Position: 1st place
Distance: 144.33 miles (new CR by c. 11 miles)
You might need a cup of tea, some dried food (you know, like astronauts have) and a very very comfortable seat for this report. It’s going to be long. So long it makes Don MacLean’s American Pie seem like a radio jingle. So long it will feel like you have lived through multiple presidential assassins, the rise and fall of the British Empire and most shockingly of all, a full series of Celebrity Big Brother.
The thing is, there is a lot to say.
Some of the people who know me will be aware of my attempt at running this race last year. This could be looked at two ways: a) the death knell for my running ambitions, or b) a spur to motivate me. I was surprised at how well I had done the previous year. The question was, could I build on it and complete the job in 2015?
I am not given over to hyperbole about my running capability. But, I made an ability and performance changing decision in December when I started working with Paul Giblin. He took on the role of coaching me. He asked what my aims were, and I had two for 2015. One was sub 3 at London Marathon (2:50 was achieved) and to break the course record at Glenmore. I wanted redemption. After three months of working together I knew it was very achievable. The focus, direction and moulding of my sessions and planning with Paul has been incredible. I would recommend this to anyone who asks. Paul has been game-changing for me and we have so much more to achieve together.
On the Monday before the race I felt as well prepared as I have ever done for an event. I was straining at the leash. By Tuesday evening I was in bed early with a heavy cold, kindly gifted by the boys, and was taking the unusual step (for me) of popping pills. By Friday the cold had dissipated and I was feeling better but not 100%. Orange juice, paracetamol and early nights were the order of the day(s). Not ideal prep. It was something I kept to myself. Only a few people, mainly at work, knew I was down with it. But, weirdly, the same thing happened a week before London so my focus was on believing and being positive it would clear. Also, I didn’t expect to find myself out of breath too much. I still had plenty of boagies up the nostrils, but in the main, I was out of the woods. And ready to run into them for 24 hours!
With the weather set fair, I headed up to Aviemore with Gerry and Michael Craig. Gerry is having a brilliant season and would again push the boundaries by winning the 12-hour race with an incredible distance. On the car on the way up we joked that the ideal result would him winning the 12 and me the 24. A tall order, but doable. I was delighted for him.
Andy (my dad) and Sarah Self were crewing for 5 runners, myself and Gerry included, and had gone on Friday to set up. We got the exact same spot as the previous year. An ideal wee location. It was just as well they went the day before as the Hayfield was like T-in-the-Park by the time we got there and it had the feel of a massive festival, not a running event.
The first 12 hours
The battle in a 24-hour race is as mental as it is physical and you need to be prepared for that. In all of my running I try to do one thing well, and that is be happy. Now, that might sound a bit twee and borderline “wanky”. I am not one of these social media spammers who post up motivational quotes every 30 seconds, or a manic-depressive who wants to exude an exterior that is at odds with in turmoil and angst. I am genuinely so happy to be fit and able to run and enjoy events like this that not to push some of that happy energy back into the event would be criminal. I draw energy from others. I don’t like wild attention, but I love 1-2-1 bursts. You know, “well dones” or wee jokes with the volunteers and simply saying hello and smiling with warmth as you do so. That’s how I approach the mental side. Pull and push as much of that as possible.
In terms of physical; I was ready. I did a two-day burst over the West Highland Way where I ran basically The Fling one day and the The Devil the next. It was awesome and set me up so well for this race. I am eternally gratefully to the Moonertys of Davie & Julie who made this couple of days happen.
I had a plan for the first twelve hours and if all going well I would be at 80 miles by 12 hours. That was the aim. It was a mammoth target but such was the confidence in the plan and the preparation I was prepared to take it on.
The short story is I was about just through 80 miles at midnight. I had gone too fast early on and Paul on a walk around the course told me – actually in Glasgow parlance I was “telt” – to slow down. He was right. I was about 15 mins inside where I should have been about 30 miles in. I had gone through the marathon in 3:35 as opposed to the 3:50 I planned to.
I was feeling amazing though and in such an event it is easy to get caught up in the moment. I consciously slowed and got back to plan. Used the time I had gleaned to take more food on and I changed my shoes at about 6 hours. That was amazeballs. New socks in a 24-hour race must be more potent than EPO!
I covered the next marathon in 3:55-ish and was really pleased to see Gerry leading the 12-hour too.
By now, Mike Raffan had dropped. A combination of a bucking bronco injury (really, only in a BaM event) and a dodgy tummy meant he was unable to continue to the levels he wanted. I passed him about 40 miles in and could see he wasn’t right. Personally I was disappointed as Mike is a quality runner, well known for taking down some of the hardest races the UK has to offer (The Hill, C2C & Double Cateran) and I wanted to see how well I could run against him. But in these types of races, anything can happen to anyone. Next time, Mike.
It had developed into a 2 horse race: myself versus Neil MacNicol. I was a few miles ahead but Neil is a beast. Triple Crown winner and record holder and he is a guy who I respect, look up to and well, like. He is a thoroughly decent bloke and we had some lovely back and forths using some James Bond patter (really) as he unlapped himself to get back to me. I called him Blofield but rumours of a big white cat stalking the forest at night were kept between us.
But as I got to 10pm, nearing the end of the first twelve hours, my race was threatening to unravel…
A spew, a poo and a hundred miles too
I had been struggling and my lap times slowing really badly. My lead was being chipped away at and I was seriously worried. From around 10pm I felt poorly, but between 11pm and midnight it got much much worse. I had to hit the toilets a couple of times and I had the threat of watery farts on each lap. Never a good place to be.
I felt queasy, nauseous and my right IT band was being a bit of a dick.
By midnight I had completed my 20th lap, 80 miles done. Right on track but I was in danger of moonwalking like Michael Jackson at his peak. I had used up all that extra time I had accumulated earlier.
I told Sarah and Andy I wanted to be sick. I think I’d had too much caffeine and sugar. It was horrible. I headed up to the top of the hill leaving the Hayfield and had to stop. I let the brilliant, and eventually 3rd placed runner Wullie Bishop, pass me and told him I was going to have to spew. I wretched and wretched and a streaming torrent of coke, irn-bru, coffee, OSMO, High-5 and water poured forth like a dam bursting. It splashed against my ankles. Wullie took a moment to check I was ok. I immediately felt better, gone was the weighty boak-brain and I was back!
During the lap I even joked with myself – and I am not that funny – that this was like Balboa v Creed. I was off the ropes and swinging. Game on.
I started to push harder. I did the next 5 laps averaging under 39 minutes and came through 100 miles in an amazing time of 15 hours and 13 minutes. To get the horn at 3:13am was brilliant. It was 1 hour and 44 minutes earlier than the year before and history was repeating itself. I was in the lead, I had crushed the best 100 mile time and I was over an hour ahead.
But I didn’t want any further repeats of 2014 from here on. It was all about closing the win out now.
Cattenacio in 24-hour racing
Neil MacNicol got the 100-mile horn at just over an hour behind me. In movie terms, a montage was just about to start and some cheesy 80s American synth pop play. It was game on.
As you would expect, our respective crews were monitoring the progress of each other. I changed tact mentally at this point. I knew that the course record was going to go by some way, and by both of us. The focus for me became quite simply to keep a healthy gap between Neil and I.
I had planned to go through 100 miles in 15:20 so was 7 mins inside my target. I then planned to go through 112 miles in 17:26, and I was pretty right on this number. You can see from the table, I had my plan pretty much where I wanted to be at this stage. However, as light dawned my absolute focus was winning the race and the 148-mile target became secondary.
When running laps like this you have loads of time to think. I had calculated that Neil would struggle to get beyond 142 miles unless he started churning out 9:00 /mi miles which I couldn’t see happening
We passed each other at 132 miles for me, and Neil was heading to 128 and we had a quick high-five. This was to be my penultimate big lap, I eased off and just concentrated on making sure Neil didn’t unlap on this 4-mile loop as it would maybe give him a boost. I got round in 44 minutes and took the course record just before 10am.
I have to say, the welcome at the start line was humbling and there was big bunch of people who knew exactly what the significance of this lap meant. Goal 1 ticked: course record beaten.
But it would only remain mine if I stayed in front.
I checked the watch and I knew I could do two more big laps and hit 144 and that would be the job complete. Neil had made some in-roads into my lead but not enough. My tactic of easing off and staying safe was working.
I felt good on the last big lap. I took it easy, walking a wee bit more than before and Neil passed me about a kilometre in. He would be the only person in both the twelve-hour and 24 hour race I didn’t lap.
His finishing 5-6 hours were gladiatorial and he showed immense guts and fight. I loved having him there to push me on and we have shared messages since. He’s a friend and rival. My respect for him was high already and it is higher still since the weekend.
But as it was, by the time I finished my last big lap I had about 6 or 7 minutes to wait for the mini-laps opening or to hit a final big lap. I decided to take some food and drink on and do 4 miles on the mini-laps. 144 miles is a very neat number. It is exactly 10:00 /mi average and it was my safe house.
Every step I took on the mini-lap was two Neil would have to do, so I ran for about 35 mins and got three miles in. Then, I walked. I walked another mile. I soaked up the atmosphere.
Paul was there cheering me on every mini-lap, I could see the pride in him; it made me feel good. He was partnered by my fellow teamPyllon buddy John Connolly; John had made the effort to come all the way up to Aviemore to see me race – hugely appreciated. Myself, Davie Gow and John have been under Paul’s tutelage all year, and those two guys will do something special soon. Watch out.
Once I knew I had done 144 miles I placed my peg down in front of my crew. The race still had 5+ minutes to go, but if ever there was a place to put my peg this was it. The work they had done for me was exceptional. Sarah was immense in both the lead up and the day. I honestly believe she got as big a buzz from me winning as I did. I cannot thank her enough.
Then there is my dad, Andy Stewart (not that one!). The pride was palpable and in some of the dark times when I was being a bit sick, when I thought about why should I go on, I didn’t channel the negative thought about how disappointed he would be to motivate me, I channeled the positive thought of how pleased he would be for me if I got the job done. Quietly pleased. He was devastated for me last year. He’s carrying a more enjoyable emotion around just now. During the prize giving he shrunk into the background, not interested in the limelight. Having your family in your crew can be dangerous as they can be too cautious. Sarah, Andy and with Paul dipping in and out was a perfect balance of family, friends and fire.
I am truly lucky to have had them.
That was it. Job done. 144 miles, 24 hours, course record and a win. All that I could ask for.
The end credits
There has been a fair few people mentioned above who all played a part in the race. If I was to attempt to give credit to everyone who deserves it I would fail miserably as I have the memory of a goldfish who has been abusing crack since its teen years, but there are few people who need to be called out.
- The Race Team: Bill and Mike get lots of Facebook recognition. They are underpinned by the work Cat does in the background, and would be the first to admit the whole race team play a massive part. Every single one of them gave me encouragement a-plenty and made my life, and all of the other runners’, easy. The volunteers in these things give up loads, to give us loads.
- TeamSub4 and Lab Rats: Why these guys? Because they are my mates. Skoosh, John K, Scott and Brian. You were brilliant. As were Des Tinney and Barry Mowat in their respective races. You guys spur each other on. Keep at it. Graham and David, brilliant stuff.
- Lorna MacLean: Winner of the ladies race. Well done!
- George Reid: The lap you did, in reverse up the hardest hill, was a highlight for me. Tremendous to see.
- Andy Crichton: From crewing to last minute entry to podium on the 12 hour. Big headcase!
- Pete Hunter: Ton up! Less of the Rangers chat though please!
- Angela Barron: You are tougher than long division!
- Wullie Bishop: Serene progress to a podium and for not laughing at me.
- David Ross: More high-5s than I could shake a stick at. Some effort big fella.
- Noanie, Keziah and the Party Tent: Like an extension to my crew and had the energy of a 4 year-old who overdosed on Dib-Dabs and Irn-Bru. Amazing!
- James Murray: TeamVambo strike again. Great 100k.
- The Kids: Every single one of them, well done. You cajoled, shouted, and encouraged with the effervescence of, well, kids. I do wonder if you got some sugar from the Party Tent.
- And lastly, Louise, Euan & Caelan: From smelly socks to sweaty floors. From early mornings to delayed starts. You guys are everything to me.
And double-lastly to Aurel, Helen, Jenni, Graham, Dave, Greg, Ruth, Stuart, Stewart, Chen, Euan, Paul, Keith, Mike, Michael and everyone else who took part, very very well done to you.