Race: The Highland Fling
Distance: 53 miles
Date: Saturday 25 April
Reason: Keeping Scott company
Times previously run: First ran in 2011, then again in 2012. Marshalled in 2013. Scott's first attempt.
The weather forecast based on previous experiences running the fling told me that it would be a hot one. The actual weather forecast told me that it was going to be well cold and raining. Finally, the actual weather meant that there was a wee drizzle at the start and then almost the perfect temperature for the rest. So that is the important weather chat done. Hope you are all creating a lovely bunch of images already.
|Scott's bib read MR ANTONIA|
We start at 6am, near the rear of a 700+ field of runners all hoping to finish the race in 15 hours. The cut-off allows plenty of time for walking and it should be light almost all the way. Well it better be because we have not packed head torches. For miles we are just a chain of runners plodding along. Even early on some runners wear headphones so we try to pass them whenever we can as they are unpredictable to run behind as they aren't aware of us other runners. Don't wear headphones in a race guys, enjoy the trail. If you can't enjoy the trail, go back to the gym.
Scott has only been on small parts of the trail so arriving at Conic Hill is going to be a new experience for him. There has been much talk about it. I don't t think it is that bad but I like hills. I feel bad storming up it but Scott is happy to do the same. He's faster going down than me but even I can jog down as it is so paved now. I even passed a few people going down! Must be a first for me in downhill running. Scott's verdict on Conic Hill? Easier than Arthur's Seat. So don't fear it people.
|Scott coming up Conic Hill|
|Coming up Conic Hill (photo by Monument Photos)|
I love the little bit into Balmaha. Although there are loads of runners the check point is very smooth. We spend time eating, drinking and chatting before I get a bit cold and move us on. We get separated as we come down a hill in single file behind a group of walkers so I run ahead for a bit. Fifty-three miles is a long way to run next to each other anyway. Then I decide I need to use the ladies room. Actually, I have needed to for ages but because there is such a steady stream of runners it is hard to find a spot. Then around a tight bend I come to a wee track and a cliff. Luxury really. I am a bit worried that Scott won't have seen me and might wonder where I am. I know he's passed me because he stopped to help a runner who tripped right outside my bathroom! Way to leave me hanging on a cliff feeling embarrassed about potential exposure! To make matters worse, I run a few hundred metres down the trail and see an actual bathroom. Life huh.
|Coming out of Balmaha (photo by Ian Anderson)|
Then I put in a bit of a push to catch up with Scott. He was not worried but is now starting to struggle a bit. Maybe it was the heavy food at Balmaha, maybe it is the 20+ miles we have run. Scott's training was less than desirable. It started from scratch in mid-January after our return from our globetrotting honeymoon. He had a handful of decent weeks, then pulled back the throttle for the Transgrancanaria Maraton at the start of March. And since then we've mostly been away and he has struggled with motivation a bit. I am also not the best influence when it comes to the training hard component of running. So, he is not currently having the best of times. I ask of few questions, make a few suggestions and then back off and speak to Carol Martin who is pulling out at Rowardennan. I personally love this section of the trail as your feet get a fast flow but there are also enough twists and undulations to keep it interesting.
When I come in to Rowardennan, Scott is already there with his drop bag staring at what to eat. I tell him that the crisps have to be eaten and the Honey Stinger chews packed. The few other items can join the enormous pile of left over food on the ground. I really do wonder if people pack every choice into every drop bag with the amount of food that gets left.
Before the race I had no doubt that Scott would finish, even with an unideal build up. Looking at his face now though, I realise I need to shove his arse out of the checkpoint. So we move on with me desperately searching for something inspirational to say that will turn this day around for him. I am not sure if it was the nutritional intake at Rowardennan or my superb behaviour analysis techniques but Scott gets himself back on track. His legs are very stiff and I can see his butt cheeks are clasped tightly together (don't tell me you weren't looking too ladies) pulling his legs very close. I encourage letting loose on the downhills and he moves down these much quicker than others. He is also steady walking the uphills. Not a bad situation to be in considering there are constant switchbacks for a number of miles. The running pace on the flats is very slow but this is not mattering too much as his mental states is good. I think it is ok if things are hurting and tough as long as you have a mind that is currently positive enough to commend your body on it's good effort. Before the race I was telling him that the trail was pretty much flat; now I am telling him that it is undulating so he doesn't have to worry about the running!
As it gets a little rougher, Scott gets stronger and starts to catch people. I am anxious for him to keep going strong while he is feeling ok as I am aware he is working hard, so I get very frustrated when people don't step aside on the trail to let others past. Some people call it trail etiquette but I like to think of it as common courtesy. That is a problem with the increase in number of people running ultras; it increases the number of them that are likely to be the rude folk that I try to avoid in my everyday life.
We form a chain coming into Inversnaid. Not the hands-holding type of chain though. That would have been weird. A guy falls down a stair which we all find a wee bit amusing (including the guy himself) as he's managed some ruffage without falling prior. I find Inversnaid a really pleasant place to be anytime and am excited that Scott is getting to see it. Keith Mabbott helps us with our drop bags and I send Scott out quickly while I natter to Rhona. Then we climb over the most technical part and I find it amusing that there is this patch when so much of the trail is like a pavement. I am not great at technical parts but I don't mind this bit. I figure everyone just goes slow as they carefully negotiate the boulders and such. It always goes on for much longer than I remember though. I feel very sorry when we catch some older walkers and they comment on how many of us there are. Poor people are getting caught by the bulk of the race field at about the worst possible place. After what I think is a fair number of miles, but is likely just a fair amount of time, I decide I had better push on and find Scott as I hadn't seen him since Inversnaid. Turns out he was not far ahead, stuck behind some runners who were engaging in some mid-trail running.
Once we are out on the open grass, the brain has a chance to do a wee body check. Scott's brain has decided that his legs hurt and he is struggling. My brain has decided that I have a sore tummy. So I plod along slightly in front, needing a bit of alone time myself. At some point my pelvis starts to really hurt and I am quite excited about this. It really needs to make a decision about what it is doing so I can decide whether I can enter big challenges this year or not. Hopefully it is going to blow out good and proper again so that it is a decision made. Scott might have to finish by himself then though, as it's likely I wouldn't even beat the sweeper at the pace I would be forced to make. But then, alas, as if by bloody miracle, the pelvis is ok again.
I don't want to promise Scott as to how far we have to go until Bein Glas. Too far. This part is always a drag. Once we leave that final checkpoint we know it is homeward bound. When it finally arrives I decide to queue up at the port-a-loo conveniently placed on the trail. I must say that I was delighted with it's cleanliness. Compared with the toilets in Turin, it was a lovely experience. Then I tear into the checkpoint to much applause. Err, bit of a fraud here. Not racing, just helping the hubby along. And I've just had a break at the port-a-loo. Fortunately, Scott is still at the checkpoint being looked after by Matt Williamson. It is more fortunate for him than it is for me because I have the bottle opener for the beer attached to my pack. After a quick cheer of bottles (Ok, so Scott's was a plastic coke bottle) I send him out of the checkpoint and on his merry way. Then I hang out drinking my beer and talking rubbish. I am parched as because I have not bothered to drink anything since Inversnaid. Homeward bound I figured.
Shortly after exiting the checkpoint, the 7.7% Innis & Gunn begins to take it's effect and I speak loads of rubbish to Ashok. In hindsight, it is probably the fastest I have consumed a beer since university. I definitely felt like I was floating. And being tremendously funny. Just before we cut under the road, we catch Scott. He has run well over the switchbacks but is having another hard time. There is a long patch before the woods which I do not remember as I am not on the trail often and have not been on this part since I ran the West Highland Way in 2012. I run ahead trying to push Scott on. At one point I turn around and startle a guy by declaring that he is not my husband. I had just assumed the footsteps I was hearing were his. I keep promising Scott that he will like the woods more. And he does. He tears down the hills while Ian King and I share stories of travel drama.
Having a beer with 12 miles to go was slightly ambitious. I think it is more of a five mile to go treat as I now have a sore tummy again and need to take an emergency stop. Once back in track I think I better catch Scott again as I am slightly worried that he may have taken a wrong turn coming down the hill. As I zoom across the main road, Tim Downie cheekily asks if I have been taking a rest. The road through the farm stretches out ahead and I can see Scott in the distance; walking. Walking? He mustn't walk; it is flat from here to the finish. We will finish strong with a run until the finish. He is not having a bar of it. Neither are most of the people around him. I am up and down like a Jack Russell, nipping at him. I try to think of positive things to say. I try to coax him on. I am conscious that my patience is running out. I am also conscious that Scott came all the way to Turin just for me to give up and he could throw that back in my face if he wanted to right now. So I stomp ahead and then I wait. Then I stomp ahead again. At one point I pull him by his arm and at another I push him from behind. Apparently neither of these help. When he says that he is saving himself for the finishing straight I tell that that is just lying to people and he might as well just walk through. I think that was the only mean thing I said during the race though!
Finally we hear the piper. Scott wants a photo. He is wasting time. But then he does run through the finishing straight; probably because he really wants Ena's soup. And one of the reasons it all felt so tough for him? Twelve hours and 15 minutes - over an hour faster than expected!
|Finishing the Highland Fling (photo by Clark Hamilton)|
It was a tough run for Scott. I have had many races where it has felt hard most of the way and I have had to push but I have not been mentally down for as much of a race as he was during the fling. During the race he said he doesn't want to do another one because he never enjoys them. Instead he would rather just go for runs at the weekend. Fair play and probably a healthier lifestyle choice. He has already changed his mind slightly though... He's thinking maybe just one a year would be ok :)
Personally, I was delighted with my own performance. With the World 24 Hour Champs just two weeks prior and some lingering injuries, I thought that my legs might really struggle. I even warned Scott not to wait for me in case I couldn't keep up! I had visions of being swept in. Instead my legs felt great during and have been fine after. If only all training runs could feel like that.
Thanks to all the marshals who made the drop bags easy and that Alice lady who is really good at putting medals around people's necks. Thank you to John who I know puts much heart and effort into organising. Thank you to Sarah for the ride back to Edinburgh. I know you will achieve your running goals this year.
So what have I learnt this April? Helping someone else achieve their own goals is much more fun than failing at your own.