4:15am Ding Ding, time to get up for the Highland Fling.
Shower to wake up, get the kit on, porridge and banana down the hatch, grab the bags and head on out to Milngavie for the start of the best race ever.
Injuries had depleted the Maryhill contingent taking part in this year’s Fling with Andy, Linda and Lynsey all succumbing, leaving me as the sole representative for the Harriers. Last year the club achieved a podium finish in the relays after a great performance, so no pressure on what was my debut at the ultra-marathon distance.
Having a wee wander about at the start, I didn’t recognise any of the other runners but found a couple of pals who had come down to see me off (thanks Alison and Anna). I slotted myself into the sub 10 hours wave hoping for a sub 9 finish. Johnny Fling gave us our instructions, the weather gods seemed to be playing ball (for now) and we were off hurtling through Milngavie to the start of the West Highland Way.
53 miles to go, so I wasn’t planning on going out fast. No race to Drymen for this Harrier. I got a nice wee boost from Craig P, sporting his Harriers Hoodie, just as we were heading out into the countryside. Up the first wee steep hill and folk were already walking, I took to the side of the path and started making my way past some runners.
As we approached Craigallan Loch, the field was starting to spread out and I had my first peanut butter and jam 1/4 sandwich. I was slotted in with a pack of runners and after a glance at the watch I decided to up my pace and move up the pack. We were welcomed by the sounds of a family playing the fiddle and drums to send us on our way as we left Carbeth. Glorious.
From about Glengoyne Distillery along to Drymen I was in behind a group containing GB ultra-runner Sophie Mullins and felt a bit guilty that those at the front were doing all the gate opening.
Following their lead, I didn’t walk the uphills but slowed my pace down and was leading our pack as we passed the Drymen checkpoint. Making my way towards Conic, I caught and passed a few more, this time taking a few walking breaks before walking most of Conic Hill and stuffing my face. At this point Sophie came flying past up the hill with ease and I broke into a wee jog for the camera as Greame Hewiston was perched taking photos of everyone to pass.
Further on a wee bit and my pals Kenny and Martin had ran up Conic to give their encouragement and watch the race unfold. Brilliant to see them.
The view from Conic Hill was caught beautifully by Kay Roxby as I started my descent and, as with most of the following downhill and technical sections, it was a bit treacherous wearing my road shoes.
It had been lashing down for ages by this point and I was very grateful to reach Balmaha where, like all other checkpoints, the volunteers were amazing and would do anything for you. They got my jacket out my running vest, put it on for me and it stayed on until the end of the race.
Onwards to Rowardennan then Inversnaid where I spent a good bit of the trail on my own, occasionally catching up with others and I was just really enjoying myself. At this point I had started walking anything that was steep and was amazed to learn afterwards that I had reached Inversnaid in 18th place.
That wasn’t to last long though as the next section was unknown territory. Scrambling over boulders, trying not to fall down the bank into the loch or trip myself over the tree roots, I nearly rolled my ankle many times. I could hear runners catching up and let a group of about five pass me. I admired their trail shoes and confidence over the technical bits. It spurred me on to run the bits that I could and was relieved to come out the other side and up to Dario’s Post.
Despite the constant rain, the views were still amazing and I was feeling pretty good considering the miles. I had been eating well, been helped brilliantly by all the volunteers at each station and encouraged by other runners on the trail.
Onto Beinglas and beyond and it was like running through a shallow river for an eternity. Beinglas is where the countdown started in my head. Just a half marathon, plenty of time for a sub 9 I thought, oh wait a minute this looks a big hill, and another. Just keep moving and onto Bogle Glen. 10k to go.
Accordion music coming from the trees, brilliant and I’m not tripping – two ladies are sitting sheltered in the trees in the miserable weather playing some tunes to spur us on up the rollercoaster through Crianlarich. Man this is a long 10k. Eventually, I start moving downhill more than up and have caught a runner or two.
I cross the A82 and let’s see what’s in the legs for the finish – not much by all accounts. There’s a couple of runners in the distance, I get close to one but then fall back. My watch is saying that there isn’t long to go, I’m thinking of my family at the finish line, that I’ll hear a piper in a mile or two then I’ll get to run down the red carpet like royalty. It keeps me going and eventually I do hear a piper, I can relax, nearly there.
Lifting the legs for the final push I spy what must be the finish through the trees, thumbs up for the piper, run round the corner, the red carpet appears and it’s amazing. The buzz puts a massive smile on my face, I spot my family near the end, get my hands in the air sprinting (as best I could) to cross the line in 8:43:56, 22nd place. GET IN.
Jesus, that is emotional. Big hugs from the marshal at the finish line and again all the volunteers at the end go out of their way to make sure I’m well looked after. I go find my mum, sister and son and somehow don’t turn into a blubbering mess, but to see them there is an unbelievable feeling.
The finish area set up is amazing. After a shower and massage it’s time for some scran, beer and ice cream before heading back up the road on a massive high and feeling thankful for everyone involved in putting on such a magnificent race.
Ding ding, I smashed the Highland Fling.
1st male: John Hammond 7:30:29, 2nd: Sam Humphrey 7:32:08, 3rd: Toby Chapman 7:32:57
1st female: Beth Pascall 8:02:46, 2nd: Nicola Duncan 8:19:43, 3rd: Morgan Windram-Geddes 8:45:02
Harriers: 22nd: Kevin Campbell 08:43:56
Thanks to everyone for the photos (top image by Kim Webster).