This year was the first time I had run the Hoka Highland Fling race and it’s fair to say it was a unmitigated disaster.
Now don’t get me wrong the race itself is amazing – the organization, the volunteers, the scenery, the views all the way up Loch Lomond, even the weather was wonderful. I would definitely recommend it to any and every trail runner.
No, the disaster was me, all me. My preparation, my approach/attitude and ultimately my mental strength on the day all went wrong and I bailed at the 42 mile point leaving the final 11 miles, from just after BeinGlas Farm to Tyndrum, unfinished and notching up another DNF on my race results list…
The race starts in Milngavie, just outside Glasgow. I had registered the night before so turned up to a busy Tesco car park at 5:40am handed in my drop bags/packets (there’s no food supplied so you bring a support crew or make up your own packages and they transport them to the right checkpoint for you) and wandered around looking for a few other people I knew were also running.
At 6am, around 600 of us started off – very busy for a UK ultra. The route goes through a tunnel and into a small wooded area, then after a mile or two you are in the countryside – amazing transformation from city to country, very quickly.
Anyway the weather was fine and sunny, and I bimbled along at a slowish pace hoping to see some familiar faces. I spotted @mikew30 and @houndkirk and the 3 of us jogged along together for a few miles, then we got separated for a bit until they appeared again just before Drymen and again just as we were starting Conic Hill at around 17 miles.
From the top of Conic hill and amazing panorama opens out in front of you – you can see the southern half of Loch Lomond, Ben Lomond and all the way through the Trossachs to Ben More at Crianlarich. Then it was round a corner at the top and it immediately dropped 1000 feet taking us to the Balmaha checkpoint on the side of Loch Lomond. I picked up my first drop bag, scoffed some peaches and a ham and cheese wrap, refilled my water bottle and headed off again, having spent only around 2 minutes at the checkpoint.
The route then runs along the edge of the Loch for another 7 miles or so – this was an amazing section, the scenery was breath-taking. I’ve driving up the A82 on the other side of the Loch probably 100 times, but the views from this side, at a steady jog were something else entirely. We ran along beaches with the Loch lapping at our feet, and through lightly wooded areas with steep drops to the Loch below. The next checkpoint was at Rowardennan at 27 miles. Mike and Trevor passed me again a couple of miles before the checkpoint and were just leaving as I arrived. Whilst the scenery was great and I was enjoying this section by the time I got to the checkpoint I knew I wasn’t running well. I took a few minutes at the checkpoint to get myself sorted, had some more peaches and solid food and then headed out again.
I was having a bad patch mentally at this point, just after leaving the checkpoint I had a bit of a wobble and started thinking and packing it in there and then (his was the last bit of road access for the next 14 miles or so. I called Sarah, to hear a friendly voice, and she offered to come and pick me up if I needed it. To be honest it might have been better if she’d told me to man up and get on with it… Anyway, tempting as it was to get picked up, I decided to persevere. Five minutes later I was in a much better mood, pleased that I had continued and wondering why I’d had that wobble.
My phone (Runkeeper tracking) was starting to die by this stage, so the I only have a partial route recorded for it.
This middle section of Loch Lomond started with land-rover track, that was easy going but undulated a good bit more than I expected. I got some reasonable running in here. The terrain changed a bit and became a bit more tree rooty and bouldery, but with nice single track stretches in-between. This was good, a little break as you navigated the boulders and then a run section to the next boulder…
Energy levels were falling a bit as we got to the next checkpoint at Inversnaid. There wasn’t much to do but carry on from here though. I hoped that a bit of food from my drop bag and cracking on would lift me a bit, but it wasn’t to be – the terrain started getting a bit tougher – roots, trees, boulders, up and down, little climbs over rocks etc all slowed me even further and took it’s toll on me. I had heard this was the hardest section and it wasn’t wrong. Everyone that passed me (or the few I passed) muttered “brutal”, “murder” or something similar.
The last couple of miles to the BienGlas Farm checkpoint was mostly walking with the occasional short jog/shuffle. By the time I got there I had made my mind up to bail. I knew the terrain got easier for the last section and thought I could probably finish but it would have been a 12 mile, 3 hour walk in. It was already 4 pm and I had people waiting for me – so, mentally I had already given up.
When I got to the checkpoint the crew there were great, I got my drop bag, had more food and water, heard all the ‘doing great’, ‘looking good’ comments and changed my mind, I was going to crack on. I jogged out of the checkpoint with new resolve
Unfortunately that renewed resolve did not last long – just over a mile later I threw the towel in. I headed over to the road (where it crosses the river), called Sarah and waited a few minutes for them to come and pick me up. 42 miles done in about 10.5 hours.
I was whisked away by car up to the finish, handed in my ID tag, picked up my drop bag and headed off. It looked like everyone was having a good time at the finish, beers in hand, lots of noise and chatter, but I couldn’t face hanging around – head down, got in, did my bits and got out.
Although the route was great and I would recommend this race to everyone, I just wasn’t in the right mind-set for this race and it beat me. Not a great day for me, but some valuable lesson learnt I think. I’m keeping those for a more ‘reflective’ post on the subject…
Anyway, to summarise : Great race, well organized, beautiful countryside – Unfinished business – I’ll be back next year.