Running the ultra-distance Highland Fling

Highland Fling winner Sondre Amdahl. Photo: Muriel Downie

Highland Fling winner Sondre Amdahl. Photo: Muriel Downie

Who are these runners that race the 53-mile Hoka Highland Fling?

Cycling 53 miles would be enough of an outing for most people – yet almost 1000 runners decided it was the perfect distance to race on foot last month.

The Hoka Highland Fling takes place on the acclaimed long-distance trail, the West Highland Way, and challenges runners to race from Milngavie, near Glasgow, to Tyndrum in Strathfillan.

The trail is not easy as runners face hills, such as Conic, rough shoreline paths on the east side of Loch Lomond and numerous smaller ups and downs.

Luckily for the 2014 runners, the weather was fairly kind with sunshine, mostly cool temperatures and only a little rain. Many participants claimed there was a tail wind – or “mostly side wind but not really a head wind” – on the route.

This is a surprisingly popular event. Organiser John Duncan reports that the Hoka Highland Fling has grown “hugely” since 2006. On April 26, 625 solo runners and 56 teams of four runners started the race. All relay runners finished.

John says: “We were lucky with the weather as it wasn’t too hot or too cold and wet. Also, some of the paths on the WHW route had been treated to a revamp so its was a good year to be running the Fling.”

As you might imagine, solo runners can be prone to injuries or fatigue and this year 566 crossed the finish line. John says this is a great result.

Female winner Joasia Zakrzews. Photo: Muriel Downie

Female winner Joasia Zakrzews. Photo: Muriel Downie

And many of these runners push themselves to the limits. The winning male was Sondre Amdahl, of Norway, in a time of 7.29.14. The first female was Joasia Zakrzewski, of Dumfries Running Club, in 8.30.29.

If you think this sounds like an incredible feat, the course records will leave you even more open-mouthed. In 2013, Lee Kemp raced into the Highland Fling record books with a time of 7.02.50, while Lucy Colquhoun ran 8.10.03 in 2008.

Highland Fling record breakers

This year the Highland Fling mixed relay team record was broken as Dundee RR A finished in 7.06.38. Morna Flemming, of Carnegie Harrier, also achieved a record becoming the first over-60 female to finish the race. Her time was 12.29.03.

But this event is not just for racing snakes. There is a wide range of times and types of runners, although runners do need to be relatively fit and determined to completed this ultra marathon distance.

First time Fling runner Emma Hamilton, of Glasgow, says: “What an amazing, brilliant experience! It was truly 53 miles of the most beautiful Scottish countryside.

“I loved the trail, even the tough sections, and I really enjoyed the atmosphere and support of the other runners and crowds.

“I completed the Hoka Highland Fling in 12 hours and 3 minutes. It was just perfect and I am still on a post-Highland Fling high.”

Carol Martin, from Bearsden, is a regular at the Highland Fling and also the longer West Highland Way race. She was thrilled with a personal best time. She knocked an hour off her previous best time to finish in 10.34.02.

She says: “ I really like ultra distances and I can’t believe how well I did this year in the Fling. I am completely blown away.”

Jamie Aarons has also run the race before. A knee injury (falling off a bike) meant she had to miss 2013 but she was back last month to take fifth female place. Her time of 9.11.35 would have put her in first female place last year.

Jamie, of Carbeth, near Strathblane, says: “I didn’t think I would make it past 30 miles because of my niggling knee injury. But I’ve been receiving regular sports massages and I’ve  focused a lot more on strength building in the run up to this year’s Fling.

“When I still felt strong at 30 miles I just pushed on and I kept feeling better and better. It was only in the last couple of miles that the full distance really hit me but I still crossed the line with a PB and fifth place. I am really delighted.”

A trio of men from Donegal, Ireland, travelled to the Highland Fling to take part for the first time. (Indeed, organiser John says the field of athletes widens geographically every year.)

The group run many ultra distance events every year but they all reckoned the Fling is one of the most beautiful. Richard Mclernon said: “This is a fantastic event in a great location. The organisation was very impressive. I really enjoyed it.”

Peter Ferris, who holds the Irish record for running the most marathons, added: “What a great event. We hope to be back.”

Another runner was Nick Green, of Milngavie, who “loved the event” even though he was forced to pull out at the final food station due to a sudden shin injury.

He says: “I was very disappointed not to finish but I really enjoyed the 6okms of the race that I completed.

“The scenery was fantastic and that kept me going. We live in such a beautiful country and the West Highland Way is a showcase of this.

“I have no idea why I was hit by injury but I will be back to try again next year. It’s a superb event.”

Find out more the Hoka Highland Fling

Five more Scottish ultras

May: Cateran Trail Ultramarathon

May: Kintyre Way Ultra and Relay

August: Devil o’ The Highlands Foot Race

September: Glenmore 24 Trail Race

September: River Ayr Way Challenge

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