It feels rather good to be typing a race report again! Hello word document, it’s been a while. Let’s not go into the negatives of the past 16 months when I couldn’t do an ultra. This will be a tale of lows. No not those lows! Low mileage on foot, low profile shoes and low carb.
Team BAM who brings you Glen ogle and Glenmore decided to organise a test race on the Great Glen Way. It was basically an invite only type of job, a trial for a race next year. The full Great Glen Way is 77 miles. The boys were starting the race at Neptune’s staircase and finishing at Bught park making it around 72.5 miles. These boys like their races that start with the letter G. Hoping the next one will be Great Wall of China and not the Gorbals Ultra. I sat at the laptop at 9am to enter as soon as they opened the paypal. With the faffage and red tape the boys had to get the go ahead with the race, a fair few folk had entered other stuff so the numbers were low. The boys e-mailed and asked us all if we wanted to still go ahead. I said I’d still go ahead and run the route with George supporting me and report back, some of the other entrants were happy to do the same so it came about there were 5 of us still up for it. George and I cycled the route last October and we were both surprised at how stunning it was and the elevation. We’d cycled North to South, the race would be South to North. Now cycling down the route, it felt mainly downhill with a fair few hairy scary descents and switchbacks which meant in the 2nd half going down the route we had some really good fast cycling along the Caledonian Canal to the finish. So running it South to North meant getting the flat stuff out the way at the beginning which was a huge plus but the climbs would be in the 2nd half. The joy of starting at 1am meant you forgot about the flat stuff and got a good warm up.
There were thoughts the 5 of us would try and stick near each other just so the team didn’t have to have a whole heap of marshals out for just 5 of us and I was a bit wary about that, I know how to do my pace and didn’t want to frustrate a speedy runner with my pace or try and keep up and blow up. I just wanted to feel like an ultra runner again, see if the fatburd still had it and that my confidence hadn’t truly gone. My longest run in the past year had been 22 miles and a lovely confidence boosting run on the whw with Johnny fling, Lorna & George but I’d had plenty time in the saddle on the MTB and we’ve had lots of lovely adventures so I was hoping my head, heart and muscle memory would carry me through.
I was more worried about footwear and what to eat than the distance. I only train in low profile shoes now, my Paul Giblin’s. So called as I read a report Paul did of them a while ago on his bloggage about NB 110’s. I have pudgy feet and these babies fit my tootsies perfectly. So I decided I’d run in those but wear injinjas and proper socks on top just for extra padding. I sudacremed my feet first but the injinjas had to get whipped off about checkpoint 2 as they were cutting off the circulation to my toes! The woes of having fat toes! I only felt a mild tenderness on the bottom of my feet at the finish, not one blister.
Now onto food issues. I eat low carb so it was a decision to either go down the train low carb, race high route or stick with low carb. I decided to race low carb, didn’t want a dodgy tummy mid run! This could have been a huge gamble but it paid off big time. Don’t think I’ve ever felt so good in run, no usual slumps mid race at all.
We all met up in a dogging car park at Neptune’s staircase. Bill & Mike, Terry & George would do bike sweep and search and rescue, Susan & Alice marshalling along with Helen & Mark, Louise got some marshalling & bike duties too and us runners, Norrie, Charlotte, Alan, Gary and I.
I’ll get on with the race now I think, maybe waffled too much stuff already.
Start at 1am with a piper, fireworks, dancing girls, white doves being released and flying high above us. Ok it was pretty low key and off we all trot for the first 6.5 miles along the canal. I forgot George’s suunto so Helen catches up with us a few miles in and I strap it on till it conks out at 59 miles. We’re all pretty quiet, dodging frogs and giant black slugs. We chat a wee bit and then Gary & Charlotte pull away. I can sense Norrie is desperate to pull away but he behaves (for a wee while) . I check the suunto at Gairlochy and realise I maybe shouldn’t have done that in 57 mins. Long sleeve top was whipped off half way along here. Quick meet up with Louise, Helen & Mark here and we cross over to the other side following the headtorch further along. Mistake! Charlotte and Gary had headed along a dead end track and Louise & Helen were shouting us all back to head up the road. I get my footprint map out now and decide to thumb it the rest of the way. The next section was a 4 mile undulating one and Alan and I settled into a nice groove running together chatting away and admiring the houses along the road. We get a bit freaked out at the noisy rustling noise following us on the right for a fair bit! Time flew by and then we were at checkpoint 1, Clunes. Mike, Helen & Mark were very attentive . Chomp of my quiche, cheesy scone and a small can of coke and then off.
Alan and I seem to bump into Gary and Norrie again just before we hit the spooky fairy forest & as the guys are going fast I do too as I don’t fancy being there myself in the pitch black. We see the bunting just at the side sprint past it as quick as possible while the guys start talking about Blairwitch stuff and when we emerge from the forest the views of Loch Lochy in the dark are pretty awesome! Alan says exactly what I’m thinking “aren’t we lucky”. Norrie & Gary shoot off and Alan and I carry on the undulating forest track, miles ticking by as we chatted away or ran in silence comfy in each others company. Headtorches were off about 3.30am.
A few miles before Laggan lochs checkpoint Louise & George come cycling towards us and Norrie seems to have gone missing and is dawndering about on the other side of the Loch which is the way I was planning on going according to my map. We get to Bill at the checkpoint, I’m getting hot so change into a vest top, Alan and I get fed and watered then head off with Louise on the bike with us going uphill on the trail for a miles or so then we say our goodbyes to her and carry on enjoying the morning. The route carried on with lots of off road undulating trail, and headed into Invergarry with the BAM signs stuck to random posts. Invergarry had their Highland games on that day but unfortunately we couldn’t hang about to join in with the Hill race. We carried on the up n down trail, shooting through a field of pretty sleepy bedraggled sheep and onto Oich bridge. George and Terry are coming along beside the canal on the bikes, George says to me “well how did you enjoy that section you’ve never been on before”. Whit! Seems there are 2 footrprint maps of the Great Glen way, the original one and one designed specifically for the Maggies charity which takes in some alternative routes, ie on the other side of the canal!
On track now and I now remember this 5 mile flat section to Fort Augustus. The morning was getting hotter and Alan needed a toilet stop so George waits with Alan. I tell Terry I want to get this section over and done as quick as I can so it’s a bit of fartlek with Terry saying stuff like “you ok with me cycling beside you”, “it would drive me nuts someone cycling beside me”, “you sure you don’t want me to go away as it would drive me nuts with someone cycling beside me”, “I would want to shove someone on a bike cycling beside me”. I was ready to shove Terry off his bike . We pass bouncy lady with her bouncier dog, I keep looking back to see if I can spot Alan & George but I’m pulling away. I get to the most wonderful checkpoint with Alice and Susan who supply wipes and a skoosh of deodorant, total bliss. I open my wee pot of fruit n juice and devour it. George comes along with Alan just as I’m ready to leave, he grabs my footprint map and throws it over his shoulder and Terry packs the Maggies map into my little case and off I trot.
I’m on my own now and remember where I am again, totally thrown by the map now as the mileage is 4 miles of a difference to my other one and I now get confuddled with the suunto as I’ve forgotten if it shows actual time or race time. I soon forget about miles and time and just decide to enjoy whatever comes. After a mile or so I get off road again and it’s climbing time in a dense forest, I keep climbing and climbing and decide to stick some tunes on. I’d loaded up my own shuffle a few weeks before instead of asking Beth to fill it with her stuff. Asap rocky is ok for a while but his constant “uh uh” in his tracks drives me nuts. I start of with old style Moby, on really really low and start a wee sing a long session with myself. I’m getting pretty excited about the climb up above Loch Ness now and I keep catching glimpses of it with the odd switchback thrown in. I’m feeling really good, the day is getting hotter which I’m loving and I’m happy as a pig in shit, the only niggle is the front of my ankles so I pop a couple of paracetamol. I’m pushing myself on the uphills and making sure as soon as I get to the top it’s launch myself into a trot again and not over extend the downhills. Nearing Invermoriston I get a bit emotional, chuffed to bits I’ve got to 40 miles pretty easily and Bill’s waiting in the car park. Luckily George has left the Epic shit van here and it’s open so I get to whip my shorts on and a clean vest top, oh and the thirst is still there so I spy a D33 beer but only manage half whilst a bus load of folk are watching me. Bill thinks I’m nuts at the excitement I get when I spy a bag of Mrs Tilly’s I’d stuffed in my bag and forgotten about. I trot off across the carpark with Bill telling me it’s tarmac uphill for a bit.
When I leave the checkpoint and head up the tarmac switchbacks I get a text through from someone who was on the bus! Thanks Tim, that made me smile .
The next 10 miles were probably the toughest but my best. We now hit switchback city and within this 10 miles it looks like it’s 7 miles uphill. I’m checking the map and keep questioning why it says Dave on the track. I keep looking at it and focusing on it, why would a map have the name Dave on it. 2 and a half miles out of Invermoriston then I come across a cave. Ahha! Silly contour line on the map! There are bits that remind me of Kinlochleven and the route is still dusty and dry. I now switch my tunes on louder and I get a bit of Massive attack, Kings of Leon. Queens of the Stoneage. I get a bit of time with George on his bike a bit later on and then he heads to see if Alan is ok. A bit later on I’m crossing a stone bridge and up pops a cyclist beside me. Terry keeps me company as we head up the trail, me on foot and Terry on the bike. We chat for a while and then Terry wimps out and heads back down the trail. He points up to the top and tells me the high point is round the corner. I remember it’s not. At one point I see 2 cyclists coming towards me with their celtic tops on, my first tourists of the day! Climbing, climbing, climbing still and before I know it I get to the high viewpoint. I get a bit mushy at the sight of a wee red squirrel crossing my path and stop and go Aw then tell myself I’m being pathetic and move on. The joy of Underworld’s Born Slippy coming on the shuffle is one I won’t forget. I turn it up full blast, I pump my hands up in the air belting out the wrong words and turn to see a horrified tourist sitting on the bench to my right. “MORNING”, then I run away. It’s not many races I put my music on but I’m pretty isolated and don’t want to feel too alone. I get some lovely downhill running now and the pain in my ankles has subsided and then I start to encounter the odd walker or 2. The day is getting hotter and I’m still popping my electrolyte tablets, I’m now running through bugs and flies on the trail and on a nice rocky downhill when I look up and see Mark run towards me. He asks if I fancy a cup of tea at the checkpoint and I ask if they have coffee, yes . Mark runs on and tells me I have a mile to the car. I carry on and get a bit confuddled here as I see another track and then I seem to be climbing again, I glance to my left and see Mark trotting up the hill so I head after him, I get to Mark & Helen and get a nice catch up, a bite to eat and a lovely cup of coffee and a cold starbucks latte in a bottle. I am still aware I’m craving a really cold drink but I forget to tell anyone at a checkpoint. I’m feeling my food is too dry now and i’m not eating much which was the plan anyway. I think I hit fat burning zone a fair few miles back. Mark & Helen were brilliant, really enthusiastic and brilliant support.
The section out of there felt like uphill rough tarmac with a feint path at the side, I felt like I just kept jumping from road to off road to road to off road. On a nice downhill section I’m dancing from side to side and i see my boy run towards me. Lovely surprise and we chat about how good I feel except for a niggle on my right side so I keep running but keep the pace easy. We get on an the off road downhill bit that feels so different to what we’ve been on, the dead trees all laying down, grey from being in the sun, very Lord of the Rings ish. We head into the Drumnadrochit checkpoint and I ask if someone has a 20p piece so I sit on a proper toilet as trying to do a quick squat pee with the blue bottles about isn’t much fun. 20p for a wee in case anyone was wondering on the Great Glen way. Loo Watch brought to you by Karen. I eat a wee bit and drink some more and try to run along the flat road, the pain in my side gets worse.
I get into the main town area and nip into the toilet. A bunch of gits are sitting outside café’s enjoying cooling drinks while the heat of the day seems to turn up a bit more. I know this section is a couple of miles tarmac and the path is easy to spot on the map but my head tells me I’m going faster than I actually am and I keep checking and rechecking my map thinking I missed the turn off. I spot a car pull over and it’s Mark & Helen. Mark points out the path just up ahead and then I start climbing again through some overgrown thorny bushes. They rip some holes in my arm and my first thought is when I get up to the woods then the bears are going to smell the fresh blood. I’m really hot when I reach the edge of the forest so stop in the shade and have my mini can of cola and then chastise myself for stopping to drink. Shift your butt Karen! I remember all this section when George and I cycled down it, I know I have a tough climb coming up and the usual switchbacks which mess with your head. Just before the cairn and the highest point my thighs hurt and I stop on the uphill about 3 times, a bloke in a red t-shirt is smiling at me as I approach him and says hi. I forgot Norrie’s brother was on the route . On the descent George, Mark and Helen come running up the hill towards me. I point over to a tree stump and ask if that’s Mike. I think I must have been a bit out of it so sorry Mike. My side pain is still bad and I feel a wee bit sick so excuse myself for a moment and do a mini vomit. The only thing that pops out is black coffee so I realise my tummy is now totally empty. We get to the van and I remember I bought a reduced yellow label 25p cheese and tomato sandwich the night before so devour that. Heaven. I have another pot of fruit too and this makes stuff better. Mark & Helen head back up the route to check on Alan and I head off again.
I’m now up to about 62 miles and the next 5 mile section to Blackford. I forget if it’s in this section or the last one where you come of the road and join a very overgrown path just to the left, it feels like a little oasis of mirages when you’re hot and you come across a post saying Bovril, then another saying Toasties, then another saying Ice cream and then a rocky path adorned with signs pointing towards a café in the middle of the overgrown foliage. I’ve read Hansel & Gretel, I’m not venturing anywhere near that bit. I get on the road and start ticking off the farms on either side on the map. I’m powerwalking the inclines and bimbling on the flats enjoying the views, singing to farmers as Underworld’s Crazy tune comes on. Helen passes me in the car and not long after I spy Louise coming towards me on the bike. That was such a nice section towards the checkpoint. We pull of the road onto a lovely woodland path chatting and catching up on life. Louise tells me George is thinking of running the last section with me and I deliberate if I want to have him holding me back on the run . Terry, George, Mark & Helen are all here and I spy a carton of banana milk in Louise’s van and a bottle of diet coke. This thirst thing just isn’t going away. I tell the guys I’m off and want the job done so George does his flappy lady getting ready stuff but I start running. He catches me up and I’m fired up to get going. Nothing beats the feeling of a last section in a long run!
The next 5 miles is very very pretty we’re catching up on our day, I start singing songs again and changing the words to rude ones. I admire George’s bottom, we come across a lady walking the fattest Dalmatian you have ever seen that turns and starts to run towards me as all dogs not on a lead tend to do and George tells the woman I’ve been running since 1am so can she please stop the dog. Thankfully she does and I don’t have to climb the tree. George tells me I’m amazing. I say yes I know. I feel pretty amazing. We climb a bit more and then it’s a downhill to the old hospital and he sprints off. We spy Bught park in the distance and that feels so good. We meander towards the park, running through a grassy area within a housing scheme, round the golf course and then on towards the car park. George is getting a bit emotional so he sprints off and I force myself to keep it together to the finish and all those lovely people involved in our weekend. I punch the air and shout YES and then I have a bubble in my boys arms.
72/73 miles run on heart and head and a lot of muscle memory. I didn’t sit down once and I felt amazing 95% of the time. I am so chuffed to have been able to take part and even more chuffder that I finished. A huge thanks to Mike, Bill, George, Alice, Susan, Terry, Louise, Mark, Helen and my fellow runners, Alan, Norrie, Gary & Charlotte. I just want a replay the whole weekend please, next weekend or the next weekend. This will be a great addition to our bunch of wonderful Scottish Ultras. Oh and next time I have a soapy dopey shower in the love bus though Terry, can you switch the water pump on though so I can get a rinsy wincey afterwards please. Ta.
The Lakes Sky Ultra
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