Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Devil O' The Highlands 42mile Ultra-marathon 2011

Tyndrum to Fort William within 12 hours sounded very straightforward at the time I had entered it around 10 days ago. I was encouraged by the weather forecast predicting light rain showers throughout the day the closer we got to Fort William. With this in mind I had packed my Montane featherlite wet weather running gear into the pack I was going to carry. I was looking forward to a cool, damp run today. But oh dear, it didn't quite work out that way.
I was awake and having breakfast at 3am on Saturday morning. The day before I had taken all my checkpoint food, drinks and various changes of clothes and footwear to my parents house. They would be my event support team for the day. So I would have to be on my best behaviour, be extra polite and try hard not to swear despite how hard it may get during the race. As with all the SUMS this year I was using my trusty Osprey Talon waist pack which I had packed with all the usual variety of nonsense that I probably wouldn't use, but safety comes first on such an event.
By 4am I was on my way to Tyndrum. The sun was rising above Loch Lomond and even this early it looked like the weathermen (and women) had once again been looking out the wrong window when they guessed the forecast. How hard can it be?
I arrived at Tyndrum at 5.15am and parked in the Tourist Information car park and walked up to the Green Welly to register and get my race number. The place was buzzing with runners, support crews and race followers. A big thanks to the Welly owners for agreeing to act as race HQ and open up to feed the runners this early in the morning. I met a few familiar faces including Jonathan Mackintosh, John K and his wife Katrina, Sandra McDougall and Ian Beattie. I also bumped into Graeme McClymont and his family who were up on a wee holiday and were going to try and follow the race today. I chatted to a few people about the day ahead of us before I nipped back to my car to get my race pack and check I had everything I might need for the first long section to Glencoe. We had a quick race briefing with some rules and health and safety stuff being mentioned and we were good to go.
                                                                                          (Photo above by Davie hall)
We made our way round to Brodies store where the start was. 6am and we were off. Only 43 miles left. After the initial steep wee climb up out of Tyndrum and over the Railway Bridge the route 'levels' out while passing under Beinn Odhar for a short Distance. As we ran along the track, parallel to the A82, all the support teams and race followers began to pass on their way down towards Bridge of Orchy and beyond. Horns were being honked and shouts of encouragement came our way. Already the temperature had risen and was an early indicator of how the day would go. Within the first mile I had taken off my arm warmers and unzipped my gillet. Packing my wet weather gear for this first section was now seeming like an unecessary weight to humpf. As the track passes below the summit of Beinn Odhar it begins to drop down into Auch Glenn and soon crosses the Kinglass River. It's an awesome sight running down towards the conical south end of Beinn Dorain. The path runs under the huge crags of Beinn Dorain for a distance now. By now most runners that i could see were running on their own and already beginning to spread out along the route, all finding their own comfort zone for the long stretch ahead.
The race leaders were well out of my sight. Soon Bridge of Orchy station came into view. During the race briefing, all the runners were warned that if they didn't run with a pack with the necessary equipment between checkpoints they would be pulled out. They would be checking!! Up until now I thought this was just in jest. As we approached the turning down into the station underpass i noticed the guy in front didn't appear to have a pack on. Two marshalls were here and spotted him and pulled him over to ask him to show them his pack, or lack of one. I ran on so don't know what happened to him. But we were warned, silly boy. After the station we ran down to the Hotel. Well done and thanks to the marshalls at this road crossing, getting us all over in one piece. At the hotel there was a huge clapping crowd of supporters and tourists. And a huge cloud of Midges awaiting our arrival. Feeding time!! I ran through the checkpoint, giving my number, and carried on over the bridge. Some runners were stopping to meet their support teams but I had decided to meet mine at Black Rock Cottage for my first re-fuel of the day. I had arrived at Bridge of Orchy in 1 hour and a few seconds and in 70th position. After I crossed the bridge it was the start of the steep climb up onto Mam Carraigh.
                             (Photo above by Davie Hall)               (Photo above by Davie Hall)
I posed at the top for a photo by David Hall, who seemed to be popping up all over the race route today giving all the runners words of encouragement, thanks David. The views up here were amazing. It was on this decent that I encountered my first problem of the day. My stomach began to give me jip and I felt quezzy and bloated. I knew if I didn't do something about it soon it would cause me further problems later in the day. At the bottom of the hill where we rejoin the road I said a quick hi to Bill Heirs and Ian Beattie, both waiting on the arrival of their runners they were supporting (Ada, Terry and Sandra). I continued round to Victoria Bridge but was feeling like crap. So had to go for one!! Just after the wild Camp site at the lodge I jumped a stream and found a hidden spot in the trees to do my business. Ahhhh........
Although bearing my backside did give the midges a three course meal. The relief was a delight. I still didn't feel great but hopefully i would be ok until I got to the Black Rock checkpoint. With my backside now resembling a pincushion from being eaten alive I rejoined the track, falling into the stream and clawing myself up the bank like something out of the 'monster from the black lagoon'. Not very dignified (although I hear that Tim Downie did his bit for Scottish tourism by dropping his pants on the decent to Glencoe for all and sundry to gawp at!). I had lost around ten minutes during my potty break. Before the race I had set myself checkpoint targets. At Orchy I had been 10 minutes up on my predicted time. Happy with that this early on. But I had now lost that little advantage with my dash into the woods. The Black Mount is an empty land that seems to go on forever (a bit like this blog). My stomach was still giving me a fair amount of discomfort on this section but with no trees around I would have to grin (grimice) and bear it. The views over to Meall a Bhuridh were fantastic and made me feel that I should really be climbing today and not running across this expanse of empty moorland (except for 120 runners).
                                                                                                              (Photo above by Fiona Rennie)
I soon passed Ba Bridge. There are a couple of tough wee climbs on this section and on the last one Ian Beattie came tearing past in the opposite direction, running out to meet Sandra. At the top of this climb we get great views down to Glen Coe and the next checkpoint at Black Rock Cottage. Even from this distance I could see the huge crowd gathering here to meet runners arriving. I arrived here 20 minutes in front of my predicted time which was a surprise considering I wasn't feeling great.
Luckily my mum was prepared and produced a couple of Imodium to plug me up. They taste fair mingin but have the desired effect. At Black Rock I was happy to use my spare time to properly refuel, as I wasn't going to risk breaking down over the next section. I said a quick hello to Fiona MacDonald (Skye Grumpies) who was here supporting Victoria O'Reilly. While I was here around 20 runners came and went, but I wasn't fussed. I had arrived her in 3 hours 7 minutes and was currently in 88th position. Before leaving I off loaded my featherlite waterproof trousers, sunglasses, gillet and armwarmers. Fed, watered and bunged up. Onward to Kinlochleven, the next checkpoint. Another thanks to the marshalls at this road crossing. The decent to Kingshouse was pleasant as I knew there was a tough wee climb coming soon before the staircase. I ran through Kingshouse, fixed my hair and smiled as David Hall appeared to take a picture of me. But he had  forgotten to turn the camera on!!
Once past Kingshouse there is one steep climb along the side of Beinn a Chrulaiste before dropping down to run alongside the A82 and then reaching Altnafeadh, looking over to the Buchaill
Now at the base of the 'Devil's staircase', the temperature had risen. This climb was certainly a test of my endurance. I could see runners strung out along this climb in front of me. From the roadside, you wouldn't think this would be a particularly difficult accent. It was ruddy murder. Head down, power walk, keep going, don't stop, hands on knees, push off, where the hells the bleedin top?! was all i kept repeating to myself. The views at the top blew me away. I've climbed Buchaille Etive Mor's little range a few times, but seeing it from here in this cloudless sky was spectacular. It made the brutal climb worth it.
No, come to think of it, it actually didn't, it nearly killed me!
But most people I met today agreed with me that the mountains have never looked so fantastic as they did today. All this on our doorstep.
                            (Photo by Fiona Rennie)
 So as I approached the summit cairn I saw Fiona Rennie. Did I get words of encouragement? Oh no, she just told me to get a move on! I paused here for a Jelly baby from Fiona and to take in the vista. Well done and thanks to Fiona for climbing up here to support and encourage all the runners, much appreciated. It's a long and rocky decent from here to Kinlochleven which after that brutal climb might seem like a just reward for all that effort.
But I found this, steep in parts, decent sore on the quads and the soles of my feet took a battering on the rock strewn terrain. I passed a few runners here which surprised me as I thought I had slowed a lot. I ran out of fluids on this downhill so maybe without realising that had spurred me on to get to the checkpoint sooner rather than later. My dad was waiting by the riverside as I entered Kinlochleven.
                                                                 (Photos by my Mum)
I even joked that I would race him to the checkpoint, and i reckon he would have beaten me at this point. I checked in and walked over to their car. In arriving here I had dropped 10 minutes, still ok and nothing to worry about. I had 15 minutes here to try and force some food down me and take on some fluids. I took another Imodium to reinforce the 'plug' for the next long section. While I was here the runners I had passed earlier came and went. I saw Karen Roberstson leaving also. Karen had caught me just entering the checkpoint area, she looked fresh and running well and went on to knock over an hour off her time from last year. Well done. So again fed and watered I was off on the last section now. 14 and a bit miles to Fort William.
The climb out of Kinlochleven was just as hard, in fact harder on reflection, than the staircase back in Glencoe. At least we had a wee breeze up here, albeit a warm breeze. Once at the top of the climb it opens up in Lairg Mor pass and it is gently undulating. You can see for miles and it hits you just how far you have to go. I stopped at every stream to throw water over myself as it was baking hot up here now. On this section to Lunvadra the Wilderness Rescue Teams had checkpoints along the way to offer assistance if required.
                                           (Photo by Wilderness Mountain Rescue Team)
Well done guys. After this initial climb I soon met Karen Donoghue and her friend Helen running the route in the opposite direction. I stopped to say hi and got some race news from Karen before I went on my way. At the high point along the Lairg Mor I could see the Scottish Saltire flapping in the breeze. This was a Wilderness Rescue Team handing out cold mountain stream water and chocolate biscuits. I got a cup of cold Irn bru at this checkpoint. Thanks it was much needed. I passed two runners up here , who then passed me again further up. Just outside of Lunvadra I passed a group of around 20 hillwalkers who gave me a huge cheer as i ran on by. Around 30 seconds later I heard another cheer so knew someone was approaching. Further on I stopped to cool my feel in a puddle and have a quick drink (not from the puddle), I turned to see it was Dinah Bosomworth who I had run with a couple of times during this years Cateran Ultra. We said hi and swapped stories about her puking up earlier today and me having problems with my intestines nearly falling out my backside. It was good to chat to Dinah again. After a minute or two of walking together she ran on. I then met Fiona MacDonald again, out looking for Victoria. I said a quick hi but wanted to keep Dinah in sight so was quickly on my away again. So I kept up just behind Dinah until we got to Lunvadra. She pulled in to see her support team and I ran straight through. I didn't see her again until the finish when she came in around 13 minutes after me. Well done Dinah considering you hadn't been well earlier in the day. Soon after Ben Nevis filled my horizon and I knew I only had around 5 miles or so to go. I checked my watch for the first time since Kinlochleven and realised my predicted time would be out of my reach now, but not by that much. So i decided to go for a Sub 10 hour finish. To do this I would need to not walk for the rest of the route. I had to stop once to walk on the tough climb where the forest has been cleared at Dun Deardail. I passed two runners on this climb who said this was their first Ultra and were not sure of the remaining route. When I told them it was all downhill to the end and on this wide track i thought they were going to cry with relief, I remember that feeling. Well done guys. So this was it, the last decent all the way to Fort William. Determined not to walk I set off downhill at a sensible and sustained pace for the last 3 miles. On this downhill I passed two runners who had passed me on leaving Kinlochleven. One of them was George who was having his birthday today (we sang him Happy Birthday at the awards). Then came the welcome sight of the Braveheart car park and the pavement run towards the town centre.  I had to increase my pace when i checked my watch again and saw that it was going to be close to my sub 10 hour finish because I had thought the actual finish was at the new WHW finish statue on the far side of the town centre. But as I passed the houses at the 30 mile per hour sign I saw a crowd at the roundabout and then my dad standing in the middle of the road, I realised this was the finish, at the original WHW finish. Bonus!
                                                       (The above 3 photos taken by my Mum)
The end.  Finished in 9 hours 47 minutes and 22 seconds. 92nd place. It was 27 minutes over my predicted time, but still pleased to finish under 10 hours all the same. It was a great day despite being hot, a bit tough in parts and my backside malfunctioning earlier in the day!! I hadn't expected to get a place on this one so my prep' wasn't as good as it could have been, but finishing well within the allotted time is a result nonetheless. A great unusual trophy and T-shirt made it even better.
I had a wee chat with Bill Heirs at the end, great to see he is recovering well and back on track, and met Ada and Terry who he was there supporting. Just made it into the end of the awards, had my shower and was getting ready to head back to Tyndrum to get my car when I met Ray McCurdy  in the car park. I hadn't seen him at the start or during the run but he had been there and finished two minutes over his time from last year. Well done Ray.
So another SUMS event is done. I've managed to run in 6 of the 9 so far, finishing 5 of them, with two to go this year. Im currently on 1206 points, 27th Male. Im sure that after the next event the Speyside Ultra i'll have dropped quite a bit, but im enjoying the running too much to let that bother me. Honest!
(Cateran / Stride / GEDM / D33 / Devil)
Well done to Garry and his huge team of volunteers, marshalls, supporters, the wilderness rescue boys, runners support teams and all the walkers we were encouraged by along the route. Well done to all those who took part in the race today, regardless of finishing or not and on your finishing times. Half the battle is getting over the start line at that time in the morning. A huge thanks again to my parents for giving up their day to be all along the route patiently waiting for me at checkpoints and that i ate and drank when i met up. And as we all know by now I was especially magnificent again today!! Happy running.


  1. well done Colin, was indeed hot day out there. Now sort out your font on that blog, its difficult to read ffs

  2. Nice photo collection and detailed report of the race! You seem to know the name of every rock along the way! Well done!

  3. Great run Colin, well done! It looks like you had a brilliant day, even if it was a bit hot.

    I'm wondering whether that plug has come out yet...

  4. Well done Colin on another completed ultra.

    BTW ... I agree with Sandra ... it's really hard to read that font.

    ... and a few more paragraphs wouldn't go a miss either!

  5. Sure you had a great run, Colin, but sorry to say I've stopped even trying to read this blog after your experiments with fonts etc. over the past few weeks! :-/

  6. I thought "Come on, look lively!" was encouraging!

    Well done, sometimes ultra running isn't about how well you can run but on how well you can cope when your body doesn't want to play the game.

    All the best for Speyside,
    Fiona x

  7. Fine run and fine piccies as always Colin. Well done.

    But I have to agree with other folks comments on the font ~ its not just my failing eyesight then!


  8. Great run and great report. Well done, Colin.