Last weekend saw a race growing in popularity despite the fact that it is a double marathon and covers the tough terrain of the West Highland Way.
Despite its whimsical name the Montane Highland Fling is a deliciously tough race. It's a runner's ultra, combining brutal cut off times with the imposing 53 miles of the beautiful West Highland Way, starting in Milngavie, ending in Tyndrum. Add sublime blue skies and an unrelenting Scottish late April sun (yes that's right, sun) and you have an extraordinary race.
The unusual weather on Saturday, April 30 was always going to be the wild card; those that run Scottish trails are certainly not used to such conditions, most being accustomed to the unrelenting 'dreich mizzle' that permeates your very soul. So it was with all of this in mind that racers paced the Milngavie railway car park at dawn pouting and posing race faces harder than carbon steel.
Category after category lined up under the tunnel in Milngavie and launched themselves off onto the West Highland Way. Females, male veterans 60, male veterans 50, male veterans 40, relay teams and male elite racers chased up the Milngavie High Street whooping and cheering as they ran.
Race start for the male elite racers was a picture of intensity. Jez Bragg, Stuart Mills and Andrew James stood centre front at the head of the pack each one tense, poised and ready to battle the other. The trio duked it out the 20 miles to Balmaha screaming through the National Park visitors centre onwards along the shore of Loch Lomond. Meanwhile Kate Jenkins led the female pack powering up and down hills completely focused on the road ahead.
As the day drew on the heat increased and it was all the runners could do to keep cool and drink as much fluid as possible. A cool wind channeled down Glen Falloch and onto Loch Lomond providing intermittent relief, but most of the day was a sweat soaked hot affair. At Derrydaroch near Crianlarich, marshals and well wishers cheered the runners on as they swept past grinning through gritted teeth.
Nine tumultuous and harrowing hours later Kate Jenkins came into sight at the race finish in Tyndrum. With an incredible performance a perfect example of utter single-mindedness she powered across the finish line to the rapturous applause of the crowd who were all in awe of her heroic feat. She sat beaming on the wooden prize podium sipping water, her medal round her neck. "Was that worth it?" she asked herself. "Absolutely!" came the reply from her and those around!
Meanwhile things had heated up amongst the male elite. Jez Bragg and Andrew James were in a dog fight over the final miles, whilst Alan Smalls came tearing up behind. Everyone waited with baited breath at the race finish. Who was in the lead Jez or Andrew? "My son is in the lead!" suddenly exclaimed Mr James, Andrew's father and at once powering around the corner appeared Andrew James jumping across the finish line into the waiting arms of his proud Dad. Setting a new course record of 7:12:08 Andrew, who was winner of the Montane Lakeland 50 last year, had once again thrown the gauntlet down. Jez Bragg came in three minutes later with 7:15:12, immediately striding across to Andrew and shaking his hand vigorously.
Runner after runner ran up the finish avenue and across the line to rounds and rounds of applause. "This has been an extraordinary day", commented Paul Cosgrove of Montane. "The most striking aspect is the good spirit and respect everyone has for each other. Without question this really is a serious runner's race." As the prize ceremony came to a close at 8pm all gleefully piled into Sarah's Real Food café, stuffing down treats and reflecting on the race. "Have you enjoyed yourself?" Murdo Macdonald the race organiser kept asking everyone. "That was a really tough, hot day" one racer commented, sipping a cold beer as the sun finally sank behind the hills, "but I loved every brutal second of it!"
Words and photography: Paul Cosgrove