Highland Fling 2016

I could accurately sum up this race in 3 words. That really hurt.

I could leave it there but that would be a pretty short blog so given this was my first big target race of the year, and since I can’t sleep lets give it the full on nerd analysis.


It’s fair to say this years fling was massive.  Johnny Fling has done an amazing job with this race and with it being a Scottish/UK trail champs race and a selection race for the GB world champs team all the big boys and girls had turned up with a smattering of international talent too.  It’s pretty rare you get such a competitive field in a Scottish Ultra it was clear course records were going to be broken today.  For me this was my main early season target race before I get distracted with getting married in July.  My target was to go under 8 hours.  Training has been pretty good over the last few months and I felt if I got everything right on the day I would have a fairly good crack at it.

Unfortunately despite my best efforts to avoid the lurgy which had been going around everyone at my work I succumbed on the Monday before the race. A day off on tuesday spent mostly in bed shook of the worst of it and by friday I was feeling much better and happy to do the race.  At least it meant I had a very restful taper week as I did very little running.

…And yes I know there is nothing worse than getting your excuses in early with tales of pre-race sniffles.

OK lets go into full on nerd race analysis, this is more for my benefit than for your entertainment but don’t worry there will be a bit of poo detail as well to liven things up.


Milngavie to Drymen Target (1:32 My Time 1.33)

My theory with the fling is that it isn’t a race until Beinglas. Up till then it is about keeping things as comfortable as possible making sure you hit that last checkpoint in decent shape then you can go in to beast mode and empty the tank to the finish.  So I had set a fairly conservative target time of 1:32 to hit in Drymen.  The leaders set of at an eyewatering pace while I fell into a wee group that were going at a nice steady pace.  Head of the group was the lovely Andy Johns, probably the most affable man in the world.  It was great to catch up with him.  Good chat makes the miles flow by.

early doors with andy

As we hit the road section on the approach to Drymen, Andy dropped back as he was keeping it easy on the hilly sections. I pushed on but suddenly felt some very uncomfortable lurching in the bowels (yes I did promise some poo stuff).  Breakfast was determined to make an early exit, things were reaching a critical stage as I waddled in to the checkpoint at Drymen where to my delight were 2 portaloos, which on closer inspection were both occupied. Disaster! Not wanting to lose any time I pushed on made a gap and found some delightful gorse bushes to fertilise.  Thanks to the wonder of GPS trackers I can tell you it was a transition of less than 1 minute- pretty efficient.  However thanks to this near gastro dissaster things were not feeling easy like they should at this stage.


Drymen to Balmaha (Target 2.35, my time 2.35)

One of my favourite sections of the race, I love the run through Garadhban forest where you get your first glimpse of Loch Lomond. Stomach was still grumbling a little bit but starting to calm down a little.  On the descent of Conic Hill I caught up with Fergus Johnston for a brief chat, he said he was starting to stiffen up a bit so looked like he was in for a long day.  Dropping through the woods into Balmaha I heard a high pitched yell of “Gwaaaantie” which could only mean one thing:  It was my first encounter with the Bella support crew of Brendan, Tommy, Ciara and Robbie. Brendan has them drilled like a F1 pit crew and Tommy was waiting with my drop bag. Gels collected I was in and out in seconds.  These boys shave minutes off your time.



Balmaha to Rowardennan (Target 3.43, my time 3.50)

One of my least favourite sections of the race. The annoying “beach” bit, the annoying meandiring between road and the path next to the road.  I got dogs abuse from the Bella support car as they drove past on their way to Rowardennan.  They caught up with me at the road section I gave them a bum wiggle as they passed then got so distracted I missed the turn back on to the path as it left the road. I had to run back while they pointed and laughed at me.  To be fair this cost me about 30 seconds, not the 7mins I dropped off the pace here. At this stage I wasn’t really looking at the watch, I was just concentrating on getting to Beinglas still feeling comfortable.


Rowardennan to Inversnaid (Target 4.50, my time 5.00)

I tend to enjoy this section, some find the long gradual climb up the wide tracks a bit of a drag but it seems to suit my running style.  I felt like I was running well at this stage, I picked up a couple of places and as I came into Inversnaid I could see Rob Souter not far in front.  Matt Williamson was checkpoint guru here and did a grand job filling water bottles and stuffing gels in my hands.


Although this photo does make him look like a binman who is refusing to pick my bag up for me. (And shit, am I getting a bald patch?)

It was great to see part 2 of the Bella support team Greig and Danielle here. Inversnaid is a bit of an arse to get to so top effort from them.


Inversnaid to Beinglas (target 6.00, my time 6.21

This is where the fun starts.  The section after Inversnaid is either your favourite or least favourite part of the course depending on whether you like leaping about over big rocks. I think it’s great fun.  Rob Souter let me past just as we were leaving Inversnaid so I got a clear run at the rock hopping.  It was only now that I starting thinking about times.  I knew I had to get to Beinglas in about 6 hours to have a realistic chance of finishing in 8.  I left Inversnaid at 5 hours, getting through this section in an hour wasn’t happening so it was a matter of getting to Beinglas in a time that would still give me an outside chance.  It’s a really tough section to push the pace on and I could see the time ticking away from me.


I rolled into Beinglas with the clock clicking over to 6hrs20 and I think the fight went out of me there.  I was surprised to see Joe Symonds at the checkpoint, who had dropped out, I wanted to hear what had happened but thought I’d better push on and get this over with.


Beinglas to Finish (8hrs 28mins)

From Beinglas to the finish is about 13miles and is where your race can fall apart if you have paced the race badly.  I had intended to get here feeling comfortable and then empty the tank to the finish, unfortunately the tank was feeling a bit prematurely empty.  There is a fairly long climb out of Beinglas with a runnable gradient if your legs are still there but mine were on the way out.  Elsie was waiting for me near the A82 crossing and instead of enthusiastic cheering she just looked a bit worried.  Famously the Western States 100 race Doctor used to check on runners by looking into their eyes “to see if the soul had separated from the body.” I felt like this is what Elsie was doing to me. Whatever she was seeing I don’t think she liked it.  I pushed on but in the woods near Crianlarich I felt like my soul was departing from my body as I started to have a bit of an epic bonk.  The only food I had left was a couple of Bars which I gobbled down to get me too the finish.  Time targets were out the window now, it was just a case of get to the finish.  The last few miles weren’t pretty but I got a big lift just outside Tyndrum when I saw the Bella crew for the last time and got a brilliant high 5 from Brendan’s wee boy Kilian.


Then you approach the finish, hear the bagpipes then have the amazing finish line run down the red carpet.


So 53 miles 8hrs 28mins, a wee bit disappointed to miss the 8 hour target by some distance. But still an amazing day out.  This really is an amazing race, Johnny Fling and his band of volunteers do such a great job. Thanks to all of them for putting in so many hours of work so we can have a fun day out running about on the trails.

Congrats to fellow Bella Nick who stormed through in 8:49 coming comfortably under his 9 hour target.  That is how you do it.  And well done to Craig Reid who was using it as a training run for WHW race in June, he had a hard day with some injury niggles but toughed it out to the end.

Thanks again to everyone who turned out to support- Hamish at the start, Greig and Danielle at Inversnaid and Brendan, Tommy, Ciara and Robbie throughout. Elsie for picking me up off the floor at the end.  You are all amazing.



…and whoever stuck this to a rock just outside Beinglas- you made a lot of people smile


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