Hoka Highland Fling

You don’t get a race report from me very often and I am afraid when u do it is a long one!

Ever since I did the relay of the Fling a few years back I knew I would do the full Fling, and when our relay team did not make it in the draw I knew this would be the year to do it!

I travelled through with Andrew and Chris on Friday, I was staying in the Lorne Hotel organised by the Fling and they were doing registration there on the Friday night.  I said goodbye to Chris and Andrew as they were staying in another hotel and went up to my room to think about the next day.  I knew I would not sleep much the night before and although I managed to get a few hours, I was dreaming of drop bags.  I was up at 3.30 and trying to eat but it was too early and although I managed to get some porridge my body was not really in the mood for food.  There was a coach laid on at 4.30 to take us to the start and I sat on it drinking chocolate milkshakes and nibbling on flapjacks aware that I needed to get as much energy on board as I could even though my stomach was still asleep. I normally feel really nervous before races but strangely, the biggest race I have yet done and I was feeling the calmest I have ever felt.

We arrived at Milngavie train station in the drizzling rain with the sun not yet up.  My drop bags were deposited in the various cars (including my loving constructed drop bag for the Balmaha checkpoint where they have a competition for the best designed drop bag – mine was a giant cow poo in honour of Cow Poo Alley!)  The quantity of food on display was enormous.  I am surprised some of the cars managed to close their boots on it all.  I met Chris and we waited until the off.  There were different start pens this year due to the large field.  sub 10 hours, 10 – 12 hours and 12 + hours.  I duly slotted into the 12+ hour pen.  There is lots of chat about how long you should expect to take to do this event but as a newbie I had decided I was not putting any pressure on myself about times, I was out to make the cut off times and complete the event and time was irrelevant.  I had not done anything like this distance before and certainly not over the kind of terrain I was on and having been part of the relay team previously, I knew that some parts were quite technical and that all I wanted to do was to navigate safely and get to the end.

We set off shortly after 6am and Chris and I ran together for the first few miles.  The predicted weather forecast was for cold temperatures, rain, rain and more rain and if you were really lucky a bit of snow, so everyone was waterproofed up.  As we ticked along the first few miles, people were stopping to take off jackets and layers as the drizzle that had greeted us at Milngavie had dried up and it was not that cold. Chris stopped to take his jacket off but I was keen to just keep moving while I could, so we said our good byes and off I went.  This route is fairly flat and was good to get into an easy pace and just watch the scenery change and open up as we headed into the countryside.  At one point I could hear cheers and voices ahead and thought there were maybe some family members up ahead cheering their runners on but as we went through a gate there was a fiddler and a drummer playing music to us as we ran passed.  Before long we were at the first checkpoint and the first relay change over, as I crossed over the road I could hear my name being shouted and looked up to see the Harriers Relay team cheering me on – their smiling faces were a welcome and encouraging sight.

After passing Drymen the route starts to head up and takes in Conic Hill and as I was heading towards it Mike ran passed but took the time to stop and have a wee chat with me which I really appreciated – thanks Mike! We snaked up Conic Hill and I was aware that the forecast rain was nowhere to be seen and instead the sun was beating down on us. So far I had been running on my own but it was about here I started chatting to other runners and hearing their stories.  Running Ultras is just so much friendlier than normal races, there is a real feeling of all being in it together and looking out for your fellow runners.  There were a few struggling up Conic Hill with taped up knees and people take the time to walk with them a bit and check they are okay. After coming down Conic Hill it is a short distance to the drop bag point of Balmaha.  As you come into the checkpoint someone shouts your number out really loudly and the marshalls further on have your drop bag all ready for you as you approach.  Unfortunately, mine was not the winning drop bag – gutted!   However, the marshall did tell me how much she liked it so that cheered me up a bit.  I was very aware that I wanted to grab my bag and go and not spend any longer than necessary, I was unsure what I would want to eat but I had a mixture of sweet and savoury so grabbed my hula hoop, a yoghurt and another couple of flapjacks and filled up my water, left the rest of my drop bag on the table that was heaving with other peoples left overs and headed on out.   It was about another 8 miles to the next checkpoint of Rowardennan and it all looked very familiar as I remember driving this stretch of road when we had done the relay and watching the runners cutting on and off the road and down onto the shingle beach and back up onto the trails.  I had not realised how hilly these trails were from the car though and it was a bit of surprise.  I had not really looked at the course and not recced the route apart from my relay leg.  It was a welcome sight to see Rowardennan and just as I was heading in Chris was standing at the side of the road, he must have passed me at the last checkpoint but he was there to cheer me on while the others had gone to grab a cup of tea at the hotel.   As I hit the checkpoint again the lovely marshalls were shouting my number and handing me my drop bag and checking everyone was okay, with big smiles on their faces, asking if I needed a hand with anything.  I had lucozade in this bag which did not interest me in the slightest and all my jelly babies that I normally scoff on my long runs were not in the least appealing, I spotted a packet of mini cheddars on the table of goodies from other dropbags and did a swop for my hula hoops.  I also ditched my flapjacks as I had been nibbling these all day and could not face another one and took my Nakd Bar instead, filled my water and hit the road again.

I was looking forward to this leg as this was the leg I had done on the relay and remember thinking at the time, how on earth does someone who has already done marathon distance manage this really technical route, the path snakes up into the hills before coming back down onto the lochside and then the scrambling begins, I was starting to have some issues with hot spots and blisters and also feeling really nauseous.  I had been trying really hard to keep eating, little and often to keep the energy levels up and I could not decide if I was nauseous from what I had had to eat (I suspect the yogurt that I had earlier which was rather hot might have been to blame) or because I needed to eat more, I was drinking as much as I could too, but my water was warm from the sun on my back so that was not helping, but my feet were really starting to worry me, I had one point in particular that was really sore but I did not want to stop until the next checkpoint, eventually I reached Inversnaid and my next drop bag, I pocketed my crisps and again ditched my jelly babies and topped up my water and decided I needed to sort my feet out.  I sat in one of the chairs and applied various plasters and patched myself up, took a couple of paracetemol and hit the trails again.  The nausea had gone now and before long, I had forgotten about my feet too.  I had now covered 34 miles and I was clambering up and down the rocks chatting away with another runner about how we had now both run the furthest we had ever run.   The scrambling up and down the rocks carries on for a few more miles and more chatting and laughing with other runners makes the time and distance pass quickly. There was a couple of injured and struggling runners that we passed and each time everyone stops to make sure they are okay, I caught up with a guy I had been running with earlier who had stopped to help another runner who was in some distress handing over the last of his salt tablets and checking he was okay and giving him some reassurance and helping him on his way, we carried on together for a while to Marios post where there were a few people sitting taking in the wonderful view and then off we headed.  The next checkpoint is Beinglas and as well as my drop bag I caught up with Andrew, Chris’s son.  I asked how Chris was getting on and was pleased to hear he was doing well.  I knew now that I only had another 12 miles and that I would make the end.  I was quite upbeat as I left Beinglas but the next part of the course is a series of undulating ups and downs, I think this is the section they call the “rollercoaster” and it is certainly well named.  This is also when I realised that my training – or lack of was going to let me down.  Some of the London Marathoners had managed to clock up more mileage in their training that I had and it was showing – I should have done more of those back to back runs that were on my training plan that I managed to avoid or do half the distance I should have.  I should also have done some hill training!  I was struggling on the uphills and only able to run the downhills and walk the flat sections.  The up and down carried on and I was aware that I had a lot more to do, before hitting the wooded section which I was also aware was quite hilly!  I marched on and was passed by quite a few runners and the people infront I was trying to pace were now out of sight.  I was very aware of being fatigued.  I kept reminding myself that I was running my own race, I was still going and to march when I could not run and that is what I did.  I had decided not to listen to any music or podcasts in the race as I wanted to experience it and not zone out as I do in my training runs but found myself singing over and over in my head LMFAO – Everybodys Shuffling which I think helped!  I had some more to eat and drink and kept walking chatting to others as they passed me by.  As we hit the woods there were some supporters encouraging us and I felt a bit more energised and carried on marching up the hills chatting and before long I was running again (well downhill anyway!) My legs got back into the rhythm and I pushed on, on my own and was starting to make up some ground, I could hear a cowbell ringing and came down to a road where there were marshalls cheering us on, saying we had about 3 more miles and that I was looking far to fresh and I needed to push on.  I could see ahead the runners that I had lost earlier, I had caught up with them again and that gave me a well needed boost.  I ran on and caught some up and chatted for a while to one runner who was planning on doing the full WHW in June – I have even more respect for those runners doing that kind of distance as the thought of another 40 odd miles on top of what I had just done at that moment seemed insurmountable.  I pushed on again and felt good knowing there was not far to go now.  As I got closer a couple of girls ran passed me saying the finish was the most amazing finish of all races and it would all be worth it soon.  I was on my own again by this time and as I carried on I passed some supporters cheering everyone on, on the path and I knew I was close.  I next heard bagpipes and I could see the yellow arch through the trees of the finish line, as I ran past the piper I could feel myself welling up, not quite believing that I had actually come so far and here I was at the finish and I did not feel broken.  I ran up the hill and round the corner and there ahead of me is a stretch of red carpet with international flags lining it and people shouting and cheering me on – I ran hard in that final stretch and crossed the finish line with the wonderful marshalls congratulating me and taking my chip off and pointing me in the direction of the tent where we were given our goody bag and beer and soup and rolls.  I had got quite cold in the last mile or so as the sun was dropping behind the hills and I had not wanted to stop to put on my jacket, it was not until I sat down eating my soup and roll that I realised how cold I had become and I was sitting shivering, but with a smile on my face aware that I had completed something I had been thinking of for a very long time.  All around the tent were the familiar faces of runners I had chatted to and passed on the course.

The Fling is far and away one of my most favourite races, it was when I did the relay and is even more so now I have done the Full Fling.  The organisation is faultless and the energy and postiveness from all the other runners, marshalls, supporters and everyone connected to the race is a joy to be around.

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7 comments on Hoka Highland Fling

  1. Mark Dawson says:

    Fantastic race report Gilly! A phenomenal effort completing over the distance of two marathons back to back on such a hilly route! The views must have been fantastic on such a good day too. I was knackered after a wee fling round London 🙂

  2. Jan Dawson says:

    Great race report, Gilly! And well done you (& Chris), what an incredible achievement x

  3. Sadie Kemp says:

    Absolutely tremendous effort Gilly. What an adventure! XX

  4. Rob Wilson says:

    Extended lunch break to read this 🙂 – complete respect to you and Chris. I could never do such a distance. It is certainly a special race however. Gonna be a lot of Harriers going for it next year I think.

  5. David Cairns says:

    Well done to you both (Chis & Gilly), great efforts. Puts my past efforts to shame! What an achievement. Probably took me as long to read Gilly’s report a it took her to run the race.

  6. Sarah Burthe says:

    Fabulous race report and fabulous effort- what an incredible achievement. You should be rightly and hugely proud of yourself. What a superstar. x

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