Hoka Highland Fling 2015

Hoka Highland Fling 2015 – 25th April 2015

Friday night was quite a sleepless night, mainly due to excitement and some other reasons playing in the back of my mind.

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We got picked up at 5am by Rob and Steph and went off to a very busy Tesco carpark in Milngavie at 5.20am. A short walk to the start area at the train station and I was feeling ready to get going now. I loaded my 2 drop bags, 1 for Inversaid as there was no support crew access and 1 for Balmaha purely to enter the drop bag competition. We chatted to some friends at the start, John Lai, Chen, Sean, Andrew, Libby, and Lynne for a while before it was time to get going into starting position. Ready for Ultra marathon #3 and longest distance race to date!

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All ready the night before

There were 3 start waves this year, separated into sub 10 hours, 10-12 hours, and 12+. I stood at the front of 12+ hours because I knew by standing further up I would be sucked into a faster race and not enjoy the course fully for what it is. As our wave toed the line listening to ‘Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond’, I found myself at the front!

My plan for being at the front is that I could run at my own pace, not getting stuck in the bottle necks for the first few miles of busy trails, before I caught up the 10-12 hour wave who started a few minutes ahead. As the gun went I ran ran up the steps through Milngavie main street first, like a king leading his army into battle (maybe not that dramatic)….

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Milngavie to Drymen (0 to 12 miles)

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Boggy before Drymen

The first section through Mugdock Park is really nice, it was still raining but not as heavy as it was at 5am. I got speaking to a guy who is a fan of the Ginger Runner and doing Transvulcania this year, Ashok. At 5 miles in there was a violin player which was a welcomed surprise to see. After Dumgoyne the route got boring pretty quickly with the dreaded road section leading into Drymen from Gartness. I tried to take on some milk bottles but nothing seemed appealing and I wasn’t hungry yet, so trudged on sipping away at my water. I got into Drymen in 2 hours 4 minutes which was ahead of my schedule, my calf was really tight and when I saw my lovely support crew waiting to see me, I gave Vicky my waterproof jacket and asked if I can have a sandwich and a tiger tail (rolling pin) to massage my calf out at Balmaha.

Drymen to Balmaha (12 to 20 miles)

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Approaching Conic Hill
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Top of Conic Hill

I love this section of the Way, and it’s all down to the views. Considering there was almost 1000 people who had signed up for this race, the trails were surprisingly quiet! I ate a handful of Randoms and some milk bottles on the climb up conic hill. The view at the top was simply stunning as the sun was out. I took a moment to enjoy the view before making a speedy descent.
One thing I love most about this route is how fast you can go on the descent, I was cautious not to trash my quads but I ran down the hill really fast, in hindsight that was a really bad idea.

When I arrived in Balmaha I got told that I won the drop bag competition and posed for a photo. I eventually got to see my support crew. Vicky, Rob and Steph were great in making sure to re-fill my bladder, re-packing my pack, giving me food and asking me how I was feeling. I took my shoes off to shake the stones out, ate half a jam sandwich and ran out of the checkpoint in a quick turnaround.

Won the drop bag competition


Balmaha to Rowardennan (20 to 27 miles)

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Just out of Balmaha

This section offers fantastic views of  Loch Lomond, and I was singing the song in my head too as I approached the Loch and ran along the beach. I stopped in Milarrochy to use the bathroom which turned out to be a false alarm, ate 3 Cliff Shot Bloks too here.
The steep climb before Rowardennan was a killer!! It was never ending but gave me a good chance to try and eat the second half of a jam sandwich which wasn’t appealing now either. The route here is quite undulating and personally I had found this part of the race pretty lonely, having only spoken to one person so far I think this led to me struggling. When I first saw the log cabins at Rowardennan I increased my pace so i could see my support sooner, have a seat and massage my calf some more. During this section I felt like crap, I’m not sure of the reason but I think it’s down to not taking enough calories in the first 27 miles. I wanted to stop at Rowardennan but thankfully didn’t.

I got into the Checkpoint in 5 hours 13 minutes in a bad way. When I arrived into the Checkpoint I was insisting I sit down straight away. I sat down and spoke to the guys, they were really encouraging. Rob was threatening to hit me with the tiger tail if I stopped there. I really didn’t want to let them down, or everyone who had offered support on Facebook, and wondered if I’d still get the Scottish Hamper for pulling out here. I sat for half an hour, spoke to Gordon and told him my calf was sore but manageable (no cramps), then Sean the tail runner/sweeper and said I’ll be running with him if I do carry on for a 15 hour finish. I’ve never experienced the urge to quit so much before!!! They forced me to eat some food here, I had 500ml of Electrolyte, Ritz crackers, half of a cliff bar and a Peperami. My bladder was refilled, my pack was re-packed and I was finally on my way out of the Checkpoint after visiting the bathroom (another false alarm).

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Shores of Loch Lomond

Rowardennan to Inversnaid (27 to 34 miles)

I finished the remaining Cliff Shot Bloks in my pack and bumped into a guy I met at the training weekend from Edinburgh, Neil. We ran together and chatted a lot, it was nice to see a familiar face along the route at this point too as a real pick me up, and the miles were just flying by. The route to Inversnaid was quite uneventful because of the long slog uphill along the small forest road. As the trail gets narrower and more technical there was a build up of runners here like a bottleneck but we managed to get by them as most of them were polite and stood aside to let you pass. The sun was shining and I was quite excited to get into Inversnaid to get that Checkpoint out the way ready for the hardest section which was yet to come. I didn’t fall down the stairs this time which was a huge relief haha!

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Finally arrived at Inversnaid

When we got to Inversnaid I collected my drop bag along with Neil and we just sat in the sun eating food. I took half a chia charge bar and 2 Peperami’s here along with some more electrolyte, it was nice to relax and just think about how different I was feeling now compared to Rowardennan, the sun was shining on the mountains across Loch Lomond so it was nice to take it all in. 10 minutes later we were off again ready to tackle the infamous Lochside section.

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Relaxing in the sun with Neil

Inversnaid to Beinglas (34 to 41 miles)

By far the hardest section of this race, but the most rewarding and fun. For around 4 miles its technical single track with lots of scrambling up and down rocks and tree roots. We sunk into a rhythm following other runners of the same pace, I was chatting to a guy about the Avengers at one point. It’s also worth mentioning the body of a dead goat which had been here for months, had now vanished! I saw no goats at all but maybe the 400 people in front of my had scared them off for the day. This is a good section to eat so I finished my Chai bar and had some more Randoms. The ground can be quite tricky if you don’t keep a sharp lookout for places to trip and I only managed to go over on my ankle twice but that’s my own fault for being clumsy.

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Bothy just after Lochside

Mind you I passed a relay runner who was panicking because she had sprained her ankle, I said there was only about 10 minutes left of trail (which turned out to be a lie, oops). After Doune Bothy it opens up again to give you spectacular views of the top of Loch Lomond before another tough short climb around Cnap Mor at ‘Darios Post’. My watch flashed low battery at this point at 9 hours so I thought best wait until I hit the 40 mile mark to turn it off and turn the spare one on, I had taken Vickys watch at Rowardennan just incase of this happening. For the first 40 miles my average HR was lower than my expected 155bpm and only at 139bpm. It seemed to take about 5 minutes to get signal for the new watch but I just waited in the sun and Neil caught up to me. The final mile or so was nice winding downhill into Beinglas Farm Checkpoint. I ran past the timing mat in 9 hours 26 minutes. This was my longest time I’d spent on my feet in a day and the longest I’d ever ran by over 7 miles. I felt great, and my support crew were fantastic as they had been all day. I had planned to come into Beinglas in a really bad way after the Lochside section but my spirits were lifted and I was happy to be almost finished now. I took a seat in the camping chair they had laid out for me. I had a choice now:

  • Chase sub 12 hour
  • Screw time, enjoy the rest of the course, relax here and take photos along the way.

My decision was made then I sat in the chair and Vicky began to comb my hair while I drank some more electrolyte and ate half of a Cliff bar. My crew changed out my bladder for 500ml electrolyte and 500ml of flat coke. Once again I sat for about 10 minutes chatting to Rob, Steph and Vicky before heading out for the final section with Neil.

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Getting a comb

Beinglas to Finish (41 to 53 miles)

Because there was only a half marathon distance left so it didn’t seem impossible. I really took my time going up the hills along with all the other runners in this area. I got passed by 3 relay runners and I had left Neil a few miles after Beinglas. There was some cows and calves at mile 43 laid down just off the path, maybe that was a sign of things to come!
I crossed under the A82 through the tiny tunnel and it was full of mud and poo. A little later I was expecting to see loads of cows but there was none! Cow Poo Alley was dry too so it wasn’t a slog either. I did struggle on this section due to the stones and uneven terrain making sure to take it easy because I wanted to go fast for the last mile. I’d already drank the electrolyte and was worried I wouldn’t have enough fluid to last me until the road crossing where I would see my crew again for the final boost of support. I sipped away at the coke always conscious of how much was left, it was a total lifesaver!

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Beautiful views at the top of the Rollercoaster

At the top of Crianlarich Woods I felt surprisingly good. I stopped to take some photos and had some more coke then I bombed it down the downhill feeling as fresh as a daisy. There were only 5 miles left in the race and I wanted to finish strong and good, so I ran the downhill hard passing people here. I met my crew at the bottom A82 road crossing, stopping for a minute to get my bottles refilled with water and empty out most of the crap in my pack for the finish. There were some lambs in the field up ahead and I really wanted a photo of them but never bothered. I continued to pass more people feeling really strong here, my overall split shows I passed 32 people which was all from the top of the Rollercoaster to the finish (5 miles). I ran all the up hills now thinking about the finish and imagining running down the red carpet, getting a seat and a drink

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To be totally honest I imagined finally getting a decent finish line photo where I don’t look like a complete idiot! The final 500 metres was glorious, the bag piper was brilliant. Just as I got into By The Way campsite I passed 3 runners seconds before the finish straight, I sprinted down the end so fast smiling and high fiving all the kids, the crowd were so loud. Looking back at my time here I was doing under 6 minute a mile past for the final straight, I was looking out for Vicky at the very finish and by doing so I tripped and the cheering crowd went from WOOOs to OWWWs, I fell and slid across the timing mat carpet and gave myself a lovely carpet burn on my left knee haha. It was very embarrassing but I got my medal, a water and sat waiting for the support crew to arrive. I told them at the road crossing the final 5km will take me 45 minutes so they hadn’t even arrived yet because I came in ahead of schedule.

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Flying… Sort of

I couldn’t have done it without the 3 of them being there, it was what spurred me on to keep moving forward to the finish, without the thought of seeing them at Checkpoints I might have pulled out at Rowardennan.
The finish area was great, I went in to get my T shirt, goody bag and a beer, the goody bag had some Fling branded Processo, a buff and a car sticker. I got some lentil soup and a roll, but passed on the baked potatos and ice cream. The drop bag prize was my burning desire so we went to Race HQ Tent and spoke to Sarah who sorted us out. John came over to get photos with me and the bag on the podium and we chatted to Adrian from Run and Become about it all. There were 2 crates full of Scottish food and drink, most of the alcohol will be kept for our house when we buy one. Rob and Steph took it to the car while I waited in the queue for the portable shower, I spoke to Ashok who I met briefly in Mugdock Park, he had taken a pretty bad tumble near the end.

After a shower I was shivering so much so we decided to start heading back, speaking to Alan and Ross on the way out of the campsite. The drive back was great, we had 80’s music on, I got to sit in the front and we stopped at a Brewsters in Dumbarton for some dinner. Vicky treated me which was really nice, we got back home at about 10.30pm and Vicky’s mum had to help up upstairs with all the spoils from the day.

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Accepting the prize

Fantastic race, really well organised and stunning scenery. A great crowd of runners who I would gladly run along with again as I really like the whole community of Scottish Ultra Runners, everyone is so nice and supportive. At Rowardennan I said I would never do it again unless Vicky does it too and I’d stay with her, but having thought of it, I would do it again one day – definitely.

Learning’s

  • To take food more frequently
  • To take electrolytes and coke earlier on in the race
  • To listen to music – It would have helped on the quiet sections
  • To run with people I know
  • Need a better training plan with more hills and speed work involved to become overall a faster and more efficient runner.

Thought’s

  • I used same pair of road shoes for entire run which turned out to be a good decision
  • I ran the first 40 miles by feel and kept Heart Rate under 155bpm at 139bpm

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