A ‘relay, relay’ fun day at the Highland Fling Ultra 2014

I guess the journey to taking part in the Fling relay started, for half the team, exactly a year before this year’s Fling. A relay team was down a member but if I stepped in it’d mean I couldn’t do my 18 mile marathon training run with Heather. Luckily another friend stepped in and I made my training run, however Heather and I had both been developing a distinct preference for trail running over road running so we decided that we should enter a relay team for 2014, if we could.

By the time entries came around we had recruited Kirsty and Jennifer to complete the team and we were all super excited when Four Daft Burdz got a spot in the hugely popular relay.

Later on I would joke that we should’ve been called the Sugababes as our line up changed so often! However, Heather and I (original members) made it to every training run, meaning we both now know the entire Fling route very well, and eventually the actual race along with new recruits Aurel and Katherine. Happily, Kirsty actually recovered well from her PF and ended up stepping in to help another team and running the same section as her ‘replacement’ Katherine – funny how things work out!

We had a blast out checking out each of the sections

We had a blast out checking out each of the sections

Everyone in our team has ultra aspirations and, being members of the Ultra Dafties Training Group on facebook, we’ve all got to know a lot of the ultra community and made a lot of friends that way. This meant, in spite of the vastness of the race, we already knew lots of people involved in both the organisation of the race and that were racing both the full and the relay. My own journey into ultra territory (just) had involved the Clyde Stride relay and some of the organisation of Jedburgh, so I knew that this was going to be an incredibly valuable experience for everyone in the team which will stand us all in good stead in the future as we step up to the greater distance events.

Although the relay started an hour later than the main race, we decided to rock up early and cheer the full flingers as they set off on their epic run. It was great to be there, soaking up the atmosphere, catching up with Daftie pals and getting a feel for the event. It really wasn’t long before the relay was ready to follow hot on their heels…

Stage 1: Milngavie to Drymen, 12.6 miles – Aurel

Thanks to Pete Hunter for the photo

Thanks to Pete Hunter for the photo of Aurel storming into Drymen

Aurel had kindly stepped in at the eleventh hour when logistics meant Jennifer wouldn’t be in the country in time to run. Given that Aurel hadn’t been on any of the recce runs and was making a comeback from injury we thought it best that she run the first leg. I gave her strict instructions of ‘no heroics’ and I promised her friend and physio that we would return her unbroken. I suggested 2 to 2 1/2 hours would be fab and Aurel responded that she expected to do between 1h45 and 1h55 – true to her word she stormed in at 1h48!! What a start!! I think it’s safe to say that Aurel is now pretty convinced that she wants to run ultras and will make her debut at G12 later this year…

The atmosphere at Drymen was fab with the relay changeover and the water stop affording us the opportunity to cheer for full flingers on their way through – I managed to run after David Ross and deliver a hug, as well as spotting my work colleague Ken McLean and grab a quick word – I was lucky enough to see Ken, and many other pals, at every checkpoint and cheer him over the finish too, a bonus of being in the relay!!

Stage 2: Drymen to Rowardennan, 14.6 miles – Katherine

Thanks to Edinburgh Sports Photography for this one.

Katherine at Millarochy – clearly loving it! Thanks to Edinburgh Sports Photography for this one.

Despite having been on a (rather fantastic if hot and tiring) 24 mile training run with me the previous Saturday Katherine was still game for a trip over Conic. We managed to spot Katherine at Balmaha, looking strong after her descent from Conic and we had a grand old time encouraging full fling runners at the checkpoint. My dog did rather want to join David Ross in the ‘picnic’ area and he kindly gave her his empty Mueller rice pot to clean out – she continues to be a firm fan!

By the looks of the photos Katherine really enjoyed herself and arrived in Rowardennan looking pretty fresh after 3h22 – well within our guesstimates (maybe I shouldn’t have got too confident about my ability to guess the times – more on that later).  Kirsty had managed to catch up with Katherine and run along with her for some of the route, which seemed rather a nice thing to happen as originally it looked like Kirsty would miss out.

Stage 3: Rowardennan to Bein Glas Farm, 13.7 miles – Heather

Heather's abandonment as captured in Alan Doig's excellent video of his full Fling experience.

Heather’s abandonment as captured in Alan Doig’s excellent video of his full Fling experience.

I had never seen Heather so nervous/excited before a race as at Rowardennan – that’s the nature of a relay though, when you’re awaiting your turn you just want to get going. Soon enough it was Heather’s turn to run and she had the section that we both agree is our absolute favourite. Off she set, her tartan tights attracting plenty of attention and no doubt cheering some full flingers at a tiring time in the route.

The road trip at this point is rather more substantial than the distance to be run – Heather joked that she’d race us, none of us realised that would be quite so close to reality!! Katherine and I actually arrived in loads of time, grabbed a coffee and went to cheer the runners through the checkpoint. I also had a lovely catch up with Marianne Grover, with whom I’d spent a fair chunk of GO33.

We spent about 4 hours on the recce of this section and I was roughly expecting Heather to do about 3 1/2 hours. She is a far faster runner than I am but I also anticipated potential congestion on the route and I would hate for anyone to feel pressured on the technical section and end up injured or in the loch. Whilst waiting we heard about the lady that fell and broke her jaw in five places before bravely running on to Bein Glas and then going to hospital – like most other bloggers, I just can’t leave that courageous effort out nor the way the ‘community’ sprang into action to make sure she would be OK. Susan Johnston, recover well – you’re one tough and inspirational lady!

Anyway, thinking I had plenty of time I wandered off to let the dog stretch her legs, grab my numbers and get ready. Katherine and I were just heading to the loos (thankfully I’d already given her the car key) when a marshal ran up asking if we were relay runners and saying 919 was in. What?????!!!! Heather had only run stage three in 3h08!!! An absolutely amazing run, one of the best of her life I believe she has since said.

Heather is a lovely lady and her first thoughts were of the bad sections of road we’d been driving and she was worried we’d been involved in an accident but of course full flingers that knew me and were still digging into their dropbag contents confirmed they’d already spoken to me.

I had done so well up to this point –  from training runs to pinning down accommodation and getting a last minute team member but I do have one regret and that was not being there to welcome my good friend into the checkpoint after an absolutely blistering performance which should have been loudly, loudly celebrated. Luckily most folk, including Heather just find it pretty amusing – I do believe that Noanie chortled ‘you twat’ when I recounted my guilty story at the finishline!

Stage 4: Bein Glas to Tyndrum, 12.1 miles – moi

To say that I got a ‘warm up’ would be an understatement – I was sprinting up to the checkpoint whilst stripping off, switching my watch on and trying to pin on my number. Apologising profusely to Heather I set off in a right flap. Why couldn’t I start my watch, it already had satellites? In my haste I’d put it on upside down and therefore was pressing the wrong button – I lost 0.3 miles on it and goodness knows how big a gap there was between Heather crossing the mat and my getting started. Good job we were never at the pointy end of the race… There had been a heavy downpour just before Heather came in so I’d put on my cap and my light jacket only for the rain to go off and never reappear; more faffing whilst on the move ensued but I did eventually get into a bit of a rhythm. I checked in with another relay runner who seemed to be in a bit of trouble with her calves not long out of the checkpoint – I suggested doing a couple of stretches once warmed up, I do hope she was OK. Then I started catching up with full flingers, these people had already run over 40 miles – I was in awe of them and actually felt a bit rotten passing them, so I tried to pass the time of day with everyone and have a proper chat and check in with anyone that was having a tough time. From time to time it was a nice ‘excuse’ for a walk break…

I had a really rotten run the day we recce’d stage 4 and I hadn’t been looking forward to it that much – the team reckoned as I’d done the most organising I should do the glory leg (I joked that they were more afraid of cows!) but I also reckoned it was a good idea for me to take the section after the cut-off as I’m the slowest runner. Compared with the recce, I had a great run – the biggest highlight was not falling face first in cow poo alley as I remarked to pretty much anyone who would listen. I also didn’t really encounter any cows on the path, got hugs from two lovely collies and I got to run a little while with Pauline Walker, who is something of an ultra legend! To be fair Pauline and two other full flingers that I passed in the Bogle Glen later passed me within the last mile or two, which just goes to show the endurance and experience they had and their strategies for the section played out better than mine for just a single section!! I swear Pauline’s sprint finish was about a mile in length! One of the best things about having recce’d the route was that I could check off landmarks as I recognised them and every time I felt a lot better at each of them than I had on the recce.

I was pretty relieved to hear the bagpipes, but that probably doesn’t compare with how relieved someone that has just run almost 53 miles must feel. The cheers and support as I ran up the red carpet were wonderful and to be honest I couldn’t have hoped for nicer if I’d actually run the whole thing. Heather was right there to catch a high five as I headed over the finish.

Thanks to Stuart MacFarlane for capturing my finishline 'sprint'

Thanks to Stuart MacFarlane for capturing my finishline ‘sprint’

I ‘relay, relay’ could go on about this fantastic experience but this blog is getting longer than the race! We finished 48th out of 56 teams – I’ve done two relays previously and this is the first time I haven’t been in the team in second last spot, woohoo! We finished in 11:19:49 – way slower than a load of full flingers!!

I will close as most other blogs with a HUGE, HUGE thank you: to my lovely team mates, the amazing runners, the supporters along the way and most of all to the genuinely lovely John Duncan and his absolutely fantastic crew of volunteers that give so freely of their time to make this a uniquely wonderful experience.

Oops, we forgot to take a photo of all four of the Daft Burdz - thanks to Pete Hunter for this one.

Oops, we forgot to take a photo of all four of the Daft Burdz – thanks to Pete Hunter for this one.

Will you se any of us doing the full fling next year? I think that’s a distinct possibility…