Red Wine Runner

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West Highland Way Race 2016 – Support Crew Race Report

West Highland Way Race 2016
The West Highland Way Race 2016
Support Crew Report

My 2016 has been…interesting so far, so in the end it was no surprise that the 2016 West Highland Way Race ended up being a bit of a strange one for me. I decided quite quickly after my own West Highland Way Race in 2015 that I didn’t want to come back for a second attempt in 2016, so I hoped that I would be able to support someone else to achieve their goals at the race this year instead. When the time came to put crews together, I agreed to support my friend Jemma in her first attempt to claim the goblet. As it happened, 2016 was not to be her West Highland Way Race year, so in May I found myself potentially missing the race for the first time in 5 years. It was around then that a Jury summons arrived in the mail for Kynon, messing up any potential plans for this most important of annual events even more. If selected, his presence would be required in Aberdeen High Court at 8:30am the morning after the race and of course the way the UK judicial system works, you call up the court the night before you are required to find out if the case is still scheduled to start on time. Hugely frustrating, but we wouldn’t even be certain if he would need to attend court until the very last minute. Everything was up in the air.

Enter Steve. Steve comes from Los Angeles and was heading over to Scotland for his second attempt at the West Highland Way Race, after DNFing with hypothermia at the same point in last year’s race which nearly ruined me. Steve needed a crew and put out a shout in the West Highland Way Race Family Facebook group, asking for some local assistance. I was more than happy to help and put myself in touch with him immediately to see if we could work something out.

It took quite an exchange of emails before the final plan was made, but the important thing was; at around 8pm on Friday the 17th June, Steve’s team assembled in Milngavie to start a big adventure. There was myself, Jemma, Patrick, and an Astra hatchback stuffed full of supplies, ready for the journey ahead.

West Highland Way Race 2016

In short, we had a (dreadful) meal at the Milngavie West Highland Gate Beefeater (they’ve changed the menu since last year and the service was a horror show) before heading to Tesco to stock up on food. Next was registration, then the usual dance of hellos, hugs and well-wishes before we put Steve to bed in the car to rest for a bit and joined Mike, Jeni, and Sharon (David Scott’s crew) to chill out and chat in the last hour before the off.

It was amazing to be back at the race, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t harbouring a few nerves. Whilst I have supported twice before, I’ve never been 100% in charge of a crew, and indeed, someone’s race. Jemma and Patrick were newbies to the race – which is no impediment if you’re smart, committed, and in possession of an enduring spirit – but in general everyone will do better if there’s someone in your crew who knows what they’re doing and can take the lead.

At 12.30am we got Steve to the start and joined the Midnight hubbub of activity. Alongside the crowd of around 500 people there was the usual confused amazement of those alighting from the last train back from Glasgow, and an assortment of local neds scooting around getting in everyone’s way. I caught up with the Stonehaven Running Club crew and wished them all well, and managed to get around most other friends to deliver hugs and well wishes. It brought a lot of memories back. It was hard to believe that I was one of the runners 365 days before, but it was not the time to dwell on those meandering thoughts.

After the briefing we said our final goodbyes and took up a good position on the High Street in Milngavie to shout and cheer our loudest for the runners. It was the most perfect night – about 15C, clear skies, and with a full moon hanging above the hills. If you’re going to pick a night to run though – this was it.

A ripple of cheers flowed up from down the street as the runners came towards us. Headlights dancing, eyes bright and faces stretched with smiles. They were doing it! It was actually happening! As my eyes brimmed with tears and I screamed and hollered for them, for a moment I was one of them again. Running up a Scottish high street on Midsummer’s eve into the darkness, and towards the hills.

But, this isn’t about me. This is about Steve who came to Scotland from California to avenge the demons he left behind on the Lhairig Mhor in 2015. Steve wasn’t sure how fast he was going to run, which made it challenging to work out how best we could crew for him. He declined any assistance until Balmaha at 19 miles which was very useful – it allowed us to drive straight there and attempt to get a little sleep. Together we had previously estimated his arrival at 5am, and alarms were set accordingly…imagine our surprise when the agreed ’10 minute warning’ phone call came at 4am!
This was a little miracle – we had agreed that Steve would call at the top of Conic Hill and my phone was placed on the dashboard in full signal, ready. Except it didn’t ring. I woke up about 4:05am and decided to check the time, only to see a message received from Steve only minutes before. Had my sixth sense not been on the ball that morning them we would have been in trouble, but some things you just can’t explain I guess.

Balmaha at 4am was oddly devoid of midges. No nets were needed and the air was calm and moist – it didn’t make sense at all, but we just got on with the job. For those who had been standing still it was cold, but the runners all came in dripping with sweat. Steve was running fine and with nothing to report, so we just refilled his pockets with gels and his Camelbak with TailWind and off he went. There was one thing which made crewing infinitely easier, which was Steve’s choice of nutrition. Coming from the school of ‘stick with what works’, with a side of ‘keep it simple’ he just eats gels – one GU every 30 minutes and that’s it. No really – that’s really it.

West Highland Way Race 2016

After we saw Steve off, we drove up North for some more sleep after a hot drink and a breakfast roll at the Oak Tree Inn. Here’s where the insider knowledge comes in handy – there is a public car park half way between Balmaha and Beinglas where you can park and rest in peace until you need to meet your runner hours later at Beinglas. No slamming doors, no engines, no chat – just silence. We arrived before 6am and clocked up another chunk of rest, before arriving at Beinglas in glorious sunshine before 8am.

We really had no idea when Steve would arrive, but given his accelerated performance in the first 20 miles I didn’t want to take any risks. It became immediately obvious where all the Balmaha midges were hanging out when we reached the checkpoint area at Beinglas and were instantly swarmed with bugs. Jemma and I wrapped up to defend ourselves whilst we left Patrick to sleep in the car.

West Highland Way Race 2016

Steve came blasting through at about 9:20am looking and feeling well. He had really struggled over the Lochside section in 2015 so getting through that was a big mental hurdle for him. I was very pleased to see how ok he was and began preparing for him to reach the quicker end of his projected potential finish time.

By now it was really shaping up to be the most glorious day – clear skies and hot sun. Glorious if you are a Southern Californian perhaps, but all of our Scottish compatriots were having to seriously consider their options and ration their water in between check points. Not something we’re usually used to doing, but the West Highland Way Race has been well over-due a scorcher for several years. A race in June in Scotland, does not guarantee good weather; in case that was ever in doubt.

West Highland Way Race 2016

So we fast forward another 12 miles to Auchtertyre, and the half way point. We arrived around 10:30 and enjoyed catching up with the other crews with runners around Steve’s pace who were now becoming familiar. We basked in the sunshine and I got ready to run the first support segment, although it would be touch and go whether I would be able leave with him to due to race regulations. The revised criteria for 2016 state that runners may have a support runner after Auchertyre after 11:30am only – with Steve going at the speed he was he would be faced with waiting until 11:30, or pushing on for the next 10 miles to Bridge of Orchy alone.

However. Right on target I received a phone call from Steve, calmly reporting that he’d cracked his head off the sheep tunnel about 5 miles out from Auchtertyre and it ‘looks a lot worse than it is’. Right then. I had a quick chat with the medics to forewarn them and spoke to a runner who arrived who had been with him when he did it. When our warrior turned up, it was obvious he was right; it did look a bit drastic, but once the blood was wiped off it was just a soft tissue scrape. Steve passed the medical test despite having lost a chunk of weight, but we weren’t too worried as it was 11:31am and we were allowed to leave the checkpoint together.

West Highland Way Race 2016

Off we trotted and I got the chance to gauge how he was really doing. All in all he was fine and he even managed to cope with my dreadful chat which I was pumping out just to pass the time and keep him distracted. I soaked up the sunshine and couldn’t believe how lucky we were to be out there enjoying it.

West Highland Way Race 2016

It goes without saying that the weather was basically Scotland turned up to 11 and the run could not have been more beautiful. This section remains one of my favourite parts of the route.

West Highland Way Race 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016

At Bridge of Orchy, Jemma took over pacing duties. Everything was going perfectly so I have nothing else to report other than we refilled his fluids, took his litter, and gave him more gels, before kicking him out on his way. F1-standard ultrarunning at its finest.

Next stop: Glencoe. On the road this is a short journey so we arrived a good couple of hours before Steve would arrive and allowed us to enjoy the breath-taking beauty of Glencoe in perfect summer. There were parasailers circling high up above us, having launched themselves off the ski slopes, and if we weren’t surrounded by scorched heather there would have almost been an alpine feel to the day. I’ve never seen Glencoe look like that before; we arrived at 2pm and enjoyed an afternoon in the sun at one of Scotland’s ski resorts – when can you ever say that?

West Highland Way Race 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016

Steve arrived at 4:30pm and we sent him off with Patrick, who would then take him though to Lundavra. I then drove Patrick’s car along the road to Altnafeadh which blew my mind; despite my own car also being an Astra, it is ten years older than his and from an era when electronic handbrakes, clutches, and lights on the dashboard telling you what to do were not a thing. I can think of fewer times when I have been more anxious than when I was trying to negotiate Patrick’s car in and out of the hilly boulder field which passes for a road at Altnafeadh, with nothing but an electric handbrake for support. If this is the future of driving then I am not impressed at all.

Jemma and I then headed to Kinlochleven where we basked in the last of the evening sunlight. It was clear that barring disaster, Steve was going to really smash it. His vague goals or expectations had been, maybe around 24 hours, 21 on a really good day, but maybe 30 if things aren’t ok. Parking the car at Kinlochleven, we were expecting him around 8pm, with a potential 22 hour finish on the cards.

I wasn’t due to run until Lundavra and had a raging craving for some hot food, so I went to the chip shop and enjoyed a portion of hot salty chips. It came as a little bit of a surprise when our support runner rang on time as expected, but letting us know that he didn’t want to run any further because he was tired. He also offered a suggestion that we might not bother going to Lundavra and just go straight to Fort William, for a sleep. The less said about that the better, but unsurprisingly I found myself saddling up to run another 14 miles with a belly recently stuffed full of fried food.

Before long I found myself back on the trail which I both love and hate the most. I have never managed to enjoy a crossing of the Lharig Mhor; it’s always at the end of something – a race, a support stint, a big back-to-back. I want to love the desolate beauty, but every step I take there is always full of wishes that I could traverse it more quickly.

West Highland Way Race 2016

I knew I needed to bring my strongest self for this section as I could see Steve start to flag in places. He still had a lot of fight in him but it was getting to the point where he was going to benefit from a secondary mind working on his behalf. I told him when to run, when to walk, and when to eat. I mostly ran a few steps ahead of him, setting the pace and willing him on behind me; pulling him on in the obscene cat and mouse chase which is ultramarathon pacing. We worked well together and didn’t need to say much; I gave him walking rests when he needed them but kept the relentless forward progress ongoing. All with a belly bursting full of chips.

My early concern in this section was the temperature. There was a cold wind rushing down the glen which chilled my sweaty, sunburned skin to the bone. I was concerned that Steve might not have enough clothes on and kept in contact by text message with Jemma, asking her to run back towards us from Lundavra when arrived, with a thicker jacket for Steve. My main concern, as was his, was getting him past the milepost of Lundavra and on to the final 7 miles. There is a reason why there are Wilderness Medics out on Lharig Mhor; it is a cruel and barren place where the weather can turn on a sixpence, ending the strongest of races without mercy.

Despite Steve’s physical strength he was beginning to give me clues that things were beginning to get tough. He constantly asked how far we were away until the next checkpoint and other than that, the chat had dried up. There was an unspoken knowledge that the time had come to dig in and work together to move onwards as efficiently as possible as a pair.

When Jemma came into view there was less than a mile to go to Lundavra. Knowing this seemed to fire up Steve into another gear and he shifted his position to be in front of us with us chasing behind. Chasing is the right word; when he reached Lundavra, he blasted right through and on up the hill at speed. I paused for a cup of red bull, thinking I’d be able to catch him up quickly, until I saw him rapidly disappearing into the distance as he RAN up the hill.

Jemma and I hastily chased after him and for the next few miles we had to work really hard to keep pace. Steve was pausing for no-one; even when I tripped over my own feet and ended up tumbling off the path and smashing my elbow on a rock with a yelp, he gave nothing more than a cursory glance behind him as he continued onwards without pause.
Just before the final ascent up towards the fire road, we took a walking break for one last gel as I talked Steve through the final couple of miles of the course and what he had left to cover. Moments after he summited the hill Steve took off again, and we began the quad-juddering descent into Fort William at a comfortable but swift pace.

Upon reaching Braveheart car park we took a final walking break to catch our breath before the final push. As a group we locked into a solid pace and covered the last mile towards the leisure centre in just over ten minutes. It doesn’t matter whether you are running, crewing, or sweeping, making that final turn into the car park is very special and my heart leapt when I was finally able to tell Steve “Go on – it’s all yours” as we peeled away from him to give him his moment of glory sprinting towards the finishing arch and the end of the race.

Everyone is happy when they finish a race, but Steve had to be one of the most ecstatic finishers I’ve ever seen. He seemed genuinely surprised and delighted to have achieved his goal – as if it were ever in doubt! Steve completed the race in 22hrs 39m 17s. He didn’t want to hang around at the finish line, so within half an hour we had checked into our hotel and Steve was getting ready to have some well earned rest. I was certainly tired, but having a runner that finishes well under 24 hours makes a massive difference, so Jemma and I spent some time reflecting on the weekend in our room before we went to sleep, drinking warm beer and eating cheese and chocolate.

The next morning, after checking on Steve and eating some breakfast, we went back to the finish line to cheer in the final finishers. It was as emotional as it always is, and seeing those final warriors come in to reach the finish after 33 or 34 hours is amazing. Cheering Norma (the oldest female finisher ever) and Adrian (achieving his 15th goblet!) reduced me to a blubbering wreck of happy tears.

West Highland Way Race 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016

We then headed to the goblet ceremony and cheered all 159 finishers until our voices cracked and our hands hurt from clapping. I got the chance to catch up with most of my friends before we parted ways, but Steve had booked us an extra night in the hotel so I still had the after-party with lots of peole to look forward to later on that evening. We both went back to the hotel for lunch and then to rest for a little bit, but I ended up taking a little walk back down the course in the rain to see one last runner cover his last miles of the day…

Whilst the race was officially over, Keith was still out on the course. He had a legitimate excuse though, as he had started his run on Thursday evening in Fort William. Having ran 95 miles to the start in Milngavie, he turned around and came right back again, just because he could. After shooting the breeze with Lucy, Dod and Karen, a very tired looking figure came into sight as he entered Braveheart carpark. He stopped to say hello before his support runners chided him for not moving, so we quickly drove back to the Leisure Centre to be there when he finished.

In the pouring rain and devoid of any gantries or ceremony at all, the finish of this run looked quite different to the official race finish a couple of hours earlier, but the small group of supporters cheered like banshees when he inexplicably sprinted into the carpark after finding one last burst of energy. The amazing accomplishment was complete when Keith slapped his hands on the Leisure Centre doors in traditional ceremonial style, much to the surprise of the staff inside. A lady came out and disapprovingly wiped the doors clean of his hand prints – quickly erasing any lasting visual evidence of the 190 miles of hard work which had been clocked. A sobering reminder that not everyone ‘gets’ it.

Wrapped in an embrace of warm, happy running feelings, I went back for another nap before the party. I finally got to my bed at 4am after the after-after party and drinking champagne with a bunch of friends including esteemed guest, Hal Koerner, but that’s perhaps another story for another day.

West Highland Way Race 2016

Stonehaven Half Marathon 2016 – Race Report

Stonehaven Half Marathon 2016

Stonehaven Half Marathon 2016

3rd July 2016
1hr 56m 28s
236th of 372 Finishers
65th of 137 Females
44th of 80 Female Seniors

Stonehaven Half Marathon was  my very first Half Marathon back in 2011, which I completed in 2 hours and 15 minutes. With the notoriously hilly course it was a baptism of fire for my first race at that distance, but I came back again in 2012 to knock over 15 minutes off my time and achieve my first sub-2 half marathon time. Due to other commitments I haven’t been back since, despite it being my home half marathon which is organised by my own running club. This year was the first running of the brand new, even more challenging course, and with the weekend being free for the first time in four years, I couldn’t resist.

When we woke up on Sunday the weather was deliciously cool and cloudy. I breathed a sigh of relief as running a race in July always carries a risk of heat. Even with Stonehaven being next to the sea, as soon as you go inland a couple of miles it can get very hot out on the sheltered roads. Of more concern was my tummy – I had prepared for the race by attending a Mexican themed birthday party the day before, and whilst I had managed to stay off the tequila, I could not resist enjoying extra helpings of spicy food. Living only half a mile from the start made this a minor issue however, as I was able to enjoy the comfort of my own bathroom right up until 9am.

Kynon and I made our way to the start at Mineralwell Park where a healthy crowd was gathering. We quickly registered and went for a warm-up mile jog. I don’t usually bother with warm-ups unless I am seriously PB hunting, but the Stonehaven Half Marathon course starts its 7 mile uphill climb almost immediately after the start, so beginning the race with muscles which are ready to rock is a must. We had also ran 12 miles the day before to make for a nice back-to-back weekend of training, so we needed to shake out the legs a bit before getting started anyway.

When the hooter went we trundled off down the narrow road, restraining ourselves so not to clip the heels of those in front. We waved hello to our friend Mary who had somehow defied the odds of homemade cocktail consumption to come along to cheer us on, and turned the corner to begin the first steep climb.

Stonehaven Half Marathon 2016

Picture: Mark McGillivary / Facebook.

My goals for this race were to finish well under two hours, blast the downhills hard, finish with nothing left in the tank, and not look crap in my club vest running in my club’s race in my club town. People down the pub sometimes labour under the misinformation that running lots of miles and long races makes means you are a good (i.e ‘fast’) runner…we all know this is not the case for 99% of us, but at least I could try my hardest on this one to prove them right.

Obviously the long, long drag uphill to Swanley burned like hell like it always does, but I just kept reminding myself that this was my back yard and my bread and butter; every long run every weekend in Fetteresso forest starts with the long drag up from my house at sea level, so I knew every twist and turn.

Stonehaven Half Marathon 2016

Picture: Ali Robertson

That didn’t mean I had to like it, though. That hill never gets easier, and this perfect picture captures how I felt at mile 4. At mile 5ish the course changes from the past route and pulls off road into the forest for even more climbing, with a short out-and-back just for LOLs to make up some extra distance. I enjoyed this section as I do all out-and-backs, where I get to cheer on and high-five my faster mates on the way out, and do the same for those behind me on the way back.

I power-walked much of the final climb as I knew this way I could climb with just as much speed but less effort, and it let me use some different muscles for a bit. After some high-fives and water pistol skooshes from the gals at the Fetchpoint on the highest point of the course, I was ready to switch on my fast legs and take advantage of gravity to get me home quickly.

Stonehaven Half Marathon 2016

Picture: Michael Levack/ Facebook

My next miles were super speedy and I was feeling really strong. I was wary of keeping a consistent speed and trying to stay as loose in my torso as possible in order to avoid getting a stitch. I began passing people one by one which kept me happy, and kept my focus on pushing hard. I knew that mile 12 once we re-entered the town would be flat and a bit of a shock after the downhill, so I eased off a little to save the last of my energy for a really fast finish. It turns out that ‘easing off’ come out at an 8:17 mile, which is a refreshing change!

In the final mile I gave it everything I had as I knew exactly what I had left to cover on the route. The last mile goes on to a forest path and has a few sneaky hills before you re-enter Mineralwell park, which I much prefer to the old road road which takes you back down the steep Belmont Brae road where the race starts. With about 500m to go I saw three ladies in front of me and decided I was passing them all before the finish. I attacked on a short hill and flew down the other side straight towards the line, holding on to my churning guts as I red-lined it to out-sprint the counter-attack from the club runner I had just passed.

And then it was done; there was the usual finish line staggering and dry heaving which will have traumatised a few under-fives, but at least I didn’t actually vomit this time. I felt the great satisfaction of feeling a bit wibbly and totally gubbed; the sensation of having truly left everything out on the course.

Stonehaven Half Marathon

Splits: 8:57 / 8:49 / 9:41 / 10:16 / 8:50 / 10:07 / 9:48 / 10:01 / 7:49 / 7:44 / 8:09 / 8:17 / 7:40 

I was, and am still, really pleased with this run – another strong race with a massive negative split and powerful finish. All that as well as having ran 12 miles the previous morning (and having had a fair skelp of  booze in the afternoon too). It gives me confidence that my running form is coming back slowly, and my strength and speed is returning.

This is all in aid of Autumn races though, so this summer I need to keep building and building the fire, and at just the right moment…I will light the match 🙂

 

 

Strathearn Marathon 2016 – RACE REPORT

Strathearn Marathon
12th June 2016

strathearn marathon

4 hours 20 minutes 28 seconds
105th of 153 finishers
36th of 59 Females
16th of 26 Female Seniors

After the sudden news that I had got a new job and would be moving to Edinburgh within a fortnight, I had to re-think my plans for attending the Strathearn Marathon.  After completing my first week at work, I got the train home to Stonehaven on Friday night; I spent a lovely 33 hours with my husband before getting collected by Naomi at 6am on Sunday to head down to Comrie for the race. The plan was to enjoy some quality running and then I’d get a lift back to Edinburgh  with Sandra and Ian. I was glad to have sorted out a plan, and despite it being a little galling to say farewell to Kynon at 6am knowing I wouldn’t see him for another two weeks, there was little else to do other than saddle up and get on with it.

The weather was grim; proper dreich, foggy, drizzly and a little cold. The Strathearn Marathon is renowned for its views but it became apparent that we’d be seeing very little of them during the race. We arrived around 7.45 and got quickly registered before catching up with some friends and familiar faces. One of the great things about this small, friendly race, is that you are offered the option of personalised drinks bottles, which are taken to 10 and 18 miles. These were deposited at the start and the system was flawless.

At 8.55am we lined up in the drizzle and listened to the briefing. Mark Beaumont was the guest of honour and when the gun went off, he led us on his bike on a circuit of the Cultybraggan Camp for the first quarter mile. After returning to the starting line and crossing for the second time, we headed out of the Camp and out on to the back roads for the rest of our 26.2 mile adventure.

Strathearn Marathon

Picture by Ali Robertson

Shortly afterwards we started climbing steadily; much of the first five miles is up hill. Naomi, Kate and I ran together and maintained a steady pace. No-one was looking to set any PBs and Naomi and I had planned to use the race for a good catch up! After the course leveled off, it turns onto a slightly more major road, so common sense dictated that we ran in single file. This rather quelled the conversation but we kept plodding away despite the increasing rain.

Strathearn Marathon

Picture – Gordon Donnachie

It began raining very heavily and soon I was absolutely soaked through. There were quite a few exposed miles where the wind made me pretty cold and I was glad I had a long sleeve top on to stay a little bit warm. I continued to chat to Naomi every so often but didn’t get much response – I had figured she was just battling on in her own head, until I turned around at about 9 miles and saw it was a totally different lady behind me! Oops. It’s a shame my chat was so bad she couldn’t even respond to tell me she wasn’t who I thought she was.

Strathearn Marathon

Picture – Gordon Donnachie

As the heavy rain continued I just pushed on alone in my thoughts and the miles ticked by. I was surprised at how good I was feeling and nothing was hurting at all. I ran a couple of miles with Kate before we separated at the 15 mile water point, and then I had a great few miles where I just bounced along and began passing people one by one. I felt I got stronger in the second half and this was reflected in my eventual finishing time, which was a 2:12/2:08 negative split – a first for me at marathon distance!

Strathearn Marathon

Picture – Gordon Donnachie

I had a really strong finish which was I very pleased about; this race could have very easily turned out to be a bit of a suffer-fest as I really have not put the work in this year to merit a strong road marathon performance. 4 hours 20 minutes is 22 minutes off my PB, but for someone who has done two runs over 15 miles since last September (one in January, and one in May), has run just over 400 miles this whole YEAR, and has been carrying around an extra stone in weight for months…it’s not too bad. I wanted to use the race as a benchmark for improvement for the rest of the year, so at least I know what I’m working with. Like some report cards at school used to say… “If Rhona actually bothered to TRY, she could be quite good at [subject] but she doesn’t seem to wish to concern herself with effort”

Strathearn Marathon

So, this summer, armed with my new size ‘Large’ club vest (my Medium one is too tight now) and stinging memories from Sunday of what inner thigh chub rub feels like (I have raced 100s of miles in the above pictured black skort and that has never been an issue before) I will be attempting to shift the lard and relocate the athlete I was a year ago when I earned my West Highland Way Race goblet. Eight months of unemployment has not been kind to my body or my mind, so I really hope that I have turned a corner with my new life in Edinburgh and I can start building these aspects of myself back up again.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone starts doing ultras and then makes it their life’s work. After my first ultra in 2012, I have consistently ran several marathons and ultras each year until 2016, where due to a couple of triggering factors I kind of just fell off the wagon. Bloggers and tweeters and many other online influencers might have you believe that once you start doing ultras and you’re in the scene, you just keep doing them all the time and it’s super easy and fun to do massive runs or races every other week; hashtag #trailporn hashtag #ultralife hashtag #zerolimits… Apart from the fact that a #zerolimits #ultralife is quite hard to fully execute when you have #zerobalance in your bank account, sometimes in life, much like in these races themselves, you go through bleak patches and you just have to keep knowing and believing that at some point you’ll probably come out the other side. I’m not really out of it yet but today I feel like I’m a lot further along than I have been lately.

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

This weekend it’s my absolute favorite weekend of the year – the West Highland Way Race. This year I’m crewing for a guy from Los Angeles called Steve who I only met for the first time on Tuesday! It will be yet another way to experience the race through a visitor’s eyes and I simply cannot wait to head over to Milngavie tomorrow night. As usual there are dozens of friends taking part or crewing who I’m excited to see, and I’m ready for another adventure. Good luck to you if you’re taking part, or crewing – both are huge challenges!

Glen Lyon Ultramarathon – RACE REPORT

Glen Lyon Ultramarathon

Glen Lyon Ultra

7th May 2016
6 hours 26 minutes 14 seconds

60th of 77 (81 starters)
19 of 30 Females

The Glen Lyon Ultramarathon is the newest race in the BaM Racing portfolio. Billed as a 30 mile run in one of the remotest parts of Central Scotland, it was being ran for the first time in 2016 with a limited field size. Anyone who has done a BaM event before knows that they are in for a treat, so I signed up without hesitation when the race opened in February.

Glen Lyon is as remote as it is beautiful, so we booked into a hotel in Aberfeldy for the night before the race. In direct contrast to everything which went wrong with our trip to London for the marathon, this overnight stay could not have gone better. We stayed at the Aberfeldy Townhouse, an immaculate and comfortable boutique hotel with the most amazing customer service I’ve ever experienced outside of the USA. Pre-dinner beverages were taken at the Fountain Bar in the town square, with its outside seating area providing a comfortable place to soak up the warmth of the golden hour. Dinner was at the Three Lemons, a bar and brasserie that would not have been out of place in a fashionable neighbourhood in any city, and we enjoyed some huge and delicious stone-baked pizzas before retiring back to our hotel for an early night.

Glen Lyon Ultra 1

The next morning we were awake just after 6 and headed down to the restaurant for a pre-arranged early breakfast at 7am. Since they do not serve breakfast until 8am on the weekends, the hotel manager had very kindly offered to prepare us a breakfast roll and some coffee to prepare us for the day ahead. In actual fact, the staff had come in early, the whole breakfast buffet had been set up, including warm pastries fresh from the oven, and we were given two overflowing rolls each, served with fresh coffee and several rounds of toast. As ever my eyes were bigger than my stomach and I was well and truly stuffed with we left the hotel at 7.30am.

Glen Lyon Ultra 3

The 23 mile drive from Aberfeldy to Glen Lyon took over an hour, much of which is on treacherous and windy crumbling single track road. With no phone signal or means of communications other than the Race Director’s emergency satellite phone, this race was well and truly off the grid.

Glen Lyon Ultra

We arrived at the Dam at 8:45 which was just enough time to get registered, choose which layers to wear, and say hello to an assortment of friends. The weather was more or less perfect but there was a chilly wind which kept things cool as the sun was hidden behind haze.  I went for my new long sleeve Tracksmith top over the top of a tshirt, with various peripherals packed in my race vest.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Picture – Fiona Rennie

Glen Lyon Ultra

At 9:15am there was the briefest of briefings before the whistle went at 9:30am to set us on our way. There was half a mile of road to run on before a swift turn uphill for a long march up towards the Dam.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Picture – Susan Addison

The race is, to borrow the words of Dougie, a race of two Glens. The first half takes in the entire circumference of the dammed Loch Lyon before bringing the runners back to race HQ for a check point. The road was an undulating rocky landrover track which you could never quite relax on – the uneven terrain made it easy to lose your footing and stumble. With stunning views the whole way around it was easy to get distracted.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

The heat slowly rose in the Glen and I quickly found myself losing my outer layers. This meant that the several river crossings were welcome relief, especially the handfuls of fresh spring water I splashed on my face to cool down with. Unsurprisingly, I hadn’t been hungry at all after my big breakfast, but was drinking a lot of water.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra SA 2

There was a water point at 9.5 miles right at the far end of the Loch before we headed back towards HQ. I said hello to Iona and Donna before refilling my bottles and getting on the move quickly. I was aware I was pretty far back in the field but I didn’t care as long as I was feeling ok and running smoothly. I knew that today was not going to be a day for fast times or impressive running from my legs!

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon UltraPhoto – Donna Leslie

Returning towards the Dam the headwind was very strong and I had to work that bit harder to keep a steady pace. I reached the Dam and the (theoretical half way point) in roughly 3 hours which was bang on target . Not knowing the course, I had guessed I might take between 6 and 6.5 hours to cover the 30 miles, but I knew that the second Glen, and in particular getting in and out of it, would be harder running.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

Picture – Fiona Rennie

After leaving Race HQ we were back onto tarmac road for a long 2 mile slog up a steep hill,Looking towards the other side of the Loch, you can see where the path we had ran on  previously is hewn from the sides of the Glen high above the water.

Glen Lyon Ultra

After the long climb up there was a flat half mile as the road followed the contour lines before descending down into Glen Lochart. There was a water stop at around 20 miles before we turned off the road and onto a rocky trail high above the Glen. Looking down I could see little running figures on the bottom of the other side of the Glen on their way back; I did some quick sums in my head and calculated that the loop around the Glen must be about 7 miles in length, before the long and arduous haul back over the hill to the finish. Looking ahead down the Glen was daunting and my mental resolved wobbled a little; I was tiring and beginning to feel a bit sick, and it was obvious that  my lack of training was beginning to show.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

The small field of 80 had long since spread out and I ran much of the race completely by myself. There were very few race markers required, so if it hadn’t been for the odd glimpse of a person far in the distance, I may as well have been out there completely alone. Miles 20 – 27 were really quite tough as I pushed myself on when I was fatiguing hard. My legs and hips were feeling ok; not stiff or hurting, and my feet were fine too, but I was just lacking the solid cardio fitness which usually makes these events a lot easier. Feeling nauseated really wasn’t helping either, but I just trucked on steadily, breaking up the miles in a 0.1 walk/0.4 run sequence. I was amused to pass through marathon distance at 5hr 12m 38s, which is only a few seconds off the time in which I completed my very first marathon.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Finally, the big pipeline which we had crossed 7 miles ago came back into site and I knew I had nearly completed my lap of the Glen. I began to steel myself for the 3 mile climb from the bottom of the Glen right to the top of the hill. I had caught up with Sue, a Wee County Harrier, who I’d spoken to one or two times before, and chatting with her made the first of the three miles pass a lot more comfortably. We reached the 20 and 27 mile water point where I had hoped to tickle Diesel the Dog for some puppy power, but he was fast asleep having had a big day cheering all of the runners.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Picture – Lois Simpson

After quenching my thirst I locked in for the last few miles and started an ultra stomp up the hill, huffing and swearing as I went. It was obvious the race was going to be well over 30 miles in distance, but at least I knew the last two were downhill.

30 miles came and went, and so did 31, but the finish line didn’t arrive until 31.6 miles – a slightly generous 50k. Running up towards the finishing arch was a lovely feeling, as was having Kynon’s arms to fall into once again. Thanks to Fiona Rennie for these excellent pictures.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

I had a sit down and some more water, before putting on some dry warm clothes immediately.  I wanted to eat but the appetite just wasn’t there, so I had a cup of sugary tea to keep my blood sugar up. It would have been nice to hang around but we had to more or less zoom off straight away in order to drive back home to get to a birthday party that evening. I was nervous about the twisty road making me car-sick but in the end we were stuck behind the slowest van in the world so it wasn’t really a concern!

I would thoroughly recommend this race to anyone looking to step up to ultra distance running, but is maybe a little unsure of the flat and fast nature of the D33. This race gives all the scenery and trail running of some of the longer SUMS events but without the extra mileage. The event is sure to grow to be another huge success for BaM, so keep your eyes peeled for the 2017 opening date!

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