Monday 18 September 2023

Glenmore 24 My 100th Ultra

Glenmore 24 just didn’t happen to be my 100th Ultra, it took around a year in the planning, last year it was my 92nd ultra and after Glen Ogle33 I squeezed in a couple extra at the end of 2022 with the Dava Way and the Shale Trail, which I thoroughly enjoyed, to make it a possibility. So in January with all roads leading to Milngavie I did the Falkirk 7 hour, the John Muir Way 50km and the Moray Coastal Trail 50 miler in my build up to the West Highland Way Race. After another successful run I slid seamlessly from recovery to taper with one lovely long run of around 26 miles with Sue from the Glencoe Ski Centre to Fort William a month beforehand. How lovely it was to run Lairig Mhor without eighty odd miles in the legs! I felt that my year has gone well so far and I made it no secret that I was aiming for 100 miles in my 100th Ultra, I put no pressure on myself though. It would just be brilliant if it happened, but as long as I managed 7 laps, 28 miles, it was mission accomplished. 

This year Sue was making her debut at 24 hours, Pauline was doing the 12 hour and in support we had our trusty crew of Ken, Gillian, Val and Allan.

photo from Donna Wallace

For the first time since 2012 I wasn’t sleeping in the Hayfield on Friday night. We had a holiday home in Aviemore from Friday to Tuesday. It did feel like I was cheating a bit sleeping in a proper bed the night before but I’m sure I could handle the guilt! We did go along for some of the Where’s Wally/Lois shenanigans. 

photo from Sylvia McGoldrick

On Saturday morning we got our stuff set up in our shelter and went over our final instructions with Ken, Val and Gillian, Allan took the opportunity to head up to Inverness for the Pars and Caley Thistle game. At 11.30am Bill did the race briefing and just as he was finishing, he called Lorna and myself forward to say that we were both running our 100th ultra and gave me a wee award for having completed 1000 Glenmore miles.

We assembled at the start just before noon, Bill called for the runners to move forward to the start, there was a gap of a good few yards between the start line and runners, nobody moved, on the second call, still no one moved, Pauline, Sue and myself were standing well back behind the fast guys and I laughed when Pauline said “Right! Come on! Let’s stand on the line!” We moved wide after we were set off, so we weren’t trampled by the racing snakes. 

In 2011 I gave each mile a name, the lumpy bumpy mile, a twisty narrow path with a few rough bits under foot, then the long mile, a wide flatish forest track that I try to run it all, then the uphill mile and the downhill mile. I have a simple formula for pacing 100 miles at Glenmore, run the first 5 laps (20 miles) in 4 hours when you’re fresh and spritely then as long as you keep a fine steady lap an hour, it’s mission accomplished. Easy said, but putting it into practice is not always so easy, and although this was my 14th 24 hour race it was also my 32nd race with a minimum 24 hours, I mentioned this a few days before the race to Pauline she instantly replied that I should’ve been faster for my West Highland Way Races then!  Oh well, never mind, at least all that experience of time on feet would hold me in good stead when things got challenging. Which happened sooner than I would’ve liked! Very early in fact! I usually feel it takes about four laps to settle into my groove and it was only the second lap I felt a wee bit of a stitch and I could feel the bottle belt I was using was making my tummy feel sore, so I swapped to the race vest, I didn’t panic, I would just ease right back, there was plenty time for my tummy to settle. 
photo from Colin Knox
Plot spoiler, my stomach never really got better, some laps were a wee bit easier than others and it turns out I’m a gold medalist in the dry boak category, the down hill aggravated my tummy but I wasn’t wasting the gift of gravity and always ran down the hill. I adjusted my race plan from aiming at a target to aiming for a finish. I focused on good posture, resisting the urge to curl over and be a shuffling sack o’ tatties, keeping my hips forward letting them lead the way, shoulders down and relaxed with my shoulder blades resting easy like Angel’s wings on my back, head up and staying light on my feet. Suffering is a choice and not an option on my tick list! I would do what I could with the body I have on the day. I won’t dwell on what was not to be and enjoy my beautiful surroundings with the best of company around me, telling myself that if it got really bad I could stop at 7 laps, right? “Aye, right! In all my years of running races I’ve never DNF’d yet, it’s not going to happen today either!” shouted back my inner voice.  

Lorna and I were together for over a lap and it was lovely to reminisce over the races we have done,

Lorna said that she had totalled all her ultra race miles, I hadn’t thought to do that but I will now. It was a gorgeously warm and sunny day, maybe a wee bit warm for some but I like it that way, I’m usually such a cauld tattie, and in a race of this length I always feel that if you’re too hot you’re going too fast!  It was a pleasure being back on route in the magic of Glenmore and adding to the 252 laps I’ve done over the previous years, it never stops being special. Also the only race where it’s not surprising to see a Gorilla or a Penguin on a bike! Shame I didn’t have my camera with me on those laps!

One lap I felt I was on my own for all of it and wondered Where was everybody?  Next lap I found them and had loads of wee blethers, it’s lovely on a lapped course where everyone’s different pace can bring you together at times. 

I had a plan written for what I’d pick up to eat each lap, timing pasta or soup around tea time, supper time, and generally choosing between custard, rice pudding, milkshakes the rest of the time, sometimes it was quite difficult to say a lap in advance of what I fancied next lap but when Val asked me what I’d like next time I said “A mug of tea and a couple of custard creams.”  She looked a bit perplexed, asking if they were in my food bag. “No!” was my wistful reply, I didn’t have any, but that’s just what I would like! Oh well, never mind, just custard it is then! 

I did have one Diva strop, we were using a wee red box placed at the top of the Hayfield just before you head out onto the big lap for dropping food stuff taken round base camp so our support didn’t have to hoof up to the top to take it from us each time, they could pick them up at their convenience. I have rules for 24 hour races, I do not sit down and I do not stop to eat. but with my dodgy guts I wasn’t eating very much each lap but made sure I was having at least half a pot of rice pudding, custard etc. and putting it in the box to be picked up again and hopefully finish it the next lap. Early in the evening I insisted that our support make a “No Rubbish!” sign and put it on our drop box, since some manky basturt was using it for their rubbish. Seeing a lump of orange peel that someone has slobbered on next to my mug set the red lights flashing on my boak-o-meter which was on a high setting as it was! Bleurgh! 

photo from Donna Wallace
Allan was back from the football bringing pizza for the crew, evening drew on, I picked up my head-torch and another layer, next time round my iPod. There was no fiery sunset over the loch this year but I did catch a glimpse of the sun's embers through the trees on the downhill mile. The sky had clouded over so at least the temperature didn’t drop below zero, on the Thursday before the race there was a full moon and it was still huge casting silvery light around. On one lap it hung in the centre between the tall trees on the uphill mile and my playlist, just by magic, played Runrig’s Running to the Light, that made me smile and my heart happy.  

Pauliine finished at midnight covering 50 miles in the 12 hours on naff all training (ya cannae hide class). She and Allan headed back to the house for the luxury of a good night’s sleep in a proper bed.

I was wanting to take some paracetamol so I thought I better try and get something a bit more substantial in for them to land on, I was standing in front of our shelter having a fight between swallowing some rice pudding and heaving, Val gave me strict instruction not to throw up on the table or even in front of it! Gillian quipped “You’re not really enjoying that, are you?” 

“Naw!” I swallowed my effervescent paracetamol and caffeine with one eye shut, a screwed up face and shudder of my shoulders! A bit of a pallaver but it will get me round another lap. 

Run when I could, walk the uphills and lumpy terrain, sing along to my tunes, and just keep moving forward.  How much longer is it going to be dark? I was having a real struggle keeping awake, my head would nod! Right, eyes open, march on, I’m awake, then my head would jerk up, I’d nodded off again! Lois saved me, catching me up, we stayed together chatting the sleep away until we could switch off our head-torches. Dawn at last, yay, you always perk up with the sunrise. 

With just less than four hours to go I looked at how many big laps I could fit in, I didn’t fancy a whole hour on the wee laps also I didn’t want to be panicking a push to squeeze in an extra big lap, if I could up my effort a wee bit I’d be fine for three big laps and around half an hour on the wee laps, that sounds like a stress free plan and would give me 23 big laps of 92 miles. Just 3 more laps until the finish, I could start counting down, managing to bring my lap split down by almost 10 minutes a lap.

photo from Donna Wallace

Another big boost, Allan and Pauline were back, bringing bacon rolls for the team and a packet of custard creams for me! Yaay! You cannae beat dunking custard creams in a mug of tea to put a smile on your face, I’ll be having them in my adventure supplies from now on!  

Final big lap, I say cheerio to all my favourite bits, a wee bit sad that I won’t see them again until next year but also really glad that I’ll get to stop soon, I’m back in the Hayfield with around 35 minutes left. I think of one more wee target, if I can get 3 miles that will give me West Highland Way distance. Pauline shouts to me “12 laps will give you a West Highland Way!” Ha, ha, great minds and all that! I threw my race vest under the table at our shelter, I won’t be needing anything now except my determination. Work up the hill and the best way down is to let gravity take me and fly, picking the straightest line without crashing into anyone going down at a sensible pace. Ada shouted “Go on Fiona, show them how it’s done!” I keep the momentum I’ve gathered for as long as possible, working my elbows, round the bottom of the field, breathing like an old donkey, back up the hill and flying down again!  I lose count of the laps but Pauline keeps me right! One more, one more, one more. I didn’t hear the horn climbing the hill but I saw Donald waving his arms to signal the finish and I pushed my tent peg with my number into the ground and stood still. I decide not to lie down, it would be too hard to get back up, Val walked over to meet me and we made our way back to our stuff, I sat down for the first time in 24 hours and didn't quite know what to do with myself, a mug of tea and more custard creams was trying to help, but not before I let out the biggest burp all the way from my boots, at that precise moment Martin Butcher leaned over my shoulder to give me a hug!! I was mortified! My apologies Martin! 

315 Ultras between us
At the prizegiving, Ada was announcing everyone’s distance as they were awarded their medal and beer. Did I do enough wee laps for 95 miles? Wahay! 95.05 miles! That’ll do!

I was well chuffed and really pleased for Sue in her debut covering 95.45 miles also having a bit of a battle with her belly. 

Finally my stomach felt settled, but not until later on Sunday night after I’d had a shower, a wee sleep before we went out for our meal and a big bowl of Cullen Skink and a couple of pints of Dark Ness did the job! 

Thank you Bill, every marshal, every supporter and all the runners for making it another wonderful year of running round in circles.  I have now completed a grand total of 1125.45 miles with 275 laps and 24.46 miles on the wee laps.  

Here’s how it all adds up

2011  108 miles, there were no wee laps for the first year 

2012  109.01 miles, 1st Female

2013  25.45 miles, a 6 hour special just for me post mouth cancer treatment

2014  89.56 miles 

2015  107.35 miles

2016  103.26 miles

2017  102.04 miles 

2018  102.61 miles

2019  103.36 miles 

2021  98.02 miles

2022  82.75 miles, 5 days post covid infection

2023  95.05 miles 

Next year's target has kind of set itself, I’ll be aiming for 101.75 miles. This  will round up my big laps to 300 and give me marathon distance on the wee ones!  Sounds like a great plan to me! 

I’ve just added up all my ultra race miles and I’ve covered 5643 miles. I've been a serial offender at races I enjoy. 17 West Highland Way Races, 8 Highland Flings, and between them both I’ve covered over 2000 miles on the beautiful Way. 

11 of the 14 24 hour races I’ve done have been at Glenmore,  I’ve had the honour of representing Scotland twice at 24 hours and brought home a team Bronze Medal at the Commonwealth Championships Mountain and Ultra in 2009 with fellow Carnegie Harriers, Pauline and Lynne. 

Scotland 24 hour team with Don Ritchie photo from Alan Young

photo from Alan Young

Not all my race mementos are medals or crystal, a post it note of congratulations from Don Ritchie is cherished too.

I've covered 347.12 miles round The Inches at Perth during 2 24 hour races, a 100km and 2 50km races. 

9 Glen Ogle 33

6 Two Bridges, 7 Glenrothes 50km, sadly both of them are no longer around. 

Not counting the Fling or the 100km I’ve done another 3 races of around 50 miles/12 hours and a 48 hours on a 400 metre track and another 32 races of around 50km.  

I have absolutely no inclination of retiring, I might have a bus pass but I am not old!  You only get old when you stop running! 

Tuesday 27 June 2023

West Highland Way Race 2023

My training this year went really well, nothing was a struggle and I even felt comfortable running the Isle of Skye Half Marathon the week before the race at an easy pace in 27C, perfect prep. with the weather forecast.

Ken and Sue’s daughter’s wedding clashed with the race so I had new recruits in the crew for this year doing split shifts. The plan was for Pauline and Val to do the first half using Allan’s car which was used throughout for support, then Allan coming up mid-afternoon in Val’s car bringing Gillian, and new to the team, Jon. Neil after seeing us off in Milngavie went home for a good night's sleep before returning later to run with me from Glencoe. 

We arrived in Milngavie before it got busy, I registered among hugs and wee catch ups, I didn’t hang about too long and went back to the car to chill. I was calm with an inner smile anticipating the adventure. With around 40 minutes before the start I went back into the church to use the loo, and for the first time ever in nearly 40 years of running races, I walked straight into the Ladies while there was a huge queue at the Gents! Equality at last!

Ian and Sean gave the briefing, and at 1.00am we were off! WOOOOHOOO! Carefully up the steps, I tend not to think negativity but imagine if you tripped here!  A big daft grin, absorbing the cheers and applause lining the street and turning down into Mugdock,

I kept my eyes focussed on the path. It doesn't bear thinking about having a stupid race ending stumble here. There’s wee bits of chatter as we all try to settle into our pace. It was really warm, I was brave and didn’t have gloves on or carry them, although I was still in long tights and top (folks that know me are used to seeing me in the runners equivalent of a Duffle coat). Within the trees there was no breeze and I even had a wee touch of sweat on the side of my face, it really must have been warm!  

I had company along the narrow path by Drumgoyne to Gartness; the excited chatter was now replaced by companionable silence as we all settled into our own groove. There were patches of light in the sky, it was fairly clear, with a hint of pink, and heading to Drymen the embers began to smoulder and build strength promising a glorious sunrise. Pauline and Val were in the field, I swapped my water bottle, took a pouch of custard and ditched my headtorch. It still wasn’t proper dawn but I could make out where to place my feet. I kept glancing over my right shoulder as I climbed Conic. I didn’t want to miss the moment when the sun crowned the hill, bringing its light and energy. 

Now it felt like a fresh new day and I settled into enjoying the adventure. Heading down towards Balmaha, I walked the new stone steps very carefully, it’s a steep descent with sharp stones, if you stumbled here your face has a long way to go before hitting the ground, with the chances of a serious head injury,
I wasn’t risking it, besides I was saving my quads for the swoop down to Kinlochleven and the massive haul up back out.

Pauline had walked a short way out from Balmaha with my tub of porridge so I could start shovelling it in before reaching Val at the car with my mug of tea, fresh water bottle and squishy fruit pouch, we swapped over like the 400 metre relay team, without breaking stride and Pauline walked with me towards Craigie Fort to take the mug from me once I’d had enough tea.  

I always love the path along to Rowardennan, through ancient woodland, listening to the birdsong, in my element, at one with nature, my pace flowing with the ups and downs of the terrain until Stumble, Splat, Ooft, Ooyah! Two guys beside me paused to make sure I was alright, telling me to take my time getting back up, but I was straight into “I’m ok!” mode, and was on my feet almost as quick as I went down. My right knee was a bit ouchy but no hole in my tights, a quick rub down to knock the stoor off, then I noticed my right arm had a deep gouge towards my elbow, “Oh dear, this is going to nip in the shower later!” Never mind, a good rub with an antiseptic wipe, let the fresh air at it and it will be fine. I walked a few strides making sure I really was ok before returning to the harmony of where I was and what I was doing. 

I arrived in Rowardennan just before 8.00am perfectly timing a costume change before the temperature rose.

Swapping my long-sleeved top and vest for a t-shirt, saying my clothes can go in a laundry bag except my vest, “Put in a quick wash and fast spin please. I want to wear it at the finish!”. Val spun it round and round in the air for a bit, that’ll be that freshly laundered for later!

Pauline hauled my tights off, shorts on, a check on my knee, just a few wee scuffs, I put my feet on the stool, Pauline wiped down my feet, applied Body Glide, and put my fresh socks on for me, while I spooned in a tub of rice pudding, Val rubbed Sunscreen on the back of my neck, arms and legs, Pauline noticed my bashed arm and offered another antiseptic wipe, and asking where I fell. “On the ground!” was my reply,  I was happy to give them a laugh as I declined the offer, the one stingy wipe I used earlier was fine thank you. (I think the answer Pauline was looking for was, “Near the Milarrochy Tree.” A slick transition second to none, I was back on the trail within 10 minutes. 

On my schedule I wasn’t due to arrive in Auchtertyre for around seven or eight hours so Val and Pauline could head off for a bit of down-time and breakfast before going to the checkpoint. 

The road from Drymen to Balloch was closed for repairs so Val and Pauline drove round by Callander, it was only around 9 miles/15 minutes longer and a lot less stressful than squeezing by the tour buses on the narrow, winding A82, I believe this will be the route of choice from now on. Even after 20 years of supporting, crews never stop learning, they even had time for a tea-break and a stroll in Callander. A relaxed and rested crew is a successful crew bringing the best out in their runner too. 

I tootled along the lochside not worrying about the slow pace, there’s not a lot of running going on, I stick in a few paces when I can, the scrambling, big steps up, over and down the rough, eroded path holding on to boulders and trees gives your running legs a rest and stretch. At Inversaid I pocketed a sachet of baby mac’n’cheese, and downed a wee bottle of flat coke from my drop-bag, I noticed Neil was standing at a table, eating crisps. In my book, that’s faffing, you can eat them on the move. “Come On!” I say as I go by, it’s not long before he catches up, he’s been have a rough patch and says he’s retiring after this year, of course, I dismiss this as the low point talking, we were more or less together all the way to Beinglas, it was a bit special, this was the most we’ve managed to chum each other in the process of earning thirty-four Goblets between us. 

At Beinglas Julia and Chris Finill were there. It was a marvellous surprise to see them, and generous for Chris to take time out of his JOGLE to wish me well, it was technically a rest day for him but he had run along from Crianlairich to Beinglas to see me through, he’s not using the easiest or shortest route but working through the prettiest route having already come along the Great Glen Way and now heading down the West Highland Way on his way south, although Chris is not focussing on speed during his challenge he is no stranger to it, having represented GB at 24 hours and a London Marathon ever present also a Guinness Record holder for having run 33 consecutive sub 3 hour London marathons. 

It was a lovely boost to see old friends, and I set off smiling. It was now after midday, still very warm although there were hazy light clouds preventing the sun beating down, I kept a steady pace so as not to get too hot in what was possibly the warmest time of day as I made my way past Derrydarroch and not coo poo alley, I wholehearted approve of the veritable carpet of that path improvement now compared to the old days! Then into the trees of the roller-coaster and on to cross the road, where, thankfully I didn’t have to wait too long until the traffic cleared enough for me to scurry across.

I nipped into the toilet at Auchtertyre, it was lovely to use a proper loo, be all civilised and have a wee freshen up, washing my face in cool water from a running tap was so refreshing before going to the checkpoint and having my big squishy hug with Robin.

Again Pauline and Val were ready for me, I was looking forward to my soup and new shoes! Technically not brand new shoes, but a change is as good as a rest, the two pairs I was wearing this year were the same two pairs I wore last year and still in good condition, I'm fairly light on my feet and get a lot more wear from my shoes than manufacturers advise. I see no need to change what isn’t broken. I enjoyed my cream of chicken soup heated to perfect temperature with a wee sprinkle of salt. (I don’t usually add any but it has been warm.)

photo - Ben Hopkin
Now over halfway, fed, with a clean face and fresh feet I was in fine fettle and had Pauline for company. Wahey, let the fun continue! 

It was great to blether and run with Pauline and find out news on how others were faring. At Tyndrum the fresh crew had arrived. Allan and Val swapped cars, Gillian was now in charge, with Allan, Jon and Neil following orders. 

Along to Bridge of Orchy Pauline and I were with Donna and her support, Sylvia for a wee while, Donna was having a bit of struggle at that point and looked fairly uncomfortable but Sylvia wasn’t taking any nonsense and kept Donna moving forwards, Sylvia wasn’t taking a no from me either, having noticed my scabby elbow insisted I should have a couple of dressings on it and slapped some on despite me saying it was fine. Good call, thanks Sylvia, my long sleeved top didn’t stick to my bashed bits when I put it on later.

Val was at Bridge of Orchy waiting to pick up Pauline from her running stint before they finally stood down and headed to our accommodation in Fort Bill for a well deserved relaxing evening, starting with a shower, a “ping” dinner, a bottle of wine ( I didn’t know they were having wine until the following day but I wouldn’t have grudged them, it was well deserved) and a comfy bed. A crew's first priority is to look after themselves and not run themselves ragged looking after their runner, support have the hardest job!  

At the checkpoint I had two courses, finishing what was left of my chicken soup, then some rice pudding for dessert and the pièce de résistance, my first mug of coffee in over three weeks! (I’ve been doing this for a number of years now and almost guarantees I fly up Rannoch Moor!)  

Now with mug in hand and Allan for company, we head up and over Jelly Baby hill, Mike is doing a grand job with his Jelly Babies, it’s a long shift. Thanks for being there.

It’s not very runnable, either up or down, on the descent to Inveroran the path was just dust and loose stones, with brief moments of unintentional skitey scree running, not the best moves when I was still trying to save my quads for later! Once on the tarmac we shuffled a run to Victoria Bridge, Gillian and Jon were waiting with some more of my rice pudding,

Gillian swapped with Allan and was coming with me over Rannoch Moor. It is a long gradual slog of a climb with more of a march-with-purpose than running. It was great to catch up since we haven’t seen each other in ages. When we weren't too far away from the steeper climb towards the Peter Fleming Cairn I was delighted to see Donna looking strong and moving smoothly as she went past us. I didn't doubt she’d come through her difficult patch. 

Once past the Cairn I have a wee giggle to myself heading down to the Glencoe Ski Resort, anticipating my sweary rant at the path that deviates from the West Highland Way route to the checkpoint. Before 2010 Kingshouse was the checkpoint, but with more runners and support crews it made perfect sense to move it up to the Glencoe Centre with loads more space for crews to park but I do like my wee traditions and insulting that pile of rubble that masquerades as a path is one of them! 

I’m not a fan of deviating from the racing line and insist on my crew parking as close to the checkpoint at the bottom of the car park as possible, I see no point in wandering up the incline just to come back down afterwards, but since I was planning to change from my t-shirt and shorts to long-sleeves and capri length tights, it made sense to head up to the cafe rather than stand and strip down to my underwear in a chilly car park also the use a proper loo would be good too. Gillian and I headed up with a handful of fresh clothes and were puzzled to not be able to find the toilets, I didn’t realise they had moved since the fire destroyed the building in December 2019. A huge arrow pointed to the repositioned lavvies! Yes, back down the hill and practically level with where we were parked!  Aw fer fu..faff.fu..fuffetyitfeck!  Oh, well, never mind, it was nice to get changed in a warm environment before heading back to the car, I sat in the chair having my Beef Broth while Gillian did my feet with strict instruction from Pauline to floss between my toes with a wet wipe (there is no benefit for me in this process but crew get to laugh at me squirm) before applying Body Glide and fresh socks. This was my third and final sock change. It was worth the couple of minutes each time to proactively have my feet pampered, I finished with just one small blister on the side of my left big toe. 

Neil was ready to go with me as soon as I was sorted, we needed our head torches on leaving after that major faff, it’s been a good few years since it was a goal to be over the Devil’s Staircase before needing to put a torch on, but I’m not disappointed, I’m still here and moving well. Another tradition of mine is to wear the same blue fleece from Glencoe since I first wore it during my PB in 2007, it’s full of good vibes, although this year it was just tied round my waist, the weather never got cold enough to put it on. Neil and I had a fine steady pace blethering all the way up and over the Devil’s Staircase and “Are we here already!” Was something I never thought I’d hear myself say crossing the bridge before the wee climb towards Kinlochleven. 

At the checkpoint I got my big hug from Julie and my team had my porridge ready, it was placed on a comfy seat, “Oh, I don’t want to sit down!” Julie clocked me with my arse on the chair but it was only for the few minutes it took my shovel in a pot of porridge, she knows I don’t do sit down.  My stomach was starting to do the Do-I-feel-sick-or-hungry thing.  Best thing is to give it something to help make up its mind. Neil and I didn’t need our head torches when we left, and I’m afraid I never noticed if there was a gorgeous sunrise this morning. It was head down and haul myself up the longest climb on the West Highland Way, my watch dinged a mile split, 34 minutes!  “Ooft, as fast as that!”, I’m glad I looked after my quads getting here and took a mental note to do more hill work in future. 

Along Lairig Mor the quality of my chat took a nosedive but Neil’s made up for it, as much as my guts felt like they were going through rough seas. My legs were making good headway, pulling it in.  I just slowly sipped a banana and honey milkshake. The breeze was on our backs, we were so lucky with the weather this year. Others might disagree but for me it was just perfect, it was a first for me wearing shorts and t-shirt in the1600 plus miles of my running this race!  

At Lundavra I usually have a mug of hot chocolate with added coffee but I’m glad I had the foresight to say at Kinlochleven I didn’t think I’d manage it and can I have a mug of Horlicks instead, and I went through the final checkpoint the same way as the first, without breaking stride, although I was a lot less spritely, if I paused now, it would be difficult to get going again. 

The last leg has some climbs and descents, and what once upon a time was known to us as the spooky woods, became a scarred and barren landscape after the trees were harvested, and a few years later its green growth is now lush, fresh and vibrant. I’ve seen a few changes over the years and I try to embrace them all as the route evolves, but Hell’s bells and buckets of blood!  What's with all the work on the loooong descent of the fire road down to the Braveheart car park? Didn’t they know there was a race on? Surely the repairs and “improvements” of the track could’ve waited until after mid June! At least it has a year to bed down before I’m on it again.  Pauline and Val had walked out from Braveheart to meet us and see us through. We had a long striding smooth walk with a good cadence over all the loose chucky stones down to the road. Just before Pauline got back in the car to drive to the finish, her parting shot was Graham isn’t too far ahead if I wanted to try and catch him. Ha, ha, Pauline had always been more competitive than me, I wasn’t biting, we’re all just finishing our own race, in our own way. 

Once on the pavement, I found my running legs for the final mile and a half-ish to the Nevis Centre, Neil stayed by my side until we approached the road crossing, he put on a spurt to press the button, stopping the traffic so I was able to cross taking a diagonal line over without losing momentum. my head up, elbows working a strong stride, full steam ahead, my finishing sprint in full flow. Just before the train station we saw Graham walking ahead with a full complement of Haddington runners, luckily one of them saw me and instigated a run, I giggled as I thought  “Wahey, well done Graham! Keep it up or get out the way, I’m at ramming speed!” I’m glad to say he pushed on.  

Round the station, past the buses, across the car park and along the side of the Nevis Centre and into the hall.

Arms aloft!  WOOOOO!  Straight into the arms of Ruth, she held me tight until my emotions were under control.

I was surprised to be told I was the first person to complete 17 West Highland Way Races, Wow! I thought Neil had finished, the last time I saw him he was ahead going into Glencoe, but he wasn’t too long in bringing home his 17th Goblet.  I was glad to see him come in before we headed to our accommodation for a lovely long shower followed by breakfast. Robin joined us and treated me to my scrambled egg on toast. The breakfast of champions and those who knew they needed to eat something but weren't sure what.  

The prizegiving was the special family gathering of love and support that can’t easily be put into words. Cheers, hugs, tears and Goblets.

34 Goblets between us
This year there were 171 Goblets presented, with the ceremony brought to a close with the first finisher (16.35.31 hours) presenting the final finisher (34.22.17 hours) with their Goblet. Each one going home to pride of place on a mantelpiece or cabinet. They may be given to individuals but were earned by a dedicated team willing to give up their time to enable dreams to be realised.  Thank you to each and everyone of you for helping me celebrate what I have achieved. I can't do it without you. From Ian and his core team who is probably still winding up the final details of this year before starting organising next year. Every medic, marshal and volunteer, making sure all the runners get through checkpoints safely.  Also every individual support crew, looking out for not just their own runner but willing to help others.

Finally to my crew, Pauline, Val, Allan, Gillian, Jon and Neil, you all pandered to my Diva Demands, taking loads of photos and giving me more memories to cherish… What are you doing next year? 

Monday 22 May 2023

Moray Coastal Trail 50

At the beginning of the year, I was looking for an ultra to make a good long run before this year’s West Highland Way Race, and the Moray Coastal 50 looked promising, I was a wee bit concerned with just five weeks between the two races, it might be a wee bit too close for me, but looking at the route, it’s awfy bonnie, isn’t too technical underfoot with no monster climbs, also a generous time limit of 16 hours. Sue was eyeing it up too, so we entered. 

After watching Debbie and Kyle’s race briefing a few days before the race, the description of  the route didn’t mean anything to me, so I decided to put the GPX file on my watch. I've never done this before but thought it might be useful since I’m not familiar with the area or been on the route before. As much as I’ve had a watch with all the bells and whistles for quite a while, I tend to just press go when I start and stop when I finish, so I suppose it’s good to get the hang of some of the technology available to me, but I don’t have the inclination to find out what all the numbers blurb on the app mean, I’ve been running to feel for thirty-eight years, and I’m not going to let a whippersnapper attached to my wrist tell me how to run!  But what I do love about having a clever watch is after a run, being able to look at a map of where I’ve been, then the route makes sense to me. 

We had accommodation in Portknockie and arrived early Friday afternoon, in time to have lunch in Cullen (of course it was Cullen Skink! My favourite).

We had a wee walk around the Bow Fiddle Rock and harbour to stretch the legs, and a wee practice of getting the gist of the GPX on my watch, then a chilled out evening, (just one Guinness)  before preparing for an early start, a 4.00am alarm, loads of porridge, Ken was happy (or pretended he was) to get up early and drive us to Forres for the 6.00am registration. I tried to keep the faffing to a minimum before a 7.00am start.   

It was a misty morning and Windy Wilson promised a roasty toasty day for most of Scotland so hopefully it will burn off soon and we’ll be working on our runners tan. 

A lone piper in the mist set the scene for the start of a race. After a few words from Kyle, we were sent on our way.

photo from Stuart Ross
The first 6-ish miles were on tarmac, Ken was at Findhorn to give us a wave before he headed off for some Cullen Skink and a round of golf at Cullen.  

Sue and I have done a lot of long runs together and are fairly evenly matched pace wise but during races we tend to do our own thing with no pressure on each other to keep up if one of us is running well, but for this, our plan was to run together just having a grand day out, tourists on the hoof. From Findhorn I felt we were settling into the race, now scampering through dunes, it was lovely to see the piper again.

What a beautiful route, with a meander through forest trails to the first aid station with our drop bags,
then on through coastal villages, bonny beaches, cliff top paths with the haar coming and going between the sunshine.

It never got really roasty toasty although my arm warmers came off and my sleeves folded up, with the damp air and a gentle breeze, it was pretty much perfect conditions for running. 

It wasn’t too difficult following the route but on occasion it would’ve been nice to have a reassuring race marker. Sue kept the navigation on her watch face, on mine, I had total time and distance, with a wee green arrow pointing the route direction when I held my watch level. It gave us peace of mind that we were heading the right way but with a race where you more or less kept the sea on your left, we shouldn’t get horribly lost.

After picking up our second drop bag at Lossiemouth and going over the bridge we were a bit dubious we were going the right way but Roberta, the roving marshal on her bike put our minds at rest,

photo from Roberta Walker

it was a vast beach in the haar and lovely to follow her tyre tracks in the hard packed sand before heading on the section described by Debbie and Kyle during the race briefing as “three miles of hell!” I thought that sounded a bit harsh, but now that I’ve done it I can safely say it wasn’t my favourite bit! The sea has pushed the shingle so high you can’t see the sea, you’re trying to pick the best path through soft sand, shingle and tussocky grass by the side of the war time sea defences, huge concrete blocks and pill boxes. To occupy ourselves we counted the blocks and worked out that there’s around 500 every mile! Eventually we turned inland towards Garmouth and our third drop bag, then onto a recently resurfaced old railway path and across the river on the Spey Viaduct, a fine example of Victiorian engineering. 

Once heading back to the coast I remembered I had run this path before! It was a long time ago, in 1999 I made my debut at 50km, running the Speyside Way 50km, held in April finishing at the Spey Bay Hotel (now replaced by houses) and organised by Don Ritchie. I ran the race four times and 2004 was the last time for me, it was held one more time in 2005, I was entered but was a DNS, on the morning of the race while still at home getting my porridge ready, I had a brain haemorrhage, which scuppered a few more races that year but it wasn’t too long until I was back running, seven weeks to be precise, just a gentle saunter round the Skye Half Marathon.

The winding forest path from Spey Bay shows a lot of damage from Storm Arwen in 2021 but it’s still pretty, I think it was somewhere between Portgordon and Buckie we saw a dolphin! Wehay! That put a spring in our step! Sue and I were still tootling along nicely, just as well, there were a few wee cheeky climbs especially the one out of Findochty, short and sharp, but once up, a bonnie undulating scamper along to Portknockie and past the Bow Fiddle Rock, then I’m glad my legs were in fine fettle for the steps down to the beach and to the finish in Cullen.


Mission accomplished! A grand day out in stunning scenery, ok, we’ll need to go back to see the bits that were lost in the haar. But I loved it all! At no point did I weary or struggle, and finished feeling I had loads left in the tank. A perfect final long run before the West Highland Way Race. 
photo from Stuart Ross

Thank you Debbie, Kyle and all your cheery, enthusiastic marshals for putting on a great event. Also all the runners we had the pleasure to chat to en route, some doing their first ultra, well done, you picked a cracker for your debut!

For those with number OCD, it does measure a wee bit short of 50 miles, don’t let that put you off, it fairly makes up for it in stunning scenery, a beautiful route doesn’t need to conform.
Will I run it again? Yes! Definitely! Who’s coming with me?