I wasn't feeling too confident for this Fling race but it didn't stop me setting some targets.
Chuffed with sub 12 hours.
Happy with a PB.
Okay with a finish.
Coach and I left for Glasgow on the Friday and drove through some heavy showers. Accommodation was about three miles from Milngavie, my fault for not booking the Premier inn soon enough. Once checked in we decided to visit a running shop, Lynne needed some new shoes. Google pointed us toward Achilles Heel, just over a mile away. We decided to walk as it was a nice afternoon and we needed some fresh air.
This was a mistake as once we returned to the hotel I managed to blister the back of my heels, not bad considering I hadn't even started the race. An Italian bistro was just across from the hotel where I fueled up on a superb seafood Fettuccine.
After the meal we drove to Bearsden to register and purchase Compeed plasters from Tesco. I bumped into John the race director outside registration and wished him well, he was about to lay down cones on the course.
Back at the hotel I looked out my race day stuff, Hokas, shorts, long sleeve top, grungy sweater I can bin if need be, buff and gloves. I've lost my waist belt but funny enough I have the bottle that goes with it, so ended up with a cheap back pack which I've used only once before. Packed was a waterproof jacket, water bottle and first aid supplies.
It was still dark when the alarm went off, I had three Weetabix before getting ready. Other runners were staying at the hotel, the smell of "deep heat" in the corridors gave the game away. We arrived at the station 0545 just missing the race directors briefing but this meant we didn't need to stand around too long before the start.
It's a great feeling running through the centre of Milngavie, spectators cheering as you join the West Highland Way. Through Mugdock Park there's nervous chit chat as everyone settles in to the race. I'm paying attention to the course this time as it will be dark next time I'm here in June and want to know the course off by heart. I should be treating today as a training run for the full race in June but can't help targeting a sub 12 hour finish, even though training has not been 100 percent.
It's a great atmosphere taking the diversion through Drymen where orange quarters are handed out from the locals. Unfortunately I decline and don't have time to explain I don't like fruit. I have my first conversation of the day walking up hill to the forest. It's good to chat to Neil who has completed the full WHW race eight times and is going for ninth this year.
The cut down forest gives a view of the Loch, it feels good to see bonny scenery again. I must apologise for the fogged pictures, again caused by the i phone holder. This was something I was going to address earlier in the year but didn't get round to it.
Approaching Conic hill I was wondering what it would be like with the new path. Yes, it is much safer and allows a quicker crossing but in my opinion it takes away the edge, a bit mundane.
The view from the top is as fantastic as ever though, a good few runners around me were taking pictures with their smart phones from here. The descent to Balmaha went fine with no drama where I filled my water bottle, picked up the drop bag and carried on, eat walking uphill was the intention.
I stopped at the marina to take a picture but didn't realise it was ruined by my finger, the sun was bright on the screen of the camera. It was then a juggling act on the uphill, pot of beans, get the lid off, watch I don't trip going up, step aside and let runners through, find the plastic spoon, shovel in the beans as fast as possible, keep the empty pot (no litter), take off the back pack to get water (no water belt is a pain, where have I lost it?), take a good drink, pocket the cadburys mini roll, bag the litter including the muller rice that's too fiddly to open, back pack on, start running again. I would have been quicker just stopping and eating at Balmaha. I decided not to employ the run through method for the rest of the checkpoints, it was just too much hastle.
Half way to Rowardennan I begin to feel a bit ropey, the pot of beans is too little too late so I scoff the mini roll then need more water, back pack off, back pack on, this is beginning to annoy me. I know I'm running the race a bit quicker than last year but I'm just not as comfortable with no energy on the uphills. I take the pressure off by stopping to take pictures which gives a wee break but runners always run past which makes me want to get going again.
This picture is my favourite of the day, Lynne says it captures the spirit of the run perfectly. I was capturing snow topped Ben Lomond when runners went by but I took the picture anyway.
I stopped at Rowardennan for about 10 minutes, beans were off the menu so it was a muller rice, fill the water bottle, pocket the mini roll and get going. Even though I was stopping at the checkpoints I resisted the urge to sit down and rest so just stood to eat. It took a while to get the legs moving but I managed a run to the long uphill where there is plenty of time for walking. It was getting hot so the back pack was on and off like a yoyo. This was beginning to niggle me, along with a few other things, a sure sign of getting tired and exhausted. Little things - like the open and shut markings have rubbed off the top of my water bottle and it's a guessing game whether I've put it back in the bag open or shut. The annoying thing is I always get it wrong when I'm thirsty, I either twist it closed and attempt to drink it, or attempt to drink when the valve is closed.
Another thing niggling is the back pack strap, it's slowly trying to cut my head off. Okay, it will take a while but it is rubbing the side of my neck every step of the way and there is nothing I can do to stop it. And I need cola but I didn't put any in my drop bag at Inversnaid so that was irking me. Oh, and one more thing, my big toes are sore on the long descent, it's as if the Hoka shoes are too small even though I bought a size up from the usual size nine.
Inversnaid arrived soon enough so it was time to rummage through the left overs but unfortunately there was no cola to be seen. Ah well, two spoons of beans, two spoons of rice, pocket the mini roll and fill the water bottle - time to hit the rocky section.
I've grown to like this bit of the WHW but not today. No energy means it's a bit of a chore but there is a plus point. The countless streams mean I can keep the back pack on, the water is clean, cool and fresh, the best I have tasted.
I really like the texture of this tree trunk but will have to wait till June to get a clearer picture.
Can't go past Dario's post without taking a snap.
I tailed a few runners that were going a steady pace which took me to Beinglas Farm soon enough.
Pepsi Cola, lovely stuff which I did have in my drop bag here and downed it in a oner. Muller rice, pocket the mini roll, chuck the beans and get going, I was on the home straight.
I love the river here and find the waterfalls mesmerising. Bit of a comedy moment on this section when I almost missed a turn, even though a giant arrow laid out in rocks was showing the way. The marshal had to usher me in the right direction.
Soon it was time to duck under the railway and pass through the A82 tunnel, passing a bonny wee calf on the way. On the track to Cow Poo Alley I got chatting to a runner doing her first ultra. She was struggling a bit and it reminded me when I ran my first ultra, the 2010 Fling. I gave her some encouragement before running on. Poo alley was as nice as ever then it was on to the forest roller coaster. The legs felt dead going uphills but I knew the climbing was coming to an end. My big toes were really uncomfortable on the downhills, then I stubbed my left toe full whack into a rock. The air was blue as I vented steam and it was only then I realised I startled a runner ahead with my expletives. I carried on running and apologised for the bad language as I passed. I couldn't get a signal to phone coach who had checked into the wigwams earlier.
I needed Cola desperately and was chuffed when the i phone collected a signal after crossing the A82.
Lynne was waiting with Pepsi at the gate and I could finally take off the back pack that was attacking my neck.
The Pepsi went down a treat, then it was time for the run to Tyndrum. Lynne made her way to the finish as she would have to park the car and walk. The cola kicked in and I managed to run faster the closer I got to the end. I had given up on sub 12 hours back at the roller coaster forest but I could tell I wouldn't be much over. I'm cheered on by walkers and bystanders on the approach to the hostel and finish line. I pass the piper and reach the area of last years arch and see nothing but traffic cones and marker tape. I follow the tape round the corner and find the best finish straight I've run.
12 hours 4 minutes and 37 seconds, a PB.
It was good to see Fiona Rennie at the finish line who gave me my medal.
A seat, cup of soup, beer and soak up the atmosphere, ultra races are great!
It was time to go back to the wigwams and get a shower then head out for fish and chips. Runners were passing through the campsite so Lynne pulled over to give space and I willed them on.
Sunday was a leisurely drive home taking in Glencoe where we stopped to stretch our legs at the Devils Staircase. I'm supposed to be running Glencoe to Fort William on Saturday but at the time of writing I'm not sure if I'll make it, the toe is not happy.
And the title of the blog? This was the most organised and well executed race I have run, well done and thank you to John Duncan and all the marshals who helped make it happen. The Fling deserves to be the most popular ultra in the UK.
Thanks to my lovely wife Lynne for the support at these events.
Mon 3 miles Wed 15 miles Sat 53 miles Weekly total 71 miles.