Well, it’s early Monday Morning and while the aching muscles are still fresh in my mind, no sorry – I meant while the ‘sweet memories’ are still in my mind 😉 I though I’d best put some thoughts down from the weekend’s adventures…
Yet again on the countdown and preparation for this race, I was not 100% – this was actually a little of an understatement! Having been brutally pushed beyond my limits of the West Highland Way Race a month earlier, I had achieved very little in the way of training for the Devil O’ The Highlands (DOTH). In fact, having had to rest two very knackered ankles and a nasty club foot, I had only ventured out on one training run, two weeks prior to the ‘Devil’. My one training run had me out with my mate and aspiring ‘young’ ultra running athlete Ross ‘pEEKo’ Leslie! 😉 We planned an 18 mile route from Dalgety Bay over a stunning Fife Coastal Path, to Burnt Island and back again. The long and short of it was, that we managed it out and back but having arrived back in Dalgety Bay, still slightly short of Ross’ 18 mile training target, I had to ‘fess up and say that I was beat! Having ran reasonably well for the first half, I was struggling on the return, with legs as heavy as lead and ankles that were not thanking me at all for the hard and at times rocky terrain. This had me deciding on one avenue only as preparation for the ‘Devil’ and that was further rest… O_O
The night before the Race, saw myself and Eil tucked up in our sleeping bag in Minty (our VW Camper) 🙂 Nice!! 🙂 Eil had noticed a slight change in my mood, I was I guess a little more quiet than usual – I’m normally quite excited by the thought of the great adventures of the coming day. This should never have been more prevalent than for the ‘Devil’, as it’s perhaps the most beautiful route I think there is to run and enjoy across Scotland. But I was apprehensive. I hadn’t trained, hadn’t eaten too well – I thought I’d deserved a few coffees and cake following the WHW 😉 I hadn’t kept to my usual early night routines and my taper hadn’t been the last week but had been a whole month off…! Yes I was apprehensive about tomorrow and to top it all off, the forecast was to be bad, with a light sprinkling of ‘nasty!’
3am and Minty was taking a beating! Surprisingly, I had slept well, thankfully it is a very comfy sleep in our camper. Eyes wide open, I was now fully awake and full of trepidation and excitement of what lay ahead. It was blowing a gale outside, still dark and the rain was pouring down hard. I had an hour, before I had to get up for registration, so I sat listening to the elements, that were taunting me outside. I normally love this kind of weather, due to my younger years hitting the hills, in all conditions, with my older brother. Having been exposed to a lot of what mother nature can throw at you, through hill waling, running, cycling and sea kayaking, I have now become sadistically drawn to some of the more extreme elements that others might find ludicrous – in ‘others’ I actually just mean my Dad! 😉 So when it comes to ‘trail running’, where my feet are firmly on the ground, these kind of conditions are a playground to me and if there’s a more raw element of natures character to add, to spice things up, so be it! 🙂 – perhaps not today though!!! Due to my current state, my confidence was down but my goal here was simple – “Get to the finish line!” Nothing more was expected or wished for by me, as I wasn’t sure how my legs were going to respond after about mile 18.
Registraion and breakfast came and went, well I say “came and went” but a lot of this was due to my ever supportive wife Eil, quietly getting on with the various tasks in hand, from 4am onwards, as I wander around aimlessly thinking of running… It was close to kick off and I was trying to perk up, searching for something that would welcome the release of the “start” – and would you believe it, just when I was thinking I should have perhaps stayed in bed, cuddling into Eil, the man that got me through my first ever ‘running wall’ appeared! David ‘the motivator’ Mooney! :oD Not only had he and Julie popped over to wish me well but David was also carrying a fluffy pink piñata under his arm, as a gift for me! :o} a private joke taken from some of my expected ‘runner’s demands’ from the WHW Race! Man could this guy cheer you up or what!?! Just when I was needing a giggle, there he was!
That was all the notice I needed for me to prep my Suunto – usual ‘trail running’ mode set, kiss Eil goodbye and get ready to run!
The running felt good – it was a sharp 6am kick-off and I was happy, as were most of the other runners, to just head off in our own wet wee bubbles and knock out the first few miles. Not long into my race, I lifted my head to see Eil driving Minty past us on the road, arm out of the window and waving! 🙂 It was all the communication I needed to carry me into and through the first few miles of what was to be a rather wet and windy day!
57 minutes later, having enjoyed the run so far, I found myself coming into the Bridge of Orchy. I had surprised myself at how smooth I had been running and wanted to keep up this fresh feeling with my ‘polished’ style of downhill running – coming off the trails and onto tarmac, I wanted to keep light on the toes as not to give any untoward, high impacting thuds to my tender ankles. This does leave me looking rather ‘obvious’ as I run downhill but hey, I don’t mind giving people a giggle here and there! ;o) Maintaining my pace, leaping and leaning forward on my toes, arms out wide as if in flight I SOARED into the first checkpoint! Flying past a few friendly faces at the hotel, David, Julie, Norrie and Lorna – all giggling I guess at my flapping around, as I overtook people down the tarmac at a rate of knots!!!!! – my style of running here always reminds me of the end credits to “Little House On The Prairie” and perhaps I should not be saying but, it is in fact, part of my “Power Running” playlist on my phone! ;o) If this doesn’t ‘lift’ you, then nothing ever will! :o}
I also flew past our van Minty – hoping that I wasn’t meant to stop, as I couldn’t and trying would have killed my ankles. The road soon levels off as you approach the bridge and there, thankfully, was Eil. As always, there with support, a smiling face and supplies. 🙂
Refueled, I was off once more. The initial climb wasn’t too bad out of the Bridge of Orchy, and it was made even sweater when I heard and saw Fiona Rennie, ringing what sounded like an old cow bell! 🙂 This instantly reminded me of my younger years watching Ski Sunday on tele and hearing the bells that the supporters would ring as the skiers flew by. Fly by I didn’t – instead I took this opportunity in introducing myself to Fiona, who I have known through various Facebook running groups but never had the pleasure of saying “Hi” in person. A couple of big ‘man hugs’ later and I was off again. Having met Fiona spurred me on some more, as the climb had just begun…
Rannoch Moor was long and open to exposing all runners to the elements but this time I was prepared – having had this section torment me a little during the WHW Race, I knew this was going to take time and all I had to do was cruise, lift my head and enjoy. I picked the more ‘suitable’ path for my ankles and carried on through the wind and rain. Along this route, I met a guy called Dan, he was in the RAF and this was his first ultra. He was running strong and we shot the breeze until Glencoe, where he stopped for refreshments and I carried on, as I was meeting Eil at the Kingshouse Hotel.
I knew that my mum and dad were also coming up to support and cheer me on for the day, at some point, but I didn’t know where or when. I had just headed down the tarmac road from the Glencoe Ski Centre, towards the main road, where I spotted a crackin’ rainbow, that came out of all this wet and grey weather we were ‘enjoying!’. Obviously, I couldn’t resist a photo opportunity, so stopped to take a snap of Glencoe in one of it’s many ‘moods’. No sooner was the camera in my waist belt, with me running on – thinking I may have gotten away unnoticed with taking a ‘photo break’, then there was my mum and dad, parked up, standing under an umbrella, welcoming me by. Eil had given them some baby food and juice for me, which I took, smiled, hugged them both and was off again…
Half a mile down the road I met Eil at Kingshouse. I munched on a banana, took some more juice, a bag of Percy Pigs and was ready once more. Eil kissed me and said that I was doing well, this put a smile on my face and I trotted off.. 🙂 Not half a mile down from the hotel and my knee popped, my ankles grinding and I thought “Feck, I forgot to take some paracetamol!!!” I was too far gone and I saw Minty hitting the road. So on I went, thinking I’ll bag the Devil Staircase and then get into Kinlochleven and get some painkillers there. Eil was on the ball though! 🙂 She was taking note of everything I ate and asked mum and dad what I had said to them. Dad had said that I mentioned my ankles playing up a little but I was still ok. Eil took this as a sign for painkillers and thankfully stopped at the base of the Devil’s Staircase to hand me a couple 🙂
The Devil’s Staircase was tough. Tougher than during the WHW Race, the wind and rain never gave up and with every zig zag up the hill, had you turning into the harsh rain, battering away on your body. The only solace was when the trail took you up with your back to the wind, before another with you facing into it again… Once at the top, I was happy to see that I was fresh enough to still run on. I was determined to run this section, as I was painfully slow covering this during the WHW Race and it’s a fantastic route to treat yourself to running down after having battled up. Significant care had to be taken crossing the burn that ran down from here, as it was a torrent and overflowing. The giant stepping stones were even submerged, which actually ‘tickled’ me a bit, as I realized that this was quite the test out here in this current weather. My brother and I used to relish this, when we were kids! :o} It’s always something that you get to look back on and think, “yeah, that was tough out there, but we made it, enjoyed it and would do it again!” – to the worry of our old man! 😉
So, in I bounced to Kinlochleven!!!! 😀 Having starved myself of caffeine for a week, my aim was to have some here and give me the needed boost to tackle what I always thought was the toughest climb of this race. In I ran, approaching the checkpoint and looking for Minty and my support crew…
…looking…looking…erm guys!?! Poppet!?! Feck where are they? I checked in and checked out and ran on the see if I could spot them around a corner, but no sign. My mind was on running and on I headed but I soon stopped and thought that this was stupid, as I had no supplies and was about to tackle what I knew would be ‘the test’ of the day for me. So back I went, to see if I could get any water from the race crews and support. Thankfully, as you often hear about on these events, everyone was more than happy to help out. I refilled my waist bottles with water and grabbed a mini mars bar and snickers and off I went. As I began my climb, I got reception on my mobile and called Eil. Unknown to me, Eil had had to make an unexpected toilet stop for my mum and a burger stop for dad! 🙂 They had all thought there was still plenty time to catch me and nothing to worry about. The caffeine was missing to give me my boost but to have come through KL before my crew expected me meant that I must have been running well! 🙂 So with that in mind, I worked hard into my climb, as well as my freebie chocolate bars!
Photo courtesy of: Wilderness Response Team Rescue Emergency Care – cheers guys for your support! 🙂
Lairig Mor: Well the last time I enjoyed a run through this spectacular place was last November and the memory of this, always has me wanting to come back – why I’ll never know! ’cause since then I’ve experienced nothing but pain and sheer hard graft, in physical exertion as well as mental concentration not to go over your ankle! It is a beautiful place but it will test you every second of the way and is ready to bite, if you drop concentration for a split second!!!! The rain was still coming and going here and I was once again joined by my new found RAF buddy Dan. He had hit an all time low and was really struggling with running on his own. He was over the moon to see me and we carried on together, swapping stories, all the way to Lundavra. Unknown to me, a few of Dan’s mates were also running this race but he was the only one, unsuccessful in registering for it. As his boss was still keen to have him run it and as he was running for charity, he took part anyway but started 20mins ‘after’ everyone else!!!! And here he was on his first ultra, now only 10 miles shy of the finish and 20 mins ahead of me in time! Once we arrived at Lundavra, Dan headed on and I got to catch up with a very ‘sheepish’ support crew, who were by now only too happy to stand out in the wind and rain for their runner! 😉 I grabbed some more baby food, paracetamol and was off for the final 6…
Sadistically, I was looking forward to running this roller coaster section, as it had been an absolute monster to be during the WHW Race. I past my point where Donnie had truly shown me the meaning of ‘broken’ and merrily skipped on! 😉 As fate would have it, the minute I stepped onto the forestry path and the final long 3 mile downhill section, my right shin just gave way. It felt as if a I been battered across the shin with a steel bar. Every sep I took was agony!!! My ankles seemed to be fine but where this new niggle came from I do not know but it stopped me in my tracks! I limped on, trying to jog as much as possible. By now the wind and rain was not even noticeable – my focus was getting through this pain and to that bl**dy spray painted finish line, I’d heard so much about. I knew this route like the back of my hand by now and this did help with my timed stumbles. This painful stage was reminiscent of my time with Donnie and I could hear him saying, “If it hurts walking as well as running, best to run ’cause it’ll be over quicker!” He was right and I pushed on. Strangely enough, when I could muster up the speed, it actually seemed to be slightly easier on the pain but the slightest change in tempo would send an electric jolt right up my shin and around my body, seemly intend on finishing with ringing in my ears! Not wanting to sound ‘tough’ here but I have had my share of running in pain, and it was beginning to become second nature to me, the only thing annoying me now was the loss in time and number of people passing me by at such a late stage in the race! I had never intended to run today as a ‘race’ as such, due to my injury but I had had a taste of this from Donnie and I was looking forward to pushing myself once ‘race fit’. Today was all about getting to the finish but I also had thought of today’s route, as a ‘lalp of honor’, that athletes would do, draped in their country’s flag, having won their race. To me, I thought of this route as the part of the WHW Race that really tested me and broke me and today I was going to celebrate it. Celebration was the last thing on my mind 3 miles shy of the line!
Eventually the tarmac road appeared, again, I knew the 30mph limit sign was a few bends away and not “just round the corner”, so I fought on…
…soon I saw some supporters and then the official crew by the finish line!
I was lifted by the cheers and managed to lift my pace, become lighter on my feet and finish strong – after all, my dad was here and I wasn’t wanting to cross the finish as a “wet pussy!” 😉 Hopefully I did him proud!!!!
I was handed a goodie bag, and before I could register much, Lorna was also congratulating me with a glass of bubbly! “That’s my girl!!!!” ;o) :o}
Crossing the line in 8hrs 40mins, Eil was also there to welcome me home once more, this time as a successful runner in the race but also as a ‘Triple Crown’ runner of 2013! 😀
For more details on the ‘Triple Crown’ – go here:
I don’t normally put posts up like this, due to it leaving Eil wanting to throw up! But I want to post a huge thank you to my exceptionally beautiful, loving and supportive wife, friend and ‘adventure partner in crime’ for all the support, patience and hard graft that she’s had to have and put up with through the past 18 months of my ultra running transformation!
The rest of the year may see me on a few more Munros but going to enjoy some well earned recovery and ‘tlcc’ – tender loving caffeine & cake!