2013 Highland Fling Preview

Hoka Highland Fling logoScotland’s Hoka Highland Fling 53-mile race will be run on Saturday, April 27th. Now in its eighth year, this is expected to be the most popular ultra in the UK this year with 593 solo entrants plus 50 relay teams, certainly bigger than any ultras in recent years back in Blighty (that’s Britain for those not familiar with the term). It reflects the continuing growth of ultras globally and it’s good to see races in my homeland doing so well.

Course

The route covers the first 53 miles of the West Highland Way (WHW) from Milngavie to Tyndrum with 5,800 feet of ascent, relatively flat and fast for an ultra of this distance. In terms of terrain, the route consists of generally non-technical singletrack and doubletrack except on the east side of Loch Lomond. However, this is Scotland, so the weather can turn quickly and runners would almost be disappointed to not deal with some mud. The full 95 to 96 miles of the WHW is also used for a race in June, dating back to 1985.

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Gates and throttles wide open on Highland Fling course. Photo: Highland Fling

Starting in a pretty suburb of Glasgow, the first 12 miles are particularly quick and allow the runners to ease into the race without hills to slow them. Then from the shores of Loch Lomond, the trail starts to undulate with plenty of shorter climbs and descents including a few sharp ones. Eventually runners reach the remote east side of the Loch and the trail becomes more technical with big trees, roots, and boulders to be negotiated. Once the runners reach the checkpoint at BeinGlas (40.9 miles) at the end of the Loch, the trail becomes much more runnable again to the finish.

The Men’s And Women’s Fields

This year’s race is more competitive than normal since it’s the UK Athletics Ultra Trail Championship (no need to differentiate between distances in the UK – 53 miles is the defining distance this year) as well as the Scottish Athletics Ultra Trail Championship. If that isn’t enough for locals wanting titles, it’s being used as the official trial for the 2013 IAU World Ultra Trail Championships to be held in Anglesey, Wales on July 6th. The fast runners noted below are also likely to be challenged by some dark horses, but these are the runners who we could identify from the starter’s list.

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Highlands standing watch over the course. Photo: Highland Fling

Men

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Fast doubletrack on the course. Photo: Highland Fling

If course record holder Andrew James is in good shape, he’s shown he can win. Another likely contender is Ricky Lightfoot (Salomon) who last year won The North Face 100k Singapore and the Hammer Trail Bornholm 50 Mile in Denmark. Paul Fernandez just won the Self Transcendence 50k in Perth in a strong 3:04 and was seventh in the 2011 Commonwealth Trail Championship.

Other top men include Matt Williamson, Stuart Mills, David Gardiner, Richie Cunningham, Simon Darmody, Duncan Harris and most of the Scottish 100k road team: Donnie Campbell, Marco Consani, and Paul Giblin. However, winner of several Highland Flings, Jez Bragg (The North Face), is not racing.

Women

None of the top three women from last year are returning, but the favorite is probably Tracy Dean who won the women’s race at the Lakeland 50 last year and was fifth overall. Claire Shelley won last year’s South Downs Way 100 and the 2011 145-mile Grand Union Canal Race so she’ll be in the chase too, even at this shorter distance. Other contenders include Rosie Bell, Emma Baker, and Alicia Hudelson.

Course Records

  • Men: Andrew James – 7:12 (2012)
  • Women: Lucy Colquhoun – 8:10 (2008)

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Any iRunFar readers taking part in this event?
  • If you’ve run the Highland Fling in the Past

[Many thanks to Thomas Loehndorf for his help with the facts and stats in this article.]