Prior to Glenmore the furthest I had run was 55 miles, in April, at Glasgow to Edinburgh. My journey to this race was on the basis of just wanting to see how far I could go. It was a personal endeavour. I had no preconceptions about what I could do, achieve or get to. What I did know was that I had trained well and aside from not being able to absolutely replicate the race conditions (sleeplessness, the trail itself, etc etc), I was as best set up as I could be.
Critical to that set up was having support team I could trust. Sarah Self had agreed to support me back in April. Added to that was my dad, who would in effect support Sarah. Being such a popular crewette, Sarah was also supporting Gerry Craig and David Meldrum as well. I’ll start by saying she was bloody amazing.
Now, on to the race. Gerry and I travelled up with my dad on the morning of the race. Not being the scurvy lubber kind, we decided to forego the pirate party the night before. Plus, I hate camping so much I didn’t even bother with a tent.
We got to the Hayfield at around 1030 and registered right away. It was clear things had been wet and cold. As is usual with these events there was a heap of chatting with familiar faces and we were parked next to Johnny Duncan’s station, and that was the one I expected to see the winner come from. I wasn’t to be disappointed.
Before we knew it was nearly noon and after a race briefing game faces were getting put on. All the runners gathered at the start and about 20 seconds before the gun went off, the heavens opened.
I have to say, the first lap was a bit of a shock to me. Firstly, the opening kilometre or so was much rougher than I expected. It was also drenched and right away my feet were wet. The next mile and a half were good solid land rover tracks and eminently runnable. Then, we hit the hill. It is about 250-300 feet of climbing over a mile, nothing major, but when you do it multiple times, it gets a bit wearing.
After the hill, a sharp descent takes the runners back to the start to complete the 4 mile loop and into a very wet Hayfield for the next lap. I had been told it was flat. It is not.
My plan was to run 25 minutes and walk 5 minutes all the way round, but I quickly changed that plan when I got to know the terrain and simply, I would run to the hill, walk the majority of it and then have a short walk back at the Hayfield, taking in food or liquid (or both). On the hill at halfway, I would have a cup of water every single lap, with a nibble at something too. Drink and eat little lots was the plan. That nutrition strategy worked a treat.
I found myself running alongside Gerry after a couple of laps, losing him in the walks then catching him in the runs. He told me Gregor Heron and Grant McDonald, who would both later place, were in front of us.
I felt really comfortable and my strategy had seemed to click. I was on auto-pilot and really strong mentally. In short, I was actually surprising myself with how things were going. In fact, at about 2 hours in I took the lead and this was a position I would hold on to for quite some time, and despite how things turned out, I really enjoyed that feeling.
Now, I have been hinting at things not turning out as well as I had hoped. Before the race I wanted to get to 100 miles and see what I could do from there. Every lap I ticked off took me closer to that target.
Around 5pm I had some of Louise’s cracking homemade soup and then some of Al’s banana bread, a welcome break from the sugary treats and gels. I got a wee kick off of these, and when I changed my shoes and socks an hour or so later, I felt a nice bounce in my run.
Again, I was ticking of the laps, keeping things in my stride and my heart rate well under 140bpms. At around 9pm, as dark was beginning to fall for the night, I broke 56 miles on my 14th lap. This was a new record in terms of distance ran. I hi-fived Sarah and Andy and set out on the dark o’clock laps. Up until the night period, I was lapping around 39 mins on average. My plan had always been to slow down in the night, but the terrain almost forced this on me, and I am sure the other runners, and I slowed to 42 mins laps on average (ish) for the next few hours. Every step was a PR in distance terms. A quite motivational feeling. I certainly enjoyed shouting 126 every time I came back to the Hayfield and through the start.
By midnight, I had completed 74 miles. I was genuinely shocked by this, and the fact I was still going well, executing the loops as per the plan I had settled in to. I was even more shocked to find the next day that this would have been more than enough to win the men’s race in the 12 hour event, and only a couple of miles off Elaine Ormand’s great winning total in the 12 hour overall.
Despite night running being completely new to me, I was really enjoying myself and I passed my charity partner Chris Clarke out on the course and he was going great. He too had targeted getting to 100 miles and was on track. Alas, he dropped at 88 miles with a broken knee cap and torn anterior cruciate ligament damage. But boy, what an ultra debut!
After midnight I pointedly decided to slow to 45 minute laps. Figuring the slow down would be sustainable. By 4am, I had managed this pretty well, save for a shoe change at one point.
Then on to lap 25.
What a feeling running out there, knowing that I was leading and about to go through 100 miles in under 17 hours. I took the lap easy, talking to a couple of runners as I made my way round. I also had a croissant to eat and worked on keeping the head in a good place for the challenges to come.
As I approached the lap finish the sight of people applauding as I took the 100 mile was awesome. Humbling in fact. The sound of the horn is inspiring. Absolutely brilliant. Then the applause from the fantastic community of people camping in the Hayfield. I get a wee bit embarrassed when attention is turned on me but it was a running high I have never experienced before. 100 miles in 16 hours and 57 minutes. When I got back into running almost 3 years ago to the day if someone had told me I would run 100 miles in under 10 minute mile pace I’d have told them to lay off the crack. Noanie, who was crewing for Johnny Duncan, would later tell me I was 1 hour and 2 mins ahead of Johnny at this stage. To be first through 100 miles was way beyond my expectations.
Here is Sarah’s cracking notes showing my lap times. I love the simplicity of these notes:
I started out on my 26th lap telling myself to stay in the moment. Even walking for 7 hours would be >120 miles now. Then disaster struck. On the trail alongside Loch Morlich I slipped and twisted my knee. I knew right away it wasn’t good but I ran on, slowly, to the hill. I walked it slowly, hoping the shooting pain I was experiencing would wear off, and then I tried to jog gingerly down the hill back to the start. I was in agony.
I quickly consulted with my crew and decided to try to walk a lap to see how things would go. Even a mile in I was struggling but as I hit the downhill I just couldn’t put any material weight on my right leg.
I consulted with the doctor but in my heart of hearts I knew I was out. Not only was the pain pretty grinding, I have a lot of personal and work commitments that I simply couldn’t jeopardise. Mentally I was still in great shape, and I think this helped with the clarity of the thinking. Who knows?
Ada was very stern with me. Some expletives were shared but as soon as the doc told her I was out, I was out. Even Ada accepts the doctor’s decisions!
I consciously made the decision to stay up for the rest of the event and to see the runners in. I knew Johnny was nailing it out there and that Gerry was battling some aches and pains, whilst David was grinding out to a monumental total. If I couldn’t be in the field with them and the rest of the runners, I could at least support them.
It was very interesting and inspiring watching the 24 hour race draw to a conclusion.
Noanie, the minx that she is, hadn’t told Johnny I had dropped and it was only a few hours later when he saw me he realised. Great psychology from her and his execution of the late race pacing in this event was a lesson in managing self. An absolute joy to watch and a fitting winner of this event.
As was Gregor Heron and Grant McDonald’s drive to the other podium places. They looked in agony and fatigued but never gave up. There were a multitude of other heroes out there. Marianne Grover, at 68, was one of my favourites. She shuffled her way to a brilliant total but moreover, moved for 24 hours solid.
The overall results are below:
Congrats to all, but a special shout out to Bombscare Peter Hunter. Great to see this bundle of enthusiasm and bovine fodder back out and on the podium.
So, what did I learn?
Lots really. I am much more suited to longer runs than I thought. I have less fear of doing the West Highland Way at some point in the future. I learnt that people have higher expectations of me than myself. I found a good nutrition and fuelling strategy and stuck to it. I was agile enough to change my tactics too. I am comfortable running in the night. And so on.
In short, it was a fantastic experience and I feel I have grown as a runner, literally over night.
I have no regrets and no what ifs in my head. It’s just not who I am. For me, running the 100 miles in the time I did was a great boon and I genuinely feel like I have a mega improvement to make over the winter so am already excited about the races I plan on doing in 2015. Indeed, in some ways I wish next year’s event was coming much sooner. I really do.
The event itself is a brilliant example of how the Scottish ultra running community is just that, a community. BaM put on a unique event, and get plaudits ahoy for it. Their helpers, the timekeepers, the inimitable Ada and her cattle prod, all combine to make this race one of the most popular on the scene. I can’t thank them enough for letting me be part of it.
Also, they were kind enough to give me a Buff as a spot prize for Best Loser. In their own way that is a compliment (I think) 🙂
Now, I’d like to congratulate a special pair of runners who I count as friends, Angela Barron and Helen Munro, in the 12 and 24 respectively, you were bloody fantastic. Whether front runners, mid packers or back markers, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you come, see and conquer. As I was doing my laps the sight of you girls getting your legs moving and your distance climbing was very motivational.
And, to finish. Andy, you were brilliant. Your chat about “what we will do different next year” is a great fillip. I know you will be in my corner again. But, special mention to Sarah again. For the love the of the event, the people and the day, your support was immense and it might have looked like I was easy to support but that doesn’t happen by accident. As per my Facebook post, there were no diva requests as the inner diva was being kept in check. If you are free in September next year, let me know… I have a score to settle.
So, that’s it. I could go on. My positives so outweigh the single negative of an injury that it is like putting Butterbean on one scale and Kate Moss on the other. And, I come out of this race ready to take on new challenges with new belief and a heap more new friends. If you can’t be happy with that, then you wanna give up.