Montane Highland Fling, 30th April 2011

It’s been too long since the actual event to do a race report. However, The 2011 Montane Highland Fling was an important event for me and, as such, deserves a mention.

In 2010 I toed the line at the very same event for my first stab at the 53 miles. It was my second ultra marathon having completed the D33 months before. I had vague recollections of the route from having walked it a few years back – or so I thought! It turns out I had forgotten just how rough underfoot the route can be, and how undulating parts of it were. By the time I reached Balmaha, having been up and over Conic Hill, I was beat! Having done almost all of my training on the local Formartine and Buchan Way, I was simply not prepared for the undulating terrain and certainly not for the slog that is Conic Hill. The Formartine & Buchan Way is a former railway route and, whilst off-road, rough underfoot, and pleasurably scenic, it is also really, really flat!

I cannot recall the exact temperature from the day. Suffice to say it was unseasonably hot! In the heat of the day I found that I just could not stay hydrated. I was drinking as much as I could and yet this only resulted in a slooshing feeling in my stomach. Certainly not conducive to running. My clothes were starting to cake with salt and, by the time I reached Rowardennan, a marshall commented on this, advising that I should carefully monitor the situation. I ran on for a further mile before turning back to Rowardennan. Whilst I knew I could make the next checkpoint, I was not convinced that I could finish and I knew that the next checkpoint was far more difficult to reach by road, which would make any ‘rescue’ by Leanne more difficult.

I had, for some miles, been on a real low and it was only when I decided to pull out that my mood lightened. It dawned on me that it was not my day, and that I would far rather be with Leanne and Ross, leisurely enjoying the surroundings and sun, than torturing myself further.

Even though I had made a conscious decision to quit, to say the DNF (Did Not Finish) played on my mind would be an understatement. I beat myself up over my ‘failure’, reading every single blog and race report that I could find on the run courtesy of Google, and basically spent the next few days, if not weeks, with lingering self doubt.

On the plus side, from reading all of the blogs I did find out about electrolytes which, before the run had been alien to me and, armed with this new found knowledge, I was able to work out a strategy that appears to work best for me – Water, but in moderation; Powerade, which I ‘discovered’ in Canada and found I could drink far more of than any other sports drink before getting sick of the taste; and Hammer Electrolyte Replacement Supplements, which I later replaced with Succeed S Caps.

It had been my decision to quit. It was not ‘forced’ upon me by illness or injury (though I do feel that my condition would potentially have deteriorated if I had tried to finish). Mentally, I was not tough enough to finsh the 2010 Fling.

Montane Highland Fling 2011

In the weeks leading up to the 2011 Fling, the one thing I dreaded was a repeat of the 2010 temperatures and I honestly thought that this would define my race. If it was hot, I would fail without question as the strains of carrying my very non ultra friendly bulk of a frame, coupled with my propensity to sweat buckets, would combine to put success outwith my reach. Nothing like a positive state of mind – nothing like it at all!

At my pre run breakfast a few lone runners were dotted around the room. Two of the runners had struck up a conversation from their respective tables. One, an old hand who had previous experience of the Fling, the other a Fling newbie. Some sound advice was handed down and one thing in particular stuck in my mind.

“When you get to mile 30 and feel like shit, don’t ask yourself ‘If I feel this bad now, how bad am I going to feel in another 20 miles time’. The truth is, you will feel just as shit, only you will be 3 miles from the finish!”

Sound advice indeed. Having completed 6 ultramarathons at the time of writing this, I now appreciate that you go through all kinds of highs and lows, and the lows can really, really suck! They do, however, also play a huge part in making the highs quite so high! It is only natural over the course of such distances and hours spent out on the route to go through any number of emotions. The difference between my 2010 Fling and my 2011 Fling is that I did not let those emotions determine the outcome of my race.

It was hot, even hotter than the previous year! Thankfully, in the week before the run I had purchased The North Face Enduro 13 backpack, a slimline pack with little room for anything more than the absolute essentials. One of the reasons for the purchase was the 2 very accessible bottle holders at each side. On the day, I implemented a, by now, carefully practiced, monitored intake of fluids. This, coupled with the Succeed S Caps and the more robust approach to nutrition gave me a much better shot at finishing.

It was tough. However, I felt miles better descending Conic Hill than I had done the previous year, thanks in no small part to some sessions on Bennachie in the run up to the race. I also left Rowardennan in a much better state of mind than the previous year which had a hugely positive mental impact, especially once I passed the point at which I had abandoned the race the previous year. The terrain after Rowardennan slowed me down considerably and I made it to the cut off point with barely any time to spare. The next 13 miles were the real test for me. With the heat subsiding, the real challenge was the seemingly never ending, undulating forest terrain. 3 miles from the end, and still in line to get a sub 13 hour time, I experienced the worst leg cramps, resulting in a hop-swing approach to the last few miles. In the last couple of hours, I had let the electrolyte regime slip and I was finally paying the price. I popped a couple of Succeed S Caps and these kicked in, or I ran it off (who knows really!), close to the finish line.

One of ‘the’ things I was most looking forward to was the sound of the piper. I was gutted to find that the piper had, by this point, made his way to the ceilidh which was about to kick off! That’s my incentive to run it faster next year! I will also turn 40 in time to see me move up an age category. I have racked my brain for positives on hitting the big 4-0 and the only thing I can come up with is the earlier start time (7 a.m.) and additional hour at the Fling lol!

Amongst the people waiting at the finish area were Leanne, Ross, George Reid and Karen Donoghue. It was great to see everyone. I think I was somewhere beyond exhaustion so I dont know if I made it clear to anyone how glad I was to see them. Thanks for being there at the end – sorry I took so long 🙂

I couldn’t eat. I knew that I should but the most I could manage was some ice cream. That night, around 11.30, I started to doze off. I turned to get into a more comfortable position only to feel what felt like a bolt of lightening shooting through my right leg. The pain was unbelievable but there was nothing I could do to relieve it. I could not move. When the sharp pain finally subsided to a dull ache, I tried in vain to get back to sleep. After a nervous pre race sleep and the efforts of the day all I wanted to do was sleep but this proved to be beyond me!

On the Sunday we took the scenic route home. It was gloriously sunny. I was subdued by lack of sleep and muscular pain but I really didn’t care. I had banished my demons and, in turning my DNF into a finish, I had proved to myself that I was capable of completing ultra marathons. Looking back, I have a lot to thank the guy at breakfast for but he doesn’t even know he helped me!

I was 271st out of 320 finishers. Over 50 starters did not finish.

Here’s to the Montane Highland Fling 2012 🙂