Friday, 1 May 2015

Hoka Highland Fling 2015

Friday night saw me in bed at the back of 8.30pm with my book and a mug of Horlicks, after an hour’s reading it was lights out and I’d managed to sleep fine until my alarm went off at 2.50, plenty time to eat a huge bowl of porridge with banana and blueberries and a mug of coffee before Pauline picked me up at 3.45am, she was disappointed not to be running, her back has been giving her problems although it was improving, it wasn’t recovering fast enough for a 53 mile run so on Wednesday she offered her services as a marshal and still enjoyed her day.

We were in Milngavie just before 5.00am, let the hug fest begin! First one with Sarah Self at registration, (aren’t you looking fabulous).  More hugs handing in my drop bags, then a final decision on what to wear for the start, all week I’d had my fingers in my ears, singing la la la at any mention of the grim weather reports. As the sky lightened, it was raining but not too heavily it wasn’t too cold or windy, so I’d be brave and start wearing one long sleeved top, vest, arm-warmers, Buff, gloves and peaked Buff, I’d carry another t-shirt and rain-jacket, there was no dithering on what I’d wear on my bottom half, it was always going to be long tights and kilt.

More hugs, but with there being around 700 runners starting the full race there were a lot of folks I didn’t get to see, I was at the back for John’s race briefing so couldn’t hear a word, but I’d read the race information and knew the rules, hopefully there was no last minute changes. 

A photo shoot out with Graeme Hewitson
The race started in three waves from 6.00am, we were penned and moved forward two minutes apart, it was chip timed so there was no need to gallop off and create a bottleneck, I started in the last pen, and we were soon heading under the tunnel and along Milngavie’s main street, this is my fourth Fling but I still giggle at the novelty of doing Mugdock in daylight!

It was great to see the fiddler was back this year; I really appreciate the support at such a daft time in the morning.  The rain had stopped and looking north Conic hill had a sharp profile and the sky clear, we were going to be guaranteed stunning views up the loch.

On the road after the path of a thousand gates I spied Ally K and Alasdair ahead and tried to sneak up on them but Ally saw me and waited for me to catch up, it was lovely to run a few miles with you guys. Pauline was marshalling at Garadhban and took a bin bag in case anyone wanted to offload their rubbish, she did a fine job and if the cooncil is headhunting she’ll consider any offers as long as she gets a brush!

Conic was a bit chilly but views were spectacular, photos don’t do it justice but you can get the gist. 
Great company and scenery, what more can you ask for!

photo from Graeme Hewiston

I took it gently down to Balmaha, I know the stone steps aren’t popular but you’ve just got to accept change and there’s been a lot in recent years, if it helps reduce erosion, with more folk being on the WHW I’m happy they can enjoy being there without damaging it.  

First things first arriving at the checkpoint, a Big Davie hug before finding my drop bag. I’d bought a pack of 330ml water bottles and put one in each of my drop bags so I just had to swap them over, it just saved time faffing about filling up, then I walked up the path wearing as much of my Weetabix milkshake as I was drinking, 

Pauline was helping here now and walked with me until I’d finished it and took my rubbish. Heading up to Craigie Fort I took off the arm-warmers and gloves and pushed my sleeves up, it was going to be a cracking day! I love the section between Balmaha and Rowardennan, the way the path flows up and down through the trees, the sound of birds, I heard cuckoos and a woodpecker in the woods, I didn’t stop for a photo of the tree at Milarochy
here's one I prepared earlier (from the WHW training run in January)
 A relay runner went by saying she was told this bit was fairly flat, oops! I was in a wee group not far from Rowardennan and someone asked how far away we were, err… I knew exactly where I was and what was ahead but I don’t do the WHW by numbers, I think WHW miles are a bit Tardis like and can’t be measured by standard units, you’ve just got to go with the flow.

I can run for longer than my Garmin so there was no point wearing it, I just had on my old Timex Ironman which I didn’t look at until Beinglas but I have been sucked into the geeky thing called Strava, I do like the ziggy-zaggy profiles it does, so before the race I downloaded the app to my phone (Oowww, get me with the geek speak) I’d no idea if it would work or if I did it right, so just switched it on about ten minutes before the start, put my phone in a waterproof bag and tucked it away in my bag, only to switch it off after I’d finished and was getting changed and was happy to see I’d got it when I sussed it out on Sunday.
Fling Profile
There were a few hold ups behind walkers but I wasn’t stressing the wee delays, they are as entitled to the delights of the WHW as we are and I was glad to see they were happy and wished us all the best when we went by, as they’d already been passed by over six-hundred runners, proof the fast guys chasing times and positions must have remained polite and courteous. 

At Rowardennen I paused briefly to hug the MacPirates and Angela, I hadn’t seen them at the start, downed a Yazoo milkshake and pocketed my custard, I’d put into a squeezy pouch so could take my time with it.  Once up the long haul of the wide forest track the path narrows, swoops and climbs I love the way it flows and I had Audrey for company for most of the lochside, I enjoyed the warmth of the sun and even took off my peaked Buff.

It was brilliant to see the party of walkers and their guides heading towards Inversnaid, not the easiest section, I felt so pleased for them that they were not letting a visual impairment hold them back!

At Inversnaid, I swapped my water bottle again, picked up another pouch of custard and guzzled a wee dinky can of coke and left with the minimum of faffing.  At one of the big bouldery scrambly bits there was a walker having a bit of a dither trying to get up, I stood patiently behind her, she was shorter than me and fairly sturdily built, her wee legs couldn’t reach, so I suggested that I go first then give her a hand. Up I went, turned and held out my hand and then cringed, I just remember it was all sticky, why is the last mouthful of a can of coke more than the size of your gob, I forgot I wiped the sticky slavers from my chin, but she didn’t squeal “Eeeww” just thanked me after I gave her a wee pull up.

I always take it nice and easy along from Inversnaid to the top of the loch, my running legs get a rest and my muscles get a stretch out and they are good to go once back on easier going ground.  The terrain starts to climb gently before the steep wee pull up to Dario’s post, but I don’t find it hard, I’m pulled up by the thought of spending a few moments with an old friend, he has the first wee drop of malt from my hip-flask then Audrey and I share a nip.  A smile is on my face and my emotion in my chest as I raise my wee flask.

We move on towards Beinglas. On the descent through the trees Audrey fell, it was quite a sair yin, she skint the heel of her hand and the fall triggered some cramp, but what a trooper, Audrey was back up in no time at all, apologising for hold us up, about fifty yards later, I caught my toe, but I was lucky enough just to do the fastest three yards of my race and remain upright!  I must have looked dodgy, Audrey saw me go and let out a wee gasp on my behalf!  We made it into Beinglas with no other hairy moments. 

At the checkpoint Matt helped me with my drop bag, swapping  my water bottle and taking my rubbish, I took another milkshake, a Slim-fast this time, but I didn’t guzzle it down, I took it with me and had  a few mouthfuls every once and a while.  I have really enjoyed my run to Beinglas, I felt good and strong having kept it at a comfortable pace, now time to give it a bit of welly, I looked at my watch for the first time, just over ten hours, hmm… if I could do the last twelve miles in just under three hours it would be a PB, but I wasn’t out for a do or die mission, my plan was to have an enjoyable strong run, up the effort at the end and be faster than last year and unless I had a major problem that was on the cards. I would work with the terrain, breathe a bit harder and take what time I’d get.

On the open path towards coo poo alley the wind picked up a bit and it cooled down, I pulled my sleeves down, I was surprised how dry it was under foot, it’s not often this good. At the big gate above Crianlarich there were a few folk waiting on their runners and someone said “Well done, five and a half miles to the finish!”  Really?  The numbers still surprising me, I know every climb and swoop of the rollercoaster and the road in and out of Auchtertyre, and then thought of a routine five miler I do at home, even with the climb in Culross there’s no comparison! Yep, WHW miles are Tardis miles!   I felt it getting really cold in the trees, my gloves and peaked Buff went back on. 

Bill stopped me at the road crossing; there was traffic… come on! I didn’t mind waiting for walkers but soulless metal boxes on wheels tested my patience. Once over, I ran every step to the gate beside the remains of St Fillan’s Priory, I walk bits of the gentle rise towards the Wigwams, the wind was strong but so was I, still maintaining the effort, past the Loch of the Lost Sword, through the big gate, I could hear the piper, then I could see him, round the corner and along the red carpet! Arms above my head! Woooohoooo!  Fan-flingin’-tastic! 

Eleven minutes outside my PB but seventeen minutes faster than last year, a good strong steady run with no problems at all, perfect preparation for this year’s West Highland Way Race.  

Here’s the numbers blurb from my race and if you really want a geeky peek all my training is on Strava.

Here's a link to the rest of the photos I took through the day. My Fling photos

The number of competitors in the Fling has increased, but the race has kept the warmth and camaraderie of a family looking out for each other, that starts with John and his dedicated team, the work and detail that goes into making the Fling a fantastic event is down to you and everyone willing to give up their day so a bunch of eejits can scamper to their hearts content in the most beautiful scenery around. Thank you all for giving me a perfect day out.