As Murdo gave his speech I spotted Dave and was pleased I managed to have a quick chat before he headed out. It was Dave's exploits into ultra running that got me started and his tales of last year's Fling made me want to enter this year.
The V40s were soon off and then an hour later it was the turn of us youngsters to line up in the underpass.
I got together with Hendo and Andy at the back of the field and with much clapping and cheering from the supporters we were on our way.
We were very quickly out into parkland and then into green rolling fields. The ground was mainly flat on trail with some sections of tarmacked lanes. Andy, Hendo and I stayed together for the first 13 miles to Drymen, chatting away at around 10mm pace. The company was good and the miles sailed by.
Drymen was the first change over point in the relay race so there were a few people around there. Hendo stopped here to get some water and Andy and I carried on into the forest.
The run through the trees was great and I was really enjoying Andy's company. As we left the trees and ran across the open ground towards Conic Hill I started to feel like I needed some real food and so I left Andy and wasn't to see him again. I grabbed a ham sandwich and felt better for it.
The climb up Conic Hill was pretty steep but the views from the top were amazing. The loch looked so big and I knew we could only see a fraction of it from here. The first of the relay runners passed me on the climb; it was incredible to see how fast he was going up there, even on fresh legs.
After a descent down lots of steps and a lovely run down through the woods I came into the 20 mile point and CP1, Balmaha. The marshals were amazing. As I approached the stop someone asked me my number, which was relayed ahead so my drop bag was waiting for me when I came in. Then my bottles were whisked away and refilled while I sorted my food out. Fantastic! I was surprised to find that my mate Steph, Dave's wife, had waited around for me to give me a some support as I came though.
After three or four minutes I was back on the trail as it joined the loch side. We would follow the loch for the next 20 miles so it was a sight I would get used to. I briefly saw Hendo again then he shot off into the distance. Miles 21-23 were not happy miles for me. My legs were tightening up and I started to struggle with cramp in my quads on the ascents and descents. I got to one short but steep hill at 23 miles and my legs locked completely. I stopped half way up, not able to move and in quite a bit of pain. I tried resting, stretching, walking backwards, walking sideways but nothing worked. In the end I decided I just had to endure it and get to the top, hope I didn't strain anything and then hope I could walk it out. I wasn't the only one struggling; most of the people around me were grumbling about sore, tight legs. A bit of a worry when you have 30 miles to go!
I found I could still run on the flats but I had to be careful on ups and downs. I was tired but felt confident about finishing. I passed 26.2 miles in 5hrs 18mins and shortly after came into CP2 at Rowardennan. My Fetchie buff got a big shout from a group on the way into Rowardennan and someone (Pesto, I think) asked me who I was. When I told them I got a huge cheer and someone shouted out “Muskahounds are Always Ready”. I don't know who you were but that cheer gave me a huge boost and put a smile on my face that lasted for hours. Massive thank you all!
Rowardennen to Inversnaid was a beautiful section, probably the best running on the whole route. I had to walk the up hills to fight off the cramp but it a stunning place to be. A Fetch vest pulled up alongside me and Ribenaface introduced himself. We had a bit of a chat and it was great to have company for a while but I told him he should get going (he was doing the relay and was on fresh legs, raring to go). He shot off like a gazelle...I was genuinely surprised that it was possible to run that quick on those hills.
I passed through 31 miles in about 6hrs 35mins, which I was really pleased with. That's not far off my PB for the distance and I wondered if I might be able to break 12 hours today. I was soon pulling into CP3 at Inversnaid and after another slick pit stop from the marshals I was quickly on my way again. I knew from Dave and various blogs that this section was very technical but I was still surprised at just how bad it was.
There was lots of scrambling on hands and knees and even the flatter sections consisted of tree roots and rocks, making it virtually impossible to run. It was more like an obstacle course and progress was very slow.
Eventually we did reach the top of the loch and started the climb up to Beinglas Farm. I was especially excited about getting there because my wife, Mich, and toddler, Alex, would be meeting me there and I couldn't wait to see them.
Beinglas had a cut off of 6pm and I arrived there at 5:30pm. That gave me three and a half hours to do a half marathon, which sounds like a ridiculously huge amount of time but I knew it would be tight. My running pace was probably around 14min miles at this point and Dave had warned me that there would be lots of walking on this last section so I knew I would be looking to average 17-18min/mile pace. That was going to see me very close to the 13 hour cut off.
I resisted the urge to stay too long with Mich and Alex and headed out on the final section. The first few miles were largely rolling, runnable drovers roads. I really felt I understood my body by now. I knew what slopes I could run up and which I would have to walk, which steps I could jump off and which I would have to carefully lower myself off, and I knew exactly how fast I could go without the cramp building. It was all pretty uncomfortable but I was still in very high spirits. I was really enjoying this race!
I had a lovely surprise at Derrydaroch Farm (44 miles) when Mich met me once more and then I began the horrible climb into the forest above Crianlarich. This would probably feel completely different on fresh legs but at this point in the race the hills just seemed relentless. There was much more walking than running but even so I found I was passing people who were looking utterly defeated. I was constantly looking at my Garmin, flicking between the time of day and the distance run and working out what pace I would have to do to get to Tyndrum before the 13hr cut off at 9pm. The chance of a DNF was seeming more and more likely but I felt strangely pragmatic about it. I had run as well as I could on the day and I was actually still enjoying the race despite the pain and tiredness. A DNF would be extremely cruel though!
At last the woods ended and we dropped down to the valley floor. Three miles to go and 50 minutes on the clock. It was all or nothing. If it was flat then I would do it, if it was hilly then I would fail. All I could do was give it my all and hope for flat ground.
I really worked hard in those last three miles. I felt I was flying but looking back at the Garmin data it looks like I was doing about 14min/mile pace. It's all relative I guess! The light started to go and I kept plugging on. I went around a bend and heard my name being called out. There were Michelle and Dave. I was only a few hundred meters from the finish and still had over 10 minutes on the clock. I was going to complete the Highland Fling.
I caught up with a very excited Mich, who gave me a hug and a kiss (I can't believe I smelt very good at the time) and we jogged in side by side under the pipers on the hill. Alex was in a pushchair near the finish and we stopped to get him out then I carried him over the line. Although it wasn't planned it felt so right to cross the line with Mich and Alex. The support I had had in the months of training that got me to the start line meant this really did feel like a team finish to me.
I finished in 12:50. Cutting it a little fine but I was thrilled. When I entered the Fling many months ago I really didn't think 13 hours was achievable. Murdo came over to shake my hand and present me with an awesome goodie bag and I sat down to enjoy a well earned beer and cheer the final few finishers home.
Milngavie – Balmaha
Balmaha – Rowardennan
Cliff bar (peanut butter – was a battle to eat it)
Rowardennan – Inversnaid
Inversnaid – Beinglas Farm
Cliff bar (choc chip – didn't really enjoy it)
Beinglas – Tyndrum
I had plenty of water throughout but my platypus had a leak and soaked my sandwiches. I would have eaten more bread if it hadn't have got wet but I don't think it affected my day.