Plan Z – It worked! (almost)

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Plan Z: I had a blast. Best day out since the Namibian and Genghis Khan marathons in January.

For the first time ever, I was smiling in every photo taken during a race: unheard of. There is a lot to be said for just rocking up, not pushing it, hanging at the back of the party, chilling and taking it easy.

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Let’s face it, it’s not as if I am ever at the pointy end of a race, I am always on the back seat of the bus. ‘Pushing it’ for me is about achieving my goals as opposed to being faster that ‘x’ and trying to get up to the narrow end.

After a series of misadventures and misfortunes I was stood at the start of the Devil ‘O The Highlands on race plan Z. The aim was to avoid the cut-off, don’t fall over, finish and enjoy the day. Eleven and a half hours later it was mission accomplished and I made that cut-off by a whole eighteen minutes. Before I say more about my day I want to say a huge thank-you to John Duncan, Noanie Sam Heffron and their amazing army of marshals for organising another grand day out with bountiful support and encouragement at all the checkpoints.

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The weather was better than expected.  Early cloud clearing, light breeze, temperature just right and some good sunny spells. Should have taken my sunglasses and sunblock. Even better, not too many midges. We did of course have a bit of ‘weather’ in the form of a couple of short sharp showers which were almost welcome.

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A steady pace over to Bridge of Orchy with a bit of chat on the way was a good start to the day. I even managed to get there about ten minutes quicker than I had anticipated. Also, I got there in one piece unlike my last outing on that section. Water topped up, kit check done I ambled up the hill towards Inveroran and Rannoch Moor. The early morning cloud was clearing revealing patches of blue sky and stunning views. Ah, I was in my happy place.

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I kept up the steady bumble across Rannoch Moor sometimes with company sometimes not as we set our own pace. There was a lovely welcome at the Glencoe Ski centre. For once I was actually looking forward to my drop bag and the contents were either devoured or tucked in my pack. Another refill of water and I knew the fluid intake was OK. I had come into the checkpoint with Patricia and we set off together at a gentle trot, stopping for the obligatory and iconic photo with the Buchaille in the background. It was looking magnificent in the sunshine.

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Just as we approached the foot of the devil’s staircase it started to rain but stopped before we reached the top. Patricia set an impressive pace up the staircase and I wondered if she would keep it up all the way: we got sensible and slowed. The welcome from Fiona Rennie and Pauline Walker at the top is always so encouraging and definitely spurs you on, and if you are slacking a judicious poke their devil’s pitchforks spur you into action. Pauline offered jelly babies and asked if I was enjoying myself: indeed I was, in a ‘lazy assed kind of a way’.

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I have never come off the devil’s staircase in good weather but after the shower it was clear and sunny. What a revelation. It was so beautiful and well worth the slog up the staircase. Throwing caution to the wind, and my ‘I am going to descend slower than a ‘slug on a lettuce leaf’ mantra, I pulled away from Patricia for the remaining descent into Kinlochleven. Wonder of wonders I remained upright. We had been playing a bit fast and loose with the time cut-off but as I said I made it. More water (hydration going well for once), a couple of cups of coke and some crisps, goodies packed, a sandwich in hand and off to escape the wasps which were worse than the midges.

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I made steady progress up the climb from Kinlochleven taking a couple of stops to admire the views through the trees. Once I was up on Lairig I could not believe how absolutely stunning it was in good weather with the sun shining: wow, just wow! Don’t let me mislead you here, as beautiful as it was it was still an absolute pig to cross, eight miles of stony undulation. Being able to see the path stretching for miles ahead can mess with the head, but the best thing is to focus on what is closer around you.

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Continuing the ‘firsts’ I trotted into Lundavra happy and smiling. That’s never happened before. More coke and more water. Hmm, maybe my happy state was due to the caffeine and sugar high fuelled by all the coke I was consuming.

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The deforestation after Lundavra was very disorientating to the extent I thought I had gone off route at one point. Then I realised I was looking over towards the fire track that the way joins which was quite heartening. John and Mhairi Fox and family provided welcome encouragement at the fire track to boost me on for the last few miles as I tried very hard not to think about the infamous cow hill which came all too soon after making the most of the downhill to the Braveheart car park. I slogged it out with minimal swearing and was met by tumultuous cheers and a line of high fives into the finish.

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Slowest day ever, but I didn’t care. I can honestly say that I enjoyed every minute of it and was simply ecstatic that I had actually managed not to fall. With just twenty eight minutes until the bus back to Tyndrum I had to hoof it into the shower and Ruth very kindly brought me coffee and food: what an angel.

Sometimes that is all you need. To take the pressure off, set the bar low, and just enjoy the day out. It did wonders for my motivation. I finished feeling energised and ready to really get back into my training and looking forward to my next goal.

So, Plan Z. What could possibly go wrong? ‘Nothing’, you say. I had a great day and achieved what I set out to. However, there is that ‘(almost)’ lurking in the title. Sadly, the devil had a sting in the tail, I picked up an injury. A dull ache in my shin turned into excruciating pain and a diagnosis of shin splints. There has been intense physiotherapy and no training since the event, but my mojo remains undented and as soon as my broken body allows I will be right back into it.