Drymen, Balmaha, Rowardennan, Inversnaid and Beinglas. Five place names that are engraved onto the minds of close to 500 runners who took part in the 53-mile 2013 Hoka Highland Fling race on Saturday (April 27th). Not only are those the places where the runners can access water and provisions, they are a vital way of breaking the 53 miles down mentally into manageable sections. That was the tactic I focused on through the day as, after Drymen at 12.6 miles, the next four are roughly 7 miles apart. After leaving Beinglas, however, there is a punishing 13 mile section with a steep 500ft climb in a plantation before the route plunges down to Tyndrum where hundreds of people had turned out to cheer people in. The route makes for a combination of challenges with long trail and road sections combined with very technical ground on the stunning east bank of Loch Lomond and two significant climbs of more than 1,000ft.
Overall, the route has 5,300ft of ascent and is one of the longest run in the Scottish Hill Runners calendar. It is also becoming the biggest – and probably the best – ultra race in the UK with entrants from all over the world.
The day could not have been better for running. The 6am start was cold and bright with a light northerly which didn’t pick up until later in the afternoon. I count my run in the Fling last year as one of my best ever events – not because I managed a particularly great time, but because I seemed to manage the distance reasonably well. I felt in relatively good shape at the end and I didn’t suffer from cramp or nausea.
This year was completely different. After roughly 26 miles I was hit with waves of nausea which stopped me eating anything substantial and, worse still, I experienced stomach cramps for the last 15 miles. But while I wasn’t feeling as good, I did manage to finish well inside my target of 10 hours knocking close to 45 minutes from my 2012 time.
The atmosphere and camaraderie among the runners made every step worthwhile. At the finish I watched many of the other runners reach the end and I was blown away by the respect and encouragement shown by those watching. Even though roughly 500 took part, you run most of it alone in an attitude of focus and not a little grit. The sudden release from that mindset in a crowd of people who only wish you well can be overwhelming. You can see official pictures of people finishing here.
That’s my second Ultra of the season over. In two or three weeks I’ll start a new phase of training for the summer Hill Running season and two ultras later in the year – the Speyside Way and Ay River Way Challenge.
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