It’s 2:45am on Saturday morning and my alarm is screeching at me. Already the dog is awake and has her nose up on the bed: clearly she thinks it’s time to get up and that of course means breakfast! I shoo her away and go back to sleep for a further 15 minutes.
3am – My second alarm bursts into life and I dragged myself out of bed to get ready. I can’t even open my eyes but I somehow manage to get all my kit on in the right order, tie my hair back tightly and finish packing my bags before force feeding myself porridge and coffee. The coffee does the trick and before I know it I’m ready to hit the road North and back to my favourite running spot of the year; the wonderful West Highland Way. Continue reading →
“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” Theodore Roosevelt.
Training for the Devil O’ The Highlands race, or rather the lack of it, has been getting me down. I won’t go on and on about it as I know I’m still recovering from the West Highland Way Race, which I have to keep reminding myself was only 6 weeks ago and where I gave my body an absolute battering. And it could still be another few months until I’m back on track. But, ahhhh! It’s frustrating!! From being at pretty much the peak of my physical ability, having training consistently and rigorously right up until race day to now feeling like I have nothing. I have no enthusiasm, I’m still tired and things keep hurting.
Overall position 81st/180 finishers 14th/59 female finishers
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
I seem to be quite behind with everything so far this year. I think I left my brain in the hospital!
Official Time: 1 hour 15 minutes 47 seconds Overall: 228 out of 508 Gender: 40 out of 204
Following the epic start to the racing season which was the Devil’s Burden hill race, the next event on the calendar was the Devilla 15k – a trail race around Devilla forest which is an amazing setting for a race and just 10 minutes up the road from us. Race day had an electric atmosphere, the weather was crisp, cold and beautiful and we had a 30 strong team of Wee County Harriers through to support our neighbouring club’s fantastic event.
This year the course had been meticulously checked and was extremely well marshalled after last years mishap of the course being “sabotaged” and ending up being nearly 2 miles short. Just before the race started we found as many WCH runners as possible and gathered together for a pre-race snap. This shows just how much our wee club has expanded recently and it only continues to grow!
I hadn’t yet decided how I was going to run this race. My legs were feeling slightly heavy from a hard week of training and the 30 mile training run we had done the previous weekend but mentally I was feeling strong and ready to take on whatever this race had to throw at me. This was another of my fail races from last year and I was determined to beat my abysmal time, even though I had an extra 2 or so miles to run. Last year I was running with practically no iron in my blood and my legs had pretty much no oxygen and every step had been a chore, but this year was different. This year I was determined to enjoy every step and finish with everything I had still had left in my legs and a smile on my face. Luckily it was much drier this year so the smiling wasn’t a problem! There were a few hair raising moments with icy patches and frozen mud which caused me to almost go over on my ankle more than once, but I somehow got round injury free!
I managed to keep quite an even pace for the first few miles, only slowing right down on the narrow sections where we shuffled along in single file until the path opened up again. Even the nasty hill at the half way point didn’t slow me down and I was pushing to get up to the top as quickly as I could for 2 main reasons. 1 being I could see two guys from the club up ahead and I was making up time on the hills and getting closer and closer to them and 2, there was a guy running beside me who would not stop burping!! Almost as off-putting as the guy who ran beside me and kept talking to himself in the 3rd person at a marathon a few months ago! Nearing the top of the hill I passed another 3 men (always a good feeling!) and rounding the corner and going on to the downhill I let my legs freewheel and got past another 2. Still gaining on, but not quite catching my team mates and knowing there was another narrow section ahead, I decided to hold back through this section and save my energy for the last 5k back through the forest. Once again this section was totally different from last year – it had been a total mud bath then and even trail shoes made no difference! This year it was still frozen over and although a bit technical, much easier to run on! The path eventually opened up and suddenly out of nowhere, 2 of my team mates flew by me! Nooooo, I had been doing so well not to let anyone catch me so far! The 2 I had gained on were still in my sight though and in the last 2k I was running side by side with them. But then they saw me and took off again. Damn, so close!
The last few kilometres are mostly downhill, but by now my hamstrings had tightened up and I couldn’t widen my stride so I just plodded as fast as I could round to the finish line. Job done, and 4 minutes faster than my previous attempt. That’ll do for now!
Onto the training side of things – I have been having SO much fun on my training runs recently. Weekend expeditions out to the West Highland Way with my running club friends have provided hours of crucial training for my upcoming ultras – The D33 in March,The Cateran 55 in May and the Devil of the Highlands in August. Along with a couple of marathons in the middle (London in April and Strathearn in June) and my brother and Jemma’s wedding in July, it’s one hell of a busy year!
But when weekends look like this, there’s no time to feel tired…
Even when you fall over and scrape your knee off a rock, there’s no reason to stop smiling!
Happy training everyone.
Photo thanks to Gordon McNeil, Derek Fish and David Neill.