I haven’t been running much lately. I’ve been a bit injured and have been getting chubbier, cycling a bit and stressing about work, whilst seeking a bit of poking and prodding treatment for the injury. I’ve been quite enjoying the cycling and even made the bold move of clipping in for the first time just the other day, but that’s another story.
I have tried not to moan too much about not running. It is just a hobby and worse things happen to folk than having to take some time out of training. It has been a bit frustrating though and I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing out on good stuff. In particular, I was very sad not to be support running at the West Highland Way Race again this year although that worked out into a different kind of adventure – crewing for an ‘orphaned’ runner and getting to swoop in hero stylee along with the lovely George to save the day. Also another story for another day.
Anyway, sick of missing out and despite being in no way ready or able for it I went through the following decision making process about my Great Glen Ultra entry: Yes, I decided I would toe the startline despite it being what most people would probably describe as a stupid idea. I would like to highlight that the race wasn’t a sell-out and there was no waiting list or anything so I wouldn’t be robbing anyone of the chance to run by going along myself.
The Great Glen Ultra is 72 miles running from Fort William to Inverness. I’ve given away the outcome in the blog title, there is no mystery to this – I didn’t finish it. A few things happened but the main and overriding reason for this failure was my lack of training and it’d be disrespectful towards the well trained runners who toed the line alongside me to say otherwise. That’s the main reason and even without any other issues I reckon the outcome would have been the same, or maybe I’d have plugged on for an extra checkpoint but certainly no more. I also chatted to one of the race directors a couple of weeks before at the WHWR and he was OK with me coming and giving it a bash.
I decided to prepare for the best case scenario of completing the race and have drop bags at every CP, just in case cycling fitness is amazing and I had one of those good days that life sometimes just bestows. More than anything I just wanted to get to be part of this brilliant race and hang out with the lovely people that would be there. I’d marshalled at the final checkpoint last year and had reccied the last 20 miles or so of the route on the final day of my friend’s Easter walking holiday. I had a good idea about the part of the route I was least likely to be seeing!
On the Tuesday before the race I had my first sick day from work in years, thanks to a stomach upset which I think was a case of explosivebottomitis or maybe it was an exorcism, but at the opposite end experienced by Emily Rose. It was pretty bad; I hoped to let it run its course but by the early hours of Wednesday morning I gave in and took a pill to stop it and so I could get back to work (really can’t afford to lose the pay!) I was later to wish I hadn’t taken that capsule.
I headed to my mum’s on the Thursday night before meandering up to Inverness on Friday with her and her motorhome – I was doing this the luxurious way after deciding tents are too cold for ultras after G12 last year. I ate well, food that has normally fuelled me well for long runs but sadly the recent medication had slowed my digestion right down.
After settling in at the campsite that is literally a stone’s throw from the race finish, and failing to get much kip, I grabbed my stuff and popped around the corner to board the coach taking us to Fort William and that was the last time I popped round that corner in a fairly limber state!
It was good to catch up with folk as we waited to get on the bus and I have to say it’s this social aspect that I didn’t want to miss out on as much as the running itself – possibly more, given how out of practice I’d become at running! Thanks a bunch dodgy heel.
I didn’t sleep on the bus, the chair wasn’t too comfy for someone as short as me – the headrest is in the wrong place for a teeny and just pushes your head forward, plus I was sitting with Craig MacKay and we found ourselves chatting (quietly I hope) most of the way. Craig pointed out parts of the route as we drove to Fort William; at one point the driver had to come to an almost complete stop for a deer in the road.
Once in Fort William, we encountered the usual excellent race organisation. I dropped off my drop bags and headed into registration before joining Craig on the floor in an attempt to doze a while – on getting up I found a number of other runners had done the same. I made several more somewhat distressed visits to the ladies but ended up heading to the start-line without a successful toilet trip and everyone knows how important it is to ‘shed your load’ before you start the race! Ach well, there was nothing more to do but run.
I had only decided with a few days to go that I would definitely start the race so my race strategy was a bit last minute and essentially involved going off really slowly and then getting slower. I can say I stuck to that strategy!
The race starts at 1am at Neptune’s Staircase and continues along the canal path for a good six miles or so. I stayed at the back and pretty much everyone came past me, including Antonia who had already run the route in reverse from Inverness to Fort William, had a short rest and then started the race. Yes, you did read that right – she ran it in both directions. Soon, Terry who was sweeping appeared at my side but I actually had to send him back the way to check – I believed there to be one runner behind me and I was a little concerned for anyone going off even slower than I had!
I was glad it was dark as I am not a huge fan of canal running, I saw Terry from time to time as he dotted between me, the person in front of me and the person behind me. The gaps were quite big between us and I worried that Terry would do a ridiculous mileage if he kept this up. After a while I think he must’ve agreed and hung back and I didn’t see him for quite some time again. The night was muggy and humid, I congratulated myself on wearing a vest top even if it had been a bit chilly when we were standing around at the coach and startline. I didn’t feel hungry and was still peeved at the lack of poo action, I didn’t feel like eating but decided I’d have to try and take on some food and that I’d kick this off as a celebration of getting off the canal path. I kept sipping water yet couldn’t seem to quench my thirst at all – I didn’t want to gulp it down though in fear of making myself vomit, and also because as a slow, heavy, middle-aged female runner I’m at higher risk of hyponatremia and you really, really don’t want that.
Once off the canal I had my first walk break up a bit of a hill and ate a froob, I felt pretty indifferent to the froob but excited by the change in scenery although it was still dark and I was on a section of road. From here to the first checkpoint would be around 4 to 4.5 miles and I was a little ahead of schedule due to the ‘easy’ running on the flat canal paths. What followed was a combination of road and trails through forests that took me across the road and down to the lochside. There was a traily little descent at one point where I had a bit of a slip which reminded me to take care – I’d thought about the reasons for DNF and the ones I’d considered were lack of fitness, timing out or problems with existing injury but I’d forgotten that you also need to take care not to go out thanks to a new injury or accident. During this time I had a second froob, half a babybel and continued to sip water. None of these things were really hitting the spot.
Despite my insides feeling like a concrete breeze block I really enjoyed the wooded traily sections before arriving in the millionaires’ row of Clunes – some big fancy houses there! The checkpoint came into view and I was all chuffed to reach it about 2 minutes ahead of my estimated time. I got there in 2 hours and 28 minutes, which is good enough to be allowed to continue without even the need for discussion – yay! Mike, Norry and Hamish looked after me here and I think I actually went through the checkpoint reasonably swiftly. I had a sip of pepsi, sipped some of my apple juice which I took with me and I put the froobs and peanut tracker bar from my drop bag into my race vest pockets.
I jogged out of the checkpoint cheerfully but I already had a feeling that this was going to be my last section. This didn’t get me down, but the fact I’d pretty much made up my mind about it and was entirely comfortable with my decision did mean I started fannying about a bit too. I kept thinking Terry would catch me up anytime and sweep me into the checkpoint. I’d no idea how far away he was. This section was undulating and largely forestry type roads – totally runnable and very like trails I run close to home in the Carron Valley but I wasn’t running much of it. I would run downhills and then pick up a stone in my shoe and lose my precious little time gain having to stop and get it out – I really should have turned back on Thursday when I remembered I’d left my gaiters at home.
I padded quietly past sleeping campers in their tents and dodged frogs on the path. I gladly turned off my headtorch which was irritating me by now and also causing a constant stream of insects to fly into my forehead. I remember shaking a moth off my wrist and saying ‘Hey, no passengers!’ All ultra runners talk to themselves or the flora and fauna.
All the time my concrete stomach continued and it didn’t seem to matter what I tried to eat I didn’t feel like anything was being absorbed – it was just sitting there uncomfortably on top of yesterday’s lunch and dinner. The apple juice that tasted so nice, gave me acid. The arches of both my feet hurt – this was new! I continued towards the sunrise and was surprised when I looked at my watch that despite it becoming more of a death march I wasn’t too far out on my hoped for pacing in this section. Even so, I made up my mind to still stop at the second checkpoint. I felt it was the sensible decision – if I wasn’t absorbing fuel then I would only go downhill, also my lack of fitness meant I’d mainly be walking and even if I could do the whole thing at a walk within the time limits, it wasn’t how I wanted to do it.
I stopped, not just to procrastinate, but because the sunrise was so beautiful I had to take a photo:
If you go out running at stupid o’clock in Scotland you will have your reward! Sunrise and the dawn chorus.
Once the sun was up I stopped being too hot – partly due to slowing but largely due to the rain coming on and a distinct drop in temperature. I put on my long sleeved top, which I’d packed as a precaution and hadn’t thought I’d need.
I saw a tiny frog, I must’ve scared it and it ended up stuck on its back waggling its wee legs in the air. Obviously I stopped and righted it before moving on.
I continued jogging some downhills and picked up more stones in my shoes – I had just been sorting out a shoe and was re-tying my laces when I heard voices, the first I’d heard since the checkpoint. I think I must’ve been at about 15.5 or 16 miles. It was Terry on foot and Mike on the bike. What a shame they came round the corner to the sight of me bent over – poor lads! I told them my plan and both were happy with my decision making and supported me in that. I suggested Mike continue ahead as the person in front of me was certainly quite a lot faster. Terry continued with me to accompany me into the checkpoint. He was great. I had pretty much resorted to a stomp and he got me back into running the downhills. He’s lovely company. He gave me jellybeans, I chewed on them but ultimately had to spit them out.
The scenery was lovely with boats on the loch and wee birds flitting about. When we got to the checkpoint I decided to do a sprint finish as this was my finish line. I was only 13 minutes behind my target time into the checkpoint despite numerous stops, walking and procrastinating big time. Not bad and actually I would’ve had the option to continue had I wanted to – I didn’t, possibly if my guts had been co-operating more I’d have liked to try and cover one more section but to be honest I’d covered 20 miles despite a dearth of training, lack of fitness and dodgy insides. I was happy to bow out gracefully while someone was still behind me and I wasn’t a pest to the race team.
Alexa, Bill and Scott looked after me well at this checkpoint ensuring I had copious amounts of flat cola (the only thing I was finding palatable) and the loan of a hoody to keep warm. I found one of my friends also at the checkpoint having pulled out with issues more like my explosive Tuesday episode – much more of a shame than my DNF as Wilson would otherwise have been fit for the full distance. Eventually the guys had to go and retrieve the other person from the course who was well over an hour behind me – he must’ve been having a really rough day but I didn’t manage to get much conversation out of him.
The lovely Alexa drove us back to Inverness where I had a shower and a sleep before going to the finish line to cheer, drink gin and give out the odd goody bag. Very civilized.
My mum had a lovely time cycling along the canal, walking into Inverness via the lovely islands and browsing the Botanic Gardens which are right next to the finishline. She is looking forward to next year already and also plans to bring her cossie and visit the leisure centre – it’s a great location for your family to come to as well, there is plenty for them to do while you are out running.
The next day was the prize giving and I loved seeing everyone getting their whisky tumbler and Bam dram. I wasn’t in the least upset about my DNF and I was surprised and delighted to receive a spot prize (for appreciating the marshals in the form of sweet treats).
I was so happy to be back out on the trails again, I have missed them so much and that has definitely added to my recent melancholy mood. I was happy to cover 20 miles, my longest run for ages and get some time on feet plus I got the experience of a 1am race start and a spectacular sunrise. I missed the worst of the weather too! I can wholeheartedly say that although the DNF was pretty inevitable I don’t regret going and taking part in the slightest, I had a fab weekend.
I aim to return next year, hopefully injury free and well trained, because as John Munro said there’s a Bam dram with my name on it!