Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Great Glen Way Ultra

Pancake flat with two hills at the end

For someone that's having the year 'off' running, it sure feels like I have been writing a few blog posts recently. And that year off is kind of how I entered the Great Glen Way Ultra. It was November but I hadn't got round to putting in my West Highland Way entry yet. I intended to but tend to leave most things in life to the last minute. Then one night, halfway through a feast of popcorn, breads, dips, chocolate, sweets and pizzas, Scott asked me where the Great Glen Way was. Knowledgeable as I am, I informed him that it ran from Fort William to Inverness. Was I running it? Well, you can't run both the West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way. So which one was I running? Now, I guess that was a good point. I'd never been on the Great Glen Way before and 72 miles without too much training seemed like a better idea than attempting 95. Ok, Great Glen it is. And then I was very excited. And then I did nothing to prepare myself for the impending challenge. MISTAKE.

  1. Two weeks ago I ran a sub-20 West Highland Way in a Johnny Fling suit. That sort of took it out of my legs a bit.

Now that we've got that covered, best to go on with the race itself. Johnny Fling VERY kindly drove Scott and I to Fort William on the Friday night after work. Despite his unusual taste in music, it was a pleasant journey in a crammed Citroen Berlingo where I attempted to get a bit of shut-eye time.  I was possibly the earliest to registration. A record achievement for me.
Twit, twoo
Due to unfortunate circumstances David Kiddell was unable to race and had a room at the Travelodge that I was able to use for a shower and get an hour or so nap before the race. Johnny Fling has a number of strengths but in my experience, time-keeping is possibly not one of them. I mean, he kept coming into the West Highland Way checkpoints far too early! We've agreed that he'll call me at about 12:15 to pick me up from the hotel at 12:30 for the 1am start. At 11:15 I am startled by a phone call saying that he is on his way. Panicked, I start grabbing at kit to get myself dressed. Flag breakfast, just decide on a bloody outfit! What time does the race start? Is that the wrong time? A phone call back to the Fling, followed by another half hour nap and then I am ready to go. Better that than the year that I set my alarm for the Fling (the actual race, not the dude) and ended up brushing my teeth in the toilet line and doing my hair en-route. I know, my hair!

Speaking of hair, I've gone for two braids. I haven't done that for a while. I actually don't want to wear them like that but it's happened. Julie Clark thinks two braids means business. I'm discussing a hairstyle change but everyone is already milling about the start line and I need to find a foil blanket so Scott talks me out of it. Then, as if it was all meant to be, I put on my headtorch. My headtorch has a strip that goes down the middle of my head. I HAVE to wear two braids with it. Ahhhh, I am a genius, I just hadn't realised.

Stevie Gildea takes the opportunity to send me a text message. He's supposed to be running today but he got injured whilst holiday running in Chamonix. Tough life. Essentially, it's a kick-up-the-arse text telling me to enjoy what I'm doing whilst not stuffing about too much. I now feel very nervous. I'm definitely going on a diet next week. Which hasn't started yet. But then, the week isn't over so there's still hope.

Race director Bill calls for a minute to go and some kind of countdown begins. I think that I need the bathroom. Yes, better use the bathroom. I ask Karen Donoghue for directions to the best cubicle and head on my way. I hear the starting horn, wash my hands with some lavender soap (why they always have lavender soap on the trails I do not know), powder my face a little and tear through the start line in last place. At least I'll not go backwards in the field.
Great Glen Way Ultra - start
When I entered the race I thought that it was a brilliant idea that I hadn't been on the route before. Now I realise that we are running alongside a canal that I don't know in the dark. I just make sure that someone is always on my left, between myself and the canal. For a while that person is Karen. During our conversation she mentions that there is another four mile flat canal segment further on in the race. Thankfully I remember this later... Then I speak to Pauline Walker who I don't initially recognise due to her ponytail and we get swept up with a group of runners (who may have been the notorious Irish group...)

Looking ahead at the runners with their headlights flashing over the water, it really is a nice place to be. Only when we enter a wooded area do I realise how poor my headtorches are. I've got two on but neither are projecting light. I've also got batteries in my bag but can't be bothered fannying about with them so I just hang tight behind another runner with a brilliant light. There are two women doing interval sprints. Is there a relay component that I've missed? I don't quite understand! I cannot remember their names but they know who they are. Hope that they are enjoying their 'unity' spot prize. Apparently it was 'nudity' but I was too naïve to think that it could have possibly been that.


Checkpoint 1 - 10 miles

Apologies for not knowing the checkpoint names throughout this post, as I was disorganised pre-race I didn't practice the names and therefore could never get any of them to stick in my Kiwi head.

Friday pre-race I attempted to get some race supplies from the supermarket. Warning, no supermarket in the central Edinburgh region is open at 5am. In fact, they don't open until 7am. Unbelievable. So I couldn't get any chocolate soya milk for my first dropbag and instead decided to put in my post-exercise recovery Osmo mix into almond milk. Genius really. I am not sure if Paul Giblin does that with his Osmo but he should. That might not be what you are meant to do with it either but maybe I am using it to recover from yesterdays day at work? Some days I feel like a professional wrestler.

Noanie is marshalling and offers to swap headtorches but I decline as it is already starting to get light.There are forestry tracks for a long time with stunning views over the loch. There was fog over the boats on the loch. With the atmosphere at the time, it felt like one of the most beautiful places I had been to. I want to take a picture but my hands are cold and can't work my phone. I didn't think that I would need gloves so haven't packed them in my backpack or drop bags. I tuck my fingers up inside my arm warmers wondering how it can be colder now than when we started at 1am. Other than some stomach issues I felt quite good and pushed well along this section, passing Alan Cormack (delighted to finally have his name sealed) who was aiming for sub-16 after being part of the original race team last year.

Checkpoint 2 - 20 miles

Useless headtorches off and a cheeky bit of banter from Bill and I was off out commenting how the course was more undulating than I expected and that was so great. I think the discussion in the car ride up was that the course was 'pancake flat with two hills at the end.' Inaccurate thus far but still enjoyable. How I will regret saying that later on.
John unleashing some fury

Upon finishing the run (sorry if you were reading this in the hope of a dramatic non-finish and I have now ruined the ending for you) a few people mentioned that I snubbed them en-route. This was unintentional! I do have bad eyesight generally and looking back on the whole race brings a rather blurry image to mind. So it may be here that I snubbed John Munro but also according to pictures I may have also snubbed Alan Johnstone here too. I remember thinking that I recognised someone but it's all rather vague. Apologies!

It's about now that I get asked by a gentleman (with slightly less hair than me) as to how my braids are holding up. They are doing pretty well really. They do become a nightmare in the rain though so let's hope for none of that. The right braid is also getting stuck in the zip of my backpack occasionally which is rather painful. Horrifyingly, there's also only one resolution for the stuck hair and that is to rip it out. When I take my braids out after the run, there are clumps of hair stuck in my hairbands. Ewwww. He also comments that my hair must be long when it's not in braids. I guess they must be. Sorry that this has turned into more of a hair blog, I didn't eat much so the food blog aspect isn't really going to work too well this time.

I see tartan shorts up ahead and know that Donald Sandeman is about to fall victim to my slow starting (which I actually thought was quite speedy for me). He's not looking great. I know he'll tough it out but yikes, it ain't going to be pretty.

Then it's time for the flat canal section that Karen told me about. I don't know how far four miles is but I know it is going to feel twice as long today. As I start on the canal I am running along new Twitter buddy Steve Pascale-Jones. I snub him too despite wanting someone to run with along the section for a chat. I can see some other runners up ahead but we all seem to plod along at the same pace until the next checkpoint.


Checkpoint 3 - 30 miles

Looking forward to that banana
I am SO looking forward to the banana that I have in my dropbag here. Oh, how I fancy that banana. Cue pout and screwed up forehead. There's no banana. There's pasta. Disgusting-looking pasta in snaplock bag. Instant chicken-flavoured pasta. What was I thinking? I am not sure if it was from spending a weekend with diva Johnny Fling at the WHW or what came over me but I let my disgust for the pasta and my desire for a banana well known to the marshals. Next thing, Susan Addison has whipped into her glampervan (The Love Bus) and brought out a bunch of bananas. Ada doesn't even give me jip about it. She knows what I have to put up with in a husband. I must mention here that Scott did soak my backpack for me last week as it was still stained with coke from the Cateran which I was extremely grateful for. I don't need flowers, I just need my running kit cleaned. Although flowers are still nice.
Pasta? Seriously? Photo thanks to Fiona Rennie

There's a climb out of the checkpoint. There have been quite a few climbs now. After passing some runners walking out of the checkpoint, I don't see anybody else for a while. When I finally see two guys ahead in the distance, they give up upon my approach saying 'we knew you were going to catch us!' I must have a steely look about me.

Although I have never been on the course before I'll give myself a pat on the back for not getting lost thus far. I keep my eyes out for the blue signs whenever there's a track that goes off in case we need to run there. If there is no sign, I stay on the track that I am on. If there is a fork in the track then I need to look for a sign down both of them. Coming out of the first checkpoint I stopped as my light couldn't see any posts down either track. Another lady was just behind me and used her stronger light to see a post further down one of the forks. There's only once where I come to a fork to see no blue post. I can see a post with a white stripe but it's not blue. The other track has no post. I wasn't paying enough attention to the pre-race briefing and I can't remember what they said about the those posts. I decide to follow it anyway, tentatively jogging downhill until I eventually find another post. I tell lies, I started running, followed by daydreaming, and forgot about the lack of blue post. Don't fear though folks as I made it to the end so it must have been the right trail :)

I'm just chugging myself along now, starting to think about how I haven't seen Norrie. There's been quite a few climbs by now and he's got skinny wee legs so I am sure I can catch him. Target Norrie, target Norrie, target Norrie. Go you chubby wee legs, go.


Checkpoint 4 - 40 miles (maybe)

I'm still on the bananas. Graeme McKinnon does me a drinks switchover from my drop bag and the ladies cross me back over the road. I think I stuff about crossing a bit. Tired you see. I'm trying to remember what the race profile looked like but am sure that this is the 'first' of the two hills after all the 'flat' that I have been running.

Since the first checkpoint I have been thinking about how I will run well until the two last hills, walk up the hills and then jog the downhills. Thinking that the hills would be big and that I would be walking up them anyway, I didn't suppose it would matter if my legs were shot or not. Unfortunately, the hills were not steep. Instead they were actually runnable. Shit. That's sort of ruined that walking for me, I'm going to have to plod up some of these. So plod I do. And then there's a flat patch which hurts even more to plod on but it must be down. Begging for some downhills. Then running downhill begging for an incline. At the moment, anything but flat. Never sure how long the uphills are so never sure whether to start running them or not.

My knees have been hurting on and off in different places for most of the run. They just aren't used to running. They are manageable though, I just don't give them any attention. My back also hurts because I don't have the core strength to keep my posture right. I've been having stomach cramps too but that's also not uncommon. I am pretty much one giant bag of moans. The biggest problem (when the tummy feels ok) is my Achilles. Grizzle, grizzle, grizzle. It's actually more comfortable plodding up the hills than walking.

And finally, life! There's a tent. Unusual for it to be here still at this time of day. Maybe the camper is fishing in the loch or something for the day. But then, there's the camper, folding a bit of kit. I wish him a 'good morning, afternoon, whatever time it is.' It must be about midday so am not sure which one to wish. Further up the hill I catch up with another runner (yellow vest guy) and relay my story. He tells me that it's 8:45am. The camper was clearly just about to start his day. Oops. He must have thought I was crazy.

Yellow vest and I hang together for a while. I am concerned that he has run out of water but he says he's ok. He even mentions a checkpoint soon. Or at least I think he does. That's always good news. We catch Dave, a Hunters Bog Trotter. I know this because last week we were both late in registering for a two-mile race in the Meadows. Yeah, I ran a two-mile race. I was walking home and saw Carrie Craig in her running gear (days after running the WHW) and she told me about the race. With an evening client away I thought that it would be lazy not to. I came second. It was awful. I didn't know what to do so I just started running fast. Then I got puffed. Then I had to kept going even though I didn't want to. A bit like now really, just without the puffing.

Yellow vest is running stronger than me now and I'm just sort of hanging on to him for the company. This checkpoint sure is taking a while to come despite being downhill. On the race notes there was a water station listed at 45 miles. I have forgotten about this. So when we come down the hill and see Mark and Helen Leggett I think that we have arrived at checkpoint five. I couldn't hide the devastation on my face. How could I have only run five miles since the last checkpoint? I'd been plodding for ages. Helen informs me that this stop is more like 48 more miles in. That is a relief. It'll only be a few miles to the next checkpoint. Or at least that's what I think.

The next section is on a small road. I must say that the cars who came along here as I was running were very careful and courteous. I hope I managed a decent smile back. Yellow vest continued ahead while I poured tears into my coke with Helen but the downhill part is hurting him now. I can only run the pace I am going at the moment, which resembles forward motion of some sort, and is a bit faster than him so I pull ahead. He's given me some instructions of what to expect coming into the next checkpoint which is greatly appreciated. What would have been more appreciated was shorter mileage in general.  

I tear down a hill into a campground thinking that this must be the checkpoint. I must have run two miles by now. No checkpoint. Continue along a road. Bloody road. Turn onto a main road. Town. There must be a checkpoint. At the garage? No. Running further along the main road, looking ahead for marshals. Nothing. Kerb. Bloody kerb. Have I missed the checkpoint? No, I'm still following the signs. By this point, I'm starting to get angry. They must have got this checkpoint wrong. I have definitely been running more than ten miles. I am so telling that BaM team when I get in. This is where all the runners with fancy Garmins can sit back as they knew the truth.

Finally, I see a yellow high viz jacket poke out onto the road. If that's not a marshal, then that road worker is really going to be getting it from me.
Am I there yet?
Carol Martin, working hard

Checkpoint 5 - Not 50 miles (rumour says it could be 52)  

Arriving at the elusive checkpoint I am a bit spaced out. I look vaguely to my left and think I manage the word 'puppy' as I accept my drop bag and thankfully, do see a puppy. I am bust. And I walk out eating crisps, drinking red bull and thinking that I might have to walk it in.

There's an awful plod along a main road. I am desperate for the bathroom. Can we please get off this road? Extreme bathroom urgency now. I look behind, no yellow vest man, I'll take my chance. I think I've picked a good spot but he comes strolling past not long later, enjoying his picnic less so now.

Walking up the hills is more painful for my Achilles than plodding so I attempt to plod up most the gradual hills and just walk the occasional steep bits. All I can consume now are my chews. I can't be bothered to drink. Since the last checkpoint took forever to come, I am not getting myself prematurely hopeful this time. I have decided that the race profile showed that the last checkpoint was on top of a hill so every time I go down a hill, I tell myself I will need to go back up another one. There's a reason why I have never bothered looking at race profiles before. I am happy with this though as the inclines are nice and steady, and certainly less painful than the downhills.

There's a brief patch of light rain. Quite pleasant really. Someone before the run started told me that a 3pm shower was expected. That'll be that one then.

I am not going fast but I am proud of my continued going. Plus, there's no reason to be blue as I have packed a mojito in my last drop bag. Genius. And obviously a very serious athlete too.

Checkpoint 6 - 59 miles (confirmed at checkpoint)

I can't quite believe it when I see the bright jacket of a marshal up ahead. I want to give myself a huge pat on the back for getting through that last section well. It certainly felt like a much faster 10 miles than the previous ten. That'll be because the last 10 miles was actually only seven but I don't know that and continue in my self-celebrations. I'm even in a good enough mood to make a joke to the American walker I pass on my way in. What a lass she'll be thinking.
Beating a walker
As I come to the checkpoint I am encouraged by a marshal, Angela, to dance. I apologise, I am in a good mood but I just don't have any dancing in my legs!

Fiona Rennie has my dropbag laid out on the table for me. I'm having custard, coke and a mojito. A vision of health. The coke fizzes everywhere as Fiona puts it in my bottle. I feel a bit guilty, I should have warned her about that. I tuck into my custard, anxious for the mojito. I'm not running well anyway, it can't do any harm. A canned mojito sure is disgusting though. I think I'll need to stick to the wine spritzer from now on. Johnny Fling also had a mojito packed for the WHW which he didn't drink until the day or so after. He too thought it was so foul that when he accidently knocked it over he didn't even bother to pick it up, instead leaving it to spill.
This mojito is unpleasant, thanks to Fiona Rennie for capturing the moment
Sorry about the coke Fiona
I comment that I have been telling myself that there was 20 miles to go since checkpoint five so it's nice that now there's only 10 miles to go. I am immediately shot down by Bill who tells me that there are 11 miles still to go. Kill-joy.

There's some sort of café hidden away amongst some bushes and I enjoy reading the names of various food and drink items painted on sticks. Initially, I think that Bovril and Cocoa are names for different groups of Scouts or school camp teams or something but when I got to the 'beans on toast' sign I's figured it out. The wee path is quite overgrown at this point so there is some genuine bush-whacking going on. It would be pissing me off if I cared a bit more about this running business.

Once I come out onto a small road I see a runner ahead. Hooray! Somebody to talk to. He's a young guy, missing a few toenails (I'm disgusted he even had them starting the race, this is ultra running). We have some brief banter but then he starts walking on the flat. I really want to stay and chat but I can't walk on the flat as I will never start running again. Unfortunately for me, there's no inclines for the rest of the course so I have to run to the finish.

With my stomach still upset I am not touching the coke in my drinks bottle and sticking to the chews. I was told that Lorna and Carol would be further down the track for a pish stop. This means wine, I am really hoping that they have white. When I get there they offer me water. Water?! I am too shocked to ask for the wine. Six miles to go I am told. I try hard from now.

Yellow vest had told me previously that the last six miles were nice, gradually downhill and then there'd be a steep downhill to the finish. There were numerous steep downhills near the end and after each one I thought that I was finishing. I hear some voices and start my finishing spurt only to find out that it was a family in a backyard, not the finish of the race. As I am hurtling (let me dream here ok?) down a wee track I ask a couple if they have seen other runners and a finishing line. They say yes and I assume that to mean that they have seen a finishing line as I have not seen runners ahead of me at all. Turns out, they meant the opposite. When Lorna and Carol said that there was six miles to go did they mean, six miles to Inverness and then another six miles running through it?!

I come to a road crossing and see a small sign attached to the fence opposite showing a narrow walkway. A runner comes from the left, clearly having been lost and I follow him down. I run just behind him assuming that he's just seen me. We must be near the finish and it would not be good etiquette to pass him so I am happy to sit in behind. There's a right turn off a grass area and the runner glances behind him. It's Phil who gave me a ride home from the WHW. Apparently this is the first he's seen of me and it gives him quite a shock! I yell at him to run, run, run! I was going to tell him not to worry as I wasn't going to pass him but there's no need as he has taken off anyway.

The notorious crew of ladies helped me cross the road, thus avoiding a squashed Kiwi at the last minute. By the time I enter the stadium I'm pretty sure Phil has finished leaving me to finish with all the attention on me. That athletics track certainly had a lot more bounce than the one at Tooting Bec a few years ago.
Bouncy finish, 12 hours and 20 minutes


I don't feel too well when I finish. Dizziness, blurry vision, sore parts. I sit down next to Norrie (who had to pull out) and David Simpson. I'm not sure how long they have been drinking out of those cans but it's certainly a new image for them.

I ask Phil what time he ran to get an estimate for myself. Turns out that I ran 12 hours and 20 minutes. No wonder I feel miserable. It's not quite 1:30pm, I guess that wasn't the 3pm shower earlier on then.
Stunning course and super marshals. Thanks to BaM for putting on another great party. Pleased with myself for not getting lost. The hills were not what I expected, with the course being much more undulating than I expected and also the last two hills not being as big as I expected either. I like undulating courses though so I don't think that was the main problem for me. I think the problem for me was the distance. Seventy-two miles was just too long on no training. I definitely bit off more than I could chew on this occasion. Don't underestimate the distance and make sure you know the course profile!

Great ultra running community as usual with many people cheering on others at the finish. The marshals seemed to pop up checkpoint after checkpoint, despite their lack of sleep too. Huge thanks to John for driving to Edinburgh to collect us and then driving us back again.

Although why is camping after a run always such a good idea until you do it?! :)
Just seconds behind winner Mike Raffan at the finish. Obviously.


  1. Gin & Tonic is the best Antonia :-)
    I like the one with the cucumber, really refreshing - mojito is too sticky!

    1. Always good to get some drinks advice thanks Helen!

  2. Nice write up Antonia. I was only running strongly because of the company, thanks for the chat! - Mr Yellow Vest

    1. Nice to meet you Tim and thanks for your support :)


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