Highland Fling Ultra Relay 2015 – the slackers report

It seemed such a good idea last year when the club registered multiple relay teams for the Highland Fling. We were successful in getting two teams but it was 2 weeks ago when we all realised that the bloody thing started at 7am. Urrgh!

The HF Ultra relay is 53 miles in length. The real heroes run the whole thing (Respect to Gilly and Chris – see their reports) while the slackers do just a quarter leg. The HF route follows the first half of the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Tyndrum and certainly when the weather is as sunny and clear as last Saturday, it is gorgeous.

Highland Fling Route

Highland Fling Route
















Highland Fling Profile - don't be fooled by the "flat" profile of leg 3.

Highland Fling Profile – don’t be fooled by the “flat” profile of leg 3.


The teams were:

The Peni-Harriers:

Leg 1: Gillian Cairns

Leg 2: Mike Brooks

Leg 3: Sarah Burthe

Leg 4: Rob Wilson


The Peni-Cuckoos

Leg 1: Fran Jones

Leg 2: Chris Downie

Leg 3: Andrea Wilson

Leg 4: Ngeme Ntuli


So we left Penicuik at 5.15 (actually – 5.20 as someone was late!!) and raced across the Central Belt and made it in good time for registration at Milngavie railway station for the 7am start. The rain of the journey had cleared up and there was a friendly but muted nervous atmosphere at the beginning. After duly psyching Gill to emphasise that this was a race and not a Saturday morning trot, Gill and Fran were off.

There then followed a rather complicated shuttling process. Mike sped off to dump his bike at Rowardennan, Chris took Fran’s car, and I took the remaining stragglers and we all shot off to Drymen. As it was only 8am in the morning, it was pretty damn cold but we clapped and congratulated all the Ultra runners who were already trickling through. After seeing Gilly and Chris through, I took Sarah, Andrea and Ngeme up to Rowardennan where we had a relaxing coffee at the hotel before Ngeme and I left them for the long drive round to Bein Glass. After a quick picnic of soup and coke in the sun at Tarbet, we arrived at Ben Glass with plenty of time to stretch and warm up.


Leg 1


I had volunteered to do the first leg of the fling from Milngavie to Drymen mainly because I like an early run, and it was a slightly shorter leg at 12.6 miles. Another advantage which I hadn’t realised initially was that this leg had the least elevation. However, when we arrived I had barely woken up and wasn’t quite so sure about the whole thing….

We got our numbers on, and had 15 minutes to wake up and prepare, which for us involved standing and chatting about the day ahead! Thankfully the weather was so much better than forecast. There was a nice relaxed atmosphere at the start, and soon Fran and I were off. I had really not much idea what the track would be like and what time I should be aiming for, so decided to just run quite fast and try to keep sight of the runner in front.

The field was pretty well spread out soon after starting, and it was actually just lovely to run and try to enjoy the scenery. There wasn’t a huge amount to see at the beginning of the way, but later I could see the hills and the sky clearing ahead. We had a few hilly bits along the way and some varied track, but nothing compared to the later sections.

I passed one relay runner and caught up to chat with another lovely lady from Helensburgh. We also passed a few of the amazing ultra runners, which just made me feel guilty! There was a wearing road section in the last mile, followed by a nice little green hill and a run across the field and up to the first changeover where Mike was waiting. Time for first leg was 1 hour 35 – a pleasant surprise! We swapped the chip and off sprinted Mike. First time I’ve finished a race before 9 in the morning, really quite nice. Fran came in shortly after and sent Chris off, and then we made our way up the road to Rowardennan. Job done for us!


So, firstly,  a 4a.m start to the day is not the best preparation for running 12.6 miles. Secondly, trying to keep up with Rob along the M8, in wet conditions, 4 people up in a Ford Fiesta so that we could register in time, is something I don’t wish to repeat in a hurry!!!

Having arrived at Milnagavie in one piece, with enough time to remove jackets & other unnecessary clothing (good decision as the weather was warmer/sunnier than the snow/fog forecast earlier in the week) Gill & I set off on the first leg. I quickly lost sight of Gill as we headed through a wooded undulating trail which followed an old railway track and eventually open countryside surrounded by hills. At mile 4, I managed to tag along with a friendly army triathlete who kept me going until we hit the roads & some sneaky hills at the end. After 1hr 51 mins of running, Chris was a welcome sight at the handover at Drymen and as Gill had completed her leg in a speedy 1hr 35 we were able to then jump in the car to drive onto Rowardennan to see Chris complete his section and look out for other team members.

I had chosen the first leg as I thought that there would be less chance of me getting lost although had no concerns with this on the day as the route was well marked & had friendly marshals at all the tricky turns. Most of the way round I felt very relaxed taking in the gorgeous views along my section of the West Highland way. The only downside of doing the first leg and being the driver was that it was a long day ahead of getting to the other relay sections & waiting for everyone to finish at the end & then having the long drive home (arrived back at Penicuik at 8pm)! The upside was that there was plenty of entertainment and food at the finish & was just fantastic to welcome home the Ultra runners who are all amazing, awe inspiring, with a touch of nuttiness in running the whole 53 miles in one go from Milnagavie to Tyndrum. Chris & Gilly you are truly running Gods!!


Leg 2


After our Planning meeting at Frans, (Fabby Muffins), after volunteering for the second leg was thinking, the run will be the easy part.

A ghastly early alarm, then along the M8 in the pissing rain thinking what am I doing. However on reaching the start and picking up the numbers it had cleared a bit and turned out to be perfect running day.

I then drove up to Rowardenan and dropped my bike off, then down to Drymen to meet Gill. Great atmosphere at the changeover and in no time Gill was coming in, quick hand over of the baton well timing chip and off I went.

I knew this leg was the longest but didn’t really mind as doing Ultra Training anyway. However different matter when you’re running a bit faster compared to long plodding slow runs, this was a bit of a wakeup call to say the least

I had forgotten how tough the route was. Conic Hill wasn’t too bad and a great descent to Balmaha. The second half was a brute, really techy through the woods on the shore line and surprisingly hilly. However the views and the camaraderie more than made up for it.

Rowardenan eventually appeared though, over the timing mat, 2.07 pretty pleased. Met Sarah and quick change over and off she went.

Didn’t have time to hang about jumped on the bike and back to Drymen and home, not your usual Saturday morning.


03.51 hrs is a very early start even for me. I still managed to be late for our 05.15 meet. After a M8 race through heavy spray, and some electronic navigation from the rear seats! We made the start.

Numbers were pinned on.

At 07.00hrs it was 3 2 1 go. Fran and Gillian were off and running. We all transferred to a chilly Drymen. Leg 2 start was very busy lots of Ultra runner streaming through. We gave them all a cheer/clap. It was fantastic to see Gilly and then Chris B – they are the real deal. I missed Gillian/Mike’s change and was still in my jacket when Fran zoomed it to change over. With help from Gillian and Fran I was chipped up and on my way.

The Way was up and down on good surface, hard on the feet with my old inov8 shoes. I came upon Chris B on the Conic Hill climb he was looking cool. Onward and up and over the hill and my fav bit the first real downhill to Balmaha. I was over taking some Ultra Guys on a steep grassy slope and managed a 360′ somersault. Oh dear not much damage, gave the Ultras a laugh! The next bit of trail was very hilly and hot with the sun. The last downhill in to Rowardennan was great. Over the timing mat and into the crowded change over. Gillian and Fran removed the chip they had fitted 2.28mins before and Andrea was off like the wind, it was over for me a spent force.

After a kit change and a drink I managed to see Gilly coming in to Rowardennan. She was looking  fresh. We all then drove to Benglass farm and found Sarah who had already swopped with Rob. Ngeme was awaiting Andrea and the last leg. Yet again Gillian and Fran were on Chip change duties. Our last man was on the trail. A swift drive to the finish line took us back to the crowds.

Soon Rob charged down the finish funnel and it was over for team 1. A while later Ngeme team 2 last man standing came romping round the bend and over the line for a tremendous finish.

What a day What a Race!


Leg 3


What a day!! Despite the early start this was a simply awesome race with a great atmosphere throughout. I began my leg absolutely jittery with nerves, mainly because Rob kept impressing upon us the need for speed and I was worried about being by far the slowest runner in the team, and paranoid about missing Mike at the changeover. Hence, I stood shivering in my shorts so as to not waste any time getting rid of clothes once he came racing into view! Actually shorts were definitely a good choice as it was really warm work on the hills once I got going. I had heard that my section was the most scenic but that it was a “bit technical” in places- this was definitely no exaggeration! It started really well, gorgeous views across the loch with the waves dancing in the sunlight, and some fairly long uphill sections on tracks through the forest. I started off at a fair lick and have to say that it is the only race I have ever run where I overtook everyone on the uphills- however, this actually made me feel guilty as these hardcore nuts had already run a marathon by this point and were understandably taking it quite easy on the uphills. I felt so humbled by their efforts that I tried to shout a hearty “well done- awesome” to each of them. Most of them were shouting encouragement to me, which made me feel even worse!! Stopped taking the view in on the technical parts- these were really tricky, with lots of steep rocky steps which were pretty damp and slippy and studded with tree roots. I actually fell a couple of times, nothing at all serious, but really felt sorry for the folk on the ultra with tired legs. No wonder I saw so many scrapes and bloody injuries at the end- some of the steps would have been hell if your legs were tired. Also, the whole section seemed to be completely hilly- up down up down- it was exhausting! I kept plodding on, getting held up a fair bit by the slower ultras where the path was so narrow, but felt too guilty to try and push past. After about 10 miles I realised that I had already taken an hour and 50 minutes, which was the time Rob predicted I would finish my leg (oops- just another 3.7 miles to go! Panic!) and that I was totally knackered- tried to keep on pushing through, helped by the bravery and grit of the ultras. The last climb was a beast but very much enjoyed the last downhill mile- some of the ultrarunners at this point were going at a fair old lick and was amazing to think they had run so far. Over the last stile and through the clapping spectators, desperately looking out for Rob. Struggled to bend down I was so tired, but luckily Ngeme was there to swap the timing chip for me! All I could think about, as Rob shot off into the distance overtaking ultrarunners left right and centre, was that I couldn’t imagine carrying on for even one more section, let alone running three- massive respect to Gilly and Chris- my new heroes.


I don’t know where exactly I spent Saturday lunchtime – got dropped somewhere unpronounceable and was told to run until I was picked up somewhere else. So I followed, at first, the long slog uphill, passing numerous weird species of human beings who had just completed a marathon and still looked remarkably fresh. Then I stumbled together with many injured troupers across the assault course along a VERY VERY LONG loch. Finally, the loch came to an end, but the 3rd leg didn’t. I noticed that I had to revise my concept of a gentle 2 hour run and keep going. It was probably one of the most beautiful runs I have ever done. The nature was sheer STUNNING!


Leg 4

Rob Wilson

We underestimated how technical leg 3 was and Sarah was about 40 minutes longer than we thought. This meant I was a nervous bundle of Tigger nerves by the time she came along.

As my left knee appears to be on its way out (hopefully temporarily), I had asked to run the final leg as it was mostly uphill and I thought this would be less impact. However, as the temperatures had risen, the almost continual undulating climb for the first 10kms was really tough. When Sarah came in, we were 7th place in the team relay and I was set on catching some of the other teams if at all possible. After all, I did tell Gill this was only fun if we made it competitive – I guess I had to “walk” the talk.

Although feeling pretty bad about it, running the relay means you continuously pass the Ultra runners. This helps you keep focus on passing the next runner in front of you. Many of them were pretty slow by this point, but always cheered me on – more guilt! The run up through Glen Falloch (passing some of the oldest pine trees in Scotland) is along a dry dusty track which is not my favourite surface, but the views were epic. Over this initial 10 km ascent, I managed to pass two of the teams – could I pass another?

Above Crianlarich, the route shifts to the NW and is a lovely track through mixed woodland. I was worried for a while as for a couple of kilometres, I did not see anyone. Had I messed up? Luckily I met some West Highland Way walkers who cheered me on and said I was on track. The ascent down to the main valley was fast, although by this point my left knee was grumbling. The final 4 kms undulated along trails and tracks up the valley to Tyndrym. I managed to pass a few more Ultra runners, but either they were strong or I was starting to flag as they were not much slower than me at this point. I did not see another relay runner.

On entering Tyndrym, runners are welcomed by bagpipers (who seemed to keep going all afternoon!) and after a final rise, the finish line is at the end of a long flag bedecked red carpeted funnel. What a great feeling to sprint across the line with all the cheers.

Final times and places:

The Peni-Harriers:

Leg 1: Gillian Cairns: 01:37:26

Leg 2: Mike Brooks: 02:08:24

Leg 3: Sarah Burthe: 02:35:11

Leg 4: Rob Wilson: 01:48:23

Team total time: 08:09:24

5th team from 49. 3rd quickest mixed team.


The Peni-Cuckoos

Leg 1: Fran Jones: 01:51:07

Leg 2: Chris Downie: 02:28:40

Leg 3: Andrea Wilson: 02:44:21

Leg 4: Ngeme Ntuli: 02:24:10

Team total time: 09:28:18

16th team from 49

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6 comments on Highland Fling Ultra Relay 2015 – the slackers report

  1. sooz says:

    Loved reading that , well done you guys! I loved being part of the relay team a couple of years ago and I ran the last leg which was truly beautiful 🙂
    No-one seems to mention cows, I had a nightmare with cows all over the track and having to weave through them but luckily none this year for you all!

    Total respect to the full- flingers – you are a different breed 🙂

  2. Mark Dawson says:

    Fantastic report and well done to you all! It sounds like you had a great day out in the hills for sure. I was lucky enough to do a short stretch of the West Highland way near Tyndrum this year as part of my training when the Dawson Clan were at the Strathfillan Wigwams. A really beautiful stretch! I’ll have to do it properly like you guys one day 🙂

  3. David Cairns says:

    Respect to you all
    Sounds just like you had a ball
    Out on the hills, blowing off steam
    My track sessions now don’t seem so mean
    Do they?

    Do we have enough web capacity? It took me longer to read this report than Gilly’s.

  4. Sadie Kemp says:

    Well done you guys, and a trophy to top it off! 🙂

  5. gilly says:

    Great report – it’s almost as long as mine! 🙂
    It brings back good memories of when we did the relay a few years back. It sounds like you all had a great day (apart from scary sounding driving!) you all did really well and 3rd mixed team! Need to come back next year to retain the title 😉

  6. Alan Jones says:

    Absolutely splendid collation and post Rob!

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