THE GREAT GLEN ULTRA MARATHON 2017
TIME: 13 Hours 18 Minutes and 55 Seconds
Overall position: 11th/63 finishers (13 DNF)
The Great Glen has been quoted as being “one of Scotland’s toughest ultra marathons” and after Saturdays excursion, I wholeheartedly agree! This was to be my second biggest race to date and my ‘A’ race of this year. I had put so much into my training in the first 6 months of the year and with only a few blips in my training schedule I was more than ready to get going.
On the Friday afternoon I finished up at work after what hadn’t been an ideal week. A cold appeared on Monday, plus I was covering fitness classes and 1-2-1 lessons right up until I left at 1pm on Friday after a very sweaty aqua aerobics class, so definitely not the ideal taper. However I was raring to go so after a quick shower, a last minute packing of everything apart from the kitchen sink and then unpacking everything to make sure I had indeed remembered my trainers, I was ready to go. Craig gave me a lift up to the station and I was finally on my way North.
The train ride up was quiet and I managed a quick doze before waking myself up when I head-butted the window. I met my friend from Uni for dinner and after a feast of pizza and cheese cake I got changed and slowly made my way over to Bught Park for the coach back to Fort William. Now, if I was to do this race again I’d do a number of things differently. The most logical being to go straight to Fort William and try to get a room at the Moorings hotel for a bit of shut eye before the race! I had only booked a room for the Saturday night in Inverness, so there really wasn’t any point in me going all the way up just to come back again! However you live and learn, and it was lovely to catch up with Lucja on the journey down.
We arrived at the Moorings hotel just after 11pm and went about registering, dropping off our drop bags, sorting kit and the trying to relax until it was time to go. This wasn’t happening and as everyone lay about on the floor with the hoods up or earphones in trying to get some last minute shut eye, Lucja and I went about having our own tea party and probably being far too hyper for some people around us!
Soon enough it was time to make our way over to the canal for the race start and with last minute reminders of “keep the Loch on you right” and “don’t fall in the canal”, there was a count down from 10 and then we were on our merry way – to cover the 71 miles and over 8000ft of elevation on our way back to Inverness. It was fairly warm so a vest and skort with arm sleeves and a buff seemed the right amount to start in as I knew I’d get far too warm as soon as started running if I wore any more.
The first 6 and a bit miles are straight along the canal towpath and from the off the racing snakes were off and into the darkness at breakneck speed. I fell into a comfortable pace of 8:30 minute miles but even after 3 miles I found myself hitting nearer 8 min/miles which I knew was just too fast a pace for me at this stage. I had been running with David Scott since the start and even though I felt I was still going a bit fast I decided to try and stick with him for a bit as the company was making the miles fly by. Before we knew it we had arrived at the first checkpoint at Clunes and it was time to force some food in. I took a custard pot, topped up a water bottle and was out of the checkpoint in about 2 minutes.
I was running on my own as I left the checkpoint as I knew before long I’d need to jump off the trail for a loo break. However as soon as I was on my own I started to feel really queasy. I walked for a bit to try and settle my stomach and a few people passed by me, but I didn’t let it bother me as I knew to expect this after going through it at the West Highland Way Race last year. I’d thought it had been down to my head torch not being very good, so had upgraded to one with a more powerful beam, but I think the movement of the beam on the trail makes me queasy so no matter how good a light I’m following, I’m not going to feel good doing it.
I managed to pass a few people who had got by me and pushed on over the undulating trails along the Lochside. Whoever told me the first 30 miles were flat was totally lying, I felt like I hadn’t stopped going up or down since I’d left the canal path! Before long we were approaching CP2 at 20 miles and I was glad to stop for a couple of minutes and eat some cheese and have a wee fruit smoothie. My stomach was feeling OK but my face must have been a picture of gloom as Bill called for someone to get me a gin!! I marched out of the checkpoint and up (another!) hill while eating some flapjacks and decided to text Craig as he was on night shift so knew he’d still be up. My message went along the lines of “things are not going well, I feel rubbish” and within 5 minutes he’d replied with “stick in there, it’ll be sunny soon and lift your spirits!”. Ah, he knows me well :). I took off my head torch as I reached the top of the hill as even though it wasn’t quite light yet, it was bright enough to be able to spot the way markers and know which direction to go. Within 5 minutes I could feel my headache disappearing and I pushed on along the next section of tarmac as it got brighter and things started to look more promising again. I had a strange hallucination as I ran past the farms as I was sure I saw someone standing with a jacket over their head, a marshal out to direct us and trying to avoid the midges maybe? But on closer inspection it was just a gate post, which made me realise maybe it wasn’t quite as bright as I thought it was and should probably pay attention to the road ahead!
The trail took a sharp switchback and then spat us out on to the main road to run over the river at Invergarry and then back onto a trail path up a steep hill. I could see 2 people head of me and could hear one behind, but none of us seemed to be pulling away or dropping back so we continued in our little chain all the way to the next section of canal that ran along to CP 3 at Fort Augustus. We could see for miles ahead and I knew this was going to be a slog but I was determined I wasn’t going to walk a step of it, so out came the shiny new ipod and I ran along to the beat of the music all the way to the check point passing 5 people on my way. I was in a happy place by the time I saw Fiona Rennie and her camera a mile or so out from the checkpoint and I latched on to Gordon Reed for some chat as we cruised into CP 3 for a glorious little can of coke and yet more cheese and fruit smoothies.
In super quick time I was on my way up the first of the major climbs. This wasn’t just a walk, this was a hands on thighs and lean forward type of a climb and before long I was catching up with people again. I was surprised to see David again as I thought he’d be miles ahead by now, but he was going through his low patch and was zigzagging his way up the trails. I started to walk with him and we made our way up the first 1000ft climb together. The views from the top were pretty phenomenal; an unobstructed view of Loch Ness with a cloudless sky. We couldn’t have asked for better weather! However, what goes up must come down and we knew the next check point at Invermoriston was back down at sea level, so a quad trashing descent later and the smiley faces of team Munro and team Hamilton greeted us, saw we had what we needed then saw us on our merry way and on to the next beast of a climb.
The route follows the road up for a while and then switches back to trail for a good chunk of the route. Up, up, up we went, down a little, up some more. We spotted another runner ahead and it turned out to be Gordon Halliday who I had met during the River Ayr Way race last September. We ran with him for a while; me and David pulling away on the climbs and Gordon catching us back up on the descents was the pattern for a good 20 miles. I was glad to be back on the trails but also desperate for the next check point as it had started to get quite warm, I was getting bored of the taste of tail wind and really fancied some cold water and a wee can of coke to give me a boost. There was a water stop at 49 miles and after a some hugs from Donna it was back to to horrible tarmac section most of the way to CP 5 at Drumnadrochit. I have never been so glad of a wee can of coke in my life.
It was only now that I learned I was second lady in the race. I was told that the first lady had only just left and would be about 5 minutes ahead by now, but at that point in time catching her wasn’t a priority; I was more concerned about being passed so as soon as my water was filled and I’d finished my coke I was out of the checkpoint, armed with salt and vinegar crisps and a bee in my bonnet. The next section followed the main road back towards Inverness for what seemed like forever, but in reality it was little over a mile until we turned off and had a sharp hike up into the forest. I knew this was the last major climb and that it was going to hurt, but I was determined to keep my position in the field so it was back to hands on thighs and huffing and puffing our way through the trees. Every so often I was convinced I could see and hear people approaching, but on most occasions it was just traffic cones I could see or walkers I could hear. The final check point was like an oasis on the horizon and we picked up the pace to our last stop and put our happy faces on for Fiona and her camera again!
Fiona told us it was all down hill to the finish, which looking at the profile seems true… but there are a lot of little ups and tarmac sections as well. After running through the nature reserve we were spat out onto the road for a 3 mile section on tarmac and the further we ran, the more convinced I was we had gone the wrong way. After not seeing a way marker in quite some time, David flagged down a guy on a dirt bike to ask him if there were any ahead. He confirmed there was and it was about half a mile further down the road, which I was elated to hear as I didn’t think I had it in me to run back the way I had come. We still had a little over 7 miles to go at this point so we’d run for as far as we could before taking a quick walking break to shake out our legs and glance over our shoulders to make sure no one was gaining on us and then free wheeled down the trails when it wasn’t too steep to do so. My legs were in absolute bits by this point and the second I saw the skyline of Inverness appear through the trees I felt a bit emotional. A quick glance at my watch revealed we had got there in just over 13 hours…. how on earth had I done that?!
There was one final steep descent, plod through a park and loud curse at a set of steps that lead us back to the canal and then David gave a yell of joy and pointed to the swing bridge which was about 100m away from us. With every painful step along the canal path I begged that bridge not to open as at that point I would probably have swam the canal just to get finished! We ran past the roundabout, over the road and could hear the cries of “runners!” from the park and the Ruth’s voice yelling my name as we made our way round and onto the track. I had nothing left and let David drift ahead with his kids to finish 3 seconds ahead of me. I stood doubled over on the finish line as Ruth hugged me, I was completely empty and ready to keel over but I was absolutely elated.
After a quick shower I went back to my b&b where I went about passing out for a couple of hours before sitting in bed for another few trying to figure out how to get my legs to move again so I could go and get some food! I eventually managed to shuffle over to Wetherspoons for a drink and some food but decided to call it a night after almost falling asleep in my lasagne.
I’ve still not quite recovered from this race 5 days on which makes me realise just now much I did put into it. It may not have started well, but I’m glad I usually have a low early on in a race as I know to expect it and know I can come back from it with gusto. There will be bigger, harder and more mentally challenging races out there but for now this is definitely up there with them.
I really cannot big up BAM events enough. Bill, Mike and Cat put so much into even the tiniest details and the marshals who give up their weekends to come and help out are just amazing, so huge thanks to everyone!
On to the next challenge….