Saturday saw me lining up for my fourth Devil o' the Highlands. It was to be my fifth ultra in just over four months. Not a big ask for some of the nutters I know, but for me it was out of my comfort zone.
I managed to secure a last minute place in the race. Basically just for the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series points. I guess that makes me a pot-hunter :-)
There was no real opportunity to train for this. Ever since my 100K race in March, my sequence has been race, recover, taper, repeat.
Friday wasn't the pre-race preparation and restful day I was hoping for. Flat tyre, poorly child, Sonic trailed dog sh*t through the house and although I'd planned a day off work, that was knocked on the head. And I still had to pack, drop Cairn off at my Mum's (early start, busy roads/checkpoints and the midge fest that is the highlands, is not the best place for a two-year-old) and travel up to Tyndrum.
Sonic (still injured and resigned to back up again, much to his delight) and I were staying in a Hiker's Hut (emphasis on the "hut") at Pinetrees Caravan Park. Tyndrum was pretty jammed-packed, but I'd managed to get a cancellation. Last minute was certainly the theme for this race. All for an extra hour in bed no stress travelling to the race start. I do get quite freaked before races. I'm a space cadet at the best of times, but pre-race I'm pretty vacant and walk about like a startled rabbit. I suppose it's my way of dealing with nerves. Not having the journey was one less thing to tighten my strings.
I was up at 4am for porridge and coffee, dressed and off to registration and race briefing. It was wasn't long before we congregated round at Brodie's Store ready for the start at 6am. And then we were off...
I ran with JK for the first few sections. Actually, by his own omission, he attached himself to me like an umbilical cord. It was great though, as I haven't really had the chance to run with him much this year. The miles just zipped passed. As planned, I just kept to my own pace and let others go tearing off. I did have a silent giggle watching people pelting up the hills.
JK was running without a watch, so I tried to make a conscious effort not to mention time or pace. I did slip up on the approach to BoO by airing my disbelief that it wasn't even 7am. Although I'm pretty sure he could see the screen on my Garmin, if he wanted to. They're not exactly the daintiest of watches.
Before long, we had reached the first support point at Bridge of Orchy. I planned to just pick up some tablet to eat heading up the hill, which I did. I always walk most this section, safe in the knowledge that we would soon pass the people who had chosen not too. Which we did.
The lovely Davie was on snapper duty at the top of the Orchy Hills and I joked that I was still trying to shake JK off. I really enjoyed the descent into Inveronan. The last time I was on this hill was after 60+ miles and my glutes weren't happy about the downhill pounding.
Heading round to Victoria Bridge, JK informed me that Sonic was going to meet us at the gate. Just as well, as I would have been in panic mode looking for him. Well, panic mode looking for my supplies.
In this race, in that location at this time of year, the runners get a better deal. The midges were awful. You know it's bad when they annoy you while running. I picked up some fluid, a gel and some sweets - which I didn't touch, but carried for the next 30 miles.
Moving on, I nearly tripped over Helen Lees who had stopped to tie her shoe lace. It took me a few miles to discover why. I was carrying twins :-)
It was such a lovely morning and Rannoch Mor was glorious. We caught up with a few runners over the six mile stretch and started to gain on the gals who were sitting in 3rd and 4th position. I wasn't even remotely bothered, as I was sticking to my plan. My plan was based on staying comfortable, not time. Last year in this section, I felt awful. This year was a different story. I'm not quite sure where I was getting the energy from.
We caught up with the GM just before the descent into Glencoe and I ran with her down to the ski centre. That was the last I saw of JK. Maybe it was the GM's mooning that tipped him over ;-)
The GM stopped to meet up her support and I pushed on to Kingshouse, where I had arranged to meet Sonic. I think even he was surprised to see me coming down in second place. I moved on quickly as nature was calling. Rannoch Mor is so exposed that there's no where to hide. I was now is urgent need of a hiding place.
As usual the section to the Devil's Staircase was trickier than I remember. The whole race is based on going up to come back down, so why do I always resent it so much on these three miles?
It was starting to heat up as I stomped up the hill. Norry was soon to overtake me. Giving the way he ascends, he'd be better off walking the race. I overtook another few runners on the way down to Kinlochleven - including Norry. I must have been quite sneaky, as he nearly shot out of his skin when I passed. I think I had the same response when Helen appeared by my side just before the town.
With Sonic on super-slick support, I was in and out of Kinlochleven in no time. JK's daughters later joked that Sonic had laid out all my food, drink and gear and all I picked up was a jelly bean :-) Actually it was a gel. I still had a full supply of jelly beans.
At the top of the last killer ascent, Helen and I were neck-and-neck. We were passing quite a few walkers and one lady asked Helen is she wanted a plaster for a her knee, to which she replied it was a just a graze and didn't hurt. I hadn't noticed, and I don't think she even realised that she would later need stitches. She was starting to mirror my moves, so I was having flashbacks from the WHWR with Adam. I know in a shorter distance on any other terrain, Helen would whip my ass. She even looks like a good runner. But in this race, I was going to have to rely on the miles in my legs to pull away. Of course, the miles in my legs could also go against me.
I started to build some distance, but there wasn't much in it. Although I felt good on Lairig Mor, the heat was starting to get to me. I was stumbling on the rocky path. As soon as the sun went behind the clouds and the breeze picked up, I felt reborn.
I was probably only a few minutes ahead of Helen at Lundarva and moved in and out swiftly. I saved my precious Coke for this checkpoint, which went down a treat. I passed a chap from Helensburgh, who looked burst. Looking back on the race splits, you'll see why. I was going to tell him I remember him for missing the start and racing to catch up at the Rouken Glen x-country, but thought it wasn't the time for humour or chit chat.
I knew I would have to work hard to get under 7 hours. That was all I was looking for after all. I felt pretty light and pushed on the hills. Thankfully the conservative start had left a bit in the tank. The newly cleared forest adds to the competition in this race, as runners can now see each other. As I hit the trail, I looked back and say Helen. It was just what I needed. I quite literally flew down the track, watching every minute tick by.
I saw the lovely Mrs JK just before Braveheart Carpark. I think I might have gasped something incoherent. By the time I hit the carpark I knew the sub 7 was a sitter, so I was more comfortable. I even had a few walking breaks. Hey, you've got to save yourself for the final sprint. Plus, sort you hair and wipe away the boggies for the pictures ;-)
I finished second lady (13th overall) in 6:56:35. Considering it was my 5th ultra this year, it was by the far the best I've ever felt in a race. Just one of those lucky days when it all comes together, I guess. I progressively moved up the field leg position at the three checkpoints were 23rd, 12th to 10th.
So for a last minute entry, it came with lots of benefits 1) Second lady - and my fourth podium finish in the race 2) A personal best 3) New club record 4) New ladies record for the Triple Crown and 5) I'm now leading the SUMS overall - for now! All in a day's work.
Click here for full reults. Huge congratulations to everyone who finished. Special mentions to Matt Williamson who was 1st (told you so, Matt), the Crazy German 2nd and the amazing Lucy Colquhoun who was third overall, 1st lady and smashed the ladies record by 64 minutes to finish in 5:47. Lucy was so far ahead that trekkers kept telling me I was leading :-) I don't think they believed anyone was that fast when I corrected them. Even Sonic thought she might have pulled out.
Thanks to Garry and Gemma for putting on a great race (and giving me a late place) and all the stewards on the day. Standing on the A82 on a sunny Saturday morning has got be over and above the call of duty. Thanks also to the lovely the man from the Wilderness Response Team who gave me water on Lairig Mor. I wasn't until after the race that the reality of cheery chap manning a tuck shop on remote Lairig Mor sunk in. Somehow in the heat of the day, that seemed pretty normal. Thanks to JK, Davie, Julie and Suse for the pictures and Team Kynaston for the videos. Thanks to JK for "keeping me honest" at the start and Helen for pushing me for the sub:7.
Huge thanks to Sonic for his superb back-up - again! Even after months of injury and no running he's been much more sane and tolerable than I would ever be. Although when I'm feeling a little low or flat, I buy new shoes. He bought a sports car! I'm holding out for an injury some time soon.
So, that's it. I've hung up my trail shoes for the rest of the year. I've been lucky enough to be selected for the Scotland 24-hour race team at the Commonwealth Mountain and Ultra Distance Running Championship in Wales next month. I'll be pavement pounding for the next weeks. Recover, taper, race...and then it's all over,