Monday, 5 May 2014

Hoka Highland Fling 2014

False starts, distractions, sudden stops, fatigue, lack of mojo and it took forever.

No not the race itself, but the process of writing the post-race blog! Whilst I turned up OK and ran the race well (by my standards) I just could not get my thoughts committed to paper. So after several false starts and not entirely unconnected to having to work Bank holiday Monday, when all our customers don’t, here goes.

This race just gets bigger and better every year, and Race Director John Duncan and his team surpassed themselves again this year. From a runner’s perspective the organisation seemed both flawless and seamless from start to finish.

Ann had been arm twisted volunteered to act as crew chief for the weekend, and with an afternoon off work, we set off for Milngavie at a nice civilised time. I’d offered Jo Zakrzewski a lift up from Dumfries as she’d managed to get a late elite race entry. It was really nice to be able to pass on tips and information about the Fling as Jo was a first time Flinger and quite nervous about the race. Although I suspect none of my “Inside gen” played any part whatsoever in Jo’s fantastic run on the day, where she won the ladies race; placed 12th overall; ran the 3rd fastest ever fling time for a female and beat me by a mere 163 places.

Registration was in a packed Burnbrae pub, with many familiar faces manning the tables, we didn’t hang around long though and quickly headed to our accommodation at the other Premier Inn. One minor glitch with Jo’s room reservation (quickly resolved by Johnny Fling) and we headed next door for food. Here we bumped into Craig Malcomson from DRC and Ally and Andy from Dalbeattie. I didn’t want a late night, so we’d booked a table for dinner, strangely in contrast to last year when the place was heaving, this year it was pleasantly quiet.

Our young Glaswegian waitress had us in stiches, by announcing “Dinnae wave you’re hand in the air at me, cos I’ll no come, and dinnae snap your fingers either”, so after some enthusiastic smiling and head bopping to attract her attention we set to order food. I’d decided on a steak and when I mentioned that I was intrigued by the side order of macaroni cheese and bacon her immediate response of “dinnae order that it’s mingin!” absolutely cracked me up, brilliant! In fact she announced that most of the menu, was in her opinion “mingin” except the burgers, I stuck with my steak, and so to bed.

The Premier Inn is just round the corner from the station and with rain through the night and more forecast I wanted to do as little hanging around as possible before the 6am start, so I set my alarm for 5am. A quick breakfast of instant porridge and rice pudding and we we’re soon joining the throng of cars in the Tesco car park and the human tide of runners heading for the start. Ann gathered a finish bag from Andy and Caroline, drop bags dropped off, the longest pre-race toilet queue I’ve ever seen a few hellos to familiar faces, totally forgot to get a team photo, forgot my pre-race gel, listened to John’s race briefing, through the tunnel, hooter blows and we’re off.

In the week before the race my back had unhelpfully decided to seize up completely and the squirrels in my head (thanks to Heather Calderwood for that phrase) had been telling me that the timing and mix of marathons and Ultra’s I’ve signed up for this year is rubbish and that I was under trained, with the result that my race goal had gone from beating last year’s 11:02 to just finish and get drunk afterwards.

Despite over 600 starters its incredible just how quickly the field thins out and there was no congestion. I’d opted to try to repeat last year’s strategy of going out very easily in the first half so that I could keep running wherever possible in the second half. I found myself chatting to
various Fling virgins and repeating the mantra “you won’t win the race before Balmaha, but you might lose it”. It amused me to see people ploughing through the puddles in the first 2 miles, it might look hard-core, but 51 miles with wet feet, sensible it isn’t, and I remember seeing one guy just after Carbeth with a backpack big enough for an Everest expedition, why?

At some point after Carbeth and just before the fabulous fiddler I found myself running with Martin Bell from Aviemore and we pretty much ran most of the way to Rowardennan thereafter, me sharing my pearls of Ultra wisdom and in truth very welcome for the company (I hate running on my own). Over the mats at Drymen in 1:55 and straight through without stopping, many other bloggers have mentioned the crowd and noise at Drymen; I must have been in my own wee world as they didn’t register with me.

I recalled that the section from Drymen to the foot of Conic was where I was passed most often last year and I pretty much passed every one further up the course, so was happy to plod along steadily, walking any steep bits and run/walking 50/50 on slopes. The low mist obscured any views of Conic itself and I spent the climb up staring at the tartan short clad backside of Donald Sandeman resplendent in a “See you Jimmy” wig to match. Donald is a master at pacing Ultra’s so I told Martin we didn’t want to overtake him if possible.

Over the top, half arsed attempt at a Johnny Fling heel kick, cloud and mist starting to clear and our first view of Loch Lomond itself, magic. Downhill into Balmaha on
Courtesy of monument photos
the new steps, (which I think are a great improvement) and the first drop bag.
Very efficient marshals handed me my bag and as I shovelled in an Ambrosia rice pudding, I politely bullied two spectators into refilling water and isotonic bottles for me, probably less than 2 minutes and I was off.

Martin and Donald had run through and I caught Martin at the top of Craigie fort but wasn’t to see Donald again until the brutal little hill at Ross Wood, which we both agreed was tougher than Conic. Since I’m doing these events of my own choosing I try to be as relentlessly positive and cheerful as I can, unfortunately I don’t seem to have communicated this to my face as in every photo I seem to be exhibiting a variety of scowls and frowns, which could collectively be characterised as the Ainslie “not happy” face. Having caught Donald I then yo-yoed with him till about 7 miles from the end, where the Way crosses under the railway line.

Into a very busy Rowardennan in 4 hours 45 minutes milking the crowd for a cheer, handed my drop bag straightaway, rice pudding number 2 and this time it was Iain Wallace who I blagged into bottle filling duties, keeping stationary time to a minimum I was off again. On one of the flat bits after Rowardennan I passed Myvanwy who was walking, I recognised her from one of the training weekends and told her if it was flat she should be running, she duly did and proceeded to finish in 10:30:45, twenty minutes ahead of me, that should teach me to keep my gob shut next time, but a great debut run from her.
Courtesy of Edinburgh Sports Photography

On the long hills above Rob Roy’s prison I found myself running with Craig Malcomson and Kirsty Burnett, Craig’s pedigree as a hill runner, showed as he was pulling away from me on the uphill walks and Kirsty was just having a brilliant run, once we were on the downhill I tried to keep up with them but decided I was spending too much of my energy budget too early so let them speed off. Kirsty went on to finish in 10:40:21 and is looking really strong for this year’s WHW race, I must have subsequently passed Craig but have no recollection where.
Lots of people don’t like the couple of miles before Inversnaid as it’s relatively technical compared to the forest track sections that precede it. I like this section, it’s similar to the technical trails of Mabie Forest and you need to stay alert to avoid face planting, so I find it flies by. Down the steps beside the hotel, across the car park and its drop bag #3 and a typically cheery greeting from Sandra McDougall and the ever helpful marshals.

Having already scoffed 3 rice puddings I couldn't face a 4th one, bottles topped off and I grabbed a packet of Clif shot bloks from the communal table and opted to run/walk until the proper technical bit. I failed to eat the salted almonds I was carrying but killed a jelly baby or three here.
Courtesy of Sandra McDougall
Courtesy of Sandra McDougall

I alternate between enjoying this section and loathing it, in equal measure, today I just wanted it to be over and done with. Saying goodbye to the loch side I didn’t even stop for a photo at Dario’s post, trying to keep my “fannying about” time to a minimum. Sadly I’ve no idea what my pacing or splits on this section were as my Garmin petulantly decided to delete all of its data. Into Beinglas farm in 8:10, 19 minutes quicker than last year apparently. I’ve no recollection whatsoever of whom I spoke to here, but bottles refilled and head down for the last section.
On the climb on the track along Glen Falloch, I felt stabs of pain as cramp enveloped my right leg, bugger! My recent unhappy experience of cramp at D33 all too fresh in my mind. As I came to a complete and cursing stop a fellow runner proffered a bag of rock salt. I gratefully scooped a couple of big pinches into my mouth and washed them down with water, thank you to my nameless saviour. Now I know there is no direct scientific proof that cramp is caused by lack of salt, but within 90 seconds I was running again and cramp free.

I tried to munch a couple of salted almonds but they took ages to chew and I struggled to swallow them, so eventually ended up just sucking off the salt and gobbing out the almonds, even resorting to licking out the empty bag, but it worked and I was untroubled by cramp thereafter.

My mantra for this section was, “you need to run all the bits you can run, because you’ll be walking the uphills anyway”. I was struggling to work out if I WAS actually ahead of last year with my befuddled brain failing to cope with deducting 8 hours 10 from last year’s 11:02 finish time. On balance I decided I was on target for a PB, so I probably ran more of this section than I’ve ever done before. On the approach to the railway underpass (remember to duck, remember to duck) I saw Donald’s tartan breeks ahead and edged past him, “I can’t be f***ed, today” was Donald’s response when I asked how he was doing, honest as ever.
Really Flying
 Courtesy of Stuart McFarlane

Cow poo alley was characteristically ankle deep in cow shit, but I was well past caring about keeping my feet dry now. Through the big gate and up the steep climb to the picnic bench, legs screaming, but happy with the knowledge that it’s only 6 miles to the finish. I like the path improvements on this section and ran all but the steepest uphill’s and was able to run all the downhill’s too.  I passed Gayle Tait who was not in a happy place and having exhausted both my bottles managed to blag a big swig of water from her husband who’d ran out to meet her, probably a life saver for me by that point. Over the A82 without stopping thanks to some smart traffic directing by the marshal team there and less than 3 miles to go, most of it flat(ish). 

Remember Keith you need to run all the bits you can run!

Happy now that I was looking good for sub 11 hours.
There is a section of the Way between the ruins of St Fillans priory and Auchtertyre that is a gentle slope in fact it is so gentle you probably would not notice it under normal circumstances, but believe me you do when you’ve already run 50 miles. In 2 previous Fling’s and 1 WHW race, I’ve never managed to run this section, I’ve always dropped to a walk, not this time, I’ll bloody run it if it kills me. Under the A82 and less than 2 miles to go, I’m ploughing through puddles regardless now; final right turn of the road past the stone bench that I know is exactly 1 mile to go.

Remember to lift your feet Keith, this section has plenty of protruding rocks to catch the unwary or knackered runner, past the old lead mine. Had to walk the little slope after the big gate, nothing left in the tank, nearly done, trying hard to look like a runner. Past the pipers with a thank you and a wave, lots of people cheering and clapping, round the corner, wow a red carpet, fantastic!

Noise, cheering, clapping, cow bells I’d like to think I’m happy and smiling but nope the scowl face is back, catching a brief glimpse of An
Nearly there
n and Choppy, its under the finish arch, thank God it’s over 10:50:47, and 11 minute PB, and the magic (for me) sub 11 that I so narrowly missed last year.

Lee MacLean removed my timing chip, just as well because I couldn’t have bent down. Someone hung my medal round my neck (Ellen I think) and then I staggered into the marque, a smiling Julie Clark handed me  goodie bag and this year’s race t-shirt, bottle of water down the neck, then a second for good measure. Next priority is soup, a roll and a seat, which I find next to Elaine Omand who’d got 3rd lady in an amazing 8:49:33 and was looking fresh as a daisy. I on the other hand had taken 2 hours longer than Elaine and probably looked as buggered as I felt.

Back outside I found Ann and Ian, changed into a dry top and donned my puffa jacket, found out that Andy had ran a blistering 10:15:36 and that Jo had won the ladies race (8:30:29) and headed off for a shower. I missed seeing Caroline finish in a well-deserved 11:31:34 both Andy and Caroline are running the full West Highland Way race this year, and I can’t wait to see how they get on.

We’d booked a hiker hut at The Pine Tree’s campsite and I had virtually exclusive use of the fantastic shower block there, what luxury. With everyone finished it was time to acquire some social glow, so sitting on the step of the hut we enjoyed a bottle of Ian’s finest Ugandan Beaujolais, before heading up to the fabulous Real Food CafĂ© for tea.

Despite being famished I could barely eat for feeling nauseous, hardly denting the jumbo fish I’d ordered, then it was over to the pub for a couple of pints.
Me, Jo, Ian & Andy complete with Ugandan Beaujolais

I was determined to make it to the post-race Ceilidh for the first time and managed a token walk through the hall, but with no seats available I decided that heading to bed was an even more attractive prospect.

It’s been said on the Fling Facebook page and on many blogs already, but it’s definitely worth repeating. A HUGE thank-you to John Duncan and the many helpers who made the whole race experience so fantastic, I simply couldn’t fault it in any way, a heartfelt thanks for all your efforts.

Next step for me is the Edinburgh Marathon, which I’m running for Cancer Research UK on May 25th  (feel free to contribute a pound or two), thereafter supporting Andy on the WHW race, then the Lakeland 50 at the end of July.

Happy running


No comments:

Post a Comment