A day of highs and lows: the great glen ultra 2016

I knew from the offset that the great Glen Ultra was not going to be a peak performance for me and had, or so I thought, set my expectation accordingly.

Training had been problematic. My much abused right leg had had to contend with recovering from the ankle wrenches and the Achilles trauma from the stone that had whacked off it during the 100 miles off Istria; and the minor surgery to remove a small tumour/lump from the thigh. Net result: reduced and patchy training.

I have been suffering from another period of disturbed sleep in the run up and for some strange and bizarre reason I had thought it a really good idea to have a series of late nights and early mornings the week before too. It had also been a busy couple of weeks at work. Net result: tired before I started.

Ah, it’ll be fine.

Friday arrived and I was up for seven to do a half day’s work before setting off for Inverness. Everything was packed and ready the night before (how very organised). We had a pit stop at the Watermill in Blair Atholl where I happily indulged in some major fuelling. Once in Inverness we checked in at the B&B conveniently situated less than a ten minute walk away from the stadium. More fuelling ensued at the Waterfront Bar (yum) after which I felt really full which with hindsight, was perhaps not my best move.

The hoped for power naps during the day and evening did not happen, but then often don’t so I was fine. Onto the bus at 9.30 pm and hour and half later we arrived at The Moorings Hotel at Fort William. I quickly off loaded my drop bags, registered and then found a quiet corner to settle for the hour or so wait until the start. I did not really feel inclined to have the sandwich and coke that I had brought but felt compelled as traditionally I am so bad at fuelling sufficiently.

The problem with races that start in the wee small hours is that you are asking your body to do things it really would rather not, and hoping it will perform functions at times it generally does not. There was a lot of food in my system; and how to put this politely; it had not worked its way through by the time I started. This triggered a little amber warning in my head, but I was not too concerned.

The first ten miles or so to the first check point are mainly flat and on good track making for easy running and the trick is to not be tempted to go too fast. No danger of that with me, but I did deviate from my plan which had been to operate the 12 minutes run and 3 minutes walking approach that had worked well for me in 2014. It was a lovely, dry cool night and beautiful along the canal and I settled into a nice steady run, felt good and so just kept running. I was a bit anti-social just wanting to enjoy the quiet and my own thoughts (it was nothing personal).

There was a cheery greeting and a ‘well done’ from Mike and Cat at the first check point. Not needing much I picked up some extra nibbles, re-filled a water bottle, downed a can of Espresso Shot and headed swiftly out. A few minutes later I was regretting downing the espresso can so quickly. It was threatening to bounce back up reminding that there was still quite a lot going on in my digestive system. Knowing that the undulations in this section were going to provide some walking intervals I assumed that all would settle down and that I would hopefully disappear into the woods to ‘do what bears do’ and alleviate the problem.

As dawn turned to a dreich daylight gentle rain started. Showers were forecast and so I was not inclined to put my waterproof which proved to be a rooky error. By the time I did put on my waterproof I was already soaked through. The problem here was that things don’t dry off under a waterproof, so I was going to stay wet and clammy until I could take off the jacket or get my change of clothes at Fort Augustus. The rain got heavier and the nausea got worse: focus on getting to Laggan. Bill was calling out cheerily as I arrived, and cracking the usual bad jokes. I discarded my head torches, and passed on the planned sock change, threw down some rice pudding and topped up the snacks and water.

Setting out I realised that I had got quite chilled and cold whilst stopped and was regretting not putting my jacket on sooner. Hopefully, I would warm up soon. I passed a guy throwing up and asked if he was Ok and if I could do anything. He replied that he was dropping out as he was being too sick. I could sympathise with that as I was beginning to feel decidedly unwell and it was not long before a cycle of vomiting and ‘trotting’ started. Mentally I began to slip into a dark place as I began to feel bedraggled, low on energy and my pace became painfully slow.

Let’s thrown some chafing into the mix: there are places that you really don’t want to get chafed: so much for hoo-ha ride glide. I caught up with Ivan who was having similar gut problems and I pulled ahead as he too disappeared into the trees. Then I caught Andrew Simpson who was walking and not having a good day either. He had decided to pull out at Fort Augustus. I had been toying with the same idea and the chat with Andrew left me thinking that it was a good idea. As I dropped back onto the damp moody canal side I had decided stop at Fort Augustus.

I was in a sorry state as I straggled into the check point drained (in all senses), wet and chafed. I burst into tears. A seat and a cup of tea were offered and taken. What to do? As I poked around in my drop bag I decided that it was time to MTFU and continue as best as I could. Under the mistaken belief that the toilets were closed (and that I would just get wet again anyway), I rejected my change of clothes: idiot. I would have felt a lot better physically and mentally if I had changed. Heaving myself out of the chair I set out, sandwiches in hand, knowing that it was all going come up or go through but hoping that before it did that I could get something out of it.

I really needed to start feeling better. The high path beckoned; a new and unknown addition to the route.

Climb apart the path was really beautiful and the rain had stopped too. My spirits lifted as I enjoyed my surroundings and the ‘wow factor’ of the views from the top was worth the climb.

I was glad I had decided to continue. The undulations over the high moor were a bit of a pain and the long steep drop down to Invermoriston tortuous, but I made it and felt a fair bit better: no more vomiting and fewer trot stops.

John and Helen were soon chivvied us out, not letting us get too comfortable or too close to the cut off. I headed out with Mike who I had arrived with and who was having major ITB issues and another guy that had passed me on the way over the moor. Another high path to slog up and test our mettle but rewarded once more with stunning views and landscapes.

The weather had improved too and it was dry with some lovely warm sunny spells breaking through the clouds. Another burst of nausea and stomach cramps and dizziness hit along with energy dips and highs. I experienced a hint t of vertigo on the last wee climb to the stone viewpoint where I stopped to gather myself together and drink in the jaw dropping view. As Mike and I set off down I decided I was done and was stopping a Gortaig.

My friend Katherine caught up with us. She was having a great day and everything was going to plan, except for blisters. We shuffled along for a while and then she pushed on leaving in a much more positive state. I would get to Drumnadrochit and reassess, but probably stop.  Angela was a welcome sight at Gortaig with hugs and real coffee on offer! I would regret that a few miles along the road but oh it was good and just made me feel human again. As we left the check point I spotted the little honest food shack. There were rock buns which looked really good so I decided to live dangerously and have one. It was like manna from heaven, so good. I was feeling so much better physically and mentally and got a 2nd wind just as Mike’s ITB problem reduced him to a walk. We stuck together though. He had got me through a tough patch.

About a mile out of Drumnadrochit Ivan went steaming past with a big smile and cheery hello. Lazarus like he had had a miraculous recovery. Mike stuck with his decision to stop at Drumnadrochit. Having got my second wind I was keen to continue but ideally along with someone else. Katherine was still at the checkpoint and we decided to buddy up and tough out the last section.  She had been my support runner at the West Highland Way and we have trained together so I knew that we could get each other through this. Like me she was now experience peaks and troughs in her energy levels and her blisters were becoming pretty unbearable. I do not know how she kept going with those blisters: the pain was excruciating.

We made it to Loch Laide which is always managed by Fiona Rennie whose positivity is so infectious and inspiring. She and her crew including Jenny sent us of knowing that we could finish. The last section is considered to be easy and is downhill, but in many ways it is a hard slog. There is the claustrophobic schlep through the undergrowth and bushes; followed by the long stretch on the road with quite a few undulations which you feel at this stage; then that path through the trees just seems to never end. Finally you pop out above Inverness thinking not far, but it is still close to three miles of tricky and at time tortuous paths to the canal and finally the stadium.

It started to rain heavily as we picked out way down, but finally we were there in the stadium job done.

A tough day with lessons learned; a lot of negatives but also some positives. I finished, and it pays to persevere and to take time and not make snap decisions. My Achilles was fine. You cannot underestimate the strength, energy and positive power of the ultra-family. The lessons: it will be a tough day if you are short on training and sleep; always put your waterproof jacket on before you get soaked through; my night time eating plans needs some work and I need to develop a plan B for when I have stomach issues; sort out my sleep.

Alasdair commented that I was not mentally prepared for the event. My immediate response was to disagree, but as he pointed out lack of sleep and busy at work equals mentally tired meaning it is harder to cope with the curve balls that an event like this can throw at you. He is, as so often, right. His advice: start taking these more seriously. Take the day before and after off work and do all that you can to ensure you have enough good quality sleep in the run up.