The Hoka Highland Fling is a 53 mile trail race following The West Highland Way from Milngavie to Tyndrum was set to be the British Ultra Trail Championships 2016. To qualify for The World Trail Championships hadn’t been one of my main aims for this year as I had seen selected for the GB 24hr team to compete at the Europeans in October. But as I watched the entries fill up and saw the competition I could be up against building, I got a bit excited. A race preview said ‘the depth of talent is arguably the best that any UK ultra has ever seen’. I didn’t want to miss out on the action. As there were so many really accomplished runners competing, it would be the sort of race where everything could go to plan and you could still end up coming well below the podium spots.
The Fling is a much flatter and faster race than I am used to so I tried to shift my training towards more speed work and long tempo runs on the flat and less really long slogs in the mountains. I haven’t completely ignored the hills and we’ve spent a few great weekends in Snowdonia and many more days in my more local training ground, The Peak District. Matt and I ran The Fling route over 2 days just 10 days before the race to get a feel for the terrain. Many would say that having a 36 mile training run that close to a big race is not a good idea, but I know myself and know I recover quickly. I’m really pleased we did it and I think it set me up well for the race.
My plan was to run my own race. At least for the first 30 miles anyway. I knew the start would be fast and I just had to not get carried away. Although I train using heart rate zones, I actually took off my heart rate monitor for the race. I like to race on ‘feel’. I decided to carry all my own food rather than using drop bags. I didn’t know how smooth the checkpoint drop bag collection would be so I thought it safer just to carry everything. I don’t eat a lot* (despite my best efforts!) so I wasn’t exactly a lot of extra weight.
We camped the night before the race near Milngavie. I assumed the campsite would be full of competitors but it turned out we were the only ones roughing it. I liked that. Although dragging yourself out a the sleeping bag at 4:30am when it’s -1°C wasn’t exactly pain free. The first 20 miles or so were uneventful. I just relaxed in to a good rhythm, enjoyed the scenery and watched the miles tick over on my watch. It was great to see so may familiar faces out on the course cheering us on. I didn’t worry about who was ahead or behind me. The race hadn’t really started yet.
I caught up Sally Fawcett soon after the 20 mile mark. I hadn’t met her before and it was nice chatting for a while as we ran together along Loch Lomond. She was looking really strong so I was surprised when I pulled away from her a few miles later. I spent the rest of the race looking over my shoulder, convinced she was going to come and storm past me.
I enjoyed the more technical section of the race along the final stretch of Loch Lomond. My pace dropped significantly as expected, but I still felt strong. After the final checkpoint at Beinglas I picked up my pace again. I now felt confident I could fight off any completion should it come my way. With only 12 miles to go I still had a lot left in my legs. Only in the last few miles did I start to think about the course record and only because spectators mentioned it to me. I didn’t even know what it was before the race. It was something extra to spur me on in the last few miles and a reward for what turned out to be a perfect race. I crossed the finish line in 7hrs 52minutes with a new course record by 17 minutes. I couldn’t believe it. It was way beyond what I imaged possible. 20 minutes or so later Sally crossed the finish line, with Sophie Grant and Lizzie Wraith not far behind. Congratulations to everyone, especially the girls for being great competition.
Thank you to the whole Highland Fling team for putting on a great event. I really couldn’t fault the organisation. Thank you also to Raidlight for supplying me with some great, super lightweight kit. Especially to Ant Bethell from Raidlight who really spurred me on during the race. Finally, a big thank you to Matt for being a great training partner, chauffeur and being ever supportive.
- 1st Beth Pascall 7:52:55
- 2nd Sally Fawcett 8:14:12
- 3rd Sophie Grant 8:15:02