Yesterday was the 3rd Highland Fling, a 53 mile race along the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Tyndrum. The records show that I came in 28th from 104 finishers, in a personal best time of 10 hours 28 minutes and 30 seconds. A more detailed account of the race is given below.
I han't been feeling good all week, and had been really busy at work. So it was a bit of a relief to get up at 3.15am on Saturday morning and feel a lot better. I had a breakfast of macaroni and wholemeal toast (the night before's leftovers), had a final check of my bags which I had packed the night before, and then headed out at 4.10am to be picked up by Phil, Liz and Duncan.
We arrived at Mingavie at around 5.15am, and it felt like a running reunion - I seemed to know just about everyone there. After chatting to a number of friends I had a quick Muller rice, a visit to the nearby Tesco toilets, listened to the race briefing, and then we all made our way to the start under the bridge beside the station. I stood quite near the front, a couple of rows back from Jez, Lucy and the other speed merchants. John K was trying to hide a bit further back. Right on the stoke of 6am past winner Debbie Cox blew the starter's whistle, and we were on our way.
Section 1: Milngavie to Balmaha
I set off at what I thought was a comfortable pace, but all my time checks suggested it was fast: Carbeth in 33 minutes (normally 36 - 38 minutes), and the Beech Tree in just under the hour (normally 1.05 to 1.10). It therefore was no great suprise to get to Drymen and find the time a quite ridiculously fast 1 hour 43 minutes. Despite the steamy pace I felt fine, so headed on towards Conic Hill and Balmaha with no great worries. Conic Hill was miserable - Murdo M was at the top with a St Andrews Cross, absolutely soaking - but I descended reasonably well (at least reasonably well for me, given my hill descents have been compared to those of a big girl's blouse) and arrived at Balmaha in a time of 3 hours 3 minutes. Last year I reached Balmaha in 3 hours 10 minutes, and thought that was quick: this year was even faster. I just hoped it wouldn't cause problems later on. I was so far ahead of schedule that allybea almost didn't make it in time, arriving at Balmaha just a few minutes ahead of me. I stopped for a quick cup of soup and a visit to the toilet, and I was on my way again.
Section 2 - Balmaha to Rowardennan
Devil O' The Highlands record holder John Kennedy had been out for a training run, had met up with us a few miles before Drymen, and had waited for me as we left Balmaha. I ended up running with John all the way to Beinglas Farm. It was good to have his company. This section was uneventful - my watch showed it took me 1 hour 31 minutes from Balmaha to Rowardennan(total time 4 hours 37 minutes), but although that may sound a bit slow it did include a few minutes in the toilet at Balmaha. I met allybea at the Rowardennan car park, had a quick 5 minute break for some more soup, then headed off.
Section 3 - Rowardennan to Inversnaid and Section 4 - Inversnaid to Beinglas Farm
Not really a lot to say about either of these sections. I felt quite good on the way up to Inversnaid, and arrived there in 1 hour 23 minutes (total time 6 hours 5 minutes). I was still a full 8 minutes ahead of my previous best time. A quick stop for some cold beans and Lucozade sport, then on to the wet and slippy section up Loch Lomondside. This is never my best bit but I just worked away at my normal pace, arriving at Beinglas Farm in 7 hours 45 minutes. It is fair to say I was a bit grumpy here, and was not at my most civil with my long-suffering backup team. In my defence I was probably starting to feel a bit tired.
Section 5 - Beinglas Farm to Tyndrum
My grumpiness lasted for about 15 minutes after leaving Beinglas, before the food began to kick in and gave me the boost I needed. By the time I reached Derrydarroch Farm I had cheered up and was going quite well again, and I met allybea just at the point where the WHW goes under the A82. I grabbed some more soup and took my back-pack for the first time, so I could carry a bit more food for the final section. I've had problems in the past with cramp in this section, so wanted to be sure I had plenty of food in case it was needed.
As I was running along the filthy, muddy section just before Crianlarich, I tripped and fell. What a bummer. Not only did I cut my hand, but I landed in one of the muddiest section of the entire West Highland Way - in fact possibly one of the muddiest in the whole of Scotland - a piece of land where cows regularly trample and where the local farmer is rumoured to drive his quadbike to make it as unpleasant as possible for walkers or runners. I was filthy but fortunately did no damage to my legs. A quick wash in a nearby stream and I was on my way again.
I continued reasonably well up, over and down the hills around Crianlarich, and reached the A82 again after 9 hours 45 minutes. I was looking good for sub 10 and a half hours. I felt fine as I passed Auchtertrye Farm, but with only a few miles to go I began to feel the onset of cramp. My solution was to throw a combination of chocolate milk, ready salted crisps and jelly babies down my throat, perhaps not the best combination when your stomach is not at its best after running 51 miles. It was no great surprise when the whole lot made an unwelcome re-appearance a few minutes later, and I was left to walk/jog into Tyndrum trying to keep the cramp at bay. I just about managed, although it did cost me quite a bit of time, and I arrived at Tyndrum in a time of 10 hours 28 minutes and 30 seconds.
I was quite pleased with my run and with my time. It was faster than last year, and I felt I had quite a bit left in the tank when I got to the finish - or at least I would have had a bit more left in the tank once I had eaten some more soup, which would have stopped my legs cramping. All in all I had a relatively comfortable run - if you can be comfortable after running 53 miles - in what were fairly pleasant running conditions. Bring on the full WHW race on 21 June!
However I do have to be honest and admit that my time looks very pedestrian compared to some of the incredible results achieved yesterday. Thomas, Hugh, Phil, John, Brian and Davie all came in under the 10 hour mark - outstanding performances from each of them. Tim finished in a fantastic 10 hours 47 minutes, and picked up the first supervet prize into the bargain. Ellen not only organised the race with Murdo, but finished in an excellent 11 hours 51 minutes. Incredible perfomances all round.
Finally, a word of thanks to Murdo, Ellen and everyone else involved in the organisation of the event. I thought everything about the race was first class. Putting on a race of this nature for around 150 people is no small task, and it is a great credit to everyone involved that it all went so well.