RACE REPORT – Devil O’the Highlands

DEVIL O’ THE HIGHLANDS 43 MILE FOOTRACE

TIME: 8 Hours 35 Minutes and 35 Seconds

Overall position 81st/180 finishers
14th/59 female finishers

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I’ve been staring at a blank page for hours trying to figure out how to start to write about this epic adventure. My second longest Ultra but by far the toughest challenge I have ever embarked upon and as I’m still on a post Ultra high, I have every emotion buzzing about in my head and finding it hard to put them into a logical order!

My day began at 2am. I’d gone to bed ridiculously early with high hopes of at least 5 hours sleep, but I woke up just after midnight and now scared I’d sleep in I couldn’t switch off again. Before I knew it it was about 2am, so I gave in and got up. My kit was all laid out and bags were packed so I wasn’t crashing about at stupid o’clock and I went about getting ready as quietly as I could, but of course this still woke the dog and she crashed about making all the noise I was trying so hard not to make! I was still digesting my dinner so I really struggled to eat anything at such a horrendous hour of the day, but knowing how important pre-race nutrition is, I forced down some cereal, coffee and a banana. Soon it was time to hit the road to pick up Derek and then concentrate on staying awake on the windy road up to Tyndrum. It was dark and wet and looked like it could be a long and miserable day, but as we arrived in Tyndrum just before 5am, we could see the sun rising from behind the hills and the sky looking clear in the direction we were going to be running. Things might be o.k after all!

Lost the rest of the guys, but managed to find 2 WCH for a starting pic!
Lost the rest of the guys, but managed to find 2 WCH for a starting pic!

After registering at the Green Welly I caught up with loads of people who were all equally as tired and nervous as I was. Drops bags put in the correct vans and a final kit choice made, we listened to Johnny Fling give his race briefing and then it was off to the start line for a prompt 6am start.

The first few miles really whizzed by as I tried to keep a comfortable pace and not getting carried along with the speed of the crowds around me. Everyone was in high spirits and I had a good chat with the little group I took off with. After the first climb out of Tyndrum I slowed down to let a few people by as I felt I was going just a little too fast so early on and I knew I’d regret it later on if I kept it up! The path was slightly undulating, but nothing to write home about so I kept a steady pace and bounced into Bridge of Orchy in just under the hour, alongside a singing Sandra McDougall, which had kept me grinning for the previous few miles!

Straight through the BoO check point and onto the first climb where I slowed myself right down and remembered to eat something. Not much appealed to me, so a packet a haribo did the trick! I fell in line with everyone climbing the hill, walking the ups and running the flats and downs and had to pay close attention to what my feet were doing so that a) I didn’t trip over any lose rocks or b) clip the heels of the person in front of me and send them flying along with me! A few people passed me on the descent towards the Inveroran hotel but still not being too confident on my down hill running, I let them by and carried on at my own comfortable pace. I was running on my own and this point and realised I could be out for quite a long and lonely day if things were to stay like this, but just before I managed to dig out my ipod, I spotted Derek tying his laces and pushed on with him for the next few (painful) miles up the Drovers Road. The road was wet, the stones were slippy and my feet weren’t happy but on we pushed up to the top, occasionally falling into single file to avoid rocks and puddles, but mainly just jogging along in silence. I knew Glencoe wasn’t too far away, but I’d started to feel slightly light headed so as soon as I spotted an incline worthy of walking up I found something more nutritious than a bag of haribo to eat. First fail of the day – still not eating enough early on the races!!

The push up to Glencoe was o.k but by now I was running on my own again and aware that people were starting to catch up. I usually hit a low during an ultra between 16 and 20 miles so when I started to feel a bit crap I knew I just had to put my head down and carry on. Coming into the check point I started to think about all the nice things I had in my drop bag, but more than anything I really fancied some coke!! As I came into the check point I suddenly felt a bit star struck – Lucy Colquhoun checked me in, Debbie Martin-Consani filled my water bottles and got my drop bag and it was also manned by Sharon Law and Paul Giblin – GB ultra running star central! There was no time for faffing around this lot! I took some bit and bobs out of my bag whilst trying to inhale a can of coke and not stay squatting down for too long in case I got stuck, and finally shuffled out the check point while still trying to clip myself back into my bag and get my bottles back in the holders. Easier said than done! I was walking down the hill out of the ski centre, getting all tangled up in things when a lovely lady started walking beside me and helped me with my bottles. I have no idea who you were, but thank you as I was having quite the brain fart at that stage! Once all sorted, the down hill trot continued and I was ushered straight over the road by Noanie and Lorna and on towards the Kings House hotel. Just as I rounded the corner of the hotel I spotted the wonderful Ruth Howie and paused for a quick hug. She told me the guys weren’t too far ahead, but by now I’d hit the major low I’d been expecting.

Coke - check! Debs MC tending to my water - check! Brain fart - check!
Coke – check! Debs MC tending to my water – check! Brain fart – check!

Through not putting another layer on soon enough and also not eating enough I was starting to feel pretty awful. I could see George from my club not too far ahead of me, but I just couldn’t find my push to catch up with him. Following the path along beside the main road I started to slow right down and another handful of people went by me. Ahead I could see the cars parked at Altnafeadh and I suddenly began to doubt my ability to finish. I started to mentally write down what my reasons for pulling out could be, my main one being the queasy feeling I just couldn’t shake, but then I suddenly spotted Lee from my running club with her daughter Isla and she had her camera. No times for frowns now, I’m known as the smiley runner! Quick, fake a smile!

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Once I had passed Lee I spotted Ruth again and after another hug and pep talk I felt slightly better – pull out? I don’t pull out of races! However it was only slightly better, as now I was at the foot of the Devil’s staircase and the only way to go for the next mile and a bit was straight up!

Thanks to Fiona Rennie for this pretty epic picture!
Thanks to Fiona Rennie for this pretty epic picture!

This was where I had my lowest of low points. The queasy feeling just wasn’t going away, I was still slightly cold and my legs felt empty. Every step was a big effort and I could feel my heart racing as I tried to pick up the pace. Up, up, up… stumble, *swear*, up, *fake smile for the walkers*, up….. etc. Every so often I’d pause and look back and see all the brightly coloured dots bobbing their way up the hill behind me. Everyone seemed to be having a tough time of it so there was nothing for it but to suck it up and get to the top of this damn hill. I was passed by a family walking down the hill, shouting well done and shaking their cowbells and then suddenly on the horizon were the outlines of the smiling, bell ringing Pauline Walker and Fiona Rennie with their stash of Jelly beans and encouragement. Never under estimate the power of a smile and a jelly baby when you are feeling at your lowest! I don’t know if it was because I was at the top of a hill, the queasy feeling passing or something in the jelly baby, but I suddenly felt AMAZING! I had power come from an unknown source and it lifted me out of the trench that I had been in for the past 4 or 5 miles. I pushed on and from there all the way to the bottom of the fire road coming into Kinlochleven I managed to pass 6 or 7 people and catch up with Derek again. I had a sudden bounce and couldn’t wait to get to the next check point then get started on the final section.

Walking into the check point like I've got all day...
Walking into the check point like I’ve got all day…
Showing off my bruise from sliding into a rock on the descent off the staircase. Pretty pleased it would seem!
Showing off my bruise from sliding into a rock on the descent off the staircase. Pretty pleased it would seem!

Another wonderfully efficient checkpoint meant I was in and out in less then 3 minutes. Bottles filled, pockets stuffed full of goodies and some photos from Lee and I was on my way. Just before I left the check point the rain started and within a minute it was like someone was wringing out their washing over our heads. Big, fat rain drops came pouring from the sky and I had no choice but to stop and put my jacket on. I knew the climb out of KLL is a toughy and this was not the time to be getting chilled again. Thank goodness for birthday presents of new Gore-Tex jackets – Thanks Mum and Dad! I walked up the hill eating some cheese and singing to myself to keep my spirits high. The rain wasn’t cold and marching up the hill was keeping me fairly warm, but it was relentless. Finally we were out on the exposed path across Lairig Mor and the winds were picking up. Gloves on, hood pulled up tight and head down to keep the wind and rain from battering off my face – but still I was feeling strong. By now I was soaked from the waist down, so there was no point in trying to avoid puddles. Half the path was a river so I just ran through it. Every so often I’d look ahead and see we were catching up with someone else, and so began the game “operation take down” I think I called it – how many more people could I pass before the finish line. Answer – quite a few!! I checked my watch for the first time in a long time and realised I was actually making really good progress! I didn’t really have a time in mind , the main aim right now was to get off the cold wet hill, but now I started to set myself targets. Sub 8.15 would be amazing, 8.30ish would be awesome but I would still have been over the moon with 9 hours at this stage.

On and on and on we plodded, but still travelling at a pretty good pace. I wasn’t feeling tired any more, but my feet were starting to ache! So many rocks and boulders to manoeuvre over and I’d already gone right over my ankle twice earlier in the race. Head down, drop shoulders, pick up feet….. and on we pushed to Lundavra.

Through the final check point, a quick slug of coke and finally the rain relented. The last section has a few more tricky ups, downs and lovely forest sections before one big push up to the top of the road and then down, down, down all the way to the Braveheart carpark. A few queasy feeling moments, a few brief pauses to walk as my shoulders were starting to ache and then it was the big push over the last hill to the finish. What a stupid hill that is!

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The last half a mile brings you right back down the hill and into the back of the playing field before looping round towards the finish line. My stomach was doing back flips, my face burst into a stupid Cheshire cat grin and I moaned at Derek to pick up the pace…. so he did, for a sprint finish!

8 hours, 35 minutes and 35 seconds. Job done!

This race was absolutely brilliant and new RD John Duncan has definitely made it another of his races that people will be chomping at the bit to enter. It has definitely made me realise I have strength and I just need to work on it, but I feel I have a lot more to give. Another year of training and experience and I’m hoping to be bouncing round the course with a smile the whole way. I had such a lovely day, catching up with old friends and making loads of new ones. What a seriously lovely bunch ultra runners are! Huge thanks to all the volunteers for helping and giving up your day – know how long a day it can be! And mega thanks to my mum and dad who sailed up to see my finish, take me out for dinner and spoil me rotten. Could definitely get used to finishing races like that – if only they all finished by the sea!

My little brother surprising me on the finish line. So delighted to see him!
My little brother surprising me on the finish line. So delighted to see him!
Hugs for Jemma. Hugs for everyone!
Hugs for Jemma. Hugs for everyone!
Bewilderment!
Bewilderment!

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2 Comments

  1. Great race report Iona which should be an inspiration to all runners who read a massive well done to you young lady! Its also good to known you hurt as others do cause outwardly you make it look that easy.

    I’m sure runners or indeed anyone who reads this will identify with your pains and tribulations ultra runners endure but more importantly will encourage others to have a go!!

    You’ve done brilliant so far with your running young (as fellow WCH runners have), I just wonder how far your future running achievements may take you, onwards and upwards I hope.

    Keep up the good work you never know whats in store “Scotland Vest” maybes????

    Sandy

    1. Thank you Sandy!! It’s all down to the club and the inspirational people I run with though 🙂 I have high hopes, but I think a Scotland vest is slightly out of my league!! One can dream though!

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