Highland Fling race 2013

It's like one of those films that starts at the end and then takes swishes back to the start. So, I'm sat with my legs up sipping tea and I've not walked further than the bathroom all day. And why such a lazy madam today, hmmm, just a little matter of a big race, the Highland fling. The race has been a focus for me. It's the distance I like and challenging as it's profile relatively flat in comparison to what I've been privy to training  on. Challenging as it would be fast on the flats and I'd no idea how I'd fair with this trail. The race was also the Ultra Trail Championship race however I have to acknowledge with some embarrassment  that I didn't really know what this meant! 

Regardless, The Highland Fling follows 53 miles of way marked trail along the West Highland Way in Scotland from Milngavie (Glasgow) to Tyndrum.

I travelled over to the lakes on Thursday evening, chewed the fat with buddy Gaynor and awoke early doors to the finest coffee and daffodil.

We made our way to Scotland on the Friday morning and arrived at the hotel, triple checked I had everything, had legs massaged and over to race registration in Tyndrum. Another pal Anthony was making his way over to help Gaynor with support duties and so team fairy was assembled. They promptly named themselves Dog and Beth and well, this was going to be an interesting one.

Training: all good, feeling strong, small niggle in calf, no worries
Nutrition: Oatcakes, jelly babies, gels, cheese biscuits 
Fluid: Isotonic
Support crew: Dog and Beth, fully briefed
Backpack: UltraAspire Revolution (minus the bottle)
Shoes: Inov8 trailroc 245
Kit list: Foil blanket

It was an early start Saturday morning and at 5.30am it was promising to be a pleasant day weather wise. Runners were doing their rituals, some nervous some jolly,  most tired but all excited for the start gun. So at 6am after a short race brief were were let loose on the West Highland Way in our Lycra. It was a mass start and as I shuffled over the timing mat, Dog shouted 'come on Tracy' however, I was already focused and just held up my hand to wave ta ta .Beth was further up the track making films and shouted good luck as I settled into a slow groove. It always feels a bit 'samey' writing a race review check point to check point, I'll find a better way at some point I promise!

Milngavie - Drymen
12 miles/19km

A relatively flat and largely unremarkable first section. The route is mainly track and road which lends itself to fast running for those who through choice or otherwise find themselves starting their races like a 'bat out of hell' (there is a song in their somewhere). Having allowed for a mile of getting swept along at a fast (ish) pace, I managed to pull back and settle into a comfortable speed pretty quickly. Chatting to Tom Philips (being 1 of only 4 people in history to complete the Bob Graham Round (summer and winter) Scotland's Ramsay and the Welsh Paddy Buckley Rounds in 1 Year all under 24 hours) helped to keep my pace steady for a mile or so. Happily ticking along I became vaguely aware that my right calf was 'pulling' not painful as such..just... a tug. I ignored it. I had no intention of getting injured during this race. A Dark Peak runner was tucking in comfortably behind so we ran several miles in congo, we had an unwritten agreement, I'd open gates and he'd close them and navigate (if necessary), which was necessary, on the one occasion  when I went happily turning right, up a road, the wrong way, it was early morning ok! By the time the road section was over I secretly knew I was in trouble. My calf was not pulling any more  it was shouting... with every step. I looked down to see that I was running on the lateral part of my foot. This new running style was not something I'd practised in training. 

Now I don't want this review to turn into a woeful story (although it's likely too) haha. Yet, as I ran up a field towards the Drymen water checkpoint I saw Beth, he was whooping and filming...he had no idea I was in trouble. I told him, 'this is going to be about pain management, I've hurt my calf'. He had no idea just how bad it was, I played it down...'GO GET ME PAIN RELIEF' I screamed. He ran off. Dog calmly handed oatcakes and dropped everything else, 'great road support Gaynor' were comments from two chaps who witnessed her fumblings... haha. She scraped jelly babies off the floor and sprinted to catch me. 'I'm in trouble with my calf' I gently told her, I played it down, no I really did, I played it down.

Drymen - Balmaha
Leaving Drymen
Limping out of Drymen town square where the race had been diverted, we made our way into Garadhban Forest. The track was undulating and great underfoot. So much so that I took a risk of trying to run 'normally'. Then... a fizzling and bubbling from the back of my heal made it's way slowly up the back of my calf until it reached the back of my knee, as it's happening, everything went into slow motion I knew that was a tear of some kind. It wasn't painful, until the slow motion stopped and I put my foot down. I'm a lady mostly, yet, I swore loudly and tears leaked without warning. I wiped them quickly, and the chap behind me, said, 'you ok', I played it down 'just pulled my calf' 'I'll be al reet'. 'Staffordshire' he said, 'do I detect Staffordshire', wha.. what, 'in your voice, my mum was from Staffordshire'. And so the conversation distracted me from the shear agony I was experiencing. He started to pull away and It was at that point that I'd lost my pace. Gutted. I figured out how I could use different strategies other than walking so that I could continue to Balmaha. Climbing up Conic hill was a welcome relief.

It didn't hurt so badly to run up the hills. So I had a strategy. I'd run the hill and shuffle the flat bits and see how I do on the descent. I was pulling out at Balmaha. So I was reassured to over take a few folk climbing Conic and surprisingly the descent wasn't as unforgiving as I'd anticipated, damn it, I could do this for another checkpoint surely, run the hills and shuffle the flats, and do what I can on the small descents. 'But this race is flat Tracy what chance have you got' this was the battle I was having practically for the rest of the race.

Arriving into Balmaha, I was distressed and confused, I couldn't see Dog or Beth yet I could hear my name being shouted. I realised after that it was Debs (Martin-Consani) and Sharon (Law), two amazing local ultra runners both who have dominated the WHW races in the past, both who will be competing for GB next week in the IAU 24hr race . Thanks ladies for your support. I scanned and saw Dog and she handed me food, fluid and words of encouragement, I complained about pain, and yet felt that neither Dog nor Beth didn't fully understand just how much pain I was in. 

Balmaha - Rowardennan
I'd ran along the Way route a few times this year in order to familiarise myself with the trail. Balmaha was bacon butties, that's how I'd remembered it. Last year I'd supported Gaynor Prior (Dog) during her West Highland Way race and at the Balmaha checkpoint  there was a little Cafe/bar selling bacon butties across from the car park.  Rowardennan was 'row row row ya boat' because the visitor centre looked like a boathouse in fairy world. This is essentially where the route picks up Loch Lomond. For the next 20 miles there is a mixture of pebbled beach, rocky technical sections and tracks and paths. I played cat and mouse with two lively chaps Andy and Gerry along this section, great company Gerry had completed the London marathon two weeks ago in a respectable time of 2.51.53.

Cat and mouse
I had no idea how my friend the broken calf was going to hold up on these different types of terrain. Yet hold together it did. Yes I was slow going, Yes it hurt and yes I was giving up at every checkpoint, but I just couldn't throw it away that simply, I wish I was that sensible, that thoughtful, that kind to myself and yet, I wanted to also work my way through the discomfort because I knew that this pain would end when I stopped and that I'd have done all that I could before quitting. If I stopped now, I'd have felt disappointed and I was not in the mood for disappointment today, the weather was too nice, so I sang 'it's a beautiful day hay hay it's a beautiful day, nothing is impossible in your all powerful mind'. These are the mental distractions that kept me going (barking). Talking of barking, Dog did her support duties and handed me food and checked in that I was ok, she didn't dwell when I reminded her that I was in pain, there was a nervousness in her voice, she was concerned about something. Regardless, Beth was stood at the gate on the way out of the checkpoint and told me of his plan to run to Inversnaid Hotel and will be there waiting with my drop bag when I arrive. He wanted a run during the weekend as he has entered Transvulcania in two weeks time and wanted to keep his miles up. He'd also entered the fling however took a decision not to run it so close to Transvulcania, probably wise! Good luck Beth on your race in two weeks time.

The reason Dog and Beth were fretting? Well, they had  knowledge that second lady was  'closing the gap'. The problem, I could not go any faster. I was simply managing pain, I was not racing. I felt they didn't understand when I said, I'm going as fast as I can. They failed to accept it, and told me to get a move on. I hated their ignorance to my pain and hated even more their indifference because they didn't believe me. The difficulty is when folk see you still moving, still running and not outwardly grimacing, there is an understandable lack of awareness from them that you could possibly be in as much pain as you make out you are. Perhaps because it's not seen, if you cut yourself and pour of blood, people quickly empathise, when the pain is less obvious, it's more difficult to empathise as there are no markers unless the person is rolling around screaming on the floor. I suffer silently mostly, that's harder for others to grasp maybe.

Rowardennan - Inversnaid
Andy Johns dragged me around this section. He chatted away about everything and nothing. He was jolly and friendly to every one that we passed, 'hello' good afternoon to you' he said, so politely and friendly to the walkers en route  How? How could he be that friendly and nice, he should be in pain...like me, I thought...( i know I know, it's getting boring now). Back to the race, someone said somewhere that you should always run next to water. I totally 'get' why that is important. There is just something peaceful and calming about running next to water. Loch Lomond, in the sun, is the most beautiful distraction, I'm coming back to this place at some point. So, I'd like to say I cruised into Inversnaid, but I hobbled, and looked for fairy wings. Fairy wings, my drop bag. I wasn't expecting Dog or Beth at Inversnaid and had prepared a distinguishable drop bag of bright fluorescent green with  a set of red fairy wings attached  I was not stopping at any checkpoints, and having ran  through them  all, I was going to carry on with the tradition at Inversnaid, and although Beth was waiting on the car park, I had a diva moment and wanted a 'gu' he didn't have any, however, there was 'potentially' one in my drop bag. There on the floor in the middle of the car park were a set of fairy wings, without stopping I scooped them up and tore the bag open, no  gel, but an impressive all in one move!

Andy in foreground, grumpy behind

Inversnaid - Beinglas farm.
It was probably my lowest point between Inversnaid and Beinglas farm. I can't recall much of it and was focused of putting one foot in front of the other. It's an extremely technical section in terms of rocks and roots thereby taking all my effort and focus to get my wonky leg to keep me moving. Dave Troman came motoring past and it was nice to see a familiar looking face. He was flying, I mumbled something about a calf injury and he mentioned that the race didn't start until 'Balmaha'. Balmaha, where the hell is Balmaha? I couldn't work out where the race was going to start then! Another good distraction for an hour! He was soon out of sight and onwards I limped. I fuelled every half an hour during this race, more frequent than usual and I believe I did it as another tool to distract myself from my injury, however I was starting to feel sickly from sweet stuff. I'd never recommend experimenting with new fuelling strategies during a race. It was a close call as I noticed once that happened I didn't want to eat anything. That could have been dangerous had the race been longer. The Way leaves Loch Lomond and continues to take you through track and small green land areas to Beinglas Farm. That wooden 2 mile (ish) sign at the style to Beinglas farm signified the longest two (ish) miles ever. There were a few more folk around here, I was ushered over the chip mat and then allowed myself to absorb the shouts of encouragement from the spectators and supporters. For a moment, I forgot my pain, Thanks people I felt humbled. Dog and Paul Teirney caught up with me, Paul had started the race however had had to make that difficult decision to retire early on. He is clearly more sensible than I am. Nonetheless, his support for the remainder of my race was appreciated as to see your good friends when you are suffering is priceless, sometimes words don't need to be said, presence is enough.

Beinglas Farm - Tyndrum
12 miles/20km
I knew at Beinglas Farm that there was about 2 hours ish, (on a good day) for me to the finish. That's not  how my race was going today, I was not enjoying the pain, and wanted it to be over, it was taking all I had to stop the tears. And yet, there was an underlying excitement starting to surface that i was managing to hold on and do well in spite of my limping shuffle. The undulating tarmac track out of Beinglas was a chance for today's speed merchants to enjoy some smooth running. I kept a group of chaps in my sights and used them to pace me for the next hour or so, I was not in the mood for company and so was pleased to be grumpy alone during this section. I kept amused for some time when passing a chap that had obviously moving well for the best half of the race however he'd obviously 'blown up' as he... well I'd like to call it a walk, but it wasn't a walk, more of a crab like John Wayne shuffle. Poor chap looked in agony. I spotted a stripped black and white vest along this section and remained in the vicinity of stripy vest for the remainder of the race. He became important at cow poo corner. His name I think is Dave Mclure.

The trail becomes a little more forgiving during this last stretch and whilst there are many undulations the running was steady. Dog and Paul appeared near a sheep creep by a cottage/farm and started to give me encouragement about running the climbs on this last section. 'They were joking', they were not joking. I didn't dare tell them that I was more afraid of the killer herd of cows that I was about to meet. I left them yapping in the background as I made my way up a short sharp climb to meet my fate. I could see killer cows in the distance. A large ball of nothing appeared in my throat. Stripy vest was close behind and I hung around for him. 'what you like with cow's said I', 'OK' he laughed, 'I'm not' said I, 'stick with me' he kindly suggested. I practically pushed Stripy vest in front of me and hid behind him through the herd of killer cows, however this equated to about three today, as not many were out on the path. Off stripy vest went and I shuffled on behind him. It was during his section that I had a fall in the forest. I heard a voice, turned my head whilst running down a track, tripped and fell. It was pretty spectacular, bully head, roll, two cut knees and all broken by a tremendous full on thud when my shoulder hit the ground. I was dazed, I was picked up, pointed in the right direction and left to get on with it. 'You had a fall said stripy vest'?, 'yeah', and we carried on.

If I could make it to the wigwams I knew I'd be finishing the race. The track was well marked and flat so all I had to negotiate was one wonky foot in front of an over worked other. I managed this and tried upping my pace, it hurt, I ignored that bit and carried on. Dog and Paul had parked in the car park and were offering me gels... I wanted a green one, it's the only colour I'd not had and given my tiredness I'd now resorted to childlike and wanted green!, I dropped green, it was retrieved, I was elated. And so I shuffled on towards the last mile or so. Dog had driven to the finish and was running up the track towards me. Screaming for me to get  move on. She informed that second lady was right behind me. I panicked in my childlike state. 'Where'? 'Just run, faster' COME ON' I panicked more. It all got a little confusing after that, I was running as fast as I could,  I could fathom where the finish was, loads of supporters were routing for me and I was virtually in confused tears as I believed that i was about to be pipped on the finish line. 'Where'? I couldn't see second lady, and yet the hysteria suggested that there was a sprint finish necessary... so I sprinted, kinda.
Pain is not pretty

After thoughts:

I learnt new stuff and cemented other thoughts courtesy of the Highland Fling. Not least that my risk taking tendencies take it to the wire sometimes. There is a fine line between resilience and fragility, and, determination and focus need to be nourished often. My personal thanks to all involved with the race, both on a personal level and significantly, to the wider, behind the scene's folk who perhaps don't outwardly see the appreciation on race day, however yours are the faces that we recall in reminiscence. Notwithstanding however, is a massive cheers to John Duncan race organizer and Kirsty, venue owner.

one day later the bruising started to surface
Bruising made it's way around the front too.

Dog and Beth: Thank you for not feeding my pessimism about my wonky calf. Whilst during the race it suited me to believe that you both had no idea (as this gave me determination), I'm also aware that you were both fully in tune with how much pain I was in. You allowed me to suffer 'just enough'. Great team work and great strategy for dealing with a very grumpy fairy.

British Trail running champ 2013
1st lady 9hr 12 min



  1. Tracy, well done on winning, and a great write up. I do feel I have to stand up for Dog - when I was talking to her at Rowardennan she really was very worried about you & the pain you were in; having said that I'm not sure who is the more competitive out of the two of you - there didn't seem to be an option of you stopping, just how you could keep going !

    Beth - sorry, I should have asked what race you were doing to make you drop out of the Fling - good luck with Transvulcania; should be an epic race.

    Dave (the Ambleside chip eater !)

  2. You're off your head! I like that :-)
    I would have put money on you breaking the record...so you will just need to come back next year.
    Hope you make a speedy recovery xx

  3. ha,Dave, the point is G did a perfect job of being secretly worried, had she have let me know at any point then It would not have been good for me, she is very clever. Maybe I didn't get that across very well. There was no competition between G and I, it was two mates working very well together :)

  4. Thanks Debs, and keep ya cash in ya purse for a little bit longer... you had a stormer at the IAU champs, what a great performance and athlete you are. Great running :)

  5. Good read, Fairy Foo, you're made of tough stuff, apart from around cows. I had a sore throat for days from all the 'motivational speaking' I did, ok screaming. Next year? Alright I'm in, might have got rid of that hideous carpet by then...


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