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Race Reports

The Highland Fling 2019 edition – Matt Hooper

Ding Ding – apparently that’s the thing Flingers say to one another... this was the first of a few things I would discover today!

Starting at 06:00 to the tune of Loch Lomond over the loud speaker, 6 DRR amongst a field of 800 runners departed Milngavie Railway Station and headed for the start of the West Highland Way. The target: Tyndrum. The 53 mile countdown begins.

The first 12 miles to Drymen are perfect for settling nerves, getting the nutrition and hydration plan working and just enjoying the views – particularly in the best weather we would experience all day! Once we got past the mandatory kit check and through the Drymen checkpoint, the weather turned more typically Scottish. Just as the first test of the day appeared – Conic Hill.          

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Enjoying the walk up the eastern side of the hill, it started to level out and we were running again. Fortunately, the low clouds cleared just long enough to offer some spectacular views out over Loch Lomond and the islands located within. A quick technical descent, made slightly harder due to the downpour we were in the midst of, only added to the fun. All of a sudden a marshal shouts out your race number and another holds the drop bag into the air. Novel!

The next 21 miles to Beinglas mainly along the side of the Loch are not to be underestimated. I had heard that from Inversnaid to Beinglas was fairly technical, and I thought I was prepared! In a few hours, I would discover how wrong I was.

The section from Balmaha to Inversaid was a mixture of well defined path, lochside and a few little technical sections, but nothing too serious. In parts you get more fantastic views across the Loch and an appreciation for what Scotland has to offer grows ever stronger.

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Coming over a wee hill, you can just about make out the hotel where the Inversnaid check point is held. Quickly crossing a bridge, you arrive. Again, not wanting to linger too long, I fired through and headed for what would define the day.

The weather had taken its toll on this section. The downpour which had been descending for the last 5 hours made this section more treacherous than it should have been. This was the part I personally had underestimated and on reflection wish I had looked at previous to the race. Technical, wet and slippy, rocks, roots and bridges, made this interesting and took it out of the legs. Passing walkers along the route, the looks of disbelief and encouragement they give you is a nice little boost to your enthusiasm and stops the mental concern creeping in.

It was nice to reach the end of the Loch, a little flat section and try to get the legs moving in a more regular rhythm. Climbing another hillock, you can pause, turn around and have a breath taking view (noticing a pattern – the views along the route are stunning!) down the Loch. Then it hits you. You’ve traversed the side of Loch Lomond and have almost covered 40 miles.

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The run into the final drop bag checkpoint and 12 miles from the Red Carpet is a nice little descent which keeps things entertaining after the last 6. With 80% of the route covered, you can finally feel like you can make it.

Cow poo alley (apparently this was aptly named) had recently undergone refurbishment. A flat gravel path had been laid, which was a welcome change to the freezing cold streams every 100 yards you walk through to get there. This takes you to the final checkpoint for the day – Bogle Glen. 6 miles and one more climb and then accomplishment!           

The last climb, known as the rollercoaster is a series of short sharp rises and falls, into the mist. Prior to getting there though, a strange sound of accordions emerges from within the trees. A quick look left and you see two ladies in a tent, playing and offering encouragement to runners.

The rollercoaster over and across the road the final stop: Tyndrum!

This was a nice wee section and by the time you see the caravans at Tyndrum, you are hoping to see the finish soon.

Then you hear it – Bagpipes. Highland Cathedral. The legs pick up speed, your eyes well a little and the feeling of pride, accomplishment and disbelief wash over you! Turn one final corner onto the welcoming red carpet and noise of spectators and other runners. High fives going out to the kids on the way down – the best finish to any race I have experienced thus far.

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The winners on the day were John Hammond (Carnethy) and Beth Pascall (Salomon UK) in 07:30:29 and 08:02:46. Out of the field of 800 who began, 647 finished the 53 miles, with the conditions making an already tough route, harder.

DRR Results:

Lee O’Connor                    65th        09:36:07

Johan Belfrage                  105th      10:04:49

Matthew Hooper              270th        11:36:08

Ashleigh Sinclair                296th      11:48:11

Craig Beattie                     446th      12:52:43             

Richard Cleary                   506th      13:23:54

Personally, this was the biggest challenge of my short running career and I am ecstatic with how it went. Initially, I said never again, but the sights, support (from runners, marshals and just the public) along the route and the feeling at the end – I cannot wait to go back and would encourage anybody who wants a challenge to give it a try too!

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