Hoka Highland Fling – 53 Mile Ultra Race

What a day this was!!!!
Thankfully the weather was on our side and we managed to enjoy a glorious day of sunshine with a light breeze. But I jump the gun a little here, as I seemed to have ran this race the night before…
…having to get ready for a 6am kickoff at Milngavie’s train station, my ever ‘supportive’ wife Eilidh decided that we’d spend the night before, in a local hotel, a short walk from the start line. In bed for about 9:30, I managed to get a good hour of sleep in before I was woken by Eil, stroking my head and saying “It’s ok, you’re not running yet. Back to sleep.” Unknown to me, I had already begun my race and was calling out, mumbling away to myself in an animated manner to Eil’s entertainment but eventually, she had to put a stop to it once my legs kicked in and I began running! O_O 😉

Anyway, I was up early, like every other runner, to the station and ready for the 6am start!
With my drop bags collected and away, all there was for me to do, was enjoy the day out with some very good friends, as well as making some more on the way. I met a good buddie, Norrie, under the infamous underpass where we got our GPS watches at the ready for the countdown… “30 seconds…!”

“3…2…1…” – – – PLAYTIME! 😮

Off we all went and it wasn’t long until we were all pleasantly spaced out and enjoying the first few fresh miles of the morning. It was a pleasant change for me to cover this route again, as the last time I attempted it, it was covered in rough solid ice and I was wearing my Vibram Fivefingers! O_O Not the wisest of footwear for that day! 😉

This day had started well and was going to continue to do so! I’d been enjoying the early stages of the race with Norrie as well as another running pal, Andy Johns. Nothing really rewards you more, on a fresh, cold early morning run, than seeing the sunrise and welcome you onto the trails. 10 miles into the run, we came out from the cold shade of the morning and into a blanket of warmth, that only set the mood for the day even more! With the body warming up and energizing, legs stretched out, every runner came into their own rhythm, smiled and welcomed the day ahead.  It wasn’t until we started to approach Drymen that Andy decided that it was time to let lose and head for the front pack! Boy can that guy move!!! That was the last I saw of Andy until I saw his posts on Facebook crossing the finish line, whilst jumping and kicking his heels off each other! He finished with an impressive 9hrs 2mins and finding himself placed within the top 25! – Fantastic result for what was already highlighted as the biggest attended Ultra Race for the UK this year, including a lot of international runners as well.

Norrie wasn’t far off leaving me and setting his own pace, aiming to hit Conic Hill and then run up and over it. I was still fairly new to running in races, so decided not to get carried away too much, so opted to walk what seemed too steep to run without burning too much energy. Norrie is a superb runner and always amazes me how he manages to run on so little fuel. I’ve been learning a few things from Norries of late, and one thing during this race was to try to stay calm and pace yourself, and even give yourself a couple of minutes walking, to allow the legs to recuperate before getting back to the rough trails once more. “There’s always time to play catchup on the downhills” 🙂 This I think worked well, more mentally than physically, I never really stopped once on the route but never felt too guilty for needing to walk a few yards rather than run. Something that I will certainly rely upon when tackling the West Highland Way later this year.

I got to the top of Conic and was instantly rewarded and welcome by a lone piper piping all runners over Conic Hill and down into Balmaha, for our first check point and drop bag ‘goodies’ 🙂 – please checkout the pictures from the top of Conic Hill. They were spectacular!!!

I didn’t waste too much time in Balmaha, as I didn’t want my legs feeling tired or getting stiff, only 20 miles in. After a bit of nourishment, I was off again and enjoying the change of scenery along the banks of Loch Lomond.  Sadly, the next time I saw Norrie was at Check Point 2, as he had had to pull out of the race due to an injury flaring up. I was gutted for the guy and suggested we ran together to the next check point, as it was going to be a small 7-8 miles away. But Norrie was wise enough not to join me on this, as he has his sights on another race, in a couple of weeks and he didn’t want to make things any worse for himself. It was also here where I bumped into David Simpson and we ran together, shooting the breeze and again enjoying the views. It wasn’t long until we hit ‘Minty’s Hill’ and bumped into another buddy, from my social runs, Mike Raffan. This though was a concern, as Mike is one of the elite runners and should be at the front of the pack. We found out that Mike had made the error in running to the first check point without any water and cramp had crippled his chances in staying with the pack from CP1 onwards. Though this had not dulled his day one bit. This was what I admired about Mike and his outlook on running. As he said, he thought about simply pulling from the race “But where was the fun in that?” he said. He could still make a good time, just not his best time and it was just too good a day to finish early. So off the three of us went, running together and shooting the breeze once more. 🙂 Mike even had the patience to humor me and take my photo next to one of the WHW marker’s, that has also been named after a great friend, supporter and organiser of the WHW Race Family – Dario Melaragni. This being his favourite view from the WHW route.

I managed to get to CP4 comfortably and was surprised at how fresh I still felt. I’m putting this down to me cutting off all forms of caffeine two weeks before the race and now enjoying some gels, sweets, carbs and RED BULL!! O_O

About 7 miles shy of the finish line, I got a sudden severe pain on the front of my shin, that stopped me in my tracks and I told Mike just to carry on, as I though this was me having to walk this off for some distance. As soon as Mike headed off and I started rubbing where the pain was, I noticed that it was right where my calf guards finished. I moved the material out of the way, to rub direct onto my leg and instantly the pain was gone. Right away I realized that this must have just been a pressure point that had had enough, of the constant pressure from the thicker part of the material, for what had been about 9.5hrs solid. So, I pulled up my guard slightly higher than before and was off once again – just in time for “Cow Poo Alley”, so aptly put by Andy! 🙂

Knowing this route certainly helped with the last few miles, my body felt fine but my mind had already been guiding me to where I was heading and was allowing me to now focus on the promise of a big hug from Eil, rest and a whole Peking Duck for dinner! 🙂

Having ran:
CP1: 19.8 miles – CP2: 27.2 miles – CP3: 34.3 miles – CP4: 40.9 miles and to the Finish 53 miles

I crossed the line of my first ever ‘Hoka Highland Fling Ultra Marathon’ with a time of 10hrs 37mins and a position of 117th out of 600 runners. #CHUFFED! 🙂

Enjoy the pics…
– a special thanks to Colin for sharing his pics! Cheers bud! – http://www.colinknox.blogspot.co.uk/

Another special thanks and congratulations goes to my good buddy and trainer Donnie Campbell. Donnie has manged to bring a costumed 10k charity runner, ‘break him’ a little 😉 and turn him into an Ultra Marathon Runner – cheers bud, I really do appreciate the time, dedication and belief that you have given me!
Donnie also went on to claim 4th overall in this race and 2nd in the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series. This has to be acknowledged as a mammoth effort and achievement, as it was only a few weeks back that he represented Scotland, for the first time, in the Anglo Celtic Plate 100km race and went on to win it! 🙂


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