Highland Fling

Written by Lee Perry | Published on 29 April 2014


Categorised in: race, ultramarathon, DNF

After collecting Vickie from Edinburgh Airport on Friday we made our way across to Milngavie for the start of the Highland Fling Race. Avoiding the Edinburgh traffic, and upsetting a taxi driver in the process by purchasing croissants as well as diesel, we probably arrived at the Premier Inn at Bearsden where we were staying, and where by coincidence the race registration was taking place and the incrowd gathering. I registered, and we ate ok food rather later than I would have liked.

Stepping back a little I had not been particularly enthusiastic about this race. I thought that my endurance work was a little on the light side, and seemed to have spent the previous 8 weeks or so juggling life’s little obstacles. Training had been going well though, I just wasn’t sure that I’d done enough. My spirits were lifted though by a decent triathlon debut at Galashiels the weekend before. Coach Karl had also sidestepped any such intimations and made it pretty clear that I was ready. The pre race week was still manic though, with juggling assignments, tutorials, training and so forth, but I started to believe.

I left Vickie in bed at around 5am to join the procession of runners walking through Milngavie to the race start. Karl had come up with a nifty little race plan which broadly involved keeping my heart rate within the 160 – 165 bpm range. I’d never really even done much training using HR data, except recently in the altitude chamber at Napier Uni, and on the odd run here and there for data. However it made sense, as for the distance of race you do want to be working aerobically for as much as possible, and I was happy to go with it. My only concerns were that my anaerobic threshold is not particularly fast, and that wearing the monitor for so long would cause chafing. Cue a 10pm visit to Milngavie’s global capitalist presence to procure some Vaseline.

Arriving at the start I pretty much kept myself to myself, but spotted most of the celebs of the Scottish ultra running blogosphere including RedWineRunner, MedalSlut and Keith Ainslie, having a brief chat with Fiona Rennie and then Norry. Look them up, their blogs are far better than mine, and certainly Rachel and Rhona have written good reports of the race. I’ll add links in when I’m on a PC again.

Holding back in the pack at the start of the race, I felt that I would probably sit there up until about marathon distance before picking my way through the field. The plan was to finish in 11:30, all of the early running suggested that this was certainly achievable if not beatable, and the weather was very runnable despite the apocalyptic forecasts.

The first stretch out to Drymen is not strictly speaking flat, there is plenty of up and down even there, but I soon settled into a rhythm averaging 11 minute miles, including taking food every 30 minutes. I would spend much of this time to and froing with Fiona before pulling away into Drymen. Coming into Drymen I was feeling pretty comfortable, and in control, I didn’t have any doubt that I could finish, and that I was going to finish well. As they sad, pride comes before the fall.

After climbing briefly from Drymen the route drops to a plateau that you run along until you come to Conic Hill. On that first descent I started to make my way through a condensed field quite quickly, as I had done a few times earlier on. Coming upto a group of around 4 people I kicked a rock sending my head forwards, and putting my centre of gravity forward of the hips. I was still descending quite quickly at this point, and tried to regain my balance over 4 – 5 steps, but I couldn’t pull it back. Ordinarily I would have tried to outrun the fall, but I had nowhere to go. I went down heavily on my left shoulder, grazing hands and arms, before feeling the sickening thud of my head striking the track.

I looked up to a group of 4 or 5 people who were around me, helped me with drink and food, and helped me to get up and carry on. I ran with Tim Downie over Conic Hill, and while I don’t think that I was holding him up, was grateful to have somebody to run with and have some company at this point. I was pretty shook up. I wasn’t too worried about the blood everywhere, but I didn’t like the headache much. That said it did wane on this section, and the running on this section was probably better than even the section out to Drymen. Guys and girls, thanks for your help.

I stopped at Balmaha to get everything cleaned up by the first aiders from Ayrshire with lovely Newfoundlands. Again I have to thank the first aiders here and at Rowardennan for looking after me. I felt pretty rough on leaving, and by the time I ran past Dave Kiddell on the shore of Loch Lomond I knew that I would probably be terminating at Rowardennan. I slowed down, sticking for a bit with a lady who was struggling to keep food down, and tried to make the trot to the next checkpoint as comfortable as I could.

I immediately withdrew on arriving, and wanted to get off to hospital ASAP. My very worried wife was able to collect me a little while later and escort me there, and I felt extremely nauseous all the way to Kirkcaldy. I also have to thank her for looking after me, and similarly all the nice doctors and nurses who turned me around pretty quickly. hopefully my strava data is below, if not i will add it in properly on pc later.

The good news is that there are no visible breaks on the X-ray, and nothing seems to have gone wrong with the head in the few days since, so far so good. I seem to have a very nasty left shoulder sprain, with rotation for swim presently impossible, as is any loading of it. I’m hoping to be back in the pool shortly, and to be ready for Aberfeldy sprint tri in 4 weeks time, but we really will have to see how it goes.

I’m probably not best placed to lecture anybody on running given the calamity above so i will keep my observations brief. I have always known that running uphill generally doesn’t happen much from the mid-field backwards in ultra distance races. I was surprised though by how little use is made of gravity in running downhill. It’s free speed, take it, just don’t mash your quads in doing so. I was slightly less amazed by the plethora of highly branded technical kit surrounding me in the midfield. I don’t think that there is much need for most of this. I wear compression gear for recovery, I very rarely race in it, and quit frankly I couldn’t give a toss what logo is on it. The point that I’m trying to make, badly, is that if you have money to burn in ultra running, and are looking to use it to improve performance, spend it on a having a good coach sorting out your running technique and putting some structure into your training, because you will see very real improvements not just to your times, but also to the amount of the year you spend injury free. That’s certainly true of the year or so now that I have been working with Karl Zeiner. It’s not really about how many miles you can bang out in training, but arriving at the start line ready to race. Feel free to ignore my ramblings as you will.

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