Spoiler – 8:51:05 coming 57th out of 138 starters
This is a race that has been on my bucket list for some time as, over the years I’ve spent a lot of time around that area hillwalking / climbing / munrobagging. It is also a race that I plan to be the first step towards another which is on my bucket list, the West Highland Way Race (the whole length of the WHW – 96 miles).
The West Highland Way being a national trail that goes from Milngavie near Glasgow to Fort William in Lochaber, on the way, passing through Loch Lomond and Glencoe.
Five weeks before the race I had competed in the Endure24 challenge and covered 75 miles and 3 weeks before it I had competed in my first Parkrun (fast) but I think my legs got over those because the final 2 weeks leading up to the race I was in Greece – unbearably hot, so all running over 3 or 4 miles was off the cards. In fact I think in the 2 months leading up to it I had only run more than 8 miles once (at the Endure24) and most efforts had been in the 3 to 5 mile range. So it was with a little trepidation that I toed the start line at 6am on the Saturday morning.
I had driven up from Berkshire the day before, picked up my brother who was to be my support crew and we stayed in Crianlarich that night. Everything was ready, so we had a beer, some food and then an early night.
A 4:30 start the next day, leaving the hotel at 5:00 got me to the ‘Green Welly Stop’ (the start) at about 5:10. registration and the race briefing all went smoothly and before long we were off.
The route is split into 3 main legs – Tyndrum to Glencoe, Glencoe to Kinlochleven and Kinlochleven to Fort William. At the end of each leg there was a checkpoint where your crew could meet you and replenish supplies etc. NOTE: There is also a checkpoint at Bridge of Orchy, but it’s only about 6 or miles into the first leg, so most people just breeze right through.
Terrain is mixed and undulating as we make our way towards Bridge of Orchy. The going is fairly easy / relaxed and the mood is buoyant.
At around 6.5 miles we hit the Bridge of Orchy station, head down the road and over the bridge where there is a mass of support crew, I just ran on through…
The route now heads up through a wooded area, ascending around 500ft onto a shoulder at the 8 mile point and then back down to Inveroran and Blackmount Lodge. This then follows an old drovers road across Rannoch Moor. The views at this point are fantastic – vast desolate landscape with the track stretching out in front you for miles. As you climb across the moor you ascend from 500ft, ultimately to 1500ft at which point we passed some flag waving supporters.
From here you can see the road and the southern end of Glencoe in front of you. Coming down from this point to the White Cottage 500ft below and the end of this first leg.
My brother was waiting for me here, I’d taken about 3 hours so far (18 miles), and he filled my bottles, took a quick photo and sent me on my way with a pat on the back.
The second leg start with crossing the A82 and heading down to the Kingshouse Hotel, through the car park, over the little bridge and past all the tented walkers. This road/track is followed for around a mile and then it heads up in a traverse to the side of the hill. There is a great section here where we got an amazing view of the ‘bookle’ (Buachaille Etive Mor – the most photographed mountain in Scotland). The sun was shining on it and you could make out all the features easily (Crowberry Ridge, Rannoch Wall etc). The path undulates a bit, but overall drops in height until you get Altnafeadh at the base of the ‘Devils Staircase’ where you begin heading up and over the hill. this is tough section, climbing from 900ft to 1800ft over the course of 1.5 miles – power walking, hands on knees. I didn’t find this bit *too* bad, and from the top the view was amazing again – I could see the path stretching out in front of me for miles, the whole length of the glen.
The section from the top of the devils staircase is basically downhill (1800ft to sea level) over the course of 5 miles. This was brutal on my legs. By the end of that my quads were trashed,… By the time I got to the checkpoint at Kinlochleven I was hobbling.
At this checkpoint I needed a bit more, I took on some water, my brother replenished my bottles while I changed my top which was drenched in sweat , given that it was a scorching day. At this point it was a little over 5 hours in.
Checkpoints / aid stations are a great motivator – seeing a friendly face, getting a few ‘well dones’ and just generally getting your head into a better place. I left the checkpoint with my brother walking alongside me for a couple of hundred metres before he turned back and I started jogging / hobbling again.
The final leg of this race climbs up out of Kinlochleven on a zig zagging path to about 1000ftbefore getting onto the Lairigmor (the great pass) where again the next few miles can be seen before you, rolling out into the distance.There is a good runnable 7 or 8 miles here, but it was slow for me and my stride was very short, more of a shuffle by this stage.As you get to the final two or three miles here there is a a little hill to get up and over but then it descends into Glen Nevis through a forestry track and suddenly you pop out on the road, a few hundred metres along this and you’re at the finish point.
I ran this in my normal road shoes – Nike Air Structure. This wasn’t really a good idea as the terrain was pretty rough – not a lot of mud thankfully, but lots of loose rocks etc on the paths and road shoes let me, painfully, feel every one.
I wore a Raidlight Endurance 14L rucksack – this was the first time I had run more than 10 miles in it (it was pretty new) and I ended up chaffed in a number of places – this might have been the sack, or might have been partly due to the hot weather / sweat / sack combination. This sack was light enough to barely notice it was there and it has a bottle holder built in. Also, plenty big enough to hold the compulsory kit.
I got through the race okay – did specific feelings of ‘bonking’, no real energy lows that I recall, but that said, I don’t think I took on enough.
My plan was to use a combination of mostly gels and a few bars (just to fill my stomach) for energy. I think I took 8 gels with me and only used 6 of them – from about 20 miles I was trying to take them every 4 miles. I made the mistake of taking nothing for the first 15 miles or so – I need to get out of this habit – don’t wait till you run out before topping up – thankfully it didn’t really affect me.
For hydration I took 2 water bottles, one in the sack holder, one handheld. So I probably had about 1 litre as I headed out on each leg. I also had a big drink at each checkpoint (maybe 1/2 litre). A couple of the bottles had SiS energy powder in them, but most had just SiS electrolytes (no carbs). That all worked out well, even on this very hot day.
The lessons for me, taking away from this, are :-
- Be more disciplined with nutrition – take it at planned intervals whether I think I need it or not.
- Trail Shoes – not really been able to find a pair I’m happy with yet, but I need to get some as most ultras (that I want to do) cover this kind of terrain.
- Training – need more, both hills and distance.
Overall this was a great race. It was well organized and followed a lovely, scenic route which was enhanced this year by the great weather. The only downside was the lack of race provided water/aid at the checkpoints, although they do mandate that you bring your own crew for that kind of stuff – I suppose providing it would encourage people to do it without a crew…
I recommend this race to others and I’d probably do this race again.