Glenmore 24 Trail Race: 12 Hour event
6th September 2014
Distance ran: 51.6 miles (TBC)
I struggled to write about the Glenmore 24 event last year, when I attended to crew for Vikki’s 100 mile attempt. The whole weekend was a fully-immersive utopia of ultra-running with 300 or so runners, marshals, crewers, supporters and dogs, holed up in a hayfield outside of Aviemore in the Cairngorms and pleasantly cut off from the real world. Upon my return I couldn’t find the words, nor the time to find the words, to do a description of the weekend justice and decided that it might be best for the memories to live on in my head rather than trying to explain about who Ray was, or the thinking behind the Ginsberg disaster. Some things remain best filed under: “You had to be there”.
This year however I attended the event as a competitor, so I have something a little more running-specific to offer in terms of a race report. The Glenmore 24 event consists of two races, a 12 hour and a 24 hour, where competitors strive to cover as many miles around a 4 mile trail as possible in their selected time period. Despite being an endurance junkie I had absolutely no desire to enter the 24 hour event, even though it might have been a natural progression from July’s 72 mile Great Glen Ultra. Knowing my strengths and weaknesses, I thought it would be wise to do the diet version for my first foray into lapped events and see how I got on mentally, which is where I thought I was least prepared.
In terms of training I didn’t do anything specific for the event. In the two months between the Great Glen and Glenmore my only run over 15 miles was the Callanish Stones Marathon. I kept up regular sessions to maintain my fitness but didn’t go over 30 miles a week, and ended up severely dropping my mileage towards the middle and end of August due to work commitments and travel. Frustratingly as well, my employer has closed the changing rooms which allowed me to run at lunchtime so conveniently, meaning that one option which I used to have to allow me to fit training in around life has been taken away. As a result at least I arrived at the start well-rested, but I would have liked to have ran more over the summer. A secondary result of this is that I continue to carry rather a little more weight about my person than I would like, which is frustrating but hopefully temporary.
My goals for the race were to run between 50 and 60 miles. 60 would be the result of the perfect race and what I assumed would be the peak of my ability. I would be happy with anything between 50 and 60, but I would not be satisfied with a result under 50. I also decided to take the unusual (for me) step to run the race completely blind – I put duct tape over my garmin and turned the autolap and ‘bleep’ off. I wanted to run it entirely by feel, without pressure of time or pace or mileage, and would press the lap button each time I crossed the start.
Now that the boring bit is out of the way I can talk about the weekend. It all started with keeping everything crossed that Kynon’s flight back from Milan would land on time to enable us to get up to Aviemore in a timely manner. He had been working in Milan for two weeks prior to the race so I had been charged with doing all the packing and preparation. I should mention at this point the Kynon was doing the 12 hour race as well! He was very trusting to allow me to pack for him but we didn’t really have any other choice. Luckily he landed on schedule and was able to pick up my parents’ campervan, which was to be our home for the weekend. We filled it full of ultragoodies and at 9pm on Friday night, we headed North.
Meanwhile in a field outside of Aviemore, Scotland’s top ultra-distance athletes were preparing for their races…
The theme for the weekend was Pirates, and whilst we were hurrying up the road these scurvy louts were drinking all the rum and watching the Goonies. Luckily for us the party was still going strong when we arrived around 11.30pm and Mike welcomed us with a swig of 80% ABV rum. It was pretty cold outside, but two swigs and a warm down jacket kept the chill away.
We packed ourselves back in the camper van about 12.30am. The race didn’t start until 12pm so we had plenty of time to sleep in, although I was awoken by rain several times in the night. The forecast was bad but I had tried not to think about it; I knew I was well overdue for an absolute stinker of a race in terms of weather, and I had a feeling that my time was up on this occasion.
Raceday started with a cafetiere of freshly brewed coffee and toasted bagels, with a side of hugs and reunions. We had a relaxed morning catching up with everyone who we hadn’t seen the night before, and got our food and kit set up for the race ahead.
Our able crew for the race was Vikki, Geraldine and George from Stonehaven Running Club and we were able to set our food boxes down in the club gazebo. I’d filled a plastic tub with all my usual ultra food – crisps, butteries, custard, cake bars, tinned fruit, cheese, pot noodles, pizza, coffee, chocolate milk, coke, Irn Bru and a selection of gels.
The race briefing was at 11.30, just as the rain decided to come back on.
We took some pictures with Rachel before finally succumbing to the fact that the rain jackets were going to have to come on and the hoods were going up.
Iain (left, Vikki’s husband) was doing the 24 hour race whereas Rachel was doing the 12 with us. As the rain got heavier, again I reassured myself that I was definitely making the correct decision in doing the 12 hour race. Thankfully it wasn’t terribly cold or windy, but the rain was wet, heavy and unrelenting.
At 12pm on the dot the hooter went and we ambled off on our journey. For some reason I had absolutely zero nerves; the open ended distance of the race seemed to lend itself to more flexibility, whereas for a point-to-point race it’s really only about getting from one place to another as quickly as possible.
Kynon and I didn’t plan to run our race together, but decided to start together and then just see what happened. His training had been slightly below par so he had no idea what was going to happen after a few hours, but he decided he would deal with that alone when the time came.
In the end I completed 12 laps of the four mile circular loop. There is no sense in detailing every one, nor can I even remember those details, so first I will describe the route as seen by myself twelve times throughout the day:
After crossing the start line, the route follows the perimeter of the camp site in an anticlockwise U-shape, with your left side flanked by tents and support crews. Later on each tent would have different smells emitting from it, some good and some bad. Underfoot is grassy and muddy, with the ground getting slippier and more waterlogged as the day went on. After following the U around, you reach a short, steep hill which I walked up every time. At the top of the hill is more mud, until you snake through some trees where the ground underfoot is rocky and slippery. The path descends to a short section where both incoming and outgoing runners paths collide, but only for about 5 meters until the outgoing runner pulls off to the right.
The biggest puddles on the course are found in the remainder of this mile. They change in shape and depth throughout the day but remain a large and permanent water obstacle. The path is rocky and narrow in places, with overgrown foliage always ready to keep your upper body soggy as you veer off the path to try and keep your feet dry. When you emerge from the bushes there are intermittent views of Loch Morlich to the right and the sounds of ducks and geese quacking as they go about their daily business. There are rustles in the bushes and birdsong from the trees above. The puddle trail section finishes with a sharp turn up a hill to the left, which spits you out onto a forestry road and into the second mile.
The second mile and a half is mainly flat and runnable, with lovely views over the Loch to your right until it pulls deeper into the forest which smells of pine needles, heather, and Scotland. About 100 meters prior to the ‘half-way’ water station at around 2.5 miles, the big hill begins. Marching up provides relief and then you consume your gel or snack at this point so you can hand off the litter to the marshals and drink a cup of water. Depending on the time of day you may be met by a parrot, a pirate, a recent UTMB finisher or a chorus of 80s pop songs. Either way it brightens your mental outlook as you know you’ve cracked the back of yet another lap as you continue on your way.
The hill is a long drag but lasts just long enough for you to be ready for running again when you reach the top and force yourself to move a little quicker until you finally break into a bona fide ‘run’ when gravity kicks in. The 4th and final mile of the trail turns left to the direction of camp and pushes down through the trees, with a beautiful view over the Loch on your left which I looked forward to every time.
On each lap the light was different as I passed it; the hills either either glowing in sunshine or were cloaked in rain, sometimes made completely invisible by cloud cover.
The descent into the camp site is marked by further landmarks – the beautiful red berries on the rowan trees (above), the sound of rushing water and the little bridge which crossed it, and finally the return to the brief section where the incoming and outgoing runners’ paths cross. Incoming runners have one final little climb before descending into the camp site via some stairs and a run across a rocky car park. Upon entering the camp site one must shout one’s number to Ada The Timekeeper and thank her for her efforts. To her side sits a full sized, functional cattle prod, borrowed from Bob Steel, the cattle farming ultrarunner, to keep the adrenaline flowing in runners who may threaten to try and drop out.
The final notable feature of the route is the ice cold muddy water which flows into your nicely warmed shoes as you run under the arch towards your support station. The camp site is a swamp and there’s no way to avoid it. After enjoying a snack and perhaps a toilet stop there’s only one option left – get back out on the trail again to warm those feet up and come back in four miles time to soak them all over again.
I loved the route. It was varied enough to keep me interested throughout the day as the light and colours changed. I tried to notice different things on each lap, and pick out markers to spot every time I passed to track my progress. I looked forward to seeing Vikki on each lap who was always cheerfully waiting with what I requested the previous lap, or with suggestions for what to eat next. My favourite snack was the big tub of peaches in syrup which I eat the entirety of throughout the day. I also enjoyed Thorntons chocolate fudge bites, Mr Kipling lemon cake, cashew nuts, little tins of Coke/Irn Bru, baby bel cheeses, and custard. I also had a beef and tomato Pot Noodle around 7pm, a macaroni pie around 10pm and lots of cups of tea when it was wet and cold. Unusually I was not keen on eating butteries, pizza and hula hoops which have long been an ultra staple food for me, but they were hard to eat in pouring rain without getting soggy. Each lap I also took a gel or a cake bar to have at half way and made sure to drink a cup of water.
I definitely did the right thing to hide all information on time/mileage and the time of day as I loved the lack of pressure on myself and really focused on mentally enjoying the race. I knew that the sun would go down about 8pm and when light started to fall I couldn’t believe I had been running for 7+ hours as the time had gone so quickly. Time ceased to exist, much like the real world, for those 12 hours.
My body held up well for the most part with the only exception being unsurprisingly, my feet. I started in my Salomon Speedcross trail shoes which lasted 20 miles (I think) before the balls and toe bones of my feet began their usual horrible aching. I switched to my Asics Gel Nimbus and experienced instant relief from the pain for a few hours. The biggest surprise of all was that I got no blisters whatsoever! Even with sodden feet for 12 hours and no preventative toe compeeds (they came off in my socks due to the water so I took them off after 2 laps). When I took my socks off at the end my feet looked gruesome though – totally white and waterlogged with the socks welded to the thick parts of my skin. The only other thing that caused me difficulty was my lower back and glute muscles and I know exactly what the problem is there, and it’s that they are not strong enough to support my body effectively when I run for so long (especially carrying an extra stone around). I owe the gym some serious time in the coming months as I haven’t done any strength training for some time and I’ve lost a lot of core, glute and leg strength.
As for the weather…well.
It rained solidly for the first few laps then cleared up for a short period, with even some sunshine peeking through. I regretted wearing my running skirt as despite it being the most comfortable item I own for long, long distances, it hung on to an awful lot of rain water and took a while to dry. When the sun came out briefly I was able to leave my waterproof with my support and try and dry off a little. Upon leaving Vikki the lap after, I wondered whether I ought to take it again as it was looking a bit dark on the horizon. Carrying it with me for 2 miles was a pain so I ditched it at the water point, only for the skies to cloud over soon after and the heaviest rain I’ve ever experienced outside of Texas came thundering out of the sky. Not just rain, but hailstones the size of garden peas.
Above photos: Glenmore 24
I was out in the above in just a vest and skirt until my return to camp where I was able to procure my second shower-proof jacket. I’ve been drier coming out of a swimming pool to be honest, and those hailstones felt like machine gun fire on bare skin. Still, we’re Scottish runners, and this is our bread and butter – someone else’s ice bucket challenge is our standard Saturday afternoon run. For the full aural experience there’s a cracking video HERE (G24 Facebook page).
Besides; we’ve got to keep the beer cold somehow.
After the hail calmed down a bit there was tremendous rolls of thunder and lightning as the storm passed over. The rain continued for some time after and just kept on coming. My waterproof jacket had long since ceased to be effective, but as long as I kept running or walking briskly up hill I was able to keep my core temperature up. As soon as I stopped for food I became chilled very quickly so the cups of tea and my gloves from Vikki were a blessing. I could have changed my clothes, but stupidly I only had one full change of clothes with me. I was concerned that I could get soaked again before nightfall which would leave me with nothing dry to wear if I ended up walking in the final dark and cold hours, so I just put up with being wet in the hope that sooner or later it would dry up.
The rain ceased to be quite such a menace as darkness fell and eventually it stopped. Intermittent coloured glow sticks lit the course but for the most part I was in total darkness, with a faster person passing by every so often and a gruff exchange of pleasantries being my only interactions in between support stops. I became fed up of my own company once darkness fell and took my iPod out with me to cheer me up. I hadn’t seen Kynon or Rachel for hours but apparently we were quite near each other – Rachel about 5 minutes ahead of me and Kynon about 10 minutes behind.
I arrived after my 11th lap around 9.50pm and took my time eating a pie and some sweets. I was in no hurry to get back out as I knew the short lap course would open at 11, so if I timed my final lap correctly I could leave myself about 45 minutes of dizzying circles around the camp. Just as I was putting off leaving as much as possible, a familiar gait crossed the starting line back-lit by floodlight. “Is that my wife?!” the figure shouted! I was very glad to see Kynon for the first time in 10 hours, but he was not feeling great and was a little wobbly so George came over to help him. I suggested we tackled the final lap together but he wasn’t keen. “Rhona you need to f**k off now and get a move on; we’ll look after him” George instructed me in a tone that was not to be questioned, so I squelched off into the darkness once more for my final lap.
I arrived back into camp for the small laps after worrying my way through the last 4 miles. Without anything more productive to do, my brain decided to stress me out about Kynon becoming unwell and that I’d come back and find he’d become another one of these healthy young men who just drop dead doing exercise. Then of course, the ambulance would take forever to get to us and there is no hospital near, and then he’d be dead and I’d have to figure out how on earth to function without him. This is a small insight into the morbidity of my mind when I’m tired and exhausted in the middle of a race. Seeing the bright lights of camp as I limped down the stairs for the last time brought me back down to earth, but George got me worried again when he told me not to worry, Kynon had been put in the van for a lie down, and he was going to be OK so DON’T WORRY. Being told not to worry only made me worry more, but I concentrated on pushing around the small loop course which consisted of the perimeter of the campsite, including a trip up and down the big hill and swamp-like mud underfoot.
As more and more 12 hour runners came in off their final lap the camp site was whipped into a frenzy as the runners flew, jogged or staggered around in circles on the 0.25mi course. I had found plenty of strength to run strongly and fed off the cheers from the crowd at the tent and the support crews of the 24 hour runners still manning their aid stations. Special mention here goes to Sarah, Noanie and Lorna who cheered ever more enthusiastically every time I passed them by at the bottom of the big hill which made me feel like a rock star. Mike was at the top with RD Bill and provided encouragement and the occasional swig of beer as I passed before flying down the other side of the hill. I decided that it hurt more to stagger down it slowly than to throw caution to the wind and just fly down, shouting out my number each time to George in order that my lap be counted.
In the end I did about 14 laps of the small loop to bring my total mileage to 51.6x. When the hooter went I planted my peg with my number on it in the soft ground and was happy to call it a day. For a moment or two I wondered what to do next as I was out on the dark side of the camp site alone, but I ducked under the tape and waded across the swampy ground until I reached the warm lights of the tent which was full of happy friends.
Kynon clocked up a very commendable 44 miles in his longest run ever in both time and mileage. He called it a day after 10.5 hours after having some physio treatment and then getting too cold to go out again. He was fine after a lie down in the van with the heating on, and came out in time to watch my small laps with a bottle of Crabbies to settle his stomach.
After I got wrapped up in warm clothes I returned to the fireside with a bottle of wine, some beers and a bag of snacks. Due to the weather many of the 12 hour runners had retired quickly to bed, but I was far too awake and buzzing for that and kept the party going with a handful of others until after 4am. As it got colder and the wine bottles became empty, we filled them full of warm water and stuck them in our jackets to stay toasty.
Snuggled up in the van overnight we slept pretty well, with our sleep being punctuated by ‘the horn’ sounding at 4.57am for the first 24 hour runner to reach the 100 mile mark and then several more times thereafter. I admired the determination of the runners still out there but agreed with myself again, that the 24 hour race was not for me.
A few hours later we resurfaced and scavenged breakfast from the remains of our race fuel boxes whilst cheering the 24 hour runners through the last of their races. I was honoured to be there to see two friends smash their goals of reaching 100 miles and joined in the collective hysteric cheering when George and Gavin got the horn.
Much like at the conclusion of the 12 hour race, the atmosphere became a frenzy of cheering and delight as runner after runner ground out inspirational performances. Some were just shuffling as quickly as comfort would allow them, and others were like Johnny Fling who flew around the course like a cat on fire, to take the eventual win and set a new course record of 131.22 miles.
The prize giving followed shortly after the finish, where everyone was presented with their medal and race cider regardless of the distance achieved.
Bill Heirs appears to have shrunk in this picture; I can’t imagine *what* the problem is.
Whilst many stayed behind for another night of revelry, we had to pack up and set off home after the ceremony to get back for work in the morning. We arrived back home to a house that looked like a bombsite and at least 5 loads of washing to do. Life has been a little topsy turvy lately but it is set to become very interesting in the coming weeks, which is another story for another blog.
Thanks again to BaM racing for another fantastic weekend, and to the Scottish Ultrarunning Community for being…well, for just being. It makes me sad to think that this is the last race of my ‘season’ and that we likely won’t be seeing most folks until next March, but you never know. Now is the time to relax, regenerate and retrain in order to hit the 2015 season harder and stronger than ever before.
Great adventure awaits for those who dare to dream!