> 2009 race reports
25/04/09 The Highland Fling 2009 - from Jane Grundy

A 4am alarm does really feel like getting up in the middle of the night – well, I suppose you are.  But that was the reality on the morning of Saturday 25th April when I was jolted from my sporadic slumbers and within seconds my brain knew what was going on. It took my body a few more moments to come to terms with it, but I sat up, got dressed and was ready for our efficient get-away at 4.20am. As we now live on the west side of Edinburgh it was about an hour’s drive over to Milngavie railway station and the start of the West Highland Way. This year, due to the increased entry numbers, the start had been split so that women and MV50+ started at 6am and had a 15 hour time limit, and Men and MV40 started at 7am, with a 14 hour limit.  This worked really well for Lewis and I, as it meant I get a head-start and my aim is to hold him off for as long as possible. Equally he does not have to wait around for hours for me at the end.  It was also fun to see the lead runners come past a little later on – never normally get a chance to meet those guys!

The Highland Fling race covers the first half of the long distance footpath route from Milngavie, just north of Glasgow – to Tyndrum in the highlands. Lewis and I did the race last year as training for the UTMB, and enjoyed it so much (in a 53 mile sort of way) that we entered again this year. The race really has a very special and unique ethos and atmosphere.  Lewis really only started running again in February after his arthroscopy on his knee in November, but has been doing all the right things and increasing miles gradually, and so far so good, but this was by far the longest distance for a while.

At the start there was quite a gaggle(?) of NFR members, which was great to see. Unfortunately Karen and Louise had had to pull out because of injury but the men’s team was all present and correct – Garry Owens, Peter Reed, Bernard Kivlehan, Joe Faulkner and Lewis.

As girls and older gentlemen (sorry guys), myself, Peter, Bernard and Garry had the dubious privilege of starting at 6am and Joe and Lewis were in the 7am start.  There were 305 entries, 275 starters and 242 finishers in total - plus 37 relay teams of 4. By comparison, last year there were 104 finishers and I think 119 starters. The WHW was clearly going to be busy.

Murdo, the organiser, saw us on our way and we trotted through the woods at a healthy but sustainable pace.  The first bit is flat and not the most exciting section, but it was great weather as the sun rose through the early morning haze.  Probably one of the key things in this type of race is not to start too quickly, and it’s easy to get carried away as you get into conversation with fellow runners -(yes, that’s the other great thing about this type of race, you can have a chat – at least in my place in the race!). Two hours dead and I was at Drymen - 12 miles in and the first checkpoint with time check and water on offer.  I was happy; felt good, was about right with my loosely formulated schedule.

From Drymen the route cuts through some more woods and then out on to open moorland to contour the side of Conic Hill before dropping into the first main checkpoint, Balmaha, where drop bags were ready for collection.

The race organisation was fantastic, runners had the option of sending drop bags ahead to 4 main checkpoints – which meant you could choose your own preferred ranges of bars and powders and ensure it was there for you every 2-3 hours. As you ran in to a control, your bag appeared and was passed to you, amongst much congratulation and encouragement. Help was available with water supplies and refilling bottles, it really couldn’t be faulted.

I ran on, along the side of Loch Lomond, it would be another 4 hours before I would part with the company of the loch side so might as well enjoy it. To Rowardenen – a more undulating section through trees and with some short road sections. The camaraderie between runners whether overtaking or being overtaken was superb, a ‘well done’; ‘hang in there’ or something to keep everyone going.  Possibly due to the separate starts, I ended up running much of the race on my own, which was good mental training.  Earlier in the race Peter, Bernard and me had kept passing each other but by this time, I was sure they were a long way ahead, and Garry was probably a whole chunk more ahead, but I was happy with my progress and knew I just needed to keep focused and keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I was slightly up on last year’s times and felt much stronger.

Finally, Rowardenen came into sight, and I jogged through, collecting water on the way. I had not sent a bag ahead to here, so it was a quick fill of the bottle and onwards. The 7 miles or so to Inversnaid starts with a good runnable bit, but then becomes a narrow, rocky path with tree routes which means you really just have to keep up a good strong pace, run when you can, but it is difficult to keep a rhythm going.  I kept my head down and just kept going. I knew Lewis could be catching me up any time now – how I would love to get to Inversnaid before he gets me.

Sometimes, you just have a good day. You just know that it’s going to be ok. You are slightly up on your times; you are ensuring that you are eating, drinking, taking the necessary electrolytes when you know you should; your sac feels light (ish) and the forward movement seems to pass relatively easily.  I had done the Haworth Hobble in March and that day was definitely not like this one – slow, hurting and not my usual self in a long race at all.

I knew that from Rowardenen to Inversnaid, and on to Beinglas, would feel a long way. My legs were feeling ok, and I was really ensuring that I was eating and drinking a lot. Reading the microscopic amounts of food that some people seem able to do these runs on just astounds me – yoghurt, grapes??  For me I’m afraid only hummus and tomato sandwiches, clif bars, go bars, cake bars and ‘Go’ powder will do – and lots of it all. If I didn’t make myself eat every hour at least, I could hear Lewis’s voice in my head ‘keep eating, keep eating’. Am I the only one who puts weight ON during these things?

Suffice to say, I kept going and ran the last few miles to Inversnaid with Ellen McVey, which was lovely, and we chatted as we moved at broadly the same pace. Ellen was telling me about the history of the run and its amazing growth – and before we knew it, the bay of Inversnaid came into sight. I had forgotten about the sharp right turn uphill and then over the bridge, which I’m sure is just there for sadistic reasons, but made it, got my bag and quickly changed over food and drink. I knew if I stopped I would find it harder to get going again, so I left quite quickly and ate as I walked out of the checkpoint.  Peter Reed had got to the checkpoint just in front of me and left after me, but I fully expected him to come past me soon (later, of course, learning that he had had quite a nasty bump on the head at 45 miles in, but still continued and finished!).  I was not sure where Bernard was at this point.  Another sandwich – bit bored of them now!  I got my food in, drank some more powder and I was just putting everything away and thought I was surprised I had not seen Lewis yet. As if by magic he appeared behind me, looking strong despite his cold. We exchanged a few words as he overtook me leaping over rocks and we were both going ok.  ‘Only an hour and a half to Beinglas, just focus and it will pass’. And it did. It was actually really encouraging as I had found this section really hard work last year, and was very slow.  So I was quite happy as I finally approached Beinglas, nearly half an hour up on last year.  My mission now was to maintain that gain and not let it slip on the final section.

It was with mixed feelings that I met Joe Faulkner at Beinglas. It was absolutely fantastic to see him, and have a little bit of support from a friendly face, but my brain was still capable of computing fairly quickly that the fact that he was there meant that he had obviously dropped out of the race. A very quick ‘hello’ and I gleaned that he had stopped after a couple of hours, as things were not going well for him.  Hard luck Joe, but I really appreciated you coming to see us through.  I picked up my bag; swapped a clif bar for a bag of jelly babies with him -  and donned my ipod – a recent addition to my kit but I was trying it out as an experiment for the last section and it definitely worked.  After grabbing some further mainly caffeine based supplies, I carried on – walking at first to eat and drink.

I pushed and pushed to jog as much as I could and walk strongly up the hills. I was actually talking out loud to myself to do this. It was all hurting now, but jogging was not much worse than walking so I just tried to keep going. Got to the tunnel – and up to what I call the ‘cow track’. I do have an inherent fear of cows, but luckily there were enough people around me and the cows were well off the track, so no diversionary tactics necessary. I got to the ‘big gate’ at exactly 4pm and knew that I dare start to think of a 5.30pm finish – no holding the 6pm bus for me this year! Through the woods, I remember last year I could not even run the down bits by this stage, but again, singing along (probably aloud – sorry to anyone near me) I kept pushing myself to jog. The road crossing loomed and I had to wait for the traffic!  Over to Auchtertyre and kept going. The finish was almost in sight – once across the road, it was around 30minutes.  There were people a few minutes in front and behind me, but for most of this section I was running on my own.  I made it to the forest gate just outside Tyndrum and knew it was close. So much for ipod shuffling, this was ‘Jane shuffling’ at its best.  As I crossed the river just before the finish – someone came past me, but there wasn’t a lot I could do about it at that stage – and I crossed the line in 11.23, a time with which I was delighted, and even took Lewis by surprise, who had a great run and had finished in 9.37.

The finish line was super, I was endowed with lip salves, champagne, beer, mug, medal – amazing for an off-road race – and there was, as ever at this event – a lovely atmosphere and still so many congratulations. I went to get changed and then promptly felt sick for a short while – but was force-fed my ‘rego’ and crisps (naturally, the food of choice after a race) and soon felt better for it. I was a happy bunny!  It was another superb day out, and as the bus drove us back to Milngavie (in a little over an hour) I began to turn my thoughts to the Fellsman in 2 weeks time!

Thanks to Murdo, Ellen and everyone who helped in whatever way to make the race what it was, the encouragement of the runners and supporters – the Highland Fling is definitely a race set to become an annual event in my calendar!  Well done to the NFR team too; it was a superb effort to get 5 club members to finish a 53 mile race.

Jane Grundy
1 May 2009

Garry Owens - 9.35
Lewis Grundy - 9.37
Jane Grundy - 11.23
Peter Reed - 11.45

Full results and photos on the Highland Fling website

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