What is the Highland Fling?
The Hoka Highland Fling is a 53 mile trail race which takes place every year in April. The route follows the West Highland Way, Scotland’s oldest official long distance footpath, through the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park and encompasses some stunning scenery (and a few hills I might add).
How I came to enter
I’m sure it was Graham Kelly’s fault!
I met Graham in 2013 when we both travelled down to Urique, Mexico to run in the Copper Canyons Ultra Marathon (also known as Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco) made famous by Chris McDougall’s book ‘Born to Run’ and we’ve run together on and off since then,
Having been talked into entering the Fling it was only several months later I realised that I would have run the South Downs Way 50 only 3 weeks before so I was likely to have heavy legs as a result which would make the Fling harder. I was right!
I flew up to Glasgow straight after work on Friday night, grabbed a bite at City Airport and was met at Glasgow Airport by Graham and his girlfriend Katie (Wow, just wow!) who first met face to face when she pulled his beard (is that a Scottish euphemism?) when she ran past him during last years Fling, when he was a spectator on Conic hill due to injury.
Always entertaining as I’ve run in modern Huaraches i.e. Luna Sandals for the last 5 years and so far have avoided any running injuries (not many people in trainers can say that I imagine). As this is going to be a pretty gnarly and rocky trail I had been training both for SDW50 and the Fling in Luna Origen sandals, that are a modern take on the original huaraches Manuel Luna showed BFT to make in 2006, except these have Michelin snow tyre tread for the sole, topped with a modern slip resistant upper. In a word a beast of a sandal.
Should cause a stir as I doubt anyone has completed the Fling in sandals before.
Now I have a problem in that I can’t seem to eat after around 25 miles, and even before that I want savoury and salty things not sweet. This caused me to get timed out at 70 miles during a 100 mile attempt last year (SDW100) as the wheels had come off as I hadn’t been able to eat for the last 20 miles (and was getting overtaken by snails!).
As I could still drink I have since been testing Trailwind as if I couldn’t eat, at least I could drink the calories and in SDW50 it seemed to work (supplemented with some honey roast cashews and dried fruit). So I packed my UD pack with a few bags of those to eat, a couple of caffeine Gus, and filled 2 soft flasks and a hand held with Trailwind (with a pile of stick packs of it in the pack to make up at each aid station. I was going to drink the handheld and save the soft flasks as and when needed.
For each of my 4 drop bags I had a bottle of flat coke, a pork pie and a tunnock bar.
The morning of the start
The alarm went off at 03:00 as we needed to leave by 04:30 so after 2 bowls of porridge (when in Rome) tea /coffee we grabbed our stuff and yawned towards the car.
The start was freezing! Once I’d dropped off my 4 drop bags and handed my overnight bag to Katie’s mum (who was driving up to Tyndrum) I had to keep walking about as my toes were already cold and it would take 3 miles before I would be able to feel them again. My hands were also cold as I’d managed to flush my lightweight gloves down the loo (not a good start).
It was tough on the legs running down the other side!
19.8 miles Balmaha
A quick in, handheld refilled with water, grab 2 bites of the pork pie and out again! I always try to stay less than 2 minutes at an aid station as I know I will need that time later on as I start chasing cutoffs (this race was going to be no different).
27.2 miles – Rowardennan
A quick water refill and no time for Drop bags here.
34.4 miles – Inversnaid
Same again, water refill and out again.
40 miles – Beinglas
I was so glad to see this place after a nightmare and very slow run along the Loch which was mainly scrambling and climbing over muddy rocks, roots and boulders. Whilst having a quick swig of coke I was glad to hear it was a runnable trail from now on, as having only just made the last 10 miles along the Loch in 4 hours I couldn’t see how I was going to run the next 10 miles in 3 hours unless something changed drastically underfoot. Folks at the aid station assured me it was runnable from now on, I hoped they were right! A caffeine Gu was just what I needed to kick start the system for some running!
I had to push miles 40-50 as although the cutoff at mile 50 was 20:30 that would only leave 30 minutes to cover the last 3 miles over unknown terrain and currently I didn’t think I could run 3 x 10 minutes miles if my life depended on it! I needed to get to the 50 mile cutoff at 20:00 and I literally spent the next 10 miles thinking of nothing but that, whilst taking turns in leading and following a few other runners which seemed to help all of us keep the speed up. The “rollercoaster” (as I discovered it was called) I was almost glad to meet as after my nightmare along the Loch any trail I could actually run on was welcome, even if I could go uphill faster than I could go downhill!
Mile 50 to 53 (the finish)
I made it to the 50 mile point at 20:00 which was a huge relief as I’d been hearing traffic for a while and was wondering if I would ever get there.
Now it was just keeping the pressure on so I stayed the right side of the 21:00 cutoff, and I knew it was going to be close, as I and the other cutoff chasers kept leapfrogging each othe,r all of us trying to keep our speed up to make the cutoff.
45 minutes later I have never been so glad to see 2 pipers starting up and I knew I was very close, then I saw the barriers and was directed towards the red carpet. I turned the last bend, spied Graham, did a quick high 5 whilst shouting “Mas Loco” before making the final dash for the line, finishing with 9 minutes to spare at 14 hours 51 minutes!
Several minutes later I was sat in the tent, wearing my first Fling medal, with a bag of goodies, whilst sipping a cup of the most wonderful tomato soup I have ever had!