Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Happy Highland Fling

Ok, technically it was The Hoka Highland Fling but this is my race report and I'll call it what I like. 

3.00am alarm!  I groaned and smiled at the same time,  an absurd time of day to get up but with the promise of an adventure the rude awakening would be well worth it.  At 4.00am Ken and Sue were outside my door, they had already picked up Pauline and we were in Milngavie at the back of 5.00am.  It was freezing cold but the weather looked promisingly dry, and speaking to George, Karen and Mike, (they'd just ran down from Tyndrum), apart from a couple of places, the going under foot wasn't too bad at all considering all the rain there's been.  I was sorry to hear that George had a duff knee and it scuppered their plans to do a double and run back up.  Ken was able to give them a lift back up to Tyndrum as he was heading up to Bridge of Orchy for a bit of Cally Challenge practice before picking us up at the finish.

My plan was to run WHW race pace until coming off the rollercoaster above Crianlarich then give it some welly for the last few miles.  I took my fastest WHW race splits as a rough guide which was the 2008 WHW race, in that year I got to Tyndrum in 13hrs 37mins, and Fort William 27hrs 11mins it was my fastest to Tyndrum in recent years but not my WHW PB, that was in 2007 and I reached Tyndrum  in slower time of 13hrs 50mins and Fort William in 26hrs 14mins. (As John K says "Slow and steady wins the race.") I always run to my body and don't pay any attention to time although I was wearing a watch and carried a piece of paper with  the times I expected to go through the checkpoints, purely for peace of mind of getting to Beinglas before the cut off.   

Consistent should be my middle name.

WHW2008 Splits
Fling 2012 Splits

Rightio, that's the boring numbers blurb out of the way, back to the important part of having fun.

After a short race briefing from John, us old gits and girlies were off at 6.00am, I shouldn't have been surprised to see some patches of white frost on the path, it took a good few miles until feeling had returned to my fingers and that was wearing gloves!  The sun was rising and bringing a bit of warmth with it, the sky was clear blue with a few wee fluffy clouds, it was never going to get as lovely and warm as last year, I kept my arm warmers on all day but we were quite lucky weather wise after how horrible it's been lately.

Pauline, Sue, Robin and myself stayed together after the start although there was no plan or pressure to do this, we were just happy running the same pace,  there were others around the same pace and nice to blether with friends old and new.  (Pauline's back had been a bit stiff and sore after gardening , she did say she might just run with me, I did cheekily warn her that I wouldn't wait)  Going through the Garadhban stumps Robin got a bit of ribbing, he was the only bloke in a group of about fifteen woman.   Thomas aka Crazy German from the 7.00am start whooshed past.  That was the start of the faster runners coming by, the Fling is a unique event where  every runner respects and encourages everyone else whether they are doing the ultra or the relay, apart from two ignorant gits that went by around Rowardennan without a word or a nod of existence with their ears plugged into music. "Oi! Get back on the treadmill you soulless numpties, you don't deserve the WHW!" is what I would've shouted if they could've heard me.  I don't think they realised what they were missing,  the Red Squirrel in what was left of Garadhban, the cheery  bird song and the distinctive Cuckoo and Woodpecker  are just a few of things that make it special for me.

I carried my camera and made them stop on Conic hill, with a view like that you can't just watch your feet!  
Thanks Helen for taking this one for me
Balmaha was busy with marshals working their socks off finding drop bags, after getting mine, I didn't stop but walked on shovelling in a rice pudding, I wanted to finish it before passing the bucket at the side of the road before going up the hill so I didn't have to carry a sticky plastic spoon and carton to Rowardennan.   Pauline and Sue were soon back with me but we'd lost Robin, he takes  a bit longer at checkpoints.  (Robin, learn to walk and faff!)

Dawn joined us along to Rowardennan, and was happy to stop for a photo on one of the wee steep  hills, I am very persuasive though. "Do you lot want a butt shot or do you want to turn round and smile!"  I did take a few butt shots but no close ups! more photos here

As we approached Rowardennen we were warned there was a fallen runner  just ahead, I envisaged someone sitting  tending to a bloody knee or the like but it was a shock to see Ellen lying on the path covered in survival blankets, we stopped to see if there was anything we could do, she had a paramedic and friends with her so there was nothing else we could do but it felt wrong to leave her.  (Ellen, wishing you a speedy recovery, hope the broken arm/shoulder heals quickly xx)

At Rowardennen I was again the first of us out of the checkpoint, I stuffed my drop bag goodies into my backpack and walked up the wide track glugging down my Yazzo banana milkshake, Pauline and Sue took a little longer topping up on some water.  It wasn't long until Dawn was back with us too, maybe I shouldn't have been so quick, I think I left my bag of Mini Cheddars lying on the ground, but Sue being the generous soul she is shared hers when I was disappointed I didn't have mine.

Once the path narrows I love the way it flows with all the ups and downs,  running with the flow I always feel good here, I think the constant change of stride and pace keep the legs fresh, I dropped behind the others a bit after stopping for a pee, kinda tricky to find a secluded spot without climbing the hill or dropping into the loch also timing it without the youngsters in the 8.00am start and the relay at the 9.00am start hurtling past! Luckily I managed without being caught with my bahooky hanging out, also wearing a wee kilt does offer a little modesty if I was.

After the Inversnaid checkpoint we were back together, I don't eat or drink much after Inversnaid with having to hang on to the trees and boulders, my short stekky legs and creaky knees  were going cautiously along , I think there has been a lot of erosion since the last time I was along it.  I was pleased to see the flat grassy bit and celebrated with my dinky 150ml can of coke. 

We stopped at Dario's post, my racing hip flask was shared among us and as we left the sun blinked through the clouds and shone brighter than before.

At the Beinglas checkpoint I was pleased to see we were well within the cut off and after picking up my goodies from my drop bag I walked up the path drinking my Slimfast milkshake, another runner was looking at his sandwich and said he couldn't face it and it was going to be bird food, I offered him the rest of my Slimfast but he didn't fancy that either, he was still travelling well though and disappeared over the hill
It was just after Beinglas, Pauline, Sue and I had decided that since we've come this far together we might as well finish together.  Next thing I knew I'd caught my toe and down I went with quite a clump, my first thought was "Mick Jagger!" I instantly felt a fat lip! I started to get up, Pauline encouraged me to stay down until I gathered myself but I felt ok, apart from spitting mud, "yuk!", I was crunching grit between my  teeth, then thought actually that's a good sign, my front teeth are still there.  I looked at Pauline and asked "Am I bleeding?"  The smidgen of laugher in Pauline's voice spoke louder than her words " Yeah, try not to drip on your white t-shirt."  I can't be that bad then.  Sue handed me a wee pack of anti-septic wet wipes, (sorry Sue, I used them all), I found quite a few stingy bits on my nose, lip and chin.  But apart from that nothing else was damaged, legs fine and no holes in my Skins, camera pouch was a bit dusty and my hip flask which was clipped to the chest strap has a few scratches but luckily nothing to stop me running.  It didn't take too long until I was back in my stride.  I was still moving well, my legs felt supple and strong. 

We picking a careful path through coo poo alley, and moved well on the rollercoaster.  After crossing the road Pauline put her race head on, looked at her watch, and said it's close but we might finish under 13 hours.  She was pulling away, Sue and I followed putting in a good effort, it was the plan but I had a wee conspiratorial whisper to Sue "I don't think we're going to get under 13 hours, are you worried?"   She wasn't, that's a relief, but we weren't slacking,  Pauline was feeding us chocolate coated coffee beans, and I was breathing hard.  I heard the piper, we were nearly there.  
photo from Muriel Downie
We finished together in a row of grinning Cheshire cats in 13hrs 3mins.  Pauline was happy to lay the blame of failing to finish under 13 hours on me stopping for a lie down, that's ok, I can live with that, it was a brilliant day and mashing my moosh wasn't going to take the shine off.