Highland Fling 53 Mile Ultra trail Marathon

This years goal was to run under 9 hours after last year having a time of 9:01:34 which was a PB.

Training started straight after the new year and by the end of February I had a goal to reach 1000 miles of training before race day, which I was 12 miles short of, oh well.

My dad and I set off late Friday afternoon in his camper van and headed to Milngavie with a stop at the Cairngorm Hotel for a feast. Heading down the road the weather was awful, wind and lots of rain which only stopped when arriving in Glasgow. A quick visit to the race registration to pick up my race number and timing chip then park up in the long stay carpark.

With the van parked up it was time to sort out clothing, footwear, food and drop bags. This was a bit of an experimental year food wise which was going to consist of Chia Charge, gels and the odd mars bar with Tail Wind to drink. Drop bags sorted and Tail Wind pre mixed into water to make it easier at checkpoints. With a packet of Haribo, nuts and some protein shakes before bedtime it was lights out just after 10pm with the alarm set for 5.00am!

Race Morning, weather looking good but the forecast from 8am was looking like it was going to be wet. My usual breakfast of cornflakes and weatabix and a cup of tea as dad didn’t have coffee. Oh I have been on a caffeine free week as the gels I was going to use had it in and would be far more effective on race day. I had 3 pairs of trainers to choose from, one pair of road shoes which definitely wasn’t going to be an option with the forecast, the other two were my Salomon Sense Pro 2 and my Pro Max. I decided on the Pro Max due to a bit more cushioning.

We left the car park at 5.35am and headed to the start line to drop off my drop bags and meet in with Alan Swadel and John Anderson before the start of the race. They had both stayed in Tyndrum the night before and got the bus down in the morning. The three of us joined the start and John and I were in the first wave for sub 10 hours with Alan joining another few of his friends that were racing. A few quick words to John about his aim for a time of sub 10 hours.

The horn sounded for the start and the masses were off, through the tunnel and up the high street before a sharp right hand turn onto the West Highland Way. Thinking John might tag along for a while I had a look over my shoulder and couldn’t see him, so I assumed he was being sensible and doing his own race.

The first 12 miles to Drymen are pretty easy to run. I had my splits from last year so just needed to stick to them or go slightly quicker. I took on two gels, one at 4 miles and the second at 8 miles with Tail Wind to wash them down. Arriving at Drymen I was 4 minutes 30 up on last years time so was now thinking I can take it a bit easier to Balmaha. A quick drink of water and I was away. I ran a good few miles with another runner having a chat as we ran on towards Conic Hill. It was quite a nice morning but the dark clouds were coming closer and soon I could feel small drops. Once out of the Garadhban Forest there was now a cool breeze, so on with the gloves. Within 5 minutes of starting the climb up Conic Hill the rain was lashing down so being sensible on went the jacket and time to eat a mars bar. Over the top I could feel the rain running down my legs and into my trainers (I hate wet feet!!). Coming down Conic Hill was tricky with it being wet but I just made sure where I placed my feet. Down safely it was into the first check point to refuel, arriving at Balmaha 5 minutes up on time. I was only using one 500ml bottle due to it not being warm, filled it up, grabbed my 3 gels and one chia charge and off I go as quick as I could. Just past here is a sharp climb so I use this to eat the chia charge and have a gel. With the rain still coming down it was head down and follow the loch side to Rowardennan, with two more gels consumed I arrived at Rowardennan to be greeted by my dad who had been up Ben Lomond. A quick hello, gels, chia charge and tail wind it was off again.

I was only 4 minutes ahead of schedule at Rowardennan and knowing what was ahead and with the conditions I kind of put a PB to the back of my mind as was just now focusing on finishing. The further up I got the wetter under foot it became and colder. I could no longer open my gels with my fingers as they were so cold and had to use my teeth. Once off the main forestry track and onto the single path (the fun bit I like to call it) there was not much room to avoid the puddles, slippery rocks and roots and the mud. But I carried on catching and passing a few runners. Into Inversnaid and I was starting to really feel the cold due to not moving that fast on the tricky ground. I was very surprised here as I thought I had slowed down a bit but now was back up to 5 minutes ahead of plan. I still had most of my tail wind from the last check point so I just grabbed my gels and the chia charge and set off. The is where it really gets technical and with it being so wet I knew I was going to lose time so just focussed on getting to Beinglas Farm. I caught a group of four guys about halfway through and decided to stick with them for some company. Into Beinglas Farm with the rain still coming down and the burns and river well up in spate I was now up 8 minutes in time. I was now starting to fade but I knew I had a tin of red bull, It didn’t give me wings but it tasted good. I grabbed my gels and left my chia charge as I still had one of the previous ones and still most of my tail wind from Rowardennan. I think I was drinking the rain as it ran down my face at some points. This last section is mostly all up hill so moving slowly I carried on walking most of the uphills. I know that sub 9 hours is now back on if I could just get some body heat. I could feel my leg muscles cold and the tips of my fingers had turned white. I was passed by a few guys that I had passed earlier on the rougher ground but march on up past the Falls of Falloch and onto Derry Darroch. Faye and my sister travelled down this morning to see her pal as she was also running and hoped to see me here but there was an accident on the A82 and so didn’t make it in time. Under the road and up onto the track/river where I looked up the mountains to see the tops were covered in a thick blanket of snow which made me feel even colder. I could feel the cold going up my arms and my right elbow was starting to seize being that cold. Cow poo alley, what a bonus, a newly built path through here was like a dream come true. Just before the second last and new checkpoint for this year Bogle Glen I spotted Faye, my sister, my dad and the dogs, what a boost I felt seeing them there. Being so focused and feeling cold I ran straight through them with only mustering a hello to them. I did apologise at the end for the mood I was in. I was now 8 minutes up on time and knew that I could do it. Into the roller coaster section there was a bit of shelter from the cold breeze and rain I could feel some warmth again, only a little bit though. I saw a guy in front and just thought follow him don’t do anything stupid on the steep down hills. I crossed over the road towards Kirton farm I knew I could march at 13 minute miles and still get under 9 hours so I ran/jogged as much as I could being passed by a few more but I didn’t care I was on for sub 9. The closer I got I thought I could get 8 hours 50 so head down and dug deep round the corner to be greeted by the piper and thought I am going to do this and pushed hard onto the red carpet for a finishing time of 8:49:28!! To be told I was 28th to finish out of 740 that started,I had the biggest sense of warmth about me.

With Faye, Joey and my dad cheering me on as I crossed the line for the 8th time, ding ding. A quick finish photo and it was off for a hot shower, ahhhhhhhh. A cup of coffee and a look at the results we decided to head off back home. A wee stop at McDonalds for some food in Fort William hit the spot!

A big well done to all that raced, it was mentally challenging in the conditions and a few times I could have easily gave up but I didn’t.

Well done to Alan on his third fling with a PB time of 11:00:53 and John on his debut at this distance and course with a time of 10:30:02. Well done guys!

Also running from the club was Fiona Brant who finished in 12:53:37.

Will I be back again? I think so and might target an 8 hour 30 time.

Thanks again to all the support from my dad, Faye, Joey and messages of support and to all who I have been out training with.

Report by:  Steven Morrison

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