Ding ding! It’s the 12th Highland Fling.
Last year, as host to the GB trial and the Scottish Ultra Trail Championships, the race attracted a depth of talent never seen before in the UK ultra. Both the men’s and ladies’ course records were smashed by Donnie Campbell and Beth Pascall.
This year’s starting list of over 800 will once again include some of ultra-running’s finest athletes, as well as the 200 relay runners. The race along the West Highland Way is arguably the UK’s biggest and most competitive ultra-distance race. We also have representation from Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Poland, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, New Zealand, Australia, Russia, South Africa, USA, UAE, India and China.
The 53 mile distance is long enough to challenge the most experienced of runners, but it’s short enough to unearth some raw new talent. It’s especially popular for ultra-newbies and speedy marathon and hill runners moving up to ultras. So, as always, we may miss some contenders for the podium in this race preview.
In the men’s race, New Zealand international athlete Vajin Armstrong will have his eye on the prize. Vajin has a wealth of ultra and mountain running experience. He has performed well at Tarawera (six consecutive years of top 5 finishes), Transvulcania, Western States, the North Face 100 Australia and has many shorter wins including the Swiss Alpine Marathon. If successful, he could join other internationals who have won the race including American Matt Laye (2015) and Norwegian Sondre Amdahl (2014). Closer to home Michael Jones and Neil Kirby could be battling it out for a podium finish.
Michael had a fantastic 2016 with wins at the Lakeland 100, V3K Ultra and Lake District 3x3000 Ultra Trail. He’s already kicked off 2017 with an 8th place finish at the Transgrancanaria 82km race and a win at the inaugural Chester Ultra last month. Rumour has it he’s been working on flat leg speed specifically for this race. He’s got a sensible head on those young shoulders, so don’t expect him to win the race to Drymen. He’ll be sure to mix it up later in the race.
Neil Kirby will also be a man on a mission. He’s fairly new to ultra-running, but dominated the Centurion Running races on the South Downs and North Downs Ways last year, winning four out of the five races he entered in 2016. He’s also on the start list for the West Highland Way Race, so will be looking to make his mark at the Highland Fling.
Other ones to watch are Rob Sinclair, Mark Sutherland (Jedburgh Three Peaks winner), James Appleton, Daniel Hendriksen, Damien O'Looney, Evan Davies, Hugh McInnes, Andrew Horrobin and Donald McPartlin.
In the ladies race Edwina Sutton from the Centurion Running team will be heading over from her hometown of Morzine. The ex-triathlete turned ultra-runner has many fine performances to her name, including the 7:09 course record at SDW50. In 2016, Eddie took silver at the Anglo Celtic Plate 100km, only nine months after having her third child.
Local runner Nicola Adams-Hendry will be looking for a podium spot. Finishing 5th last year, taking gold in the Scottish Ultra Trail Championship, she went on to win our sister race, the Devil o’ the Highlands, in August.
Colorado runner Helen Cospolich has 14 years of ultra-experience and nearly 70 ultra-races under her belt. And that’s only the ones we can find a record of. If she’s not over on a sight-seeing trip, she could make it interesting in the ladies’ field.
Morgan Windram-Geddes may have mixed it up at the front end, but with her Scotland team debut at the 2017 Anglo Celtic Plate only a few weeks away, she’ll be under strict instructions to keep a lid on it. Other ones to watch are Caroline McKay, Carrie Craig, Madeline Robinson, Aisling Allum and Angela Reid.
On Saturday, April 30, some of the UK’s best ultra-distance runners will toe the line of the 11th Highland FlingRace. As host to the UK & Scotland Ultra Trail Championships 2016, the depth of talent is arguably the best that any UK ultra has ever seen.
Since its humble beginnings in 2006 - when only 18 people entered – the race has grown to be one of the biggest ultra-distance events in the UK. This year, over 750 runners (with an additional 200 relay runners) will take to the West Highland Way, Scotland’s oldest official long distance footpath, and race the 53 mile route through The Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park to reach the finish line in Tyndrum.
The distance is long enough to ensure that experience and pace judgement will shine through, but short enough to unearth some new raw talent.
The race also attracts a large number of international athletes, keen to take in the scenic Highland course. Last year the race was won by American Matt Laye. And in 2014, Norwegian Sondre Amdahl was first home. This year we have representation from Norway, Sweden, France, Germany, Poland, Brazil, Hungary, South Africa, Australia, the USA and more.
We are excited to see what American Devon Yanko can bring to the women's race. The baker from California has competed in over 30 ultras, including running on the USATF 100k National Team, taking 3rd at the prestigious Two Oceans Marathons and 5th at Comrades. Last year, she finished 2nd overall behind West Highland Way Race record holder Paul Giblin at the Javelina Jundred 100 mile. In 2016, she has already won the American River 50 mile and the Sean O’Brien 100km Trail Race. We think Devon could challenge Lucy Colquhoun’s course record of 8:10:03, which has stood since 2010.
Also fighting for podium places will be GB Trail Team athletes Sally Fawcett and Lizzie Wraith. Sally was second at the Highland Flingin 2014 with an impressive 8:39. She also won last year’s Lakeland 50. Lizzie is the Lakeland 100 record holder and has placed high at UTMB, the Lavaredo Trail and the Dragon’s Back Race. Both will be keen to get back on the GB team for the Trail World Championships in Portugal this October.
The rest of the field is wide open. GB Trail Runner Bonnie Van Wilgenburg and local athletes Caroline McKay and Nicola Adams-Henry (who finished 2nd and 3rd respectively in under 9 hours last year) will both be looking for a top five finish. Katie Samuelson and Sophie Mullins will be hoping their legs have recovered from representing their home countries at last month’s Anglo Celtic Plate 100km. Debbie Martin-Consani, GB 24-hour runner and 2nd behind Sally at last year’s Lakeland 50 will be looking to perform well on her home turf. Triathlete turned ultra-runner Mel Varvel might mix things up at the front end too.
Other notable starters in the women's race include: Helen Pickford, Lorna McMillan, Linn Erixon Sahlström, Myvanwy Fenton-May, Joanne Thom, Sophie Grant, Heather Mochrie, Morgan Windram Geddes, Emma Wright, Helen Leigh and Clara Horswell.
The men’s race is stacked. Unfortunately course record holder Lee Kemp has withdrawn with injury, leaving at least 10 athletes who will be vying for that record of 7:02:50 and the UK Champion title.
Local man and GB Team mountain runner, Joe Symonds is favourite to win. His list of achievements are endless and he has made the podium in most of the hill races he’s competed in. With a marathon PB of 2:20 and a recent win at the D33 in Aberdeen, he’s also got the leg speed to do some damage on the flats too.
Kim Collison was the UK Ultra Trail Champion in 2014, after winning the Lakeland 50. He ran on the GB team at the Trail World Championships last year and placed top 20 at UTMB and TransGranCanaria.
GB 24-hour runner, Robbie Britton took world bronze and led the men’s team to gold at the 24-hour World Championship in 2015. He was second in the 2014 West Highland Way Race with an incredible time of 14:47.
Jez Bragg is practically a household name when it comes to running on the West Highland Way. The North Face runner and previous West Highland Way Race, Highland Flingand Devil o’ the Highlands course record holder, he will have his eye on a podium place.
Last year’s Lakeland 100 winner Paul Tierney and Lakeland 50 winner Jayson Cavill will both be looking to recreate their Lake District performances. Both performing well at Skyrunning races, they will push the front runners on the hills.
Local lads Donnie Campbell and Casey Morgan will be battling it out for UK and Scottish Trail Championship medals. Donnie was 3rd in last year’s Highland Flingwith 7:17 and has a list of impressive wins including at England's 3x3000 80K Ultra Trail and Turkey's Iznik Ultra. Casey holds the course record for our sister race the Devil o' the Highlands after winning in 5:13 in 2014, breaking Bragg’s record. Last year Donnie and Casey were joint first at the Devil. We think there will be less camaraderie and more of of a fight on the next time they meet though.
Irishman living in Scotland, Eóin Lennon was 4th in last year’s Highland Flingwith a PB of over an hour. Neil MacNicol ran some impressive times at all three of the races on the West Highland Way last year, giving him the record for the unofficial Triple Crown. And Nathan Montague will be hoping to find his hill legs after representing England at the 100km in Perth last month.
Other names of interest include: Martin Cox, Kevin O’Donoghue, Grant MacDonald, Hugh McInnes, Alan Ross, Damian Hall, Chris Brookman, Rob Soutar and Richard Waldron.