Heart of Scotland 100 Report
Sue Walker 1st and 6th June 2010
104.44 miles and 13,200 feet according to the website.
108.4 miles and 15,200 feet climbing according to Sports Tracks and 2 x Garmins
Where to begin? Well, the real beginning is back in 1909! Baden Powell had started scouts and held the first scout rally in Chrystal Palace. A group of girls gatecrashed the event and caught his eye. He told them that Scouting was for boys. They complained and asked him for something for the girls and so in 1910, Girl Guides was started. Fast forward, 100 years, it is the centenary for Girlguiding and I’m county commissioner for Girlguiding Fife. I hear about a 100 mile event taking place in Scotland and I’m intrigued. It’s too close to the West Highland Way for the other ultra runners in the club, but it’s got a firm hook in me. I make enquires about entering and am told I need to have completed a 50 mile event to qualify. Despite a knee problem the fortnight before, I managed to get around Rotherham in October, finishing in 12:30 ish and that’s qualification done. Qualifying ticked off; I now enter the event and break the news to one and all!
As part of my preparation I enter the Glasgow to Edinburgh double marathon (55 miles) followed by the Deeside 33. Unfortunately, the incessant flatness of the canal tow paths brings on an ITB problem which puts me out of the D33. After some brutal massage and stretching, the ITB eases enough for me to resume training and I recce more sections of the route, concentrating on those sections I expect to do in the dark.
The route is incredible. The event starts and finishes in Dunkeld. From Dunkeld, you run over to Kirkmichael, then round the back of Ben Vuirich via Daldhu and Shingag to reach Blair Atholl. From there, via the falls of Bruar, you head North along the old A9 before cutting across to Kinloch Rannoch via Loch Errochty. After breakfast in Kinloch Rannoch, you head via the sides of Schielhallion up to Pheiginn Bothy and then Fortingall, Aberfeldy, the Hermitage and back to Dunkeld. All in all, it’s an official 104.44 miles with 13,000 feet of climbing.
I chose to start at 10am with the Walkers – how apt! - giving myself the full 48 hours to complete the event, though I really am targeting a pre darkness finish on the Sunday (36 hours). I plan to run the flats and down hills where possible and walk the hills. I set my watch alarm to remind me to eat and drink something every 30 minutes. My challenge is to finish this event. I’ve put together a pacing schedule to help my supporters but in fairness, all I want to do is rise to the challenge and complete it. There will be no heroic sprints at the start but hopefully no major slumps either. Nice and steady is the way to go. I’ve checked in with LDWA and they are happy for me to have running support provided they don’t get in the way and are self sufficient. All systems go then, and Ken, Fiona and Pauline travel up to support over the weekend.
It felt very odd to be gathered in the busy square in Dunkeld and not know another soul! Very different from most races in Scotland where I would expect to see club mates and friends from other clubs. After a few rousing tunes from the Vale of Atholl pipe band, we were off to Loch Ordie. This first checkpoint was not accessible to supporters. I assumed that the checkpoint would be based on a 4x4 vehicle with maybe water and jelly babies on offer. Not at all. There was a 15’ square marquee pitched with sandwiches, and biscuits and apologies for only having bottled water to drink. Off I went to Kirkmichael, allegedly past some Ospreys but I didn’t see anything. The route to Kirkmichael was greatly improved since my last visit in the snow in February. The landowner had cut a path in the heather, built a new gate in the deer fence and created a new path down to the Cateran Trail. There were even way markers. The first village hall stop and my chance to meet the support team was Kirkmichael. On the drop down to the Cateran trail track, I met Helena and Gail complete with route finding GPS – well it was a navigational challenge! I stopped at the hall and had my route card punched and popped in to see what type of food was on offer. A vast array of sandwiches, crisps, custard, rice pudding and clootie dumpling! I was even offered a strawberry by Marie Dokes’ husband. Marvellous! Off we trotted, the happy Carnegie Harriers - me, Helena, and Steven. Gail played leapfrog with the car and caught us later. Steven stayed with me for a good while before returning back to Enochdhu for the promised lift home. Thanks for the company everyone, I enjoyed it.
Daldhu was 20 miles in and was again a marquee check point offering salad and quiche and tea, coffee and puddings. Quiche went down well but I couldn’t quite appreciate the salads. Off again, in drizzle now to Shinagag, passing several Duke of Edinburgh expeditioners on the way. Navigation wasn’t too difficult though crossing the broken bridge over the ravine was challenging. I opted to scramble across the burn instead as I thought any falls would be gentler! It was easier though wet! On the way into Shinagag check point, I got a text from my eldest daughter Kathy. She’d threatened to send me texts containing the words of songs. Her idea was that I’d get the words in my head, sing the song, and generally be distracted from any aches and pains. First up was ging gang gooly, gooly, gooly gooly whatsa ging gang goo, ging gang goo……….(sing along now!)
From Shinagag the route headed across the moors for a mile or so on some easy tracks before descending for a good couple of miles into Blair Atholl. Beans on toast on offer here but I settle for a couple of slices of toast and some running company with Pauline. We were chatting so much along the river path that we nearly missed the route. I switched back to concentrate mode and enjoyed this very scenic section with several follies on the way. At Calvine, I tried a plate of cold pasta but decided against it eating some sultanas instead. Ken then kept me company along the flat, old A9 section to head into Dalnacardoch. A quick cup of soup and a sandwich later, I stopped at the car to put blister plasters on some hot spots and dress up for the weather. It was properly dark now, and the rain was starting in earnest. Fiona was chumming me on this section while Ken and Pauline were heading off to get some sleep in Kinloch Rannoch. In the end, it was far too wet for them to put up the tent and they dosed uncomfortably in the car instead. Meanwhile, Fiona and I trudged along the tarmac road for a couple of miles before going cross county at Maud Loch heading to Errochty Dam. I had reccied all of this section so I knew roughly where I was meant to go even if I couldn’t see any landmarks. Some very helpful marshal had placed red and white hazard tape at intervals along the route. That was a very welcome confidence booster. When we reached Errochty Dam, there was a kit check. I got off lightly by being asked to show my compass which was tied to the front of my rucksack and in regular use. Others had to show their bivvy bag or first aid kit, usually from the bottom of the rucksack. The weather by now was truly foul and a great number of people pulled out here. Marshalls were advising people to proceed only if they felt strong enough and were well enough equipped for poor conditions. Luckily Fiona and I were so we carried on. When we left the lochside path, we had a couple of miles to go on rough, boggy terrain before reaching an unmanned checkpoint. We got stuck behind a small group. The lead walker had clearly reccied the route and was rallying his small group. He didn’t seem too pleased to have us tuck in behind but equally, didn’t move aside to let us pass. He made sure everyone knew that he knew where he was going and we all reached the flashing red light marking the self checker at the same time. After that, Fiona and I left the group behind and we made our way uphill for another mile. A deer fence had recently been installed and the ground underfoot was churned up and ankle sucking mud. It seemed to take forever – during which time day broke and the rain stopped - before we reached the top of the col. Apparently, we were then meant to descend on faint path for 0.75 miles on initial bearing 140°, later bending round to 175o, to reach track beside the main burn (track not shown on OS map) and cairn. I covered this section in daylight in a recce when the ground was snow covered, and then again in daylight on the event, and on neither occasion did I find the faint path on the bearing and nor did I find the first cairn. After a bit of stumbling about (with no one in front to follow!) we tucked behind some other walkers till we found the large cairn and after that the descent in KR was straightforward. I realised on arrival that I was a bit ahead of schedule but planned to press on anyway. I put dry socks on from my drop bag but didn’t bother changing shoes as I knew I still had another 7 miles of bog to go. Robin from Perth had offered to come up for 5am to chum me on this section. Luckily, he decided to get there early and was ready to go with me after breakfast. We must have been on our way by 4.15 ish. Again, I had reccied this next section over the flanks of Schielhallion and more or less knew what was coming. It was a hard slog over burns, bog and heather. When I sunk 18” into a drainage ditch, (and had to crawl out fulfilling my promise to run, walk or crawl the route!), Robin picked the way for me calling out when he spotted another drainage ditch. Pheiginn Bothy was warm and welcoming with a log fire and candles burning on the mantelpiece but I managed not to linger. Another steady descent to the flat road section to Fortingall and Ken and the crew met me at Keltneybridge for a shoe change and I switched from trails to road shoes. There was still a climb to go out of Aberfeldy but I knew the running surface was fine from here. At Fortingall village hall, the LDWA checkpoint staff apologised to me for not being well enough manned up to provide waitress service!!!!. Pauline was chumming me on this section and we soon crossed the narrow suspension bridge and headed into the Tay forest. When I arrived at the next checkpoint, the Sunday papers were waiting along with tea, coffee and sandwiches. As the marshal clipped my tally card, he said, ‘so you’re Sue Walker’. I was a bit puzzled but headed off. A mere 150 yards down the hill, I saw the reason for his comment. There was my sister Trish and daughter, Lizzy, together with a guiding friend Helen with a poster attached to a tree. The poster had been made to support me by Helen’s brownies in Rosyth. I saw the poster another 3 or 4 times over the next few miles. What a fantastic boost. Pauline, ’encouraged’ me to trot along the riverside path into Aberfeldy. It is a very scenic, flat path but the miles seemed to elongate. I had to stop to take some paracetamol as I had a pain in my knee. Even worse, though, was the toothache I was experiencing. That forced me to inhale paracetamol every 4 hours till I finished. (Wisdom teeth are all getting extracted in mid June and I sorely need it). At least the pain in my jaw was distracting me from running aches. Then we crossed over General Wade’s bridge and into the Scout and Guide hall in Aberfeldy - very apt given the cause and the company I had (Fiona and Pauline had been in Helen’s guide unit at one point and Val was a Queen’s Guide!)
Val chummed me from Aberfeldy up that endless climb on forest tracks to Loch Kinnard. My tummy was a bit upset here so Val didn’t have the cheeriest of running companions then. Once at Loch Kinnard, I knew the worst of the climbs were over. The remaining 10 or so miles was lumpy rather than hilly though the pace was fairly slow. We bumped into WHW runner Andy Cole on the forest tracks. He was keeping things nice and steady in preparation for this year’s WHW. Pauline and Ken drove on ahead to Dunkeld and walked back through the Hermitage to meet Fiona and me and escort us in. We must have looked a very odd posse as we made our approach to Dunkeld. The sun was out, kids were playing tennis in the park as we crossed under the A9 and finally crossed the bridge and ran into the square in Dunkeld. As I entered the Drill hall in Dunkeld to surrender my tally for the final time, the tally clipper rang a hand bell and everyone present gave me a round of applause. What a welcome for each finisher. Robin and his wife Ann had come out to Dunkeld from Scone to see me finish, and the sense of relief and achievement when I finished was immense.
I really can’t thank my fantastic runner supporters enough – Ken, Fiona, Pauline, Gail, Helena, Steven, Robin and Val; my sister Trish and daughter Lizzy and Helen and her brownies for their support en route.
When I eventually downloaded Garmin info (I used my own and Pauline’s and recharged them in between), I covered 108.4 miles and 15,200 feet of climb in a time of 32:23. I started just before 10am on Saturday and finished well before dark on Sunday at 6:20pm.
I didn’t manage to get my report finished quickly, as after a couple of days R&R, I then mucked in with all the final preparations for our guide camp. I’m back now from a weekend of celebrations with 2000 members of Girlguiding Fife, including 400 campers. We had a ball.
Thank you to everyone for their support – both practically, via messages and by sponsoring me on my just giving site,here
On the run I ate jam sandwiches, marmite rolls, quiche, Tuc biscuits, jaffa cakes, fruit pastilles, custard, rice crispie cake, rice pudding, mints, sultanas, maltesers, tablet, porridge. I drank Nunn juice, tea, coffee and soup.
Sue Walker June 2010