Having checked in the night before we left leaving our hotel to the absolute last minute, arriving just in time to hand over drop bags and miss the race briefing, not even time for a pre start photo. This uncharacteristic last minute approach did however have the benefit of not leaving time to get cold and depriving me of my usual, nerve induced 3 pre-race lavatory visits.
Having spent many training miles gnashing over the calamity that this years mass start would inevitably create, I ran through Milngavie High Street chomping on a great big slice of humble pie as the 450 plus starters, seemed no busier than last years staggered starts.
We'd passed the journey up from Dumfries discussing race plans, mine was pretty simple
- Start at 6am
- Don't run too fast
- Remember its mostly a training run
- Remember to eat and drink
Following his incredible run in the MDS Andy was planning a run/walk strategy at a very conservative pace and given my chronic inability to set off at anything resembling a measured rate, I was planning to stick with him. Ian was planning a safety first approach following an injury plagued 4 months. Frank admitted not being in the best of fitness and Caroline was, like me running with an eye firmly on the WHW race in 8 weeks time.
The first 12 miles to Drymen was for me, the section I could get most badly wrong. I knew I was fitter than last year but that if I ran this section too fast I'd pay for it in spades at the end of the race. I reached Drymen in 2:04, 280th place, the weather could not have been kinder and the improvements to the path to Beech Tree meant Andy and I could run side by side and that our feet were dry. Andy has huge self discipline and every time I edged ahead he'd remind me to slow down. I loved the diversion through Drymen, it was great to get some support from the locals. On the long hill out of Drymen we adopted a run 50, walk 50 pace and walked the steeper second half entirely, we got to the top completely fresh and at the same time as some who'd run the whole hill and already looked bushed.
We stuck to this 50/50 strategy through the forest all the way to Conic hill, on this section people were actually streaming past us. I won't hide the fact that I found it difficult to set aside my race head and let them go, but again Andy was there to keep me from heading off like a daftie.
The footpath improvements get a thumbs up from me, but given the lack of a stone top finish I suspect they'll descend into a mud bath pretty quickly. We kept up a steady yomp up Conic and no-one passed us, and a very cautious quad saving descent down the other side saw us arriving at the Balmaha drop bag point feeling great.
I'd drunk 500ml of water and a similar amount of isotonic, so refilled my bottles, threw down a strawberry flavoured rice pudding and started walking through the car park. I was chomping on a strawberry jam and Dairylea cheese sandwich (absolutely the world's best sandwich.......... If you disagree............... I WILL FIGHT YOU), the first time I've managed solid food on an ultra! Caroline had arrived seconds after us and as we passed the Oak Tree Inn, Andy urged me to run on ahead as he was feeling the MDS miles in his legs.
I was really enjoying my run so far, Iast year I'd started cramping up as I knelt to fill my Camelback, no such problems this year, my mood matched the sunny weather. Shortly after the beach, I caught Carol Martin who I recognised from one of the WHW training weekends. Having passed the first 20 or so miles chatting to Andy, I was able to bore Carol with my running chat, we ran together a good chunk of the way to Rowardenan until a couple of Carol's friends caught her up and I bailed from the girly chat. I suspect Carol was getting fed up with my dazzling conversation by this point.
I felt the gentle ripple of applause from the waiting crowd whilst welcome was slightly low in volume, my shout of "I think this run is worth more than that" duly brought an increase in clapping and cheering. 5:10 and 239th, time for another rice pudding, bottle top up and a good slurp of fizzy Lucozade. Not hanging around I was on my way within 2 minutes. I was firmly sticking to my walk the hills plan and was taking it very easy on downhills too, it seemed to be paying off as I still felt good and was starting to think that a sub 11 hour finish might be a possibility.
Even walking the hills I was passing a few people and the thought that this energy conservation strategy was working was helping keep me in check. On the long uphill I walked with Anil Nayar and Jeff Hewitson, who introduced himself as the guy who'd run last years WHW race with recourse to a banana for first aid. I confessed to having tears rolling down my cheeks when I read his post-race report. Jeff and Anil were determined to finish together and were great company on this section, being tall Jeff stretched ahead on the downhills and I was happy to let them do so, "take it easy" I'm thinking its still a long way to go.
Jo Rae passed me just before Beinglas, sporting a pair of lurid pink, sparkly Dirty Girl gaiters, Jo was running really well and eventually finished 16 minutes and 25 places ahead of me. She obviously ran a really well paced run and her sub 11 hour finish was well deserved after her route mishap and diversion on last years race.
I reached Beinglas in 8:29, 177th and sat down for my 4th Rice pudding of the day, I'd downed a couple of gels and a packet of Clif shot blocks on the last section and was pleasantly surprised how much I'd been able to eat overall.I chatted with Iain Wallace as I refuelled and he commented that I looked very fresh for having run 40 miles, he was having a tough day, having struggled with illness earlier this year it was taking its toll today.
As I stood up to leave I got my first serious twinge of cramp in my right thigh, I massaged it furiously, annoyed with myself for sitting down, that's a lesson I'll remember for the Way race. As I left Beingals I could see Sandra McDougall about 100 metres ahead, I thought if I could catch her I could happily chat to her all the way to Crainlarich. I simply couldn't close the gap so had to content myself with my own company on this stretch.
I was still running all the flats and descents and maintaining a good power walk up the hills, I passed a couple of people on this section, but even my annoyingly cheerful greeting were starting to wear out, I regret I passed two guys without saying so much as a word, although I wasn't focusing on a time I reckoned a sub 11 was still a possibility.
Cow Poo alley was as pleasant as ever, I didn't even attempt a run here as I reckon this is prime ankle breaking territory. My mantra by this stage was keep saving your energy, if you feel good you can run after you cross the A82. Through the big gate and onto the joys of the roller coaster, I was still passing people on the uphills which is a real morale booster. I opted to walk the steeper downhills too, I'd gain so little I felt it wasn't worth the muscle pain and damage.
I got straight across the A82 with 10 hours 16 minutes on the Garmin, surely 11 hours was in the bag, then my sensible head kicked in, "Whoa Keith boy, you've had a great day so far, your miles ahead of last year and you still feel great", I knew in my heart of hearts that I could push on into a propor run, but that I'd pay the price afterwards, be satisfied with a PB.
I ran 50 walked 50 on the slope up to Auchtertyre and managed a solid run all the way after that, having failed to catch Sandra, she gave me a shout out as she emerged from the loos at Auchtertyre farm.
Last leg now, back under the road along the river to Dalrigh a relay runner slightly ahead of me shot off in the wrong direction, I shouted out and she stopped and turned onto the right track. I got lost on this section on a solo training run last year (yes you can get lost within 1 mile of Tyndrum), so I was looking for the right turn, there is a small bench which I'd measured as exactly 1 mile from the finish, with 10:51 on the clock it was going to be close. I had my first and only mishap of the day here as I toe bashed a rock as I passed a group of hikers and narrowly avoided a face plant, sadly an 8:30 mile was beyond me by this stage.
Passing the pipers and round the corner for a temporary moment of bewilderment as the finish wasn't there "I can't be so slow they've all gone home?", No the finish is in a different place, "left and left" some one shouted. I caught a brief glimpse of Ian G as I rounded the final corner, I was pretty sure he'd not passed me, so had 2nd moment of confusion, but there it was, the flag bedecked finish straight. Upping the pace for the glory stretch I finished in 11:02:03 and 155th place out of an eventual 416 finishers.
To describe me as euphoric would be an understatement, yes I'd missed 11 hours, you know what I didn't care. I'd bagged a 42 minute PB and I felt great. I didn't do my usual finish line dying swan impression, I was buzzing.
The crowning glory was being presented with my medal by Fiona Rennie, I love Fiona's attitude to ultra's and to get my medal from her made my day!
I had enough energy left to pick up my t-shirt and goody bag and sink 3 cups of the most excellent soup, whilst waiting on the rest of the team, Ann insisted on me putting on a fleece as soon as I finished as it was pretty cold by now. She'd already stood for an hour as we'd optimistically thought one of us might hit the 10 hour mark, and she didn't even get a medal.
Ian Grey explained that he'd fallen coming off Conic and injured both his foot and his already broken hand, but had soldiered on to the 45 mile point before pulling out, a pretty gutsy decision both to try to finish and to eventually pull out. I decided to head back to our hobbit hutch for a shower and change before I got too cold, hoping i'd get back to see the remaining Harriers finishing.
I missed the surprise of the day Sean McMinn, who amazed us all by finishing his first ultra in a very creditable 12:10; next over was Andy in 12:32, the MDS miles had continued to extract a toll and he'd had a tough day at the office. Andy had passed Caroline at Crianlarich and said she was struggling with a knee injury. A clearly injured and tearful Caroline finished in 12:42 and I hustled her straight into the medical tent for some TLC.
Frank finished in 13:59:47, scraping under the 14 hours having taken a decision to run with a runner who'd DNF'd for the last two years, Frank's perseverance and experience saw them both through to the finish.
I couldn't be happier with my run, it's cemented in my mind that the correct strategy for me for the WHW race is to set off very very slowly. I've now had the experience of being passed by loads of runners early in a race and pretty much passing them all further on, moving from 280th at Drymen to 155th at the finish absolutely confirmed this.
I managed my food and fuelling pretty much spot on, although heartily sick of strawberry rice pudding by the end.
I felt great after the race, was able to walk around easily and didn't collapse into bed later, I managed the drive back to Dumfries no problem on the Sunday.
Mentally it's put me in a great place for the Way Race.
The Fling is an excellent event, John Duncan and his team put on a first class show, seamless from start to finish, I'll be back!