 73k race (Rennsteig Supermarathon) with 1500m uphill and 1000m downhill last year and know what it feels like, especially once you crossed the finish line. I felt and trembled with you. Seems a very interesting race.

Posted by Hartmut Streppel on April 28, 2009 at 02:45 PM BST #

Clive, strangely it is reassuring to discover that you do occasionally feel fatigue, pain, etc., like the rest of us! As a beginner runner, I'm in awe of your achievement.

Great blog, by the way - I drop by regularly. Thanks!

Posted by Howell on April 30, 2009 at 07:08 AM BST #

Congratulations Clive! Your race report makes it sound a breeze, so I've added it to the list of tough races I'd like to run in the next couple of years, which so far consists only of the Ben Nevis race!

Posted by Trevor Watson on May 01, 2009 at 09:48 AM BST #

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