Sunday, 4 May 2014

A Perfect Fling

I enjoying reading the nerves and excitement building on the Fling’s facebook page especially in the last few days before the race, on Friday night after all my gear was sorted I was starting to feel emotional.  Was I fit enough? This was going to be a big test.  Apart from three runs, Drymen to Balmaha and back, Balmaha to Rowardennan and back and Derrydarroch to Inversnaid and back, I haven’t been on the Way since the 2012 WHW race. But no matter how hard it was going to be, it was still going to be a lot easier than what I was doing this time last year.  (Two weeks into a six week course of chemo and radio after major surgery to remove a tumour along with two thirds of my tongue.) 

I was in bed by 9.00pm and slept fairly well waking two minutes before my alarm set for 2.50am went off. I had my porridge and dressed in my race clothes that I’d laid out on Friday but after hearing the wind and rain lashing the window I added another thermal long sleeved top.  Ken and Sue had picked up Pauline and were at my door for 4.00am. On the drive over to Milngavie the sky slowly lightened and the rain eased, when we got out the car I was surprising to see the rain had stopped; the forecast was for rain all day.  We registered, handed in drop bags and kit bags, and had hugs a plenty except for Johnny Fling, he was in blue arsed fly mode, a very organised and focussed blue arsed fly, we’ll hug him later.

Waiting to start is always the hard part, I was chittering and shaking like an old washing machine despite two long sleeved tops under my vest but I knew once I got going I would warm up.  John gave the briefing and a few minutes later we were off.
Before the start
Briefing - photo from Yi Zhang
At last, I’m back where I belong and I just knew I was going to love every moment, my game plan was to run WHW race pace, keep the effort easy and have a run that would reassure me that I’d make the Auchtertyre cut off in the WHW race.

The last time I ran the Fling was in 2012 and the start was staggered, but this time with everyone going off together I was amazed by the amount of runners there were but I never felt crowded and I was glad that I didn’t have to keep an eye over my shoulder for the fast guys coming past.  We had only been going for about fifteen minutes and folk were stopping to remove jackets,  I was at last starting to warm up, glad I braved the cold before the off, I like to keep moving and don’t stop at all.

Just after the Carbeth Huts I heard music and loved that someone was willing to get up at a daft hour on a Saturday morning to play her fiddle as we went by.  Along the path of a thousand gates I was pleased to see that there were a few marshals by some, holding them open as we went through also one runner taking a sneaky wee breather holding the gate open for me, I was a good few paces behind him, ok, I better keep up if he was going to be a gentleman!  I was happy to see the path wasn’t as wet underfoot as I thought it might’ve been, I had stuck with my decision to wear road shoes although with all the rain that had fallen I did have a wee swither about wearing trail ones but they were new and untested, my road ones were new too but I’d covered over forty odd miles in them supporting Ally K a fortnight ago during his 125 mile Run round Skye  in the wettest conditions I’ve ever had, and they’re hardly formula one racing slicks so I knew they’d be fine.

At Drymen I was rocked back on my heels by how loud the cheering was, a wee hug for Ada (she’s not as scary as she sounds) and I was heading up the path towards Garadhban Forest or more correctly Garadhban Stumps, I was looking for a good spot to pee without having to traipse too far off the path and eventually found a spot not far from the big gate before heading onto the open ground and up to Conic hill.  I knew where Conic hill was but it was nowhere to be seen, the mist and cloud kept it hidden but as we climbed the sky slowly cleared and at the top we were gifted a view up the loch that the racing snakes at the front would’ve missed out on.

My token gesture for the drop bag competition was to sellotape laminated pictures of Lancasters and Spitfires to my ziplock food bag inspired by my race number 633, I arrived to see Davie holding my bag singing the theme tune for The Dambusters, think I did the aeroplane thing with my arms. A hug for Davie, swapped my 330ml water bottle, stashed a couple of sweeties and drank my Weetabix on the go milkshake as I carried on along the path, I had to stand for a few seconds at the big red Fling bin as I drained the last of my milkshake so I didn’t have to carry the empty bottle to the next checkpoint. 

I love the section between Balmaha and Rowardennan but I think I’ve got a bit of a Bruce Forsyth syndrome going on, it doesn’t matter what part of the WHW I’m on I think You’re my favourite!
Edinburgh Sports Photography
Although I’d warmed up not long after the start, I have a wee saying - Ne’er cast a cloot ‘til Conic’s oot.  As the morning wore on I felt it warm up, I was not long past Millarochy and had taken off my gloves, peaked Buff and pushed up my sleeves but I was starting to get too warm, I was going to have to take off one of my long sleeved tops and that meant I had to do the S-T-O-P thing!!!!  Ok, but only when it’s really necessary! I hung my backpack on a WHW post, took off my vest, my thick top and jammed it in my bag then got my vest and bag back on just in time to join a group coming along. A little further on I laughed when Robin said “Choof-choof , choof-choof, choof-choof, whoo-whooooo!  We’ve got a fine train going here”.  Sure enough, we had a nice wee group working together with some great blether.

At Rowardennan I was ready for the mega decibels of support, picked up my drop bag, swapped my water bottle, popped my sweeties and a 150ml can of coke into the other bottle pouch which meant I had to move my camera in the tighter pocket which is a bit of a faff to get it in and out so I didn’t take many more photos, again I had to stand by the big red Fling bin briefly as I shovelled in the last couple of spoonfuls of custard so I could ditch the pot. 

Once up and over the long climb out of Rowardennan the path narrows and swoops back down near the water, I thought This is over halfway and I’m still moving well! I had my dinky can of coke and revelled in the way this section flows, with wee climbs, descents, a promise of the technical stuff to come but with some lovely runnable paths too, Inversnaid arrived like a surprise, I never noticed it get closer until I was there, the waterfall was spectacular after the rain.  A great bunch of smiling marshals were on hand to help, Simon handed me my dropbag,
photo from Sandra
Sandra hugged me and took a photo, John asked how I was, I think the word brilliant was used in my answer. Again I swapped my water bottle, took my sweeties, ditched my empty coke can and opened my Yazoo banana milkshake as I set off towards the hands on section, I was  half way through eating a Flump before I had to tuck it away, hanging on to trees and boulders was more important than eating, a few times folk would catch me up, I’d ask if they wanted by, some did, but Viki and Yi were happy to stay at my pace, Running Gannet joined us  and a few more, we had a nice little train going again, occasionally folks wanted past and it was no problem pulling into a “siding” to let the express through. I must say the courtesy from all runners and walkers was excellent.  We all reached the flat grassy bit unscathed and I got to finish my Flump!

I left our train at Dario’s post, racing or training I always pause to share a wee Malt with him, Running Gannet joined me in raising my hipflask, it was filled with Talisker this time.  After my sip I waited for the whisky to take my head off, my mouth is still very sensitive from the treatment although it is improving, but I just got that warm glow, a soulless scientist would say it was just the endorphins coursing round my body, I believe it was more the magic of the West Highland Way and the company of an Angel.

At Beinglas I checked my watch against a wee card I had in a pocket, my split for the 2012 race was 9hrs 56mins, I was not too far off in 10hrs 07mins, I was very pleased.  Once more I swapped my water bottle, stashed another dinky can of coke and a couple of sweeties in my bag and shovelled some custard in before headed up the hill.

The last section has some sneaky wee hills and some not so wee, I needed my hands on my thighs to get up some of them. I felt tied now, it’s hard to distinguish whether I was tired from covering forty odd miles or if it is still the fatigue from my treatment, my quads are still regaining their strength but I’m getting there.  I picked my way along Coo poo alley, walking most of it, I didn’t want to waste energy or risk catching my toe and face planting in the shit. The wind was picking up a bit and I was starting to feel a bit cold, I pulled my sleeves back down, put on my gloves, I had my peaked Buff on already, (Viki had got it out my bag for me earlier without us having to break stride during a wee shower heading up towards Doune Bothy, great team work, thanks Viks). 

After going through the big fence and up onto the rollercoaster the climbs are tough but the incentive to keep a good effort was to try and warm up and the quicker I moved the sooner I would finish.  I drank my coke, and found a spot to pee, I thought I better make use of the forest facilities before crossing the road and onto the tarmac up to Auchtertyre. 

A couple of guys I’d caught up to before crossing the road had asked for confirmation that it was only two miles to go, I was sorry to disappoint them that it was a wee bit further.  I had planned to eat another Flump on the road by Auchtertyre but I was breathing a bit harder and decided I’d be fine; I’d rather have soup when I finished than faff about choking on a sweet!  I just wanted to finish now, I didn’t have to kill myself pushing hard, my mission was accomplished, I was well within the WHW race cut offs, I’d caught up with Maja, this was her first Fling, she said it had been a battle and was asking me how much further, I reassured her with the immortal words, “Not far now!” we stayed together to the finish, I waved a thank you to the Piper, round the corner and our moment of glory along the red carpet.
photo from Stuart Macfarlane
I crossed the line and Ellen gave me my medal and a hug, I held on until my emotion was under control, this was so much more than a fifty-three mile race. More hugs and congratulations,
with Ada-  photo from Charles
with Charles
Mel was concerned I looked a bit pale but I felt ok, I just needed some soup, which I enjoyed standing in front of the big fan heater.
Enjoying the warmth from the big fan heater, with RG doing a bit of a Marilyn Monroe
I couldn’t be bothered waiting in the queue for a shower so I just stood behind the bins and got changed, I needed Lorna’s assistance to drag my Skins off, it was quite an effort as they were hanging on to my ankles!  
I had a giggle as Pauline told me about her race, she had bashed her head on a branch along the Loch side, knocking herself off balance and ended up clinging on to tree to stop herself falling into the Loch, scraping and bruising the skin on her arm, then having another go at knocking some sense into her bonce at the Crack Yer Heid tunnel.  You’d think with her experience she’d know how far to duck down! 

Sue and Robin finished more or less together with Sue managing a killer sprint. 
photo from Fiona Morrison
After she had a quick change we headed back down the road, by 11.00pm I was showered, in my jammies drinking my race beer with a plate of Macaroni Cheese, replaying the day in my mind, I don’t think the smile left my face all day… a wee confession, there were a few tears on the rollercoaster, the thought of running the West Highland Way race has kept my head up this past year and Fling has proved it possible, a great boost to my confidence, I now have no doubt about being timed out on the West Highland Way race and if I get to Tyndrum I will get to Fort William, it won’t be easy, my physical strength is not 100% but I know how to work with what I’ve got.

I haven’t drunk my Prosecco yet, I think it needs a very special glass and I’ll wait a few more weeks to have it, my tenth Goblet will do it justice.