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Hoka Highland Fling Ultra 2015

As anyone who has run it knows, the Fling is a great race, mostly due the awesome organisation of Johnny Fling and his crew. If Carlsberg did finish lines then this would be it. Food, drink, massage, cafe type seated area (to over analyze your race with other runners), shower trailers, the lot

The Fling was my first ever ultra in 2011. It is now a clear track record of how I have improved in Ultra over the years. My times have come down consistently since then.

9hrs 45min in 2011; 8hrs 25min in 2013; 7hrs 49min in 2014.

2015 was going to be different though. About the end of January an Achilles inflammation had reappeared again (a bit more severe than in 2014) and this meant about 7 weeks of hardly any running whilst I rested then rehabilitated. In that time I was cracking the eccentric loading exercises but also getting orthotics sorted out.

My physio recommended I visit a podiatrist as I was pronating slightly on my right ankle. A biomechanical anaylsis confirmed this and I was supplied with orthotics to support my collapsing arch and align my ankle & Achilles correctly. This should hopefully mean it is able to better withstand the training volume. Over the last 3 winters its has given up at around the 70miles a week point.

About mid Feb John Duncan contacted me to ask if I would give a wee talk at his Fling training weekend at end of Feb. He needed a sub as a previously arranged speaker had to pull out. As I was in the process of setting myself up as a run coach and massage therapist it was an opportunity I couldn’t really refuse even though I am a bag of nerves at the public speaking malarkey.

It was quite useful to me as it got me researching my fling training and looking at my performance over the 3 races. Gave me something to think about other than my injury. I did mention my Achilles a few times too many during the talk and was in danger of becoming known as “Achilles Neil” for a moment.

I prepared a few slides on my Fling performances and how I thought I had improved over the years, what methods and mileage I had been using etc. It was a great night and a useful way to polish of the bottle of whisky I had from a previous podium at Speyside Ultra. (Thanks John, Donald, Lorna, Carol, Gavin and others…J)

All the participants seemed to be having a great training weekend and I made a note to try and attend one myself in 2016. They are a great idea and excellent preparation for anyone participating in the race for the first time. The experience on the route, tips on kit, training & nutrition you will pick up from other like-minded runners will be invaluable for race day.

I started properly training again not long after that with about 6 weeks before the fling and only managed about four 50mile weeks before a mini taper began. My last long run was my usual pre Fling 40mile out and back route from Drymen. This gives me an indication of where I am at and surprisingly I cracked it only a few minutes slower than the previous year.

Normally that’s all I would have to think about but 2015 had another factor,

for the first time I had the West Highland Way race to think about also. It looms only 2 months beyond the Fling and it would my first attempt.

A willing support crew was already confirmed for that race; two 4 man rooms were booked and paid for at Glen Nevis hostel. A lot of commitment in place that I didn’t want to screw up by racing too hard when not 100%. I didn’t believe I could give the Fling 100% and finish it uninjured or without impacting performance at my first near 100 mile distance 2 months later.

Weakly I considered not racing at all, as I didn’t want a slower time to blemish my record of improvements in this race so far. In the end I decided to go to the race with the intention of racing sensibly and holding back a bit. A slightly easier schedule than the previous year was drafted to aim for roughly under 8hrs 30mins and if I didn't feel any Achilles niggle at the half way point then I would push on for the second half.

Race morning arrived and I had arranged to get a lift with David MacNeil who was completing the race for the first time. His dad would drop us both at the start. Gillian and the kids went to Tyndrum on the Friday night to book into the great trekker huts at By The Way hostel where the awesome finish line area is held.

The kids on baggage security duty whilst waiting on Dad.

The actual race morning wasn’t quite the same for me this year as being almost guaranteed a slower time I just couldn’t get the same enthusiasm going. I knew I would have a good day out at a great race but, it just wasn’t the same nervous buzz and excitement to me as that feeling you get from knowing you were about to push it until the voices start telling you that you can’t maintain that pace/can’t catch that person/can’t keep running/can’t, can’t, can’t…

Shit attitude some might say but that’s how I feel about running currently, I am sure it will change when it becomes clear I am no longer capable of improving. Hopefully that day is still a few years away. Overcoming these moments and discovering new levels of performance is one of the aspects of ultra running that I get the most pleasure from.

It was time to get going and so I placed myself a few rows back from where I would normally stand and waited for the off. Casey Morgan, Paul Navesey, Donnie Campbell & Matthew Laye were the main favourites talked about pre race and they went off pretty rapidly with a chasing group forming up close behind. I could see Davie Gow, Kevin Donaghue and a few others that I would normally hope to match pace with in that group and the temptation to join them was huge.

I managed to resist and watched them gradually disappear from view as I stayed on my target of approx 1hr 30 for Drymen (12miles). Drymen came and went slightly ahead of schedule at just under 1hr 28mins. (1hr 23min in 2014)

I actually found myself enjoying the race a bit more without the self-inflicted pressure of beating a previous time. I was feeling good, enjoying the great running conditions but still resisting going any faster at this stage. The only time I let loose a wee bit was the run down Conic hill, which is one of my favourite descents. Stopping briefly through Balmaha for a swig of flat coke and to swap my 2 empty bottles of high 5 zero drink for full ones. My enjoyment continued through Rowardennan about 11mins off 2014 pace at 3hrs 36mins.

After Rowardennan I just tried to focus on a comfortable steady pace and keeping it even over the undulating terrain in the section towards Inversnaid. In previous years I have always stopped at Inversnaid briefly and swigged some flat coke. It finally occurred to me this year that this wasn’t really necessary as its only 7 miles after the Rowardennan stop. I rolled through Inversnaid as per plan with a cheery wave to the marshals and didn’t experience any negative effects from my missing flat coke ingestions.

It was a bit of a lonely run during this section and it wasn’t until a couple of miles before Bein Glass that I saw another runner up ahead. I gradually caught up to Andrew Horrobin and fell in behind him for the run in to Bein Glass. It didn’t occur to me until after the race that this was a bit of a schoolboy error. Up till then I had been cracking my own race but for that mile or so behind Andrew I was effectively running Andrew’s race.

I felt good at Bein Glass at 5hr 59mins, (5hr 46min in 2014) and much better than previous years (maybe a steady start is the way ahead!). After a quick refuel I ran out ahead of Andrew to try and complete the last leg faster than previous years.

Inov-8 sponsored athlete Ben Abdelnoor was up ahead of me and looked to be suffering so it wasn’t long before I passed him. After crossing under the A82 I could see another target quite far ahead and I caught up to him before Cow Poo Alley. It was Scott Bradley and he was also suffering a bit by the looks of things.

I reflected that he had passed me in similar circumstances at the Speyside Ultra in 2014.

No–one else was to be seen until the finish at By The Way. I had checked my watch around Auchtertyre and was pleased to see I could probably make it under the 8hrs mark.

The finish line passed under my feet in 7hrs 57min 27secs, only about 8mins slower than last year and 9th place overall. Well chuffed with that time from an injury interrupted training period. I had completed the last leg in the quickest time I have ever done it so that was a bonus also.

Cannae beat a red carpet finish...

I got a quick shower, massage, enjoyed the post race food and drink and was then even more pleased to discover that I was first Vet over the line so that meant the Scottish Veteran Ultra Trail Champion title was mine. It was close though as Scott Bradley recovered from his bad patch and crossed the line only 30 seconds behind me!

Fling bling!

The main thing I took away from this year’s race was that I need to stress less about injuries interrupting my training. The effect of 6 or 7 weeks of minimum training during my normal race build up equated to only 8mins time difference on the previous year.

I checked my Strava stats to see what the training volume difference was. For the period January to March leading up to the Fling:

2014 – 477miles from 62hrs.

2015 – 287miles from 46hrs

About 40% reduced mileage and 26% less training time.

One variable that can’t be quantified is the power of the mind. Simply knowing what you have done previously gives you confidence. The more races I complete the more I think confidence is a significant factor. Not that I was that confident pre race this year but as the race developed and I had no negative effects felt in my Achilles I could then draw on this to drive me on.

Confidence contributes to your race performance along with your training and nutrition. Obviously you can’t expect to get away with no training but it has a part to play that’s for sure

If I hadn’t been so concerned about a race after the race I think I could have probably matched or even improved my previous time.

Cant wait till next year....

Transport & Kit

Hoka Rapa Nui 2 Trainers

Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest



1 – Rachael Campbell – 8hrs 42mins 59 secs

2 – Caroline Mckay – 8hrs 55mins 58secs

3 – Nicola Adams Hendry – 8hrs 59mins 37secs


1 – Matthew Laye – 7hrs 4mins 6 secs

2 – Paul Navesey – 7hrs 6mins 44 secs

3 – Donald Campbell – 7hrs 17mins 28 secs


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