The Highland Fling Race

25th April
53 miles 8,500 ft

After an overnight stay in Milngavie Will and I registered for the 7:00 hrs start. We, like most others, distributed our 4 food bags in the relevant cars; these would then be distributed down the course for us to collect. We then made our way to the start line.

Will decided to start mid pack; I started further forward near the elite runners. I noted Jez – the favourite – in front lined up with a few other familiar faces. Murdo set us off and we quickly made our way through the town centre and onto the West Highland Way trail, which would take us all the way to Tyndrum. I set off at a comfortable marathon pace (probably 4 hours ish). My initial plan was to run and break it up with walking breaks from the start. But the terrain was easy until Inversnaid so I decided to run as much as I could, and walk the steep hills. As I approached Conic Hill I could make out the leaders in the distance about half way up. Conic Hill ascent was to be my first walk of any length. I made a good quick descent picking out some good grassy lines, and overtaking a few runners mainly the super vets and women that started at 06:00 hrs.

I soon arrived at Balmaha and the first checkpoint. I collected my first food bag and spent 5 minutes sorting my water and food out, and then off I ran. The route now follows the east side of Loch Lomond through forests. Every now and then the route pops out onto the road and then back into the woods. I ran most of the undulating trail to Rowardenan checkpoint. To this point I was sticking to an, optimistic 9 hour schedule. After a quick break I was on the trail again but this rough section, which for the most part is hard to maintain any speed on, is very rough and rocky with lots of trees to weave around. This started to fatigue me. After this section I never felt quite as strong again. Maybe the fast start had caught up with me.

I reached the last checkpoint at Bein Glas farm in glorious sunshine. Sitting down in the sun made me realise how hot it was for the first time. I had many conversations with runners along the way, but for the first time I had a good chat with a spectator whom had done the race last year. He made me realise that the game was up on the sub 9 hours. I re adjusted my goal, and In my foggy mind I thought that 2 hours 25 mins from here was plenty and sub 9 ½ hours was not a problem. The uphill section out of Bein Glas was tougher than I remember from the West Highland Way race of 2004. I began to suffer cramps as I neared the forest. Occasionally I had to stop to stretch out my calf muscles and even my quads. I have never cramped like that before. I struggled through the forest section were a couple of runners overtook me. I was struggling on the downhill bits of the rollercoaster style steep ups and downs. Eventually I got to the road crossing and flatter terrain.

I managed to get back into a proper running rhythm again, albeit a lot slower than 20 miles ago. I crossed the road again and was now getting that feeling like it was the last 4 miles of a marathon, except I had very little idea of the distance left. Apart from walkers telling me “well done not far to go”, the walkers were great all day, considering the inconvenience we must have caused them. I was trying to recall this section from when I did the 2004 WHW race, but I was too tired to recall it in enough detail. I came to a slight incline in a small section of road and started to walk thinking that even my sub 9 ½ hours was up. But as I rounded the corner I noticed some race marshals. I looked over my right shoulder, and across the field was a large finishing gantry. So I entered the field and noted that I had 1 ½ minutes to make sure I ducked under 9 ½ hours. So I made an effort across the last bit of trail. I did it, just; in 9 hours 29 mins and 40 secs. The time was not that important it just kept me going when I felt pretty weak towards the end.

I sorted myself our and retrieved the flask of coffee just as Will came over the line in 10 hours 22 mins. We both had the beautiful stovies I kept mine down Will didn’t, and vowed to give it another go next year. Both the stovies and the race.

I felt it was a good effort, as I had never done that length of race before. I’m sure I can improve on that time in the future. The race is really well organised and ranks up their as one of my favourites despite my own suffering at the end. Jez Bragg won the race in a new record time of 7:19:09.

Anniversary Waltz Fell Race

11th March
11.5 miles 4,500ft

The anniversary waltz is a race I had been meaning to do for about 3 years. But for varying reasons this year was to be my first chance. So even though I was still feeling a bit rough from a stomach bug, I decided to take part.

Ian Cookson joined me and we both started together in the middle of the pack. I vowed to set off steady and see how the stomach felt. The perfect weather inspired me to push a bit harder and soon after starting on the first bit of trail I overtook Ian. I felt o.k. and so continued at about 90 % effort.

The views were amazing from the tops, as I scooted over Robinson, Hindscarth and Dale Head. It was now that I chose the wrong line off Dale. I should have known it was the wrong line as I was now completely on my own going down the right hand line towards the tarn. I had overtaken fellow Bowland runner Declan at the top, and by the time I descended to the tarn I was 200 yards behind. We continues this cat and mouse game – not the he knew it as I didn’t have my Bowland vest on – over High Spy until I finally passed him on the top of Cat Bells. I then lined up Paul Morton but could not quite catch him.

I was pleased with my effort and felt remarkably o.k. considering how unsettled I had been the previous week. It was a beautiful day to be in the Hills. The race was brilliantly organised by Steve and Wynn. Ian enjoyed also enjoyed the run finishing 190th in 2h 18:50. I finished 105th in 2h 07:56. The winner was Morgan Donnelly in 1h 35:58.

Day 1 The hardest Munro

4th April
25 miles 9,100 ft

Saturday was planned to be the long day of the two. It proved to be, but not quiet as we planned it. It proved a tough way to bag 1 new Ramsay Round Munro.

Our initial Idea was to run from Glen Nevis Car Park where Wills truck would be left. Then follow the River of Nevis over and around to Loch Elide Mor then run all the Mamores back to either the Youth Hostel or the car depending on levels of tiredness.

Will, Ian and I followed this plan well for a while getting a soaking from the incessant drizzle as we made our way down the side of the river. We trudged through heavy ground before reaching the shooters track and easier running ground. After 3 hours 20 minutes of run walking we reached the foot of Sgurr Elide Mor. This ascent proved taxing and the rain seamed to get heavier. We made the top and bizarrely it was dead calm (maybe the eye of a mini storm). We descended to the track that skirts around Binnein Mor and leads to Binnein Beag. At the bottom we put some on extra clothes as the wind started to bite. The ascent of Binnein Beag was good. We had a quick chat with some walkers on the top then managed to track too far right onto tricky rocky ground on the right, never again! As we ascended Binnein Mor the cold began to bite and my hands were numb. Even with winter climbing gloves and jacket on, the combination of rain then icy 50 mph gusts with snow chilled my body and hands.

We ascended too direct and had to track right around to the ridge, kicking steps in the snow covered slope, it was now almost a white out, and once I gained the ridge the wind was even worse. I continued but had to stop as Ian was nowhere to be seen. Will went back for him – he had slipped and fell 15 feet but was o.k – now that I was stood still my whole body was cold, and I began to shiver. When they caught me up and said that they had enough I was glad. I was ready to get out of their anyway. So we decided to descend to Mamore lodge via Na Gruagachean. We then joined the West Highland Way for a few miles, the wind was still quite strong and I was still uncomfortably cold. So Wills idea to ascend to the col between Sgurr A Mhaim and Stob Ban was a good one, at least I would warm back up again. So we slogged off up the 2,000 ft ascent and over the other side to thankfully land back at the car 10 hours after leaving it.

In all we had bagged one new munro and spotted the correct line onto Sgurr Elide Mor . It was probably the hardest way to gain 1 new summit. But we vowed to scrap the previous day 2 plans and carry on where we left off, and finish the Mamores once and for all.

Day 2 Five new Munros.

5th April
16 miles 8,300ft

What a difference a day makes. Although feeling a bit fatigued Will and I decided to ascend back up to just below the summit of Na Gruagachean and run all the way back to the youth hostel, and then walk back to the Bunk house.

Ian dropped us off at Mamore lodge and decided he would have an easier day by making his first trip up Ben Nevis. Will and I proceeded to have a great day in the Mamores. Once we made the 2,400 foot climb back to the RR route, we spent 5 ½ hours tracking the munros back to Glen Nevis youth hostel. We even tried out a new line off Sgurr a mhaim contouring out the ridge on the way to Stob Ban. We decided that although it was fairly quick, this was offset by the tricky off camber running, and may be a bit wearing at the end of the round. The rest of the route seamed pretty straightforward especially in the sunny clear weather.

As we approached the final summit of Mulach Nan coirean We realised our mistake last time that we went to the far set of cairns to the left and not the near ones, which is the summit, so this time we made the correct summit and consequently the right decent. We used our knowledge from our Friday recce of the decent through the woods, to easily make it to Glen Nevis Youth Hostel. It was a fantastic 7 hour point to point from Mamore lodge to the Ben Nevis bunkhouse, in beautiful if blustery cool weather, on some of the finest ridges I have run. We were even ½ an hour up on our Ramsay Round schedule. It certainly made up for Saturday.

I now think that Scottish weather has to allow you the chance to do what you want on the hills. I think the weather will be of more importance on this round than on either the Bob Graham or Paddy Buckley rounds. So fingers crossed for the 6th of June.