Ding, Ding….The Highland Fling!
Saturday 28th April saw the 13th running of the Highland Fling. A spectacular ultra marathon taking on the first 53 miles of the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Tyndrum. For me it was time for payback after the 2017 race broke me, and my knee.
5am and 800 runners, their friends and families and heaps of super volunteers gather at Milngavie train station car park. Drop bags are offloaded to various vans and cars for the 4 checkpoints at Balmaha, Rowardennan, Inversnaid and Beinglas. For the uninitiated a drop bag is essentially your pack lunch, filled with all sorts of treats to get you through. Cereal bars, sweets, gels, pork pies, cheese, crisps, rice pudding and baby food can all be found in a drop bag!
5.50am and Race Director Johnny Fling (John Duncan) jumps on top of the Fling van to brief everyone. Pretty straightforward, enjoy yourselves, be polite to other path users and make friends along the way.
6.00am and it’s all underway. The crazy fast guys fly through the tunnel, up the steps, through the precinct and onto the WHW proper. The rest of us truck in behind as we snake up the first few miles like one massive training run chatting away, making new friends and catching up with old.
After 3/4 miles the magnitude of what you’re taking on opens up in front of you as you drop down from Mugdock into the Blane Valley. Loch Lomond is ahead of you and you only need to get to the other end plus about 13 miles……easy!?!?
Next stop is Drymen where this year’s compulsory kit check was. Your compulsory kit was a foil blanket and phone so not asking much but we did see one chap making his way back to the start after being disqualified…..oooops!
From Drymen it’s a jaunt up the famous Conic Hill before descending to Balmaha. Wonderfully they always plonk a photographer at the top of Conic to capture you at your finest hour. Balmaha at 20 miles is feeding time which for me was a quick chunk of cheddar, half cereal bar and some Ella’s Kitchen- The Purple one.
Now on the Loch-side it’s a rollercoaster of a route up to Rowardennan but all pretty good running. Just before Rowardennan is half way and at this point I really wasn’t feeling too great. A pep talk with my former rugby team mate Tam and I was back in the game…..that and another wee bit of cheddar.
Now the Highland Fling is very much a game of 2 halves and this is where the fun begins. A serious climb followed by some good technical running and you’re at Inversnaid. The next leg is the toughest so best get some proper supplies on here. Rice pudding and half a Mars bar and I was away.
Inversnaid to Beinglas is so tough! There’s lots of scrambling, climbing ladders, avoiding goats and not much running for the first 4 miles and a good climb before the descent to Beinglas campsite and the final checkpoint. That’s you just beyond the top of the Loch with 12 miles to go.
The first 5 of these are on Land Rover tracks but typically all uphill. You then cross the road and railway through a couple of tunnels before ending up on the West of the A82 just below Crianlarich. This is where the infamous Cow Poo Alley can be found. Now as it had been wet for a few days before the Fling, Cow Poo Alley was a site to behold. Shin and at times knee high deep you could be. Many of the Flingers in front of me were taking the High Road through the tough heather. I however took the advice of my mate Tam who as a farmer explained ‘it’s just grass’ and ploughed through the middle. Added a certain something to my post race kit bag that’s for sure.
2 sections to go. First up the roller coasters through the forest above Crianlarich where tired legs are either caught out with the steep descents or steep climbs. After a couple of miles it’s across the A82 and onto farm roads before the final push through the heather to Tyndrum.
Now the finish to the Fling is like no other race. Just before you turn onto the finish straight a piper plays you home which I’m sure they just do to get you to well up. The finish straight itself is a red carpet with all the flags of competing Nations along it. Friends, family, fellow Flingers cheer you down the carpet to the end of the 53 mile and what an amazing experience that is!
A goodie bag of t-shirt, buff, sticker and bottle of fizz and I’ve conquered the Fling in 10hrs 49mins 54secs and a PB of 1hr 25mins. One Happy Chappy!
A quick shower, beer and reunited with my wife, Laura, and it’s out with the cow bells and cheering everyone else up the red carpet.
The Highland Fling is a phenomenal race. The scenery, the scale of the challenge, the other crazy folk you run it with all make it good. The guys that make it great are the 200 marshals who sort you out at every check point greeting you with your drop bag, filling your water bottles and generally making you feel better about yourself…..absolute heroes.
For anyone thinking about something different I can’t recommend the Fling enough, an absolute cracker!
Results can be found here: Highland Fling results
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