No.7 – but more Hell than Chanel!

The “Highland Fling” is a 53-mile race from Milngavie to Tyndrum. The race uses trails (90%) and roads (10%) and covers long sections on the banks of Loch Lomond and through The Trossachs National Park.

“The Fling” is used as a qualifying race for the “Scottish Athletics National Ultra Trail Championship” and as such has certain rules, whereby runners cannot be assisted along the route with spectators only allowed at certain locations. Other quirks in the rules for this race are that no pain relief (ibuprofen or paracetamol) is allowed and neither too are walking/running poles.

On Saturday 23rd April the 15th edition of the run was held, with Newcastle AC’s, Mark King, putting his toe to the line for this his 7th time. Although a veteran of the race, Mark was under no doubt as to the challenge that lay ahead and when the race started at 6am there was a mix of excitement and dread.

The weather was perfect and the underfoot conditions were ideal when the 450 competitors left Milngavie, however as the morning progressed and the sun rose the temperature was becoming a bit too warm for many.

In previous years there were four checkpoints where runners could have drop-bags, however this year there were three, with the first checkpoint just after the technical descent from “Conic Hill” at mile 20. There were a few fallers on the descent and regrettably this heralded the end of the race for a small number of runners.

For this years race the traditional Checkpoint at mile 26 was cancelled, however water was made available and consequently there was only a brief stop for most people.

Mark was continuing to go well and made good time to Checkpoint 2 (at mile 31), however the increasing heat and fatigue were taking their toll and with the most technical part of the course about to start things were beginning to look a little more difficult.

Leg 3, along the banks of Loch Lomond is a tricky & technical section of the run and with tired legs it can be difficult to negotiate the rocks without inducing cramp and risking falling. There is no support or means to access a road along the Loch and consequently a rescue boat is the only way to exit the race….thankfully, there was no evidence of it being required on this years event.

Mark was moving slowly and by the time he reached the final checkpoint (mile 41) he was unable to hold down any food or fluid – this wasn’t part of the plan.

The first 6 miles of the final leg are reasonably straight forward trail running, however this is followed by a long tough climb, which is relentless and at this stage every climb seems like Everest.

The West Highland Way route, which The Fling follows, crosses a major road junction at mile 50 and from experience Mark knew he was on the way home. Things however were not going smoothly as cramp was threatening with every step. The only strategy is to keep going – there’s no help and no way back!

The finish line of “The Highland Fling” is really well done, red carpet, flags, music, crowds of support, sponsors tents etc and as races go its probably one of the best competitor experiences around. Every finisher gets a bottle of “Highland Fling” prosecco and is well fed and hydrated. It’s this finishing experience and the amazing scenery which helps makes “The Fling” such an iconic race. It’s definitely a “must-do” run for local Ultra Runners and a race which Mark would thoroughly recommend.

Mark finished in a creditable 12hrs 44 minutes (172nd place) and whilst this was not his fastest time he was glad to have earned yet another “Fling” t-shirt and looks forward to No.8 in 2023.