Sunday, 19 August 2012

Devil O' The Highlands Ultra

Hotter than hell itself, would best sum it up for this event, quite apt for it's name. I ran the Devil last year as a recce of the route in my preparation for this years WHWR. Despite it being a tough day in 2011, I loved it and couldn't wait to do it again this year. This year I had another reason for doing it. Completing the Devil would mean I would have achieved the 'Triple Crown' of WHW Races. Those being the Highland Fling (Milngavie to Tyndrum), the full WHW Race (Milngavie to Fort William) and the Devil itself (Tyndrum to Fort William). Only 13 people this year, including myself, had successfully 'done the Triple', something I'm very proud of. The Triple had been my secondary goal for this year, the primary one being completing the West Highland Way Race, which I did. So far this year i've run 6 of the SUMS and plan on a 7th at the RAW, having not run the G2E and Speyside. After running the Clyde Stride two weeks before the Devil I began to worry that it may have been a race too many. However, I opted for two weeks of nearly complete rest so to go into the Devil feeling as fresh, rested and relaxed as possible. This year I had taken the day before off work, so I drove up to Tyndrum on Friday afternoon to camp at the 'By the Way' Campsite. On arriving I was directed to either pitch my 'bodybag' in the 'quiet' area or in the main tent area.
Neither were midge free zones so I opted for the strip of grass directly opposite the bunkhouse. I sprayed myself with avon so soft and in a cloud of midges put up my tent and then headed over to the 'Welly' to escape from the little buggers. Met a few others here including Fiona and Pauline. I headed back to the site and had some soup. Every so often another person running the race would arrive to set up a tent or to stay in the relative luxury of the bunkhouse or a lodge. Most of those I knew where staying in the bunkhouse opposite, including Jonathan, Andy, Ray, Fiona, Pauline, Marco and Debbie. John, Katrina and Ada were staying in a very nice cabin!! I wasn't jealous. Chatted to Andy and then Ian Minty for a while when he arrived and then decided to go for a walk in the hope it might make me tired so I could get some 'quality' sleep. I headed up over the railway track and did a few miles up towards the Lead mines and back to Tyndrum.
It didn't really work. I headed up to the Upper Railway station and that didn't work either.
So I headed back to sit in the Bunkhouse and chatted to Andy, then Jonathan and then some lip reading through the window with Dave Morrow. And as with the races we have run in, late at night, finally Ray McCurdy arrived too. By now it was after 9pm and as I would be getting up at 4am I thought best to head to 'bed'. I got into my tent and try as I might I couldn't sleep well. I suppose there is something to be said about spending a little more for a proper bed!! I think I probably got around 3 hours sleep all in. I was awake at around 3.30am and saw no point in waiting any longer, so decided to get up and pack all my stuff away. A few others were doing the same. By now most of the cabins had lights on too. I drove round to the tourist car park where I would leave my car until after the race.  There were lots of campervans here too. I wandered over to the Welly to get registered, get my number and goody bag.  Headed back to the car to have some porridge, a banana and a cream rice pud. Breakfast of champions!! By now it was just after 5am and runners were appearing from all corners of Tyndrum. I wandered back over to the Welly for just after 5.30am, all ready to go. Had a quick chat with John, who was on support duties for Katrina, who had a fantastic run. Race brief was done and after talking with Dinah, who was the sweeper today, I headed round to Brodies. Met Dave and was too busy chatting that we nearly hadn't noticed that the race had started!! Off we went, 43 miles to go.
Almost immediately I knew I had made a mistake by wearing my full length tights. It was very warm and muggy with no breeze and by the time we had crossed the railway track I was getting too hot and knew it may cause me problems later on. I ran just behind Dave for a while until I passed him after the narrow underpass. I met Vicki Hart on the downhill section here and had a wee chat as we approached Auch Farm, where we passed Ian Beattie (more of him later). I then pulled ahead and soon reached Bridge of Orchy.
(Photo above taken by Fiona Rennie)
Last year I was at BoO in 50 minutes, this year in 57 minutes and felt I was controlling the pace reasonably well. I had told my support, my parents again, to not bother with BoO and just go to the Ski Centre. In hindsight I wish I had asked them to go to BoO, even just so I could change my kit. So, I ran straight through BoO and onto the climb up onto the hill above the Hotel. I had to stop for a pee on the climb, where a few others, including Kirsty (from the By the Way) passed me. I played catch up on the decent to Victoria Bridge and passed them while approaching forest lodge. The crowd at the bottom of the hill were all wrapped up in scarfs, nets and anything else they could use to protect themselves. The midges here were horrendous. A couple of people shouted my name but I had no idea who it was as it was muffled from being wrapped up!! All the supporters had my sympathy today as at Bridge of Orchy and Victoria Bridge the midges were hellish. The only way to avoid them, was to outrun them. I felt good coming down the hill but on the gradual climb on the Black Mount from Forest Lodge I began to feel very hot again and suddenly very tired. More people began to pass me on the wide open sections including Dave, Ian (Minty), Katrina and Kirsty. I tried to keep up but my legs only had one gear today. I began to catch up a bit  on the final climb up to the cairn on the Mount  but not enough to pass anyone, but it was a wee bit of progress which worked wonders on my morale. On the decent I met the ever smiling Sandra on her way out to meet Ian. I met Sandra a few times on the route with Susan Gallacher, who were both supporting Ian today.  At the top of the hill I sent a text to my mum to get my shorts and a lighter top ready at the Ski Centre Checkpoint.
I was melting and soaked in sweat as I approached the cottage. As it turned out I had two support teams here. My parents and also Paul Giblins mum, dad and sister. As soon as I arrived my Mum started telling me to stop phaffing about and get a move on and get running again. So while my parents sorted out my water bottles, I changed my top and stripped off into my shorts and a dry t-shirt.  While I took a drink Nicola got busy rumaging in my shorts reattaching my race number and apologised for 'feeling' me up, I was just glad she didn't stab me somewhere vital with a pin! So after exposing myself to Josephine, I was soon on my way. Thanks for the Giblin Clan's help and encouragement.
I was at Glencoe 5 minutes faster than last year, although it didn't feel like it. I knew that in this heat the next section to Kinlochleven was going to be tough, but it was worse. The first bit to Altnafedh was fine and went without any real problems. But the climb up the Staircase sapped me of any remaining energy and I was consuming fluids at an alarming rate. I put my head down and powerwalked, trying not to look at how far there was to climb.
I only stopped for a breather when I met Fiona and Pauline on their way down from the top. After a quick photo and a very welcomed Jelly Baby I went on my way. Got to the top and the views were breathtaking. But I didn't hang about. A hillwalker offered to take a photo of me from the second summit cairn looking down towards Kinlochleven.
Now it was mainly downhill to KLL. It took me 2 hours 38 minutes to get to KLL from the Ski Centre, which was 10 minutes faster than last year, so I was still ahead of the game, but I didn't feel comfortable in this heat. The decent was sore on my quads and I was around 2 miles from KLL when I ran out of fluids. Shit!! I had a quick chat with a girl who knew me from the WHWR podcasts and other races. I didn't get her name but I think Bill Heirs was supporting her today.
I caught up with a few people just as we crossed the pipes into KLL and the checkpoint couldn't come quick enough. Got to my folks car and while they attended to my bottles I had a long drink of water and poured some on me.  I was pretty much gubbed. Bill came over and chatted while I got organised and thought I would get some words of wisdom from him.

But no, instead he said 'I think you're off you're heid!' Cheers Bill. As Bill talked I noticed Sandra and Susan running in, so I knew that Ian couldn't be that far behind. Ian and I had a game of cat and mouse during the Cateran Ultra (where, I might add, I finished in front of him!) so I wanted to get away from here before he arrived.
Off I went up that horrible climb. I laboured up the climb, which felt vastly different than it did during the WHWR, probably because I could see where I was putting my feet this time. I caught a couple of people before the ruins but I was fairly knackered and the heat had done me in. I checked my timings and began to think that I would be looking at a 10 hour finish, if I was lucky.
I stopped at every stream to soak my top and head which helped for a few minutes each time. The Wilderness Rescue guys on the Lairig Mor were brilliant, with both stations providing water and encouragement. On I plodded. A few runners passed me that I had passed earlier in the day. On the approach to Lundavra I passed Susan who was heading out to meet Ian. I hadn't seen Ian since I passed him at Auch but I could feel him breathing down my neck at the speed I was now going at.  With Lundavra in sight I came across Thomas. I was surprised to see him and the first thing that crossed my mind was that he had withdrawn with an injury. I asked how he got on, to which he casually replied 'Oh I won'. Fantastic. Got to Lundavra and I again met Sandra, with Julie, John and Lorna. I passed them and Sandra insisted I come back for a High 5!! After the long climb here I was exhausted and had to stop for a sit down when I got into the trees.
I sent a text to my mum letting her know I was around 5 miles to go and that I would be looking at finishing in probably just over 10 hours. I was done in, but I knew that soon I would be on the last downhill section. It was great in the trees as I was out of the sun and it gave me chance to cool off, but it didn't last and soon I was struggling up the climb through the old felled forrest.
 A few runners passed me here. Once at the top I looked down Glen Nevis, all downhill from here. 'COME ON!!' I shouted. After the big S bend I stopped for a pee that never seemed to be ending!! When I got back onto the path Ian Beattie powered past me and began to open up a gap. A couple of times I lost sight of him but was determined to reel him in before the finish. The pursuit was on, which having someone to chase i think helped me pull back some lost time. I slowly began to close the distance and by the time I got to Braveheart I really felt that if I had a fast last mile I would catch him. But Ian had some gas left in the tank and at the cottages put in a burst of speed and pulled away to finish 22 seconds in front of me.
I was really glad to finish this one today. Totally exhausted, more from the heat and dehydration than muscular. But another PB by just under 5 minutes (saying like that sounds better than just over 4 minutes!!). I collapsed onto the grass. I had done the Triple!!.
So after seeing Silke and then Jonathan finishing and also completing their Triples I headed to the presentations and then for a shower.
Well done to all those who ran in brutally warm conditions. And well done to the other 12 people who completed the Triple by finishing the Devil, especially to Victoria for completing her 2nd Triple in consecutive years, a triple triple next year? Congratulations to Thomas and Debbie for winning their categories and all those who finished.
After saying goodbye to a few folk I headed back to Tyndrum to get my car and have some chips at the Real Food Cafe, where lots of those who ran had had a similar idea. Thanks to Garry, all his team, the marshalls and volunteers for another fantastic day. The next few weeks will include the Isle of Bute Highland Games 10K, Killin 10K and then the Glenmore24, where i'm setting a target of 100 miles. Bring it!!

Well Done to Robert Soutar who won the RS50 today!


  1. How did you manage a PB when it sounds like you felt wrecked 'n miserable 'n falling-to-bits pretty much throughout?


  2. Congrats on PB and Triple crown. And a nice documentary!
    But how many of those pics did you take yourself? During the race? I reccon you can do an hour faster just by leaving the camera at home!

  3. I think Colin would certainly have won the race if he hadn't stopped to take all those bloomin' photos ;-)


  4. Colin as usual a terrific report i think you will need a well deserved rest after september and recharge the system so you can go on to better things in 2013

  5. Great report Colin. And how nice of you to cheer your fellow "Triple Crownies" on at the end. Silke