2015 Devil o’ the Highlands 43 mile footrace

The ascents were lung busters, the descents were leg destroyers and the flat bits were really quite hard. Apart from that it was fine!

This year has been hampered with injury and therefore a lack of training. I had been debating whether to start this race at all in the weeks leading up. Training really had been minimal and what I had done was crammed into the month leading up. I arrived for the start severely undertrained and nervous but feeling that a finish was probably achievable. Race registration was buzzing with nervous excitement and I was glad of the distraction of catching up with lots of running friends. Further to my poop problems at Great Glen, I was relieved to achieve pre-race pooping! I may even have shared that information with a few folk, they seemed pleased for me. Soon it was time to start – Donna and I almost missed the start while taking our pre-race selfie…

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Tyndrum – Bridge of Orchy, 7 miles, 1:24:22, pos 187 (last place)
This section was relatively straightforward and I was blissfully unaware that I was in last place with the sweepers keeping a very respectful distance at this early stage in the race. The last time I’d been on this section, had been in February and my friend Heather and I were forced to turn back due to blizzard conditions. It was a lot more pleasant this time around! Great support and encouragement from the marshals – there was a timing team, road crossing team and water stop. It felt like five star treatment. I had a swig of water and headed off up Jelly Baby Hill. I tweaked my right calf on a training run the previous weekend, unfortunately it began to niggle within the first few miles. I tried to stretch it off but to no avail. I decided I’d just have to keep an eye on it and consider my options if it got considerably worse.

Bridge of Orchy – Glencoe, 11 miles (18 miles cum), 2:50:38 (4:15:00 cum), pos 186 (second last)
I marched over the hill feeling quite happy, I’d power hiked it and back the previous weekend and told myself well at least I only have to do it once today. I enjoyed jogging the descent and a few tourists asked me questions and gave me encouragement. I spotted ultra legend Ray just ahead of me. As I got to Inveroran and the tarmac section a car slowed to give encouragement and I peered inside to see Robert Osfield smiling back.

I slogged along the road, taking some walk breaks and getting some food into me. Ray remained ahead. I was glad to get off the road but also knew the Drover’s Road is deceptively tough – it looks so runnable but there is a long, steady climb. I was glad to see Ray wasn’t doing a tremendous amount more running than I was. After a while I caught up with him and we had some chat. We yo-yo’d back and forth a while as we made the long trip over the moor. I dropped back so I could go for a wee. I think it was just after this that I heard voices and realised the sweepers were on my tail. I wondered if they were sweeping another runner but a glance over my shoulder confirmed I was in last place. I got a bit upset and tearful and had to remind myself that I was fully expecting last place anyway and I’ve always been proud of a finish whether last or not. I also got hit by nasty abdominal cramps and realised that unfortunately my prediction of getting my period was spot on. Just have to get on with it.

I turned a bend and saw a comical Ray sight – he has a notoriously bad sense of direction, truly a thing of legend. I swear he’d got lost in a plastic bag! Actually he was negotiating himself into his poncho as the weather was becoming less friendly. I would also have to put my jacket back on. We had some more chat but I fell back and enjoyed the solitude, realising that I wasn’t feeling very sociable at all and hoping that 1. the sweepers would keep their distance and 2. my mood would be more sociable by the time I picked up my support runner at Kinlochleven.

There is a rather more stubborn climb before you get the descent towards Glencoe ski centre, but I was glad of it as I knew the descent and cheery checkpoint would be coming soon. The descent was very welcome and I became incredibly motivated to get well in front of the sweepers and see the friendly faces that surely awaited at the checkpoint. I overtook Ray, who by his own admission has quite an erratic style and he told me he’d come over quite tired suddenly. I met Cat walking her dog George so got lovely dog hugs and asked Cat for a hug please and she obliged! I pressed on and got to the checkpoint where Katy Smith gave me a lovely welcome and none other than Debbie Martin Consani tended to my drop bag needs – I guess I didn’t faff too much as she didn’t seem to feel the need to chase me out! As I’d been entering the checkpoint, my friend Marianne was leaving and we shared a hi-five. I was leaving the checkpoint as Ray and the sweepers were arriving.

Glencoe-Kinlochleven, 10 miles (28 miles cum), 3:09:02 (7:24:02 cum), pos 180 (joint last place)
It’s downhill out of the checkpoint so I picked up a jog. I could see Marianne and she didn’t seem that far away, I thought maybe I’d catch up with her and we would have some chat. I dallied a little too long at the road crossing getting hugs from Noanie, Lorna and of course Sam the dog. Noanie and Lorna told me I was going well and could definitely make the seven and a half hour cut-off at Kinlochleven. At this point I felt reasonably confident of it too as I was at 4 hours and 19 minutes, leaving me over three hours to get there – surely do-able?

Off I trotted, but my undertrained legs were asking for walk breaks when they really shouldn’t or perhaps it was my brain. Marianne continued to remain beyond my reach for quite some time. I could see her jogging up small ascents that would reduce me to a walk and I admired her so much for her strength. It was not until I got into some traily descents on the section between Kingshouse and the foot of the Devil’s staircase that I eventually caught her up and she complimented my speed over the section and I declared my admiration for her uphill running! We jogged along in single file for a while, I slid and cracked my foot painfully on the rock of a drainage culvert – Marianne checked I was OK and I pretended I was but in fact it hurt like fury but we were making progress and I felt it would ease off if I kept moving. The weather started worsening, some kind tourists held a gate for us. When we got to the Devil’s staircase Marianne told me to go on ahead.

I slogged up, passing walkers more frequently than I expected given how my legs were feeling. I know this hill, I’ve been over it several times and know what to expect but not usually with as many miles in my legs first. I kept thinking the next turn would be the last and it wasn’t. I muttered swear words and bent my head to protect myself from the wind and rain. Happy days – I heard cowbells and some friendly faces came into view, Pauline Walker and Fiona Rennie were braving the weather in rather fantastic outfits and giving out sweeties and encouragement. A boost to help me make it to the top. By now I could see Ray making great progress up the hill and knew he would be overtaking me again. I could see the sweepers on the path below. I kept pushing on trying to stay in front of them and thankfully was able to pick up my pace for the descent.

The descent to Kinlochleven goes on for-absolutely-*******-ever. The weather became worse and worse, the descent became ever more difficult and the cold water flowed down the path and around our ankles, freezing our feet and ensuring this would be one of the rare occasions I would get blisters. I met Susan Addison coming up from KLL, she gave me a hug and told me I looked great, I kept the tears until we parted ways. I spent some time with Ray and worried about him, he didn’t have enough clothes on, he couldn’t feel his arms. He pulled ahead of me and when I would lose sight of him I worried I’d turn the next corner or dip and find he’d fallen but I should know better – Ray is the most resilient of us all! I know the descent is long but it was taking forever just to reach the fire road and get away from all the slidy, pointy rocks. The cut-off seemed to be slipping away, the going was tough and the weather awful. I found myself thinking that it wouldn’t be all bad if I got timed out, it might be for the best.

Marianne really sped up to make the cut-off, Ray was a bit more chilled (as usual) but we eventually made it into the checkpoint in a group with about six minutes to spare.

The sun came out, the marshals were lovely, my boyfriend was there (a surprise and more surprisingly I didn’t just ask him to take me home!) and my incredibly cheerful support runner was waiting for me and all ready to do her best to help me finish. Damn sun, damn nice people and thank goodness for the G&T in my drop bag. Bolstered by dutch courage, sunshine and the kindness of others I set off, let’s do this!

Smiling again, unbelievably! Photo: Matt Williamson

Smiling again, unbelievably!
Photo: Matt Williamson

Kinlochleven – Lundavra, 8ish miles (?) (36ish miles cum?) , 2:34:28 (9:58:30 cum), pos 178 (3rd last)
I walked out of this checkpoint, explaining to Ruth that we were about to do a horrible climb and I was not sure how much running I would manage at all over the final 15 miles. I hoped the G&T I’d guzzled would sit OK and that it would make me drunk enough to continue! We slogged up the killer climb, my slowest mile of the day was the first mile out of KLL. Thankfully with the nicer weather we did have beautiful views – that was something. Ruth’s enthusiasm was infectious. I had cheerily said to Marianne that there had been joint winners and perhaps we’d be joint last place to top and tail things nicely – she wisely told me it was a bit soon to think about that. Although Ray had left the checkpoint after us, he got a second wind (and I know he was worried about making his bus) and he passed us and off into the distance.  Just as we were heading out onto Lairig Mhor we met Terry Addison coming the other way and I got another Addison hug and words of encouragement that the worst was over and this was ‘only undulating’. I surprised myself by picking up a jog for downhill sections but I had nothing for inclines and not a great deal even on relatively flat bits.

We’d been told another woman was not far in front (having been mistaken for me initially at KLL by Tom and Ruth due to her purple jacket). She came into sight and Ruth made it a bit of a mission to catch up with her and her support runner. I was not convinced but we did eventually catch up and it was my friend, Donna. I thought that was it and we’d be finishing together but after a little socialising, Ruth kept pushing me on. My feet were sore by now and there are some of the pointiest wee rocks known to man on the Lairig. A couple of ouchy moments but nothing serious. Amazingly the Lundavra checkpoint came into view and I hit it at just under the 10 hour mark. It was lovely to see Alexa, Norma and Robin there. Some flat coke and a hallucinatory unicorn later and I was on my way – I felt I had to keep walking and not stop too long. Two hours left but still seven tough miles to get through.

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Thanks to Norma Bone for capturing this moment!

Lundavra – Fort William, 7 miles (43 cum), 2:08:04 (12:06:34 total time), pos 178 of 180 finishers
It’s a wee climb and some undulating trails after Lundavra, I tried to get my stomp on, I was staggering around and took something to eat after which I did manage to jog some downhills. I was hanging on for the bit when you get into the forest for a change of scene and some nice pine needle covered paths. The change of scene was good but the paths were reduced to slippery rock thanks to the rain. Steps are difficult when your legs are tired but they had to be done. I knew this section of the route from one recce but Ruth didn’t, I told her there would be a big downhill coming once we got onto the forestry road and I knew I would need to try and make the most of it, although I knew it was going to hurt. In my head the race was 42 miles but now it definitely seemed to be 43 miles and had some new hill at the end that I had never reccied – I felt pretty nervous!

We got on the forestry tracks and picked up a jog, Ruth urged me to let the hill take me – I was trying but only hitting about 12:30 to 13:30min/mile pace, I pumped my arms to try and get my legs to follow and managed to push the pace a little but couldn’t sustain it. I spotted a welcome sight in the distance – a tall man and a wee boy walking toward us, it must surely be Craig and wee Duncan setting off on their father-son adventure. Ruth tugged me away from them, but I insisted on getting my hug and hi-five. We nearly caught Ray again but then he pulled away and I knew he was into his finishing sprint – the kind that those really experienced ultrarunners seem to be able to start from about 2 miles from the finishline. Once we got off this path and onto the road that leads to Braveheart Carpark I was struggling to run and in fact was sometimes more able to manage a 13to 14min/mile pace by walking. Ruth got me to run a bit but I started to feel a panic attack coming on and she managed to talk me down. Cowhill, well that is more than a sting in the tail – it may be smaller than the climbs so far but it’s steep and tough after what you’ve already done. We finally got to the top and Ruth was still thinking we could make it under 12 hours but I suddenly recognised where I was (I had walked my dog on these hill paths behind the leisure centre when I was supporting at WHWR last year) and I knew that I would not get there in less than a minute but I did manage to jog down the hill albeit probably no faster than if I’d walked. I saw the finish line. Everyone joined in the cheering and whooping that Ruth had been doing for the last quarter of a mile (convinced that the finish would appear any second). Round the play park and up the finishing funnel at what I hoped was a run and I was done – in more ways than one. “You fanny!” I exclaimed to the race director, John for the new finish!

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Thanks to Helen Munro for the photo.

Photos by Colin Knox

Photos by Colin Knox

A great welcome with hugs galore. Tom was waiting for me with my wee dog who jumped all over me with her muddy paws and of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Jemma offered me her trousers. I love a reference joke – she was frozen at the end of the Fling and I offered her mine (I had running tights underneath) but a seat and a hot coffee did the trick. If I listed all the hugs, this would go on for some time but it was lovely that people who had finished their race much earlier had stuck around to support the final finishers. I was able to cheer Donna and Marianne over the finish before going for a painful shower.

The nasty finish hill aside, a huge thanks to John Duncan for taking on this race and keeping it in the calendar – the organisation and team of volunteers were outstanding and the atmosphere was wonderful. To those volunteers – thank you for looking after me and especially all the slower runners, you put in an even longer day than even the slowest runner. Special thanks to Noanie for her advice before the race (it worked), Tom for being the very accommodating driver for the day and to Ruth, who was an outstanding support runner.

Thanks to Ruth for this photo

Thanks to Ruth for this photo

It wasn’t my longest race but it was definitely the toughest I’ve done so far. My strava stats say it was 43.8 miles with 6,679ft of climbing but I think there’s quite a bit of variation between people’s gps devices. I look forward to taking this race on again at some point when I am properly trained for it, I think I could do it a little bit faster and definitely under 12 hours. For now, I’m happy to have completed it and I don’t feel like I could have tried any harder on the day.

Thanks Donna for this photo - somehow we've managed to look like we haven't just run 43 miles...

Thanks Donna for this photo – somehow we’ve managed to look like we haven’t just run 43 miles…

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12 thoughts on “2015 Devil o’ the Highlands 43 mile footrace

  1. Very well done, I hope you’re feeling very pleased and not too sore today! Rest up and take your time getting back on track! X

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