Monthly Archives: April 2015

Hoka Highland Fling

Well what can I say. I did it. 13 hrs 13 minutes. What a fantastic journey. Over the moon to say the least.

The day started at 4.30 am where a quick look out of the window at our Glasgow West End hotel was enough to see that the rain was sheeting down. My other half and our boy had accompanied me up from South Shields as my good running mate Dave ‘the original fridgeman” Taylor had knackered his knee and had reluctantly had to pull out. The tear to the MCL ligament of his right knee was the exact same injury I had suffered a year before and which had led to me piling on the pounds. Last year we had set out on the Fling and had made slow but steady progress over to Balmaha in about 4 1/2 hours. I had read a lot of the Blog write ups of the Highland Fling before the event which had invariably had a series of stunning views of the Loch taken right on the shoreline. I had blithely assumed therefore that the tough bit of the race was over and we were going to complete it no problem. Surely it couldn’t take more than 1.5-2 hrs to do the three 7 mile chunks that take you up to the Beinglas checkpoint ? Reality hit painfully as this blase attitude led to lots of dawdling and timewasting and then later I was just knackered. In the end I mentally threw in the towel for us both at the Inversnaid checkpoint when I announced loudly that we would never make it to Beinglas in time to beat the cut off – and so it came to pass.

Anyhow, I was back again and determined to finish and at least I was under no illusions as to the nature of the terrain. My plan was to go as quick as I could and just keep going, no stops for photos, minimal stops at checkpoints and just generally no fannying around at all. Off I went and this year was very much in a line of runners for the first 15 miles or so, only on approaching Conic Hill did things thin out a bit. Being a bit lighter I went faster and even ran a bit of a flattish section half way up Conic. I went fairly swiftly down the other side and was soon running into the checkpoint at Balmaha. It was only then that I dared to look at my watch 3hrs 50 mins Yeehaa I’m going do it. I’m going to do it.  I said to myself while stuffing in a gluten free wrap filled with feta cheese, ham, pickle, salad and mayonnaise – went down a treat. In no more than 4 mins I was on my way again. I had awful memories of the steep uphills over headlands and promontory’s from last year but it didn’t seem anywhere near as bad as I remembered which gave me a great mental boost. The long track uphill from Rowardennan allowed me to take a breather and once the path became a bit knarly I discovered a new technique for getting going again when reaching a runnable bit. Just start leaning forward and at the point I am going to fall flat on my face just get my foot out to break my fall and then keep going. I was really enjoying the afternoon and had learned to eat even when I didn’t feel hungry. I got into Beinglas at 15.50 a good 1hr 40 mins outside the cutoff. Good Stuff. The next section I found tiring, the path is described as a bit of a roller coaster but really the roller coaster just went higher and higher and the proportion that  I felt inclined to run was pathetically small. It was great to go past all the landmarks that I had read about and I was even disappointed to find that Cow poo alley didn’t have any poo on it at all just a ittle bit of mud. Through the gate at the forest above Crianlarich there was a slight miscommunication with the marshalls as I responded with a “You’ll be lucky” to their “It’s time to speed up a bit now” only for it to transpire that they had actually said “Well done you’ve only a wee bit to go now”.

I was flagging going up the ever rising path into the forested hills and started to bitterly curse whoever it was who was responsible for the West Highland Way being routed up such pointlessly stupid and vindictive inclines.

The return to the valley was a welcome relief though my knees hurt too much to run on the tarmac sections though I managed to knock out a decent shuffle on the trail sections. I was under the impression that I still had a way to go when a passerby said the finish is just beyond those trees at which point are heard the strains of the Bagpiper welcoming runners as they approached the finish. I suddenly felt quite overwhelmed and had to make fair bit of effort to suppress any outward signs of emotional weakness but running strong I came around the corner, into the campsite and up the red carpet to the finish.

Fling Finish Line

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Allendale Challenge

I have been doing the Allendale a fair few years now, and it is as it says a challenge as much as a run. I had set myself a target of running without stop until the road turned to rocky path on the uphill from Ninebanks and I am pleased to say I managed this without too much difficulty. Onwards and up onto the moors where you always forget quite how squelchy and soft the bogs are until you are actually trying to run across them again. I must admit I was fairly feeble and ran less than I should/could have done but I soon got to Black Hill checkpoint where I was revived by a nice cup of tea, enjoying the short lived relief from the howling wind that the refreshment tent provided. The route over to Killhope seemed much boggier than usual and I pretty much fell in line with the snake of walkers apart from several intense “scuttle runs” that allowed me to overtake here and there.

After Killhope I ran the vast majority of the rest including the drag where I had an little internal conversation with myself “Why not walk this bit it’s not going to matter, No if you don’t run the drag then you are not going to go to the Fling that is final. But I really want to do the fling though… Well then, just run up the drag and don’t stop”  So up and up and along the drag I went  and though it was not much more than a shuffle it was a least good to have some rhythm on a fairly even surface and I knew that I was keeping going when the majority of other runners (I was with) had given in and this I suppose is the difference between the ultrarunner and the “out for a few hours”  type fellrunner.

In other words I had the edge as far as mental strength went ! I carried on to the end, finishing feeling less tired than I have ever done before, though my extra weight meant that I was an 1hr 17 mins outside my personal best crossing the threshold of Allendale village hall in 6hr 13 mins.  Quite pleased and though my right knee particularly on any stretches with hard surfaces was quite painful, the pain always seemed transitory rather than indicative of permanent damage. A good result though a reminder of how my natural pace has dropped compared to what it used to be.

Drag by name drag by nature
Drag by name, drag by nature.