Sunday, April 28, 2013

2013 Highland Fling Race Report

Hoka Highland Fling (Milngavie to Tyndrum, Scotland, along the West Highland Way)

The course:  An easy first 12 miles with non-technical trail and just a few rolling hills.  Then a big climb and descent, followed by many more rolling hills and one longer climb starting from mile 27ish.  Technical running from around mile 35 to 39, rolling hills that feel way too long around mile 41-45, a rollercoaster section of steep ups and downs in a forest, and a flat and easy 3 miles to the finish.

The numbers for my race:  53 miles, 9:33, 4th woman

My race was neatly divided into four different parts:

Part 1:  The Dark Miles

Not dark as in pre-dawn but dark as in grim.  It's not the best sign when the first few miles of a race feel bad.  It's even worse when it's the whole first 17 miles that feels bad.  I started the Fling nervous because I hadn't been feeling great for the past week.  True to expectations, when the race started, I immediately felt like I was working way too hard for my pace.  I let my heart rate go quite a bit higher than planned just because otherwise I was going to end up just jogging the easy first 12 miles and wasting loads of time.

One nice part about this section was that I found a lot of friendly people to run with.  I had been running exactly the same pace as a guy named Colin for a while so we started running together and talking, and the miles passed quickly.  I was also impressed that at least half the population of Drymen appeared to have come out to cheer for the race and people were offering fruit to runners by the side of the road!

View from Conic Hill

Part 2:  Happy Times

As we were heading up Conic Hill around mile 17, things changed.  All of a sudden I felt completely fine and ready to run.  I have no idea what happened but whatever it was, I was okay with it!  I sped down into Balmaha as fast as I could and picked up a few gels and pickle juice from my drop bag.  The volunteers were amazing and would have everyone's drop bag ready for them by the time they were in the checkpoint area, so there was zero wasted time getting anything out of your bag.  This was in keeping with the organization of the race as a whole, which was probably the best I've ever experienced.  

Section between Balmaha (mile 19) and Rowardennan (mile 27)

I got a nice steady pace going over the next few miles but half expected things to go downhill again at any moment.  Happily, they didn't.  I felt strong and comfortable, was able to eat and drink plenty, and felt like I could keep up my pace indefinitely.

Looking at the course from the other side of Loch Lomond.  Miles 27 to 40ish do a rising and falling traverse along the hillside in the photo.

The technical section.  Photo by Nick Smith of
The only minor problem was the heat--it wasn't particularly warm most of the time but when the sun was out and the wind died down, there was definitely suffering; I kept running out of water and was filling my bottle from streams or drinking extra at the checkpoints, and I splashed cold water from puddles on my face more than once (this seemed normal at the time...).  I was still feeling pretty good by the time I got to the last checkpoint, Beinglas, around mile 41.  I was in 4th place at this point but a spectator told me the first 3 women were all bunched up and that 1st place was only about 7 or 8 minutes ahead of me.  I was getting tired but figured I had no excuse not to up the effort a little at this point.  It sort of worked--for about two minutes.  But then...

Part 3:  The Meltdown  

...I was met with the bonk.  I had been eating a ton of Gu but apparently it hadn't been enough, and I was suddenly out of all fuel.  I couldn't do much more than stare vacantly into the distance and stagger along.  Bouts of jogging only lasted for 30 seconds at a time.  I had one Gu left that I had been trying to save for the last three miles but I took it anyway.  It wasn't enough, though, and the zombie walk continued for close to two miles.  Then, very luckily, I was saved by three people.  One was a racer who passed me and must have noticed that I wasn't looking so good; he asked if I was okay and offered me some jelly babies, which I don't actually like but which looked like the best food in the world at that moment.  I downed a bag of them in about 5 seconds.  Just after that I met a spectator (she was a member of one of the Edinburgh running clubs) and shamelessly begged for food and water from her.  She was very nice and gave me some kind of crunchy chocolate ball and filled my water bottle.  Total bliss.

Part 4:  Back to Normal...Sort Of

I started walking up the first of the rollercoaster hills and by the time I got to the top, I was feeling much better.  I started running again and was soon caught by Lucy, a relay runner who slowed down and ran with me for a bit and really cheered me up.  By the time Lucy went on ahead, I was feeling nearly as good as I had felt for the middle part of the race.

One of the nicest sections--big downhills on soft pine needles

I crossed what was roughly the 50-mile mark in 8:55 and knew I had only 3 miles of flat, easy ground left.  I struggled a bit still in this section--I spent a while sucking the remnants of Gu out of the empty packets I was carrying--but overall I was happy to be feeling reasonably good again.  The final two miles are actually one of my favorite sections of trail:  something about the look of the trail and the brush to the side of it reminds me of Spain.  The finish line was set up where the By The Way hostel is in Tyndrum and it was an impressive sight, with a massive finishing chute lined with flags of countries racers had come from.  All in all, not a bad day, though next time a bit more food and a bit more hill training would probably not go amiss...


  1. Brave or mad? Not sure which but hats off and well done, glad you made it round in one piece.

  2. Smoking fast! Congrats!

    How did the pickle juice work? How did you take it (guzzle it at the aid station or carry some with you)?

    Also, is it not normal to splash puddle water on your face??? I stop to dunk my head in pretty much every stream I pass. I always find out too late that I am being weird...

    1. I guzzled it at the aid station--I had left it in a bottle in my drop bag. Disgusting but useful.

  3. You are amazing! This was a great RR! I'm happy with my longest distance being a marathon, but I love reading about your crazy ultras. ;) Congrats on a great time!

  4. Looks beautiful!! What a great finish too! I think I'd be the person rolling the puddles if I felt too warm, so I think you're normal too. Gotta cool off somehow, right?