Monday, 28 August 2017

Glencoe Ultra

As with many last minute decisions, planning tends to go awry or something small, but important, gets overlooked. In my case, a simple midge head net (and possibly some lack of preparation - logistically and physically) led to a rather painful first attempt at an 'ultra'

Thursday night, half an hour before cut off, I decided to take part in the Glencoe Ultra. Seemed easy enough....44.42 miles/71 km with 7372 feet/2247 m of climb.

I drove up on the Friday night - hoping for a camping space. Arriving around 8.00, I was told that all pitches (tiny camping area) were taken and all cabins were booked out. Rough camping was offered (with use of facilities) so rough camping it was...and it was...

Amid the clouds of chomping midges, I manage to pitch my tent. Minus a midge net, I was being eaten by the hordes - so cooking outdoors was NOT on the cards. I then headed in to the cafe for some serious carb loading. 'We only have cakes', I was informed - bummer! Not going well so far!

I have some cake. I head for my tent. I am feasted on again (thousands dine on me - and I get rice-krispie cake!)

It soon becomes apparent that the burn to my left is too loud for me to sleep. I up my tent - ingesting midge vapour - and head for the back seat of the car. I have several hundred guests.

Start - Checkpoint 1 (approx 5 miles) 

Having had a good 3 hours sleep, it's time to register (6.30 am onwards)  and have breakfast. This is minimal - in calorific terms, equivalent to a muffin and a coffee. This could be a long day! I pour a litre of coconut water into my running bladder and am soon heading, with 27 other, along the West Highland Way for the first checkpoint ( approx 5 miles) at Altnafeadh. The food at the checkpoints is disappointing. Skinny biscuits, undernourished Jelly Babies  (not the proper dusty Bassett ones) - not a banana, cake or giant pretzel in sight.

Top of Coire Na Tulaich - All pain from here on!
Checkpoint 1 - Checkpoint 2 (approx 7 miles) 

The route follows the path , on the bottom right of pic below , that leads up through Coire Na Tulaich, skirting Stob Na Doire and then a takes a steep drop down through Coire Altruim to the valley floor.

Coire (curved hollow) Na Tulaich to the right of centre
Drop into the valley is off the far hill - right of centre

The route marking at the turn is non-existent and a group of 6 runners manage to figure which route should be taken.

The ascent to around 900 m is hard work (and I feel that I have used up my carb reserve already and my stomach takes on a queasy tone) The descent is tricky and by the valley floor, I have adopted a conservative jog.

There is some uphill to be covered but a fantastic - though very treacherous - run down through Lairig Gartain to Dalness. I run some of the way with Jeff and Drew and we manage to get to checkpoint 2 without face-planting the hillside.

Dropping down to Dalness with Loch Etive in the distance.

Checkpoint 2 - Checkpoint 3. (approx 4 miles)

The other lads head on, as I change my shoes. There are around 4 miles of road to cover before the CP 3. I run the downs and flats and walk the uphills. I meet Martyn from Holland who is having similar stomach issues - we speculate that it is the murky, peaty water on offer at the checkpoints - all straight off the hill from the Glencoe Ski Centre. We run to CP 3 and Martyn decides to sit and think of his next move.

Checkpoint 3 - Checkpoint 4 (15 miles)

This is a 15 mile run (though many found it impossible) along the eastern shore of Loch Etive.The initial 8 miles were utterly dreadful (polite description) - possibly the worst terrain I have ever encountered! Almost nothing runnable - a sodden. boggy, peaty. puddle-strewn track that frequently (over 40 times) involved a water crossing. When you weren't worrying about trench-foot, you were hacking your way through head-height bracken forests with NO clues as to where to enter or exit. In the 8 miles I came across a single red and white tape marker and one sign at the very end of the stretch.
This was an incredibly difficult section both physically and mentally. 

Once the hellish mush was past, the road from Armaddy through Glen Kinglass was firmer - but checkpoint 4 was still a long way away. For 14 miles, I saw no one. I didn't realise at that point that there were 10 of the 27 runners behind me - with 16 in front. Lesley from Carnegie Harriers came up behind me and her two-word comment on the race lifted my spirits. I picked up my pace - though not enough to stay with her. I am hungry and feel like I am fading. I contemplate giving up at CP 4 but I realise that I would have to wait on all runners coming through (no idea how many at this point) before I could get a lift back to the ski centre. 

Checkpoint 4 - Checkpoint 5 (approx 7 miles)

I chat to the marshal, grab some biscuits and lordy...a banana - a lifesaver - some proper carbs.

I am off again and my feet are really complaining as is my stomach. I eat the banana in small sections as I walk. It's only 14 miles I tell myself - It's like walking 'Feel the Burns' - I imagine it in my head and plod on counting off what I think are mile markers. Strange how exhaustion clouds your judgment of distance.

It's now a brutal slog past Loch Dochard and I am dreaming of a cold drink - the stuff in my run bladder is unpalatable - I contemplate dropping into one of the streams - hoping I could absorb the fluid. This section is where my spirits were lowest. A mile before CP 5 (Forest Lodge) , I was deluded enough to think I could go on. Imagine my relief, when the marshal at CP 5 said I had missed the cut off. 38 miles and 12 hours I hope not to repeat!

Jeff and Drew made it back - with their own challenges en route. Martyn retired at CP 3.

Minor consolation that I was the first of the two 'non-finishers' who made it to CP 5. Eight other runners retired before CP5.

I pick up my expensive participant's T-Shirt and am off on the 3-hour drive home.

Good news...Cheese and wine for supper!

(I need it...Bathroom scales say I weigh in 4-5 lbs lighter than when I left - not a dieting method I would recommend!)

Matt Williamson made it round in a superb 8h 50mins - he was 1h 45mins in front of the second runner!

8 of the 17 finishers took over 12 hours to complete...brutal stuff!

Results here

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