Having negotiated 50 miles of the roads, gravel paths, forest tracks and the playground alongside Loch Lomond that make up the Highland Fling race route on the West Highland Way. Arriving at Auchtertyre just a couple of miles from the finish, the CR is out of reach now, my legs really hurt but there is still a chance to win. Albeit a really slim chance. How racing should be!
I love ultra distance trail events and I really love racing. However, in my opinion so rarely do the two truly mix in the UK. We have seen some phenomenal solo runs over the last year especially but lets see more racing! Robbie Britton vs Paul Giblin at the WHW as well covered via social media and what resulted was the CR being blown away as both athletes trying to use their strengths to gain a foot hold on a brilliant race.
At 06:00 on Sat I was standing at the Highland Fling start line in the company of some fantastic runners. Matt Laye, Casey Morgan, Nathan Montague, Eoin Lennon, Donnie Campbell and Ben Abdelnoor to name a few. So let’s go racing!
The WHW heads out of Milngavie along a collection of gravel tracks and roads which lead to the first checkpoint 13 miles in at Drymen. The start is pretty fast, Casey Morgan leading the field in a nippy 1:16 just out of sight.
Conic Hill is an often talked about landmark of the Fling race. Standing at 361m it is the highest point on the course allowing a view of Casey weaving his way along the single track path over the top before racing down towards Balmaha, the CP that marks the 20 mile point of the race.
Heading out of Balmaha towards Rowardennan marks the start of a 20 mile journey alongside Loch Lomand. This section consists of fantastic rolling paths weaving through the trees. Catching Casey, sharing a brief chat and laugh about a shared dislike for the steps we are climbing, I head into Rowardennan checkpoint aiming to grab drink and fit a couple more gels into my Flipbelt before starting the steady climb that heads up this section before arriving Lochside again with Inversnaid occasionally visible in the distance. Down the steps into the village, out the other side and back onto the trail of the WHW ready to take on the rocky trail to Bein Glas.
Bein Glas arrives after passing Darios post at the top of the Loch Lomond following a short, tough but fun section immediately next to the Loch navigating over rocks and around trees. This section keeps you occupied and is worth making the most of any small break in the twists and turns to get a sip of drink and some fuel on board. 40 miles in the bank, a short lead over Matt Laye and marginally under CR pace.
The home straight, a couple of the 13 miles from Bein Glas to Tyndrum already behind me, having a bit of a wobble. Everything hurts, having neglected my drinking slightly, retching up an s-cap that I attempted to take doesn’t help. Keep running, try again. This time it goes down chased by a Cherry Bomb Mule gel in a bid to start climbing out of the hole.
Hitting my favourite part of the trail through Crianlarich, Matt has overturned the small lead I had and is just ahead. Still hurting but trying to hustle. Through Auchtertyre, 3 minutes down on Matt but encouraged to keep pushing, mustering about as much as I can from heavy legs. I can’t see Matt but still feel like I am chasing him.
Pushing over the final part of single track, into the final stretch I know leads to Tyndrum I hear the cheers as Matt finishes in 7:04, beaten but happy to be in Tyndrum I pass the Pipe players and jog down the fantastic red carpet finish of the Highland Fling race to complete the course in 7:06.
What a brilliant day out with a flawless crew of Debbie Martin-Consani, James Elson, Drew Sheffield, Richie Cunningham, Robbie Britton and Natalie White. Despite coming out 2nd best I really enjoyed being involved in an ultra race. As the standard of runners increases I hope this is more commonplace and we continue to see outstanding individual performances as well a head to head contests on our UK trails.