Ding Ding Highland Fling 2017 (Ultra Finish #26, Fling Finish #5)

I’ve already documented my issues with gluteal bursitis this year. You can read more about those at Highland Fling 2017,  The D33 2017 – Ultramarathon Finish #25 and Ischiogluteal Bursitis – Quite Literally A Pain In The Ass or, alternatively, the brief overview is as follows:

36 runs since 1st Jan, and only two of any length, a 20 mile run back in Jan (looking back, the last long run where I felt good) and the D33 in March, where, by this point battling Ischiogluteal Bursitis, I felt anything but good.

At the beginning of the week beginning 24th April,  Leanne enquired as to my chances of finishing. 5% was the response. I don’t think she believed me, questioning why, then, we were even making the 6 hour round trip. Good point, but 5% is still 5% and I’m a realist, not a quitter, though in all fairness, I reckon the majority of sane people would have opted out by this point (the sensible option).

Anyway, this was the Fling, arguably THE most popular ultramarathon in Scotland if not the UK, an event renowned for its quality, where no attention to detail is spared, and an event that, each year, proves to be increasingly popular and increasingly difficult to get in to. I couldn’t miss it, not as long as I had two legs that (mostly) functioned!

In the final week leading up to the Highland Fling, Facebook was filled with the usual excited/nervous/last minute questions/read the *&%^$! website Style posts (too ranty?)

As always, the length of everyone’s last run came in for discussion, as ‘taperitis’ did its worst to play havoc with folks minds and bring out the usual array of aches and pains.

Heck, even my wife Leanne (an ardent non runner) joked to me about tapering – taper from what! Thanks for the reminder. I can always rely on the wife to keep me grounded haha!

So, how long was my last long run? ‘Approximately’ 0 miles. I just didn’t want the psychological blow of realising just how bad things felt, and besides, it’s not like there would have been any benefit by this point from a training perspective. And so I decided, the next run would start at 6am on 29th April, starting from Milngavie, with the aim being to get as far along the 53 mile route to Tyndrum as possible.

The journey down was as pleasant as being stuck in a car for three hours can ever be, though admittedly the gluteal pain that plagued me in the weeks leading up to the race made for a largely uncomfortable journey – and that’s just sitting, how would I fare running! On top of an already dire situation, Leanne also ‘attempted’ to handicap me further, knocking a newly purchased coffee over my legs. If it hadn’t been for the thankfully small opening from which to drink said coffee, we would likely have ended up turning back just after Dundee… after a short stop at A&E. As it was, a lucky escape, albeit with less coffee than I had hoped to consume for the remainder of the journey.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, arriving in Glasgow and getting settled in our accommodation overlooking the Clyde river. I set the alarm for the ungodly hour of 2:45 am but, unfortunately, didn’t need it. I was awake in time to switch it off which, at least, saved disturbing Leanne and Harris.

The dry cough/boak behaviour that had plagued me over the past few days started soon enough, a sign that my body was nervous despite my best efforts to convince my head otherwise. Funnily enough, it’s something that I used to experience, back when I started running ultramarathons, but not something that I have encountered these past couple of years.

The busses left from Kelvingrove at 4:30am and myself and approximately 80 other runners alighted in Milngavie at race registration in good time for the start, a phenomenon that I rarely experience in my typically late dash around. What would I do with all that extra time? Brief chats with some of my fellow runners but, mostly, like the introvert that I am, I mostly kept myself to myself, got my ‘race head’ on, and retied my trainers more times than I care to remember.

Approximately 850 of the 1000 registered runners set off from Milngavie in waves, starting at 6 am. I purposefully positioned myself towards the rear of the field, as I mostly tend to do. It was where I expected to find myself for as long as I managed to stay in the race.

My plan was straightforward enough. Run as far as I could, ensuring not to push too hard, which training had shown was the sure fire way to aggravate the glutes, trying to ensure that I didn’t get timed out along the way, and especially once further into the race, where any form of ‘rescue’ by Leanne and Harris would be awkward due to the proximity.

I made a point of taking photographs en route, a fair few of them. I also took some GoPro footage, though having opted not to add the weight of the Karma gimbal to my race vest, the footage proved to be typically nausea-inducing! (Time will tell if I can do something creative with it!).

I’m not one for detailed accounts of each section of a race and I’m conscious that its already an ultra duration post so I’ll summarise my experiences of the race itself. The first few miles were typically stiff until I’d loosened off. I generally take 6-10 miles to loosen off on a good day, never mind a day where injuries are playing a part. Thereafter I had maybe 2-3 ‘pleasant miles’, followed by the expected gluteal pain for the remainder of the 53 miles. I did, however, manage to keep the worst of the gluteal pain at bay until approx 42 miles in, when increased gluteal issues were accompanied by cramp and, soon after, nausea, making the last section a bit of a ‘death march’.

Funnily enough, that last section, rising out of Beinglas is my least favourite section of the whole West Highland Way, most likely because that very section has seen me ‘death march’ my way along it so many times before now!

Worthy of note was that, this year, I actually really enjoyed the largely unrunnable loch side section, where the need to clamber up, down, over and around the various rocks and roots served as a welcome break from running. Thankfully, it didn’t aggravate the gluteal issues further, as I suspected it might.

Also, there was one particularly hairy (no pun intended) moment involving a group of cows and their calves. They obviously didn’t care much for thoughts of PBs (not an issue for me this time around regardless), as they sauntered along, and, further, didn’t care much for the efforts of the, by now bunched, runners, who were seeking a safe passage through the herd and opting for safety in numbers. Put simply, they just didn’t want to Mooooove! (sorry, couldn’t resist). Unfortunately, one calf was determined to stay on the opposite side of the route from its mother, prompting her to express her disdain at the runners in an increasingly vocal (and admittedly quite scary) manner!

I finally arrived in Tyndrum, crossing the finish line with a chip time of 13:27:01 (funnily enough not my worst Highland Fling time, which I actually recorded in 2016!)

The best part of the day, as has been the case in 2016 and 2015, was running the red carpet and across the finish line with my son Harris, who at the tender age of 4 now has 3 Fling finishes to his name. There’s so much that’s great about the Fling but one of THE things that stands out most to me is how every child that crosses the line alongside one of their parents also receives a medal. If they are anything like my son Harris, it will be something that they treasure, and it must surely go some way to encouraging the next generations of ultramarathon runners.

There are hundreds of marshals and helpers along the route, who freely give their time both leading up to the race, on race day itself, and in the immediate aftermath of the race. I didn’t realise quite how complex an operation this was until I agreed to a request to oversee the early morning busses from Glasgow, a tiny task given that I was going to be on one of those busses anyway. I really do think that Race Director Jonny Fling should publish this spreadsheet, which ran to a considerable number of pages, as it is an absolute eye opener into the complexities of running an event of this scale and quality.

Along the route there were a number of people taking 1000s of photographs of all of the runners, which were then made freely available to us all via Facebook. No extortionate photography fees for these mementos!

Despite all of the issues experienced on race day, I was always captured with a smile on my face which, I believe, speaks volumes for my love of ultramarathon running. Not once on the day did I seriously consider quitting. Had the pain proven too much, I was mentally prepared to take one on the chin but, as it was, I managed to plod on. Admittedly, from the photos of me taken along the route, my running form was obviously impeded by the issues with my glutes, and I resemble Quasimodo in far too many of the pics! That aside, I made it, and I got the all important father/son finish line photo, a photo that this year shows a particularly heady mix of astonishment at finishing, relief at the thought of being able to stop moving and take a seat, and, most of all, of delight at seeing Harris and Leanne for another Fling finish, #5 and ultramarathon finish #26.

So that’s almost all from me, other than to say a huge thanks to all of the people who helped out, to my fellow runners, who chatted with me and encourage me along the way, and, of course to RD Jonny Fling and his partner in crime Noanie.

Two final points. Typically, on finishing an ultra, the last thing I want to do is eat. However, after the Fling I consumed one bowl of lentil soup and a crusty roll, a baked potato with coleslaw and beans, a mega burger, a coffee and a beer, all by the time I left Tyndrum destined for Glasgow. I’m not going to say exactly how long that took me but it wasn’t that long after I finished as we had to get back to Glasgow so that an already sleepy Harris could get to bed. On arriving in Glasgow, I added a McDonalds smoothie and a Mcflurry to that lot, followed by a coffee and some leftover oat bars before finally retiring. It didn’t stop there, Sunday’s ‘first breakfast’ was followed with a repeat visit to Rouken Glen Park, where Harris enjoyed spending time on all 3 of the days he was in Glasgow, before a full cooked ‘second breakfast’ at the garden centre across from the Rouken Glen car park.

I should also mention that, for the first time, I ran totally clad in Columbia Montrail shoes and apparel.