Sunday, 14 October 2018

Adventures into Wonderland Ultramarathon

A new ultramarathon in my backyard? How fantastic! Kristian Delacour and Calum Anderson have been working on putting Fife on the ultramarathon map for quite a while and yesterday their plans became a reality. They put on a fantastic series of three separate races in utterly horrendous conditions and I'm not sure that many people have any idea of just how much effort, love and pain goes into creating this sort of event. Well done on creating a gem, gentlemen.

The Ulramarathon started at 7am, so I only had to pop the alarm on for 5am, have a bit of breakfast and then drive the 13 miles to Lochore Meadows. By a quirk of the Fife roads system, getting here from the west is simply inconvenient, either having to loop to the north around Benarty Hill or braving the Fife villages to the south.

Here's how amazing the route can look when the weather is kind:

The Lomond Hills at their finest (note: actual weather may differ on race day)
That's Benarty Hill in the distance on the far right, with the route heading over here from the other side, a flat section round the bottom right of Loch Leven, then the second, brutally steep climb up from Kinesswood to Bishop Hill (centre right) before heading towards us along the edge of the escarpment, plummeting down the nose of the hill and into that central glen (with that fabulous path, which you should run up and down when you get a chance - it's just one of the best ever). Then the third climb heads up West Lomond on the left of the picture before heading out of shot to East Lomond (hidden behind West Lomond in this shot). Then it heads back in a big loop, with a long (but runnable) climb back over the edge of Bishop Hill and a final climb over Benarty Hill to finish off.

So, six climbs in all, with the four biggest climbs loaded into the first half.

The weather was wet. Double raindrops all day on the BBC forecast, with spate conditions forecast for the burns and rivers. Guaranteed slippery underfoot. I don't think I've ever headed off for a race with such a dismal forecast. I toyed briefly with changing my shoes to something more agressive, maybe a pair of Walshes for maximum grip, but having run the Devil of the Highlands some years ago with a pair of these, I knew that my feet would regret this on all the trail sections in between the muddy bits. So I stuck with the Inov8 Race Ultras, for a bit of cushioning plus reasonable grip, knowing I'd have to be careful on the muddy descents.

The race set-up was very impressive. Lots of marshals, a great theme, although with it being at the end of the week featuring World Mental Health Day, I wondered if anyone might be offended by the "We're all mad here" icons - you know, political correctness and all that.

Race registration was organised well, with a partial kit check (and the promise of another half way into the race), plus timing chip put onto a wrist. With an early start, there was plenty of parking very close to race HQ, which was a welcome relief, so I could leave things in the car and faff about from there. We'd been advised to have a headtorch for the initial section, but I reckoned I could get by without one so threw mine back into the car at the last moment as we headed to the start line.

Although the weather was forecast as wet, wet, wet, it could have been far worse. It wasn't cold, at least not if you kept running, and the strong winds of the previous day had abated so this was never an issue on the exposed hills. There was clag later on, but since I knew all the hills well that could only give me a racing advantage. Just a shame not to have some great views.

A quick chat at the race start, a countdown from ten and then we were off. I started near the back with a bit of a stroll but the first 1km was on flat tarmac with occasional speed bumps to surprise some runners in the dark and I drifted forwards with an effortless pace, chatting to Daniel Kershaw about everything and nothing. Soon, just 50m ahead were the leaders - hadn't been planning on getting quite so close!

A bit of context for my race. 2018 has been a rubbish year of running for me. I went over on my ankle back in January - heard the "crack" as I went over on it - and that stopped me running for some weeks/months. I was a stone heavier than I might normally be and this year's total mileage stood just below 740 miles, about half what it would normally be, and that included solid PWs back in April and July at the Highland Fling and Lakeland 50. It even includes refereeing a few rugby matches (logged as intervals - sometimes over 4 miles a match!) That meant I had low expectations and knew I'd be running some way off what I would be able to do on a normal outing. But it's how things were and it was just great to be able to race an ultra at all.

I've done enough of these races to know when to back off, and the very first climb saw 7 or 8 runners bounce past me, heading up Harran Hill. It was a little darker here, so I latched onto one then another runner with a headtorch for that little extra light under the trees. The trick with these races is to relax on the uphills and mind that your heart-rate doesn't spike, but then enjoy the downhills and get a good speed without much effort. The flat bits are dull in comparison imho, where it's just a case of eating up the miles. I soon warmed up and removed the t-shirt I had on, leaving the base layer only, which (plus jacket later) was just right for day - no need for the gloves/hat/buff that I carried all day.

A steep climb up Benarty Hill with lots of steps, and again I was more than happy to let others overtake and set a faster pace. Once we headed onto the open summit, I found myself right behind two ladies and since my fast walking pace was quicker than their running pace on the twisty trail, I accepted their offer to go past. And so my tally began - two runners passed. It was a bit early (just two and a half miles in) for this sort of thing, especially since I wasn't really racing, but it's part of the mind games for me, and a bit of fun too.
Mad Hatter Ultramarathon Race Route
Off-piste we went on Benarty Hill, leaving the nice trail and going across open grassland, with sheep trods and little else for a while. I was moving a bit faster on the terrain than the next runner (vest and tattoos) so ended up passing (+3) - lots of hill running and a mountaineering background helps for being comfortable on this stuff - before passing a couple of ladies on the northern edge of the hill (+5). I didn't really know who was in front and was happy that way, but they turned out to be 1st and 2nd ladies.

The descent across the top of Benarty Hill was a blast (the Garmin shows 7.5 min/miles on this twisty & muddy section) and although I worried a bit that I was going too fast at this stage in a long race, it was too much fun to not enjoy it. I passed another runner (+6) here and was soon closing on the next as we descended through a wood section and onto the new path that would take us Vane Farm, the RSPB centre at the foot of the hill.

I caught up with Steve Doidge-Harrison, with whom I've run before, but not for some years. Like me, he's been running ultras for some years and we found plenty to talk about on the long descent. CP1 soon appeared and after a tiny square of millionaire shortbread plus hugs for the wonderful Fiona and Pauline Rennie and I headed off for the three flat miles around the SE corner of Loch Leven.

This is easy after only six miles (photo: Fiona Rennie)...
All felt good here, relaxed eight minute miles taking me through the twisting wooded trail, with a surprise chat with Jonathan Millar (watching the race before running in the cross-country races later in the day). A mile later and I passed a runner with some sort of ankle injury (was there a German accent?) which didn't sound good. I wished him luck, and headed onwards, looking through the trees to see if there were others ahead (+8 now).

The straight road away from the loch towards Kinneswood showed three runners within range, 1.5 and 2.5 minutes ahead and although I knew that it was far too early to be thinking this way, used that to keep me moving onwards. The first drop-bag was at CP2 (barely ten miles in) so I topped up the water bottle (with a high5 energy sachet - thanks to the awesome marshals!) and grabbed the couple of food bars as the vest/tatoos runner from earlier came straight past without stopping. Game on!

And so to the second climb - up and up and up. A long steady slog, with steps made out of boot-prints from over the years. Ahead I could see the four runners spotted earlier plus a green jacket half-way up the hill. I took a time check for where he was, a tactic I've used lots over the years: recite what the timer says until reaching that point then see what the gap is. And repeat. It's a good motivator to eat into a lead, maybe 10 seconds at a time, maybe a bit quicker depending on relative paces.

Again, the focus was to climb steadily. I don't wear a heart-rate monitor (just another set of numbers to deal with) but have a pretty good idea of how hard I am pushing. I dialed in a steady pace and by the time we reached the line through the crags above was back with the previous runner (vest/tattoos) and, importantly, had done so at my pace. Once we hit the plateau, I bounced away on the rough ground that I can carry good speed on.

After a recent recce of this northerly section from Bishop Hill to the "Vale" and back up John Knox's Pulpit (the glen in that fab picture at the top of this blog) I was looking forward to this section, with lots of fast running. At the northerly turn, I could see two runners ahead, slightly nearer than before, which was encouraging.

More timechecks on the reascent and the gap kept falling, then a left turn to head up the third climb of the day, West Lomond. Thankfully, the climb headed up the direct and most sensible route - the race website had indicated a more convoluted route - so I dialled in my own steady pace, with three runners now within a minute ahead. It's nice when the gap closes without too much effort.

At the wild and windy summit, the gap was closed to about half a minute. Hats off (literally) to the two marshals on the summit, having to hang around in those conditions for several hours. As an added bonus, the descent followed the main path, initially curving down the hill in the wrong direction, but then looping round the north side of the hill. The website route had had me worried, since it showed us hurtling off the steep and very slippery east side of the hill - so I was glad of the wise and much appreciated route change there.

Now the rain came on properly. We'd been lucky with an intermittent start to the day, with showers on and off, but now we had that persistent sort of rain that just goes on and on for hours. Jacket back on, mind the footing on the slippery mud and look forward to the lovely gradual descent to the east.

And so it was a lovely descent - a couple of eight minute miles on decent trail, trying hard not to kick any stones, passing the targets from the lochside to the summit. I found that the last of these (+9, +10, now +11) was Phil Humphries, another seasoned ultra veteran (super veteran actually) and it was great to share the miles to come with him. We chatted about running, races, injuries, etc. as the miles went by.

East Lomond came next, with a mixture a fast walking on the steeper bits and running whenever it flattened out. A small detour at the top, since it's just wrong not to touch the summit marker, and then began one of the race highlights: a long descent down the eastern edge of the route, which was just a lovely gradient for several miles. I loved it.

Lomonds of Fife section
Guilty admission - my Garmin shows mile 19 as 7:05 min/miles, which includes a slight uphill section, so I really was having fun here. Only slightly tinged with knowing this was still the first half of the race. Phil was having none of it and kept pretty close behind, all the way to CP3 at 20 miles.

In the car-park at Pitcairn and a check-point in a portakabin, where I grabbed a drop-bag, showed other items for a kit check and chatted to Martyn, who turned out to be the target from much earlier in the green jacket (+12)  An effieicent stop, pot of custard consumed, flat coke drunk, racevest bottle refilled, then I was off, on my own this time.

Everything was going well, and although I didn't know how many runners were ahead of me, I guessed I might have been 18th after the first couple of miles, so there couldn't that many. There was even a bit of clear space behind me, confirmed as the trail did a curious switchback on itself and I was releived that we weren't having to add a random climb over Rhind Hill (the website map had shown this). Nevertheless, this was one section of the route that I was most worried about, to the extent that I had printed out a bit of the OS map and laminated it in an attempt to follow the trails around suburbia at the edge of Glenrothes.

But I needn't have worried, it all went well and soon I was on the final bit of round heading out of the housing estates, heading west towards a huge quarry.

Except, I wasn't. The path at the end of the final road turned left... and a bit more left... and more left again. I was now heading south east and it was, plain and simply, wrong. I slowed, made a snap decision and headed back the way I'd come. Maybe there was a path I'd missed? A short detour at the end of the dead-end road followed, but to no avail. Then I looked at the map and realised there was one final turn down another cul-de-sac, straight after the previous right turn - and I'd missed this.

The only sign of this was a bit of red/white marker tape discretely attached to a post a little up here (there were later tales of signs going missing). I was hugely relieved to be back on track and thankful that Martyn and Phil had not yet appeared, so continued on my own.  Here's what happened:

Red arrows show the race route - my extra half mile in blue.

It could have been worse, but extra distance plays with your mind, and I did feel despondent at this point. Add to this the low point in the race, with glycogen depletion kicking in at 20+ miles, the worst "scenery" of the route (the quarry wasn't great, and the unkempt farms next to it had a real Deliverance feel to them), with long mind-numbing tracks (and short very muddy one) that were all slightly uphill.  Having measured my extra detour, it was exactly half a mile, and that equates to 4:30 to 5:00 minutes lost. Others had it worse here, so I've heard.

Oops at mile 22
At almost 25 miles, approaching the Holl reservior (viewing Google satellite images and staring at maps before the race meant I was ready for that section), I was surprised to see two runners not too far ahead. A time check of two and a half minutes meant they were within reach. Jo Murphy and Lesley Halstead were a bundle of happy vibes at the checkpoint and told me I was in 6th place (so I thought my previous 18th on Benarty Hill had been a lucky guess) and to get on up the hill and catch the two runners just in front.

The marathon route joined us here. With their race starting at 9am, only one runner was already through and it was great to hear that the leader was female. The second place runner arrived just as I set off.

The fifth climb was a long one, back over the edge of Bishop Hill (the southerly summit, called White Craigs) and the sting in the tale was that this was a gradual incline and all runnable. That meant digging deep and working a bit harder. To add to the challenge, it all heads west, with some long straight sections that don't do much except climb and climb.

It took me until the wooded section at the very top (thankfully taking the direct route to the "golf ball" at near the top of the hill) that I closed down on another runner in a green jacket. Actually, it was just like Martyn's green jacket. And it looked just like Martyn too...

Martyn was just as surprised to see me.  So the reason I'd not seen them during my scenic detour was beacuse they'd been and gone whilst I was out of sight. Martyn said that Phil had done the same as me, but he'd called him back. Out of the woods and to the top of White Craigs and the marathon runner who was now just in front of me was wondering which way to head off the hill. Years of running and racing up there meant I didn't pause and he followed me down. Phil was just the other side and I shouted which way to go for him too. As well as muttering something about not getting lost. So I was now back to +12 in terms of overtaking.

We all headed down together, careful on the muddy and slippery grass sections. There was a worrying unmarked turn just before the eastern-most hair-pin bend in the trail and I knew that it was a useful short-cut. Although the temptation was strong to "accidentally" head that way and save two or three minutes, I also knew the official route was meant to head onwards and then double back lower down, so said as much as we headed on. I do wonder how many others took the quicker route since there were no markings to be seen here.

A fast descent and then I was leading our group of three along the lovely trail back towards Kinnesswood, where local knowledge meant that I knew the best line (straight down) at the edge of golf course (again, no marking after leaving the trail). Straight through the checkpoint below with more encouragement from Jo who popped up again. The downhill sections helped towards a 8:30 min/mile - it felt faster but such is the effect of the terrain and the previous 30 miles.

The tedious next three miles took us around Loch Leven again, and what had been easy miles were now a struggle. Phil showed his strength by catching up and setting a good pace that I had to work hard to keep with at this stage. Just before the RSPB final CP, I was looking forward to a slight rise for a bit of variety (and the first gel of the day) before we were walking through the tunnel and building works section.

Jo was here again, as positive as ever, saying that third place had only just left. A quick faff with the drop bag - a handful of gels for this final seven mile leg, eat the pot of custard quickly (but not quickly enough as Phil headed off in front of me), glug the wee bottle of coke and then set off up the final climb.

Phil was clearly in race mode, trying to run uphill sections whenever the gradient eased but my uphill walking pace was good and I was soon alongside him as we climbed up into the cloud and cooler wind. It was lovely to see Elaine Sandeman at the highest point of the return leg over Benarty Hill and she said was having a good time and enjoying the Mad Haffer route.

And then it was so busy! There were 6 or 7 people at the end of the trail where the forest tracks begun, wondering which way to go and I recognised Hugh McInnes, one of my two picks for winning the ultra race: he asked which way the route was meant to go. My local knowledge meant I didn't break stride and headed straight on, following the forest trail as it descended south.

So this was a fine thing - 3rd, 4th and 5th in the race, plus the 2nd place (and first male, Paul Young) for the marathon event, all together blasting down the final hill. And the pace was good too (7:30 min/mile) on the rough track. There was a short climb after this and Hugh was in full race mode, running all of it, picking up 30 seconds on Phil and I before we headed down the steps that we had climbed in the gloom at the start of the day.

Heading back over Harran Hill, the final slight climb, I ran it all, and so did Phil, hot on my heels. I let go on the descent and closed the 100m or so to Hugh despite the slippery mud all the way down. Might as well give it all I had.  Alas, this was not to be enough. Although it was great to be racing, properly racing, after 37 miles of an event, Hugh was just too strong, and although I almost closed up on him at the SW corner of Loch Ore, he managed to pull away along the south side of the loch. And to add to this, the earlier strength that Phil had shown on the flat meant that he came alongside and moved away from me.

Sure, I tried, but on the final little rise that parkrunners at Loch Ore will know all about, he opened up the slightest of gaps and it just kept getting wider. My lack of training miles were catching up now  and then I noticed the clock was now past 7 hours (a nominal early finish goal).  The final sting in the tail was getting back to the finish only to be told that we had to keep going round the loch until the next marshal. I'd not been expecting that! The finish was just away to the right, but we had to add an extra mile. Proper humour failure here, especially as I was feeling bad about not having the legs to compete right at the end (maybe getting greedy, but that's racing for you). With no-one behind and no-one to catch in front I even walked a bit (yes! on the flat!) feeling despondent and not caring about a few minutes in the results. That's ultras for you - the highs and the lows; it's always good to finish on a high, but not today: I think I'd used up my supply of those earlier on (mostly on the descents).

Luckily, almost at the finish, I saw the excellent Gordon Donnachie and knowing that his photos are good at showing everyone at their best, got on with a bit of a run towards the finish. Thanks for the kind words and great picture (as ever) Gordon!

The final straight (photo: Gordon Donnachie)
Then I turned the final corner and strolled across the grass to the finish. No crazy sprint finish, no glorious hands-in the air moment. Just the end of a wet day of continual movement. Hey, I know that sounds a bit flat and ungrateful, but it's just where my mind was at that point. Too competitive, eh?

None of that takes away from having a fantatsic race experience, in spite of the weather, controlling the race well throughout (except the last two miles) and getting a result that far exceeded my expectations. Phil ended up in fourth place and took the 1st MV50 place, which meant that I got 1st MV40. That all means that if I'd been a little older, I'd have needed to run that bit harder. On the bright side, it's also inspirational that it's possible to remain competitive as the years roll by.

Wet, wet, wet
A wee note for my clubmate Judith, who finished fifth and second female in the marathon. As far as inspiration goes, she's in her sixites and still racing competitively - how amazing is that?  And to have the marathon event won by a female is great for our sport too. But to top it all is that the female winner of the Ultramarathon was called Alice - something straight from down the rabbit-hole. You couldn't write this stuff (except Lewis Carroll did, of course).

So an awesome thank you to Kristian and Calum for making this all happen. For daring to dream that it could happen, not being daunted by the inclement forecast, recruiting a team of amazing marshals and sorting out more things than I can even think of to make our day out in Wonderland take place. They're planning on doing it again next February - ice axe and crampons may be on the kit list...

Race Bling

Race results          Race website         FB page

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Lakeland 50 - The Orange One

Orange all the way
Hats off to Marc Laithwaite and his team - the 2018 Lakeland 50/100 event was another truly epic weekend of running, weather and orange. Any Dutch meteorologists visiting Coniston on Sunday would have been impressed.

I'm turning into something of a frequent flyer at this event: this was my fifth year in row in Coniston and it didn't disappoint. It was also a different experience to the previous events from my point of view and I'll have a go at explaining how in this blog. 

If you're in a hurry, or the boss/partner/kids is/are on the prowl, the synopsis (spoiler alert) is that I jogged 40 miles through the Lake District following a nasty injury last winter, then was able to push a bit for the final ten miles, nailed a solid PW (and was more than happy with that) and got a shiny medal and T-shirt at the end. 

As anyone who was there will tell you, that barely scratches the surface of what really happened over the weekend, so here's some thoughts with a little extra detail, maybe something to read over while the race is still fresh in your mind, or to add to your collective race-info-gathering if you're contemplating this one in the future.

Back to before the start

This is the preamble bit before getting to Coniston for the weekend. Feel free to skip ahead or make use of your speed-reading skills here. The end of January featured winter snow in Scotland (home), which quickly melted shortly after in readiness for a bit of proper winter weather (a.k.a. "Beast from the East") in February. Whilst running through big puddle of meltwater on a trail on an idle Tuesday afternoon my legs went in opposite directions due to some hidden ice submerged just out of site. I knew it was bad straight away and even heard the crack as I went over on my ankle.

That canned the weekend's big race (a new, local 8 hour race) and pretty much the whole season. The mileage plummeted to zero for some weeks and as soon as any sort of recovery looked possible the ankle swelled up again. Finally, in April, I spent time with a physio (note to self: don't wait next time) and explained that I was wanting to run the Highland Fling at the end of April (53 miles, and the best race in Scotland). The time it took didn't matter this year, I just wanted a chance of getting to the start line. It worked, with an acceptance that it would delay my recovery for 2018, and I did the physio exercises religiously for a few weeks. Hence my fairly insane mileage record for early 2018: 

Don't try this at home kids - not the usual race prep mileage for a 50 mile race (from
Looking at the training miles for May and June doesn't inspire much confidence either does it? In my defense, I should say that I have run 40 ultras over the past 8 years, including the Lakeland 100, so hope you will forgive my pitching up for the Lakeland 50 with so little training. Add to that the effect that the lack of training had on my already larger-than-the-average-runner frame and I was over a stone heavier than I had previously been (which is, apparently, worth an extra 25 minutes in race terms, going with the accepted  two seconds per pound per mile). 

It goes without saying that I was not looking at beating any of my previous Lakeland 50 times. For the record, these were all a bit over ten hours and had been steadily improving over the past three years with the huge advantage of finishing before it gets dark and so without needing a headtorch, a huge asset on that final descent into Coniston if you are lucky enough to get there in time.  No, the mission this time was to focus on enjoying the experience, walk anything uphill, and look after the recovering left ankle with every step.

Lakeland weekend arrives

I'd agreed to give a lift down to Coniston to friends Iain and Vikki Shanks. They had to drive all the way from Stonehaven (near Aberdeen) and were planning on being out all night so would be tired for the return drive. I fancied some company for the drive and they're great people so I was more than happy to be driver, especially since I was planning to drive down anyway. Poor Iain had to work on the Friday morning, so it was approaching the L100 start time when we eventually got to Coniston. 

Unfortunately, we missed the L100 start but did get to hear a bit of Nessun Dorma from a distance and ended up pitching in the more distant (and huge!) camping field. After lots of care in recent years about only allowing small tents in the main field, this now looked pretty chaotic with many enormous tents scattered between the cars; maybe it's time to make another push for only competitors with small tents for the main field. 

We had a fascinating chat to a runner who looked in really good shape as we put our tents up. He was doing the event for the first time, was a strong sub-three-hour marathoner and asked for advice from me after Vikki said that I'd done it for the previous few years. I was about to suggest the usual first-timer advice of walking each hill, not working hard until somewhere beyond half-way and trying to enjoy the experience, until he said that he was looking for a sub-9 hour time and targeting the MSV category. Hoping that he knew what that would mean, I added that he'd have to run pretty much every uphill in order to produce that sort of time and wished him luck with his pre-race drinking regime... we wondered how that would pan out as we exchanged incredulous glances after he headed off. But you never know - fortune favours the brave after all.

Everyone else had the same idea about registering around 6:30pm and there was a huge queue snaking out of the marque and off towards the main school building, so after a nice chat with Flip, we headed off into town in the warm evening air for a pint or two and a good feed at the Black Bull.

Beside the extensive registration queue - me, Flip and Vikki (photo: Iain Shanks)

Dinner was great and we crowded round a table with an old friend (plus her husband) of Vikki's  and were joined by Keith Ainslie (with whom I ran quite a bit of the 2016 race) and Gillian. Weather great, company superb and a lovely evening, made even better by a chance meeting with David Mould who was as charming and positive as ever (he was marshaling all weekend this year).

Back at the race marquee and there was no queue at all at 9pm, so we quickly registered (it helps to just empty it all out on the table and read the marshals' list so you can just show everything on cue). David was at the weight watchers' scales and then the third wrist band was added with the timing device. I've always put a buff on this before to stop it flapping around during the race (and to cover the bright pink thing with a worrying "92.3" written on it since I wouldn't want anyone to see that!) but didn't bother this year and it was just fine.

A pretty good night's sleep in the tent and an instant breakfast of useless things like a couple of almond croissants (serious athlete food here) and a pot of custard slurped and eaten with a finger since Iain had pinched my spoon for his porridge (oi!) and then we headed off nice and early for the race briefing.  That was a bit of a fail since it wasn't in the marquee this year but back inside the school hall and by the time I worked this out the place was mobbed and we had to hang around outside the main hall, at the back (no wonder it was so quiet in the marquee).  Not a big deal and Marc and Terry gave a thorough and excellent briefing about the race.

I was all for getting on the first bus and getting up to Dalemain with time to spare and this worked out well, except for being on a nightmare bus with three seats on one side of aisle. It's a sad fact that those seats might be great for small children but were impossibly small for me. Never mind.

After an hour of chatting with Iain and Vikki about all sorts, whilst trying to look out of the windows on the particularly bumpy bits, we got to a peaceful Dalemain, which seemed to have more cars than I can ever remember seeing before, a reflection on the success and popularity of the event.

After the usual waiting and chatting, filled with much cheering of the amazing 100 runners, we dibbed into the start pen and waited nervously. About five minutes before the start I left Vikki and Iain at the back of the pen and headed about a third of the way down the field, which felt about right for the slow(ish) start I wanted to make.

All smiles at zero miles (photo: David Mould)

As usual, almost everyone went off too fast. Apart from the eight or nine hour runners at the front and those walking wisely at the back that is. I moved to the right of the field and tried to walk, with a bit of jogging when there was space. I walked every bit of uphill around Dalemain and tried to soak up the atmosphere, loving the mass of other runners spreading out in front and behind; the sun was shining, it was pretty warm and everything was good.

After the first descent there was a bit of a queue at a gate/stile which was held shut with a bit of string - there were no marshals at all around Dalemain (apart from the main checkpoint itself of course) which was a bit odd, since several minutes stuck at a gate within the first mile was a bit frustrating.  The downhill was fun and there was now plenty of space to move so I relaxed and tried a zero-effort bit of running.

Excellent marshals helped us across the road and I was worried about not having put any sun-cream on my arms as trotted along by the river towards Pooley Bridge (not to be a concern later on as the weather turned) but glad that I'd bothered to apply factor back in the grey gloom of Coniston in the tent much earlier.

Keith and Gillian were in Pooley Bridge and it was lovely to get a shout from them - little bits of support like this are such a good mental boost. On the climb out of Pooley Bridge I was careful to run slowly without effort when I wanted to and just walk if I felt like it; it's an approach that makes the whole thing a lot more fun. Easy running across the top (rain squalls! jacket on!) and the long descending traverse towards Howtown and checkpoint one for the 50 mile runners followed. I felt that I might be a good twenty minutes slower than last year to here and was amazed to be only five minutes slower, despite all my efforts to chill out and take my time. And best of all the dodgy ankle was feeling ok.

Rain above Ullswater - looking all serious for once
Instead of eating much at the checkpoint, I filled a small plastic bag with a few bits and pieces. Much better to munch this on the climb after the checkpoint instead of all at once whilst not moving. This strategy worked pretty well for every checkpoint - there's so many climbs that you will always find one soon after a checkpoint. The marshals were as wonderful as ever and helped with filling bottles and pointing out more food.

A quick exit and then a nice climb to walk up and eat a very random mixture of food. It turns out that flapjack and dorritos mixed with jelly babies are a perfect combination after 12 miles. Who'd have thought it? 

Fusedale was so much easier than I remembered it from previous years. Simply taking the foot off the gas a tiny bit and not stressing at all about walking any steeper bits made such a difference. The trick is remember that you're not racing anyone at this point - you're all just sharing the trail and the journey. By the end of it all someone will finish ahead or behind someone else, but that's not a concern after only a couple of hours.  "The race is long and, int he end, it's only with yourself."

There was a bit of weather after the 2,000ft climb. My right side felt distinctly chilled when the gales and hail hit and I was pleased to drop down to Haweswater for some shelter. Luckily, the wind (south-westerly all day long, almost always straight at us) drove the clouds through and it did stop raining for the section to Mardale Head.

Gotta love a bit of psychedelic colour for an elevation graph! Bonus points if you can name each climb.
This is one of the flatter sections (although it's not flat) of the route and it comes before glycogen depletion and that sort of stuff, so I bounced merrily along here, passing our neighbour from the campsite who had now found out that this was a bit tougher than a road marathon and that he wasn't going to manage to average ten minute miles after all. Glad that he finished and hope he'll get some more trail miles in his legs to have another go next year.

The Mardale Head checkpoint arrived at almost 20 miles and I did spend a bit of time here, having a jam sandwich or two and a nice cup of tea. And then it was off up the long Gatescarth pass, probably my least favourite bit of the whole route. It does just go on and on and on. Anyone that doesn't realise beforehand that it has two halves will be in for a huge surprise when they get to the "top" and find out that that was only half-way up and it gets even steeper in the upper section. 

Again, I chilled out and lost quite a few places to those with more energy or more bounce and didn't worry myself about that. Still too early in the journey for such things. The descent down the other side is a sting in the tail too - much too steep for any "free-wheeling" as far as that goes for runners. For me this was about stepping carefully and nursing the left ankle, trying to take any bigger drops with the right foot and avoid wobbly rocks with their risk of twisting the ankle in a nasty way.

The upper section of the Gatescarth Path (photo credit: Rosanna Kuit)
For the L50 runners this is the only section with two separate climbs between checkpoints and that makes it, in my book, one of the tougher sections. Add to that the heavens opening with a serious hailstorm towards the bottom of Longsleddale and the next checkpoint at Kentmere felt just a bit too distant.

On the bright side, I got a chance to run with Andy Bristow on this descent. Four years earlier I had shared a bit of the first night of the L100 with him (leaving Buttermere at midnight in a heatwave and navigating carefully above Sail Beck) and then all of the second night when I couldn't get my legs working after Kentmere and having a long slow death-march through the second night (11 hours for 23 miles with not one step run). Sharing a journey like that with someone makes a lasting impression and I was delighted to be able to share some of his journey this year. He finished around 30 hours which is a fantastic achievement.

I learnt about pasture clipping on the climb over to Kentmere (thanks Liz, who said she was a farmer's daughter) and then relaxed on the descent down the other side which is at a lovely gradient for good running. Along the tarmac and over the ginormous stone steps, three times over, to get to the checkpoint.

Now portaloos shouldn't get a full paragraph of their own, but a quick visit before the Kentmere checkpoint was on the cards. It's a stressful thing being inside that plastic box hearing the cheers as seemingly dozens of runners head past you and into the checkpoint. Maybe it's the mind playing tricks after all that continuous motion and then the sudden stop that follows since it was probably only half a dozen runners heading past.

Mountain Fuel did a wonderful job here and the double refill of my bottles was much appreciated. Again, a small bag was filled with a couple of biscuits, a few crisps and (best of all by a million miles) a few grapes. Oh! these were just the best. I did pause for a small bowl of pasta and another cup of tea, which gave a chance to catch up with Neil MacNicol who was doing the L100 as a gentle recovery from surgery (he was a top ten finisher a couple of years ago - a true race champion and a gentleman).

That was the warm-up done, 27 miles in, now in the right valley system in case things go wrong and a taxi for Coniston is needed. Don't take that the wrong way, but those first 27 miles should be seen as merely a warm-up for what's coming along next; it has to be that way if you pace this thing right. And I just mentioned how tough those final 23 miles can be if things go wrong.

The climb out of Kentmere is the final really big climb. Well, maybe the 900ft ascent from Tilberthwaite could me worth a mention, but that ascent is so close to the end and comes in two distinct sections that I don't think it compares in the same way. The top of the Garburn pass gets a bit too steep for my liking but before I think anything negative about it I'd better say how wonderful the descent on the other side is - a good surface underfoot and a perfect gradient.

Troutbeck had some good supporters and the section to Ambleside was a bit lonely for me, with only two speedy L50 runners bouncing past me here but otherwise I didn't see any other runners. That was more than made up for in Ambleside where the support was simply magical. Both in the streets where I must have hit happy hour and also the checkpoint which was full of lots of amazing friends - hugs all round!  Flip even took a picture of me at the banquet.

Ambleside was indeed the Greatest Show (Photo: Phil Owen)

A look at that picture makes me feel that it's time for some words on kit (non-runners skip ahead to the next paragraph).  I had finally got round to getting a Montane Jaws running vest (I'm a sucker for a 50% off bargain) which performed very well except for some of the stitching pulling through and rear bungee clip snapping off. Not great for a first-time use in a race and I'll hope it's a one-off and try to get it replaced.  The two soft bottles were great - no more hard bottle ever again. The Skins shorts are an anti-chaffing device, the shin guards just make sense to reduce calf muscle bounce (the jury's out on that one based on anecdotal evidence) and the jacket is a Montane Minimus (fairly effective but delaminating after monly a couple of years of infrequent use; might need to speak to their customer support about that too). The old Garmin 310XT did a great job of getting through 12 hours with 25% charge still remaining.

Another wee bag of nibbles taken and scoffed on the climb up Loughrigg where I quickly warmed up and needed to remove the jacket. As usual I lost a couple of places on the climb (resolutely dialling my pace and sticking to it) but then took these back on the descent where I tend to go much faster. That descent to Elterwater, almost surprisingly, is where my race went from good to even better. I felt great, well-fueled, body coping well, especially the ankle which was just a wee big of a niggle but nothing more. I was in a genuinely happy place, despite the inevitable aches and pains of the previous 37 miles.

Along the flat path towards the Langdale valley I caught up with a good friend Tony, running his fifth L100, with another local runner Graeme Reid. A good chat was well worth slowing down for and I walked with them for a while but they alternated this with some seriously speedy running at a pace that I was more than happy with. As we approached the village, a runner overtook us and I used this as cue to head off and leave them to finish (which they did in 29:30 - more legends). I was still in a good place and chatted to Honor as we headed through the almost deserted Elterwater where the rain had driven people inside - a shame because the pub normally gives great support. Honor was running really well (and climbing fast too) but she said that her longest race was 40 miles until today, so this was now pushing her limits (she got to the checkpoint before me though!)

There's one thing that has to be said about the Chapel Stile checkpoint and it is the brownies. Wow, just wow. Thank you so much to whoever made these and cut them into perfect sized chunks. The lumps of white chocolate in them were simply the best ever. The orange segments were also right up there too and I took a few sweets, crisps and another couple of brownies to eat at the end of the valley (the next climb after the checkpoint, making this pretty much the only checkpoint not followed immediately by a big climb).

There's a really nasty rocky bit of path a little after Chapel Stile where it's awkward no matter which way you go but it doesn't last for too long. A quick descent on good steps was followed by those huge slippery wooden stiles. I was feeling good (still), moving well and overtaking others here (a mixture of L100 and L50 runners). Quite a few of the L50 runners were those that I recognised from much earlier in the day. The decent to Blea Moss was great fun - having that tiny extra bit of bounce to move round the boulders and step/jump over rocks makes such a difference at this stage.

Previously, I've always suffered on the climb from the bottom of the Wrynose pass over to Langdale. This year was different. Since the ankle seemed to be holding up (still barely a niggle rather than searing white-hot pain with every step) I ran pretty much the whole section and speed-hiked the really steep bits such as where the path turns into a rocky cliff in places. The descent was easy than expected (there really is something to pacing it easy early in the day) and Tilberthwaite was soon approaching fast. I'd been starting to get a bit a bit competitive on this section (mostly with myself) and had set my sights on beating 11 hours, which was about the best sort of time that I had contemplated. I was just ahead of 10 hours at the checkpoint so had an hour to play with for the 3.5 miles ahead (oh, and the 900ft of ascent...)

Water and a bit of banana from the lovely marshals and I was heading off up those steep, steep steps... at a snail's pace. I had a huge worry about my legs cramping up, which has happened a couple of times before in races with steps, where my inner quads cramp horribly, leaving me unable to move either or down. Very painful and not nice, plus a disaster in terms of any race aspirations.  

The climb therefore had a very steady start to it, the rocky bit was fun and then the path flattened before I was expecting, so I ran again with a yellow t-shirted runner up ahead as a target to aim for. As I rounded the corner onto the high section of this final leg, I got my headtorch out and put away the jacket - it was a bit windy but I was moving fast enough to balance this. 

The climb up to 1400ft involved reeling four L100 runners who were all hiking at a phenomenal speed - so impressive, and I tried to tell them as much. As the wind got even stronger the ground finally flattened out and I put the headtorch on at last for the final descent.  I've not had to do this bit in the dark before, either being early on the Sunday morning after 104 miles, or just beating the evening twilight, so was a bit more careful for the upper section, but was grateful that my legs let me plummet at a reasonable speed.  I love the way the underfoot conditions just get better and better all the way down and let myself speed up all the way to the village.

There was wonderful support in the centre of Coniston (bonus shout from Dave and Alix - thanks!) and everything was good - this was one of those moments to treasure, when a plan comes together (A-team quote needed, please add the voice).  As an added bonus, another friend, Gavin, was at the finish line and I appreciated him heading over for few words (thanks Gavin!)

The obligatory numbers
What happened next - After the Race

The finish area was magic and that entrance into the marquee is a genuine bit of magic of the event, added to by Keith and Gillian being right there as I went in, and Vicky Hart being there too (husband Paul had finished some time earlier).  The finish area was poetry - a gem of a race production line. Cheers and whoops were followed by a medal, then a surprise finisher picture (nice touch), timing dibber removal, t-shirt presentation and then a massage.

I had a bit of a debate about an immediate massage, but knew it was worth it a.s.a.p. and the guys there were fine with runners not having showered (I did ask several times). Since no-one else was getting a massage, I had a good twenty minute pummeling, which I'm sure did help lots (since I could walk normally the next day, that's a yes to it helping lots).

A dinner of lovely veg chilli followed (getting a bit cold now) and chance meeting with Howard (he's very fast, but had just been out for a 27 mile run today instead of doing the race). A stroll to the tent to collect things for the shower (so glad that I'd bothered to get this ready beforehand - towel, soap, beer, crocs, etc.) and I was lucky enough that there was no queue. Someone next door had a torrid time with their shower (language!) but mine was fine and did the job it was meant to.

A good sleep, despite being woken by torrential rain at 4am, and noisy neighbours who forgot that there might be others sleeping in tents in the middle of the night, but no real complaints. After all, I was clean and in a comfy sleeping bag rather than still out there...

Iain and Vikki finish! (photo: Vicky Hart)
I was very relieved to be there when Iain and Vicki finished around 9am (thanks for the heads up Donna!) since their tracker had not recorded at the final checkpoint (it did appear later on though). They were, of course, a wee bit tired - Vikki made perfect used of the word "zombiefied" to describe it.  I was able to help out by looking after them and taking down their tent and bringing kit/towels for them.  What they did is so, so much more difficult than running this in a day and I have a huge amount of respect for anyone undertaken this sort of thing knowing that they will be out there for so long. Well done guys!

After a zombified version of getting sorted (i.e. just taking plenty of time for everything), we headed to the final presentation event nice and early having learnt from the race registration error, so we were at the front of the queue. Just as well since the place ended up being absolutely packed.

Presentation event, before it got super busy (photo: David Mould)
I'm so glad that we went to this. Marc was as brilliant as ever and his huge efforts to make the entire event and this final piece of it run so smoothly were admired and appreciated. It was a great way to close the event. There was even another (biennial) video of the event - it's pretty inspirational if you've not seen it yet. I have a doppelganger who ran the L100 (see 21 seconds in) anyone know who this is? A bit spooky that there is such a likeness.

And that was pretty much it. Another great Lakeland event and more lessons learnt in terms of race pace and approach and injury recovery. See you all next July!

The Orange One

Monday, 1 May 2017

Flingtastic - Pieces of Eight

The first race to go in the diary each year for me has to be the Highland Fling.  The "Carlsberg" of races, it's as good as it gets (maybe except for the weather - a warm sunny evening after the race would be a nice extra).

Instead of the usual chronological tale of a race (plenty of those already written in these pages), here's just a few random bits and pieces from a grand day out at the 2017 Fling.

Fingers crossed for getting through the ballot, staying injury-free and still loving the race


Beyond the predictable red carpet finish line, I loved the gnarly few miles just north of Inversnaid. That's around 36 miles in. Once things had settled after eating and drinking and at the checkpoint, it was all systems go and time to fly along this section (no trademark infringement there, ok? Not this year anyway). 

As an added bonus, I was running with my club-mate Billy and he was really strong here, as we moved through small convoys of runners along the narrow, technical path.  It's a very marmite sort of section - and if you ask a Fling runner, you'll probably get a pretty polarised view on whether it's the nightmare section, with a special "Lost" island sort of timewarp, or whether it's just great trail running, fully engaging, demanding complete concentration. I guess a lot depends on whether you're legs are cramping up with every (moving) tree root and giant boulder, or if you can still bound from boulder to boulder, trusting your footing.  The latter is always a good race target for me.

Just before the big ladder climb, there's a boulder with a three of four foot drop - I'm sure it would make a great place for future Fling photos, and we could see how the leaders leap down the whole thing without breaking stride, or how others get stuck there for fully five minutes as cramp wracks their muscles (speaking from experience here).  We had a couple of lovely walkers watching us at this point and laughing lots as we clambered down.

Race Organisation & Marshals:

Instead of leaving this to the end, I'm putting my enormous thanks in just here.  You know how there are those "rip-off" races by companies like "mouse-race" that cost way over £100 per mile and leave everyone on social media moaning? Having just seen a narrow edge of the race infrastructure that is involved in the Fling, I know not to take the bargain that the Fling is for us runners for granted. The level of organisation in putting together something on this scale just beggars belief - and John, Noanie, Sean and so, so many others just make it happen in a way that is difficult to comprehend. They have a team that love the event and willingly give up a lot more time than it takes any of us to run the thing in order to give us a good day out.

So to each and every one of the helpers, marshals, organisers, first aid heroes, massage tent miracle workers, Kirsty at ByTheWay and the many unsung heroes... Thank You. You make dreams come true.  I do hope that I'm not injured at end of April anytime soon, but if I am, the Fling will stay in my diary so I can get up even earlier than the runners and do my bit in return.

Still gloomy at 6am - chatting to Gavin at the start (sorry to the runner in yellow) (photo: Monement photography)


Some dos and don'ts.  It's probably best not to go annoying the registration Marshals by not registering until 5:45am. Sorry about that Mel. But it did avoid the queues. I'd dropped off my drop bags first - nice to see that people are learning about the idea of using a freezer bag (unless it's a Rowardennan competition challenger). Then my finish line bag got squeezed into tightly fitting liner plastic bag - again what a brilliant idea and one of those many touches that are so easy to forget - thanks for having 1000 plastic bags to keep our kit-bags dry in the rain.  Genius.  And then I belatedly got round to actually registering for the race - plenty of time really.

Having decided to stay on for the Ceilidh afterwards, I packed my kilt, sporran, long socks, kilt belt... only to find after the post-race shower that I'd not put the kilt in the bag.  Oops. Luckily, I'd added some trousers for the Sunday morning - just as well as it turned out.  Thankfully, it was the only thing forgotten for the race.

In a snap decision on the morning after the race, I joined Sean to head for breakfast at the Tyndrum Inn on the Sunday morning, but ordering at 9:15am and getting to the 10am bus back to Milngavie didn't fit. They were very busy, but with no food having arrived after 40+ minutes from ordering I had to give up and head for the bus. Noanie completed the amazing Fling treatment by delivering a bacon and black pudding sandwich to bus just minutes later - which was great and hugely appreciated (thanks Noanie). More poor timing.

Oh, the race itself - better say something about timing here. I ended up with a time under ten hours which I'm more than happy with. I've been an hour faster and (almost) an hour slower, so this one sits neatly in the middle. Could I have been a bit quicker? Yes, if I'd wanted to suffer a bit more. Does this matter? No, not in the slightest - I wanted to enjoy the big day out and certainly ticked that box, without too much suffering.  As the pictures show, I wasn't exactly in racing-snake form - this year's average weekly mileage being about 30 a week - so the target was to enjoy myself. I reckon that if you can do that, the time will be as good as it's going to be.

Heading over Conic Hill (Monument photography)
The Race

I feel that I should say something about the race itself since this is a Highland Fling Blog.  Selected memories then...

Started at the back of the ten hour pen. I've started very near the front before and also right at the back (a little unwise) and now compromise with this.  Maybe going for the second wave would be more fun since there is that bottleneck at the turn from the Milngavie shops.  Might try that next year.  I usually just head off with whoever I am chatting to at the time (Gavin this year)

6am and we're off.  Photo: Kristin Lownie

The "fast" miles to Drymen are dangerous ones. Really! It's so easy to go with the flow and run far quicker than you were planning to - it's all just so easy at this point.  I was pretty pleased to get to Drymen at 1:46 having caught up with Billy at some point.  We got into a good pack for the endless gates (not that many to be honest and lots stayed open this year - thank you).  The trick is to either accept your lot as gate opener (who remain holding it open for a few seconds) or run a few paces behind the front of your group to avoid crashing into the back of the appointed gate-opener.

Alas, Drymen required an emergency visit to the Portaloos (again, a genius bit of race organisation which I've never appreciated before).  Hmmm, not a great start to the race and I'd known that things weren't quite right with my insides for the previous couple of days, but that's ultras for you.  Might as well get this dealt with here, so jump to the next paragraph if you're eating whilst reading this...  A good sit down was also on the agenda at Millarochy Bay just after Balmaha, and again (emergency!) at Inversnaid.  Yup, that was the low point of the race, but it could have been worse (see earlier blog on Scottish Islands Peak Race...)

Conic Hill came and went (having caught up with Billy after a few miles) with it's lovely views and flying descent which did end up putting a small pebble (probably a tiny bit of grit) into my shoe - shaken out at Balmaha.  Another few miles to catch up with Billy again just before Rowardennan. Hats off to Stan for taking the tough shift with the spot check on kit (phone and foil blanket - no excuses!)  I can only wonder at some of the awkward and disappointed conversations with those who got that wrong. 

Rowardennan (4:25) was a lovely checkpoint, filled with wonderful friends - hugs all round.  Dropbags delivered my Sandra, Susan and Nick, water sorted by Joanna and Kirstin (who went on to win the ladies relay race) and even a bonus hug to wee Katie, who I haven't seen in ages.  Bounced out of the checkpoint feeling great.

But not for too long - those flat two or three miles beyond Rowardennan are tough work.  For me anyway.  I quite like the uphill section that follows - a bit of up and down variety is no bad thing.  Up and up, past the newly re-opened low route, which I wish the race would follow.  It's not an easier route, but it is far nicer and in keeping with the idea of the West Highland Way. Maybe next year.

The lost world that is Inversnaid (Photo: Nicola May)

Into Inversnaid after an extra mile of trail (is that just me though? It always seems to be a bit further along than it should be in reality) and more fantastic people.  A race where the director of Scottish Athletics is helping out at a check-point says a lot (for both Iain and the race!) Brief words with Nicola and Duncan, shouts to the marshals and off we trundled to the fun bit of the race, as mentioned previously.

Beinglas checkpoint (7:30) felt great (really, it did - sorry if you arrived here feeling completely rubbish, but I was in a happy place still).  I knew that the finish could be reached before the ten hour mark and tried to encourage Billy. I left the checkpoint before him but said that I would keep walking until he caught up so he shouldn't make me walk for too long! Billy, sorry if the motivational chat was too much for the next few miles - lots of looking ahead for a target point where the trail got steep enough to warrant a fast walk instead of running.  At this point hills can become your friend - a welcome relief from trying to run on the flatter bits.  We were joined by Steve, who remembered that we had run some of this section together a couple of years ago (my memories were a bit hazy, but it came back to me later on the rollercoaster through Bogle Glen).

Derrydarroch, 44 miles in, with Steve and Billy (photo: Jillian Gordon)

The final leg is tough, as it should be (don't believe that last photo where you can tell that I was truly, truly suffering inside, honest).  Somewhere up Glen Falloch, Billy got a stone in his shoe and stopped to fish it out. I wasn't sure if my talk was too much or if it was genuine, so kept on going. It's so hard trying to run ultras together since each person's good and bad points are unlikely to overlap.  A gap opened up and I pushed things along a little, passing a few other runners here and there.  Jonathan Millar was having a tough time of it before the infamous "cow poo alley" and knowing exactly what he was going through (been there, done that, in exactly the same spot) I tried to say some encouraging words before pressing on.

More awesome Fling support at the big gate above Crianlarich with Fling legends Graham Kelly and Katie Hall raising spirits before the big climbs up to and through that rollercoaster.  Legs were able to zip down the steep downhills, and I was content to walk the uphills.  That seemed to work since after waiting for a gazillion cars at the A82 crossing, the tarmac towards Auchtertyre felt great with proper running, even the heady heights of nine minute miles. A couple of targets ahead kept me honest - it's always useful to have something ahead to focus on.  A metaphor for life maybe?

In keeping with the rest of the day, I was happy to walk up that final rise before turning onto the final mile to Tyndrum.  Had a quite (shouted) conversation with Mike and Rob here (they were heading off up the valley where you go if you miss that important final turn) about Rob having a pretty satisfactory sort of race - he ran it quite fast apparently.

And everyone's favorite bit where we get treated like royalty and it's all about us having our moment of glory. The stuff of legends and dreams.  Not worrying about a time now, I slowed down to enjoy it for as long as possible. What a great place to be.

High Fives with Ultra royalty (Marco) - and check out the feet, both off the ground! (photo: Stuart Macfarlane)

The moment when it's all about YOU! Gotta love this bit of the day (photos: Stuart Macfarlane)

So that's a few selected memories of the day and other random musings. Well done if you ran the race, or have been inspired to run it, or were helping out. Or just arrived here by accident and have got all this way through my ramblings - with that kind of endurance you should consider running an ultramarathon - you're clearly talented in this area.

If you haven't read any of the other tales here in this blog (not that many really), it's worth adding that this is the race that got me pulled into the world of ultramarathons. Eight races later and I'm lucky enough to still be running and enjoying every race.  Hats off to Ian Rae who completed his eleventh Fling (he was injured last year) - nice to briefly catch up with him after the race. 

Fling Bling through the years

According to John Kynaston race statistics, there are seven of us that have run eight Flings now:

Adapted from John Kynaston's race stats
[Update: John has updated his spreadsheet and it shows that also with 8 Flings finished are Andy Cole, Graeme Morrison and Ian King]

Neil MacRitchie was unable to run this year but was in the first aid tent at the finish line, being one of the aforementioned unsung heroes of the day.  The right hand column is the one I've added for 2017 - but no doubt John is right now working on a full and thorough analysis of this sort of thing - or will do it next, such is his skill with data and excel!  On countback, Colin Knox and Ellen McVey might get the nod since they have started nine Flings (or maybe more, since I could have missed some DNF numbers somewhere - apologies if I have).  Already looking forward to next year.

Job done. (photo: Stuart Macfarlane)