The Highland Fling, West Scotland, Saturday, April 24, 2010

53 Miles

Phil Owen

The West Highland way is a 95 mile trail from Milngavie to Fort William on the west coast of Scotland. Its a bit hilly. There are three races associated with it. The whole 95 race that I will be doing in a couple of months time on the longest weekend of the year, the 42 Mile 2nd ‘half’ Devil of the Highlands so called becuase it climbs the Devil’s Staircase in Glencoe and this, the first ‘half’ Highland Fling 53 mile foot race from Milngavie to Tynndrum. This was my first ‘ultra’ last year and a gathering of sort of many whw, fetcheveryone and other ultra friends.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 🙂 Get through this and my running year can start at last.

Four months out (barring 2 weeks when I re-broke my foot) and I’ve been chomping at the bit to run. I started again 3 weeks ago , very easy going with running a little every other day and a handful of races. I found all hard work and was dreadfully slow but I knew I had to let my foot get used to the pressure of running again. So I headed to the fling with virtually no real training and my longest run of 12 miles the previous week to test the foot. Picked Rob up in Newcastle and Sandy in Edinburgh and headed to meet Soph in Tynndrum. Soph got delayed so we had some lovely grub at the Good Food Company. Well you have to support the sponsors. :-). Murdo the RD appeared and I overheard him talking about moving some stuff so I offered to help and we ended up shifting all the beer and champagne to the finishing cottages. Sandy and me tried our best to get locked in but it didn’t come off. Pity.

Cracking night at the pre-race meal with such great friends , kept it easy with only 4-5 beers and off to our hotel for bed. I didn’t sleep well although sandy said i was snoring but i was awake listening to her talk in her sleep, the usual, Vodka, champagne; stab ya in the face stuff. She’s at her sweetest asleep and i often give her a kiss before she wakes and the mouth starts. Sandy was to start with the super-vets at 6am so a 4:30am rise for her and of course me. This is her normal get up time and hyper isn’t the word. It’s like having a mad spaniel lobbing around the room after saying walkies to it. The start meeting point is at Milngavie train station and I met up with loads of whw’s friends and fetchie’s to see the first lot of.

At 7am my turn came and I plodded off. Really excited mostly because i have no idea how I’m going to cope. Lintie had kept going on about muscle memory but my muscle can’t remember much about running or ever carrying this much lard about either. Now for once I was being careful and had no time in mind or pressure on myself. Just finish, enjoy the scenery, chat and treat it as a training ru and just pray the foot hold together. I do love this race but it’s fair to say the first 15 miles aren’t great. Bit flat and uninspiring, however I didn’t have my mind on that or for that matter my foot holding up. For some reason, after feeling fine in the morning I became very nauseous. I mean really, really sick. No idea why either. I tried to take my mind of it but I wanted to throw up, my head was swooning and I’m sweating like a pig. I took some hammer electrolytes i had left from the Hardmoors goodie bag as i was worried about losing to much. At the first half marathon point ( I only ever run half marathons) my time was a long way down on last year, my head was swooning, I was drenched in sweat and really sick. ( i later found out a fair few seemed to get sick . coincidence? Who knows)

I picked up a bit over conic hill as I feel that this is where the proper race starts and the fist bit is just a warm up. I love the climb and views, I try and run some of it usually but I was dead and sick. At the top, I’d promised myself I would not lash down so as to protect the foot but I had nothing in me anyway. Still overtook a fair few picking there way down but really not myself. In the woods, I tried to make myself sick a few times but that didn’t work. Still its safe to say it took my mind of my main worry my foot and fitness. I ground out the miles to the 20 odd mile point at Balmaha and got a bottle of sports drink from Minty’s Mrs. I also had a quick chat to DaveK’s lass who smelt my breath for ketosis ,The main side effects of ketosis are bad breath and sluggish mobility but that it was not that. I told her if i didn’t run the nausea off in the next few miles I would have to pull out as this was just not fun. I met rob here which was exactly where I said he would overtake me. I also changed my drenched top to a lightweight spare I had taken. Soon after leaving a runner asked if I was ok. I must have looked like death tbh. He had some strong painkillers with him (in fact he had an absolute load-its good to know drug dealers are getting in on the ultra scene) so I took 4 struggled on.

In my head I was now pulling out at Rowardennan. (half wayish ) Running through woodland is my favourite type of run , I love this bit through forest hills trails to the halfway point. A lot of folks go on about conic hill but these constant up and downs can really take it out of you to the half way point. A few miles in i slowly realised i was feeling a little better. I’d stopped sweating gallons and just a bit iffy rather than all out throwing up nausea. My legs had a bit more omph in them and a smile appeared on my face at last. Just 2 miles to go to the halfway point where i was going to bail and 5:40 hrs of running i was finally getting over what ever it was.. By Rowardennan I was miraculously Ok . Heck it had only taken 6 hours in total of running to get over it the sickness. Not that that time was a concern but i was over an hour down on last year . I’m surprised it was not a lot more tbh. .

Picked up the pace heading for Inversnaid hotel ,another 7miles along the trail next to loch lomand , heading for the bit of rocky section that I love and I’m back to myself and really enjoying the run . Andy and Simon passed and had a good chat telling them that i had almost pulled out . Its funny folks never really believe me when i tell them but i certainly was. Running sick ain’t fun and ain’t clever in my book. I moved on to Inversnaid hotel them the section i always love.. I know some folks hate this bit but it suits me. I’m never going to be fast but i have two things I’m ok at . Tricky ground and rocky/fell Downhills. I can move fairly swiftly (for me) over the rocks, its gives my slow self a bit of a lift to have folks stand aside for me as I fly them and thoroughly enjoy myself. Near the end of the rocks I came across liz, who had run most of the way with Dave Robson in the Hardmoors 55 i had marshalled. We had a chat before Scot went by a mile or so out of Beinglass (3rd half mara) and cheekily asked him to have a coffee ready for me.(he was in the relay race)

Into Beinglass and well happy and finally feeling really good . Nicked some chips of an old couple and had hugs from Lorraine, halfpint and Adrienne. 🙂 Moved on and looking at my watch I was amazed I could probably make around 12hrs if I put my foot down. However scot then came running down the road with my coffee (thanks mate), we chatted and I was excited as he had picked up a limited edition Meursault album for me at the album launch I had to miss the other week . ñget in! 🙂 then ran with Lizogical again for a fair way , chatted about Hardmoors, the race and other forthcoming races enjoyed the WARM AND SUNNY DAY WITH ITS SLIGHT COOLING BREEZE , generally feeling on top of the world . Forgetting about the time thing in a race and looking at the bigger picture isn’t something i do easily but in this case , the sickness had robbed me of time anyway and force me to adhere to my plan so there seemed no need to do anything but take in the full the majesty of the surrounding and help other on the way. I had a smile on my face and was enjoying everything. My foot was also holding fine and i risked a few little spruts downhill. All good. Up past the cows with liz, me telling her of training runs where the full lot were there at the gate waiting to gan yame to watch Emmerdale and it’s almost impossible to get through the wall of beef. Up the hill and a big smiley Hendo caught me up shouting “I’m coming to get you”. I had an hour start on the fellow so he had done bliddy well . Very pleased to see him accompanied by the adorable sexy Siouxsie support running. I knew this section was a nightmare for him last year and he looked good and strong and had beasted it running all the hills up tot he famous picnic table.

However its fair to say ( and I hope he doesn’t mind) but he had given his all to get to this point and was now flagging . I knew he would dearly love sub 12 so I stayed with them (apart from flying down the hills for a bit of fun and test the foot some more ) to try and help. Have to say there a cute couple ( I know they won’t like me saying that mind lol ) and I was not sure if I should help out . Felt a bit of a gooseberry but Susans a scot and has about as much reserve as sandy about speaking her mine so i guessed she would soon tell me to F-off if they wanted to be alone.

We plodded on and Hendo ground the miles out. Funny how things can work out in races. I was dying on my feet and sick as a dog for the first 6 hours, probably should have pulled out if i wasn’t so stubborn but now I felt wonderful. In fact my secret agenda of running the fling back on Monday was very much on, that i had laughed at a few hours. I had so much energy now I was playing with the hills and loving every minute of the run. The miles ticked down and Hendo slowed. We tried every trick in the book but I think the massive and brilliant effort to run the Beinglass section and smash his demons had done him in.

It became apparent I was not doing any further good and wanted them to see the race out together so opened up my the legs and ran hard . Loved it. Really flew for a mile or so up and caught DaveK who i’d seen at various points over the race day and who’s good lady had given me some water a few miles before. Lovely chat and we headed to the finish together . Up on an outcrop two pipers played, a really beautiful and fitting end to the race and i strolled over the line into sandy’s arms (who blasted round in just over 11hrs )and Stephen her son there as well.

Wonderful. Amazing finish for me, not the slightest out of breath, feeling grand and amazingly (and just as well because as i will have to run the full 95 miles in a couple of months) felt like I could just run on and on. Lintie had been right all along, my legs had remembered. A nice really touch was my mate John Kynaston (whw and Hardmoors) putting the medal round my neck and scot putting my cold beer in my hand almost at the same time. 🙂

A well weird but grand day out…in the warm sunshine and slight cooling breeze.

A couple of hours later i felt a bit nauseous again, struggled to eat something or drink the beer and generally feeling bluuugh and almost missed the ceilidh but so glad I dragged my self there and again soon felt better. This race is so much more that a 53 mile foot race heading into the highlands. Its about the people and friends coming together, a gathering of sorts, the supporters and organizers, even the walkers along the way with their encouragement and smiles , all the people who give of there free time and lastly us runners who take advantage of these things to challenge ourselves and push the limits. I know it’s not always possible to get to the after stuff but if you run it and can, do so. The race is completed best by being there. Had such a wonderful time with all the fetchie’s and other friends. Fantastic and fascinating to watch the Scottish dancing. Since the sixties when the violent Scots laid down there swords and came down from the glens, the fighting has been distilled to form this type of dancing where you can almost see the hundreds of years of slaughter on the glens in Strip the willow.. The main aim of which seemed to be fling your ‘opponent’ about like a rag doll and rip there arms out their sockets while laughing and smiling like a maniac at them! Magic.

Almost surreally the Scottish dancing seemly turned into a disco for a while before we all headed home to bed . In the morn we had all you can eat breakie and Loon, Lintie and Adrienne headed off to do hill reps on the devil.(yes i kid you not.) During the night my knee had stiffened up a bit so I erred on the side of caution and decided running back the 53 mile on just 3 weeks of training may not be the wisest move.-next year tho.. I know, caution, it’s not really my thing but just this once till I’m sure of the foot and maybe just a wee bit more running under my belt I’ll take it easy…for a bit…


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