I ran the Fling last year as my first ever ultra distance run, loved the experience and the event, from then my goal has been to take on the 95 mile West Highland Way race.
With a fairly good fitness level and two ultra races under my belt from 2013 I started focusing on training properly at the beginning of January this year. The training has been going really well and any wee niggles I’ve had over the last year have been a lot less bother recently, so I was looking forward to seeing how well I would get on in the Fling this year.
Based on sections I had ran mainly only up to Rowardennan and using John Kynaston’s 10 hour splits, I worked out splits that gave me 10h 53m which I adjusted to 10h 45m because it sounded like a better number. John’s splits break down each section into mini splits of 2-3 miles.
It’s difficult going into a race like this and trying to work out what will be accurate and challenging split times. Based on what I had worked out I thought 10.45 was realistic but had a thought that I would love to do sub 10 hours (a nice round number!)
My training all year has usually involved 5 runs a week and it felt strange tapering off the two weeks before the fling. I actually did a lot less running in the last two weeks than my plan, which was to run every other day, only managing 3 short runs, due to other stuff going on.
The weekend before the race the weather was great and I had a couple of days free to escape to tick off some more Munros. On the Friday I ran Ben Wyvis which took 2h 20min and the next day on An Teallach taking it slow and just enjoying scrambling over the pinnacles. My legs were feeling it from these two days and I was a bit worried about this a week before the fling. (I didn’t tell John I was going up the mountains as it would certainly not have been on any training plans) I recovered well over the next couple of days and had my last run on the Wednesday evening, followed by a massage on the Thursday which got rid of a couple of knots in my quads.
I felt confident on the morning of the race that I had done enough training and had good kit and my nutrition all sorted. I started further up the field than last year and it became apparent quite quickly that I was running with other runners of similar fitness and pacing to me which was great. I was conscious about not going too hard on the first section and being carried along with the group. I chatted to a couple of runners but not for too long as I wanted to keep focus on my own pace.
I loved having the cards for each section with the mini splits. I had messed up calculating the pace time but worked on the distance and the time allocated. For the first half of the race coming through checkpoints I would often forget to press the split button on the watch or wasn’t exactly sure which bridge, waterfall John had used as landmarks. I still don’t know where the steps are in the first section!
It was good enough to give me a clear indication I was going well and under my predicted times. I decided to run straight through the Drymen checkpoint as I had enough water to wait till Balmaha, I saw John and Katrina up at the next gate. John shouted,” keep it steady” which made me wonder if he thought I had set off too fast, this didn’t worry me as I felt confident I had made a good comfortable start.
Going over this trail towards Conic hill, that I have ran hundreds of times on training runs felt really nice and familiar, so lucky am I to be living in Drymen having this on my doorstep. My legs were feeling a bit heavy and my knees starting to hurt which usually happens after a couple of hours but I did wonder how bad they were going to get over another eight hours so I took some painkillers.
John had said for me to use my strength, which is downhill running and I started to go past a number of runners on the Conic down to Balmaha. Not too many though as they were all running strong and again showed me I was in a good part of the field with runners of similar fitness.
I had decided to get in and out of check points as quick as possible and put this into practice at Balmaha with a marshal helping to refill my water. John suggested I put my cards with splits for the coming sections in my drop bags, which became something I would look forward to at each checkpoint, binning the old card and setting off with the next.
I kept it going steady along the loch side enjoying using my watch and my card with the sections splits. It was great to see I was keeping ahead of schedule and knocking off each 2-3 mile section and then focus on the next. For me it really is a great way of going towards completing a ultra run as in the past my running has been affected by thinking about the huge distance and time I am covering and have still to cover.
I could hear the cheers the runners in front of me were getting coming into Rowardennan which made me feel emotional and really pleased with myself about how well I was doing. I got emotions under control before coming in to a great welcome from all the people at Rowardennan. I stopped the longest here, the only checkpoint where I sat down for a couple of minutes and ate my tuna pasta. It was hard work to get going again. I had been thinking about the long uphill drags after Rowardennan and welcomed the challenge to see how much I could run on them.
I started to feel the heat and would use water from any little stream crossings to wet my head. I noticed my urine was starting to get darker each time I had stopped and made a conscious effort to try and drink more. I had stopped using the Matrix energy powder for every water bottle, because of the taste and was now using one plain water then one with powder. I was aware I was starting to get dehydrated and every now and then felt a couple of pangs of cramps in my hamstrings and groin muscles especially when I made a longer step over something or out to the side. I focused on keeping a nice easy running pattern and taking bites of different food I was carrying.
When I came into Inversnaid I got a warm welcome from John and he seemed pleased that I was looking strong and ahead of schedule. Trying again to go quickly through the checkpoint John was saying “you are going well and you know what is to come”, which made me think not really! I haven’t thought about it and can’t remember it too well since it’s been a year since I did this section.
I do enjoy the rugged loch side path, feeling strong and easily catching and getting past other runners who were struggling more with the terrain. I passed quite a number of runners on this section, catching the next runner ahead of me and beating my splits was a great focus for me on this stage of the run.
It did take its toll on me a wee bit and I was getting tiresome of the ups and downs just before coming out onto good paths again. For the next section from the top of the loch to Beinglas I always think is shorter than it is but again the cards with the splits help me to recognise exactly what was in front of me. I was still getting twinges of cramp now and then and suddenly any splits that were 3 miles or more seemed to be more of a chore to complete. My knees were sore and I looked for another painkiller and realised I must have dropped them somewhere.
Checking my watch coming in to Beinglas I realised that it may be possible to go sub 10 hours. At the finish line a couple of hours later someone came up to me who was supporting at Beinglas and said he had never seen anyone eating rice pudding as fast as I did at that checkpoint! I knew if I had any chance of sub ten I couldn’t waste any time. I was offered a gel which I don’t usually take but thought it would help my muscle cramps.
The cramps became less frequent but I was feeling exhausted on the last section and feeling my pace was slowing. For the first time it was noticeable that other runners were catching me and passing me. I decided that my knees weren’t any worse than how they felt six hours ago and could cope without any painkillers. A couple of brief chats and two different runners said a sub ten was looking likely. Working out what distance I had to cover, the time and knowing I was tiring made me swing from thinking maybe I can do it to then thinking I will be just outside it. I decided not to worry about the runners going past me and just do what I had to, to get in under 10 hours.
After running as hard as I could on the big down hills the last five miles was a real struggle to keep moving at a decent pace. I found myself walking on tiny wee up hills and taking huge effort to push on running again. On the last mile I reckoned I had 10 minutes to do it in, although at this stage I knew I wasn’t thinking too clear. Trying to work out how long, how far and pace wasn’t making sense. I saw a sign saying By the Way 500m but knew I couldn’t count on that being too accurate. I met a supporter soon after who said only 700m to go. I hate it when distances get longer instead of shorter especially at this stage. The next supporter told me you have got quarter of a mile and 5 minutes to get sub ten. I couldn’t work out if quarter of a mile was shorter than 700m or if the distance was still increasing but I thought if I still have 5 minutes I can do it.
It is a fantastic set up at the finish and a great reception from the crowds. I crossed the line and got my medal and was told he didn’t have the official time but he thought I had done sub ten.
I was so glad to be finished and felt the day had went really quickly. As I sat in the tent eating my soup I realised I hadn’t stopped my watch so still didn’t know what my time was. When John and Katrina arrived about an hour later, John went to try and find out for me and came back asking if I would be happy with 9:57 and at first I thought he was kidding! I was totally delighted with my race and time but still bemused how we can get so hung up on just a number. In saying that, you have different things to focus on and drive you on at different times of the race and in the last section the focus for me is always going to be the finishing time under a nice round number which was a real hard slog but better that than any other way of finishing.
Here I am a couple of days after a sub ten Fling race writing a race report and analysing my splits, I think I am morphing in to John Kynaston.
We had a discussion a few weeks before the Fling about training for the full race in June and using the Fling as a training run or a race. I can certainly say I went for it and the experience from it will take me more confident in the unknown territory of the 95 mile ultra.
My finishing time on this years fling was over 2hr 40min faster than my first Fling last year and I owe a lot of that to Mr Kynaston for all his advice, support and training runs.
One of the first things John did do after congratulating me on my time was to get out his calculator and multiply my fling time by 2.19 and told me that I now need to change my WHW race target time from 23hours to 22hours!
I’m not so sure I should listen to him anymore now!