Friday, 1 September 2017

The Trail Events Company Glencoe Ultra 26th August 2017

I took part in the above event at the weekend. Here’s my story.

The Trail Events Company are newcomers to organising races in Scotland, although have been organising trail races for the last couple of years, from what I can tell from their website. The ultra was part of a day of races including marathon, half and 10k. With it being a new event and an unfamiliar organiser and route, I was keen to know as much as possible about the course so I spent days obsessing over it. I plotted the course out on my own map, homed in on google earth and OS maps and read multiple reviews of the climb up Buchaille Etive Mor which the race would tackle about 5 miles in. I felt assured that even though I didn’t know where I was going, I knew exactly where I was going. However, to say I was nervous is a gross understatement.

At the race briefing we were shown the organisers route markings and tape and informed that the course was well marked. We were told the lochside section was very boggy due to recent heavy rainfall and that stream crossings were definitely going to get us wet. We were in for a hard day out.

view from the top
The ski centre (the race HQ) to Altnafeadh was easy going and comfortably familiar. The sun was out and there was little wind. It was shaping out to be a great day. I ran chatting with Ruth, sharing stories of other races and DNFs but didn’t see her again after we started climbing. (distance under 5 miles)

The course then crossed the road toward the mighty Buchaille and we started to ascend towards Coire na Tulaich and onto the Buachaille Etive Mor ridge. The going was tough and slow, really slow. A bouldery steep ascent with the occasional scramble up sheer rock faces and not a sign to be seen. I doubted whether I was going the right way but soon caught up with a few others, one of whom had a gpx of the route on her watch (Laura I think). We went down before going up again and then I came across a marking on the descent meaning at least I was going the right way. It was a long slog down and after what seemed an eternity of descending down stone then a muddy wooded area, I arrived at the valley floor and the Glen Etive road checkpoint. Under 12 miles done in just over 4 hours. It was going to be a long day indeed.

Glen Etive road
The undulating road was pleasant enough after I emptied all the grit out of my shoes and the views were amazing. After a few miles I hit the next checkpoint (approx. 15 miles) and was diverted off-road to begin the section down the side of Loch Etive. As this was a flat section, I was looking forward to making up a bit of time. Wrong. The occasional feint path varied between bog, squelchy trail-ish flanked by giant ferns, rocky beach and more bog. Running was virtually impossible. I was getting really pissed off. I recalled the race briefing ‘here are our signs’ and I mockingly kept repeating ‘here are our signs, fucking invisible’. Flies circled me and I screamed ‘fuck off flies, I might smell like shit but I’m not one’ at them. Yeah, really pissed off.

Loch Etive
Still no signs but I knew that by keeping close to the loch on my right side I was more or less going the right way and then a family on the beach said they had seen others pass by. And there it is, at last, a sign pointing toward a land rover track. I ran, it was great, but I’d twisted my knee on the big ascent and running was sore. Painkillers helped briefly but I was having to do a fair bit of run/walk. At least I was moving at a decent pace. I caught up with someone else along the track. The chap wasn’t feeling great but was still moving on and with a checkpoint not far away I left him to it.

The checkpoint (approx. 29 miles) was a bit non-descript; a kinda help yourself to a biscuit and water affair. I continued on the course which left the land rover track and continued on through more bog, grass, river crossing etc. etc. 
oh look, another stream crossing...
It took what seemed like forever to reach the final checkpoint at Victoria Bridge. At last, a bit of familiarity. It would be plain sailing from here, mostly following the WHW military road. I was excited that I would finish but worried about the time. I came up with a plethora of reasons they couldn’t pull me out, the most convincing being that it wasn’t fair that the marathon time limit was just an hour less than the ultra. Yeah, that should do it. However, my justifications weren’t necessary and I grabbed some crisps before heading off on the final 7 mile section. I only had 40 minutes to complete this according to the official cut off but the girl at the checkpoint had said that they were being flexible with time as it was the first running of the race. I was also second female. (approx. 37 miles)

Running was still making my knee hurt but I was walking at a decent pace and running any downhill sections. And then, the final kick in the teeth. I knew that the race wasn’t going to continue along the WHW path, but, rather, divert along another track. What I didn’t know was that it was yet another non-descript path that’s knee deep in bog in parts and uphill. Going is particularly slow. I keep getting stuck and worry about losing a shoe. To top it off, daylight is starting to fade. I have no headtorch. I deliberate turning round and going back onto the WHW path but worry that I don’t get my result recorded or my 2nd F trophy so I plod on.

I’ve never had the emergency team from a race call me during a race before, but there it is, a frantic call from race control asking if I’m still out on the course and if I’m ok. I laugh. Of course I’m okay, I’ve got this in the bag. I can still see fine and I must be near the top of the chairlift, where the final killer descent is. 

I’m not. I’ve no idea where I am but I soldier on with light becoming dimmer every minute. Race control call again. I’m not so okay. I think I’m nearby as I’m high up and can now see the A82 but I can’t see how to get down. I’m told to come down via the mountain bike trail which is just before the ski lift and an easier descent and shortly after the call I find it. It’s really fucking dark now though, and as I appear to veer off in the opposite direction I call race control a bit flustered.

the last view
A medic in a high vis vest has been sent up to meet me. It’s good to have company and know I’m not far away but I still can’t see. And there they are, in the distance, 2 runners bounding up the hill towards us wearing headtorches and finally I feel assured. They have a spare and it doesn’t take much time at all with the aid of light to reach the finish where I learn that I’m the last person to have been allowed through the final checkpoint and therefore the last to finish. 

my shoes may never recover either
There’s really not much else to add. It was a total fuck up of a day and an incredibly unpleasant experience that I will not ever be repeating. The route was shoddily marked, the complexity of the course was grossly underestimated, there was no-one out on the hill looking out for people never mind the supposed race sweeper and the time limit was far too tight. To give you an idea, the presentation for the Ultra was scheduled to be held at 3pm, the race winner (a pretty handy ultra runner) finished in 8hrs 50 at 4.20pm. The next finisher, and first female, came in after 6pm in a time of 10hrs 34mins. I finished in 14hrs 20mins at 9.50pm and I never did get my trophy. Hmph.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Digging Deep WHW Race 2012

The Race

Midnight in Milngavie and I'm actually here. It's been journey to come this far and another begins in an hours time. I'm not nervous, I'm genuinely excited and grounded enough to accept that what will be will be, whether that's the weather, the conditions or me I'm ready.

Preparation has been difficult both physically and mentally. I've struggled with a calf problem and a degree of self-doubt that my training has been insufficient but we've had all the support team meetings, got a (very) rough plan in place, a guess on timings and nutrition and an idea of who will run with me in the later stages. They've been instructed to make sure I eat, not doing so has caught me out before, and this would prove to save me later in the race.

I get checked in, have a moment of panic when I learn that I meet the minimum weight limit by not much and spend some time in the car drinking tea, eating biscuits and getting a musical cuddle courtesy of Damien Jurado. I only get nervous as we approach race brief at 12.30am and as we excitedly huddle to hear of 'weather' it's just about time to go.

At the start
The start is immense and leaves a lump in my throat. I didn't appreciate the number of people out in force lining the start and it brings me tears of joy. I'm actually doing this! I start conservatively and plan to continue doing so. The rain also starts conservatively but it has a different agenda. However, it's Scotland we're running in not the sunshine coast and whatever happens, happens.

The miles tick by with ease and after wading to Drymen I meet Chris and pick up a new juice bottle and put in a request for dry socks at Balmaha. Daylight starts to break going through Garibaldi forest and Conic Hill emerges as an uphill river. Downhill fares no better with mud and slippy rocks and steps but I take my time to remain upright.

Chris meets me and sorts me some tea and porridge while I change my socks. Louise strolls over looking a bit down, She was about to withdraw but Ian has persuaded her to continue and I agree she should and happily watch her set off again.

I find the section between Balmaha and Rowardenen comfortable and maintain a good pace, passing lots of people in the process and as I run in with John cawing to his support, Chris is there with another cuppa. I reluctantly eat my pancakes because I know I have to and make my way to Inversnaid. I'm amazed at how comfortable I feel and although I'm utterly drenched I'm loving the moments and chuffed that I've been given the opportunity to do this race.
Tea & pancakes at Rowardenen
At Inversnaid I see Karin and her sister and get a hug. It's great she's here, especially as I know only too well the road there is hell. I munch a pork pie and a sandwich and set off for the gruelling lochside section. My right foot is really uncomfortable. I've already loosened my lace thinking it's my shoe so I do so again. It makes little difference but the paracetamol takes the edge off. I don't often enjoy this section and today is no exception. It's torture but I get past slowly but intact. Moments later while passing a walker I face-plant in the mud and emerge like a creature from the deep head to toe in mud and sporting a bashed hand and knee. I spend the next few miles spitting grit and enjoying being cleaned by the rain. It's a blow though and I have a low point heading towards Bein Glas until Ada passes by and cheers me up.

I try to eat my muller rice sitting down but the midges want some too and I'm not sharing so I walk in circles like a loon greedily eating so I can continue. I spoke to several people along this section, the majority of who I don't know but thank you for your company. I like to run alone and in silence but today the company was embraced. I text my team to tell them of my fall and that I need a complete change of clothes at Auchtertyre. I'm starting to get cold and my right foot is throbbing but I'm still smiling like a nutter and focussed on the job in hand.

Going through the rollercoaster that is Ewich forest brings fond memories of my last journey along there when Colin and I ran the fling route 2 years ago. Then it was dark and we had one crappy headtorch between us. Good times! Near the bottom Fabienne comes bounding along. She's come up to cheer people on and get a nice run in at the same time. She keeps me company to Auchtertyre where I alarm my team by being early.

Tea at Auchtertyre
It's all systems go as they organise food, clean clothes and shoes, while I get weighed. I'm surprised to see I've put on 2kg then the marshall spots my camelbak and without it my weight has maintained. Phew! Julie helps me get changed and I enjoy clean, dry warm clothes and shoes, have another cuppa and start walking with my soup towards Tyndrum chatting merrily with my support crew. Soup done I journey on feeling recharged. Fabienne catches up and runs along with me and in what seems like no time we reach Tyndrum and pass through. We enjoy a good blether and catch up with Kieran, who's maintaining a great walking pace, and talk kids, injuries and keeping moving forward. Fabienne soon turns back and feeling weary I walk for a bit. After crossing a couple of styles and then moaning about them 2 guys in a jeep assure me that the next section is all travelator. It makes me smile.

I can't remember if it was Julie or Paul who met me first just short of Bridge of Orchy but again I'm ahead of schedule and when we reach the checkpoint I almost enjoy my pasta and soldier on upwards with Paul keeping me company to Glencoe. Initially it's all good and we enjoy a run down to the Inveroran Hotel but it doesn't last. I start to feel fatigued and then nauseous and dizzy. I wretch a few times but nothing appears. I turn grey and start getting Paul worried. I'm aware of him texting back and forth to the support at Glencoe and the journey is taking too long. Adrian passes and we have a cuddle and talk chips. Colin, Chris and Julie all appear to meet me and force me to take a few sips of soup. It helps momentarily but with my calf in agony now as well as my foot I'm that close to throwing in the towel.

My team force me to take a break at the checkpoint to get myself together and get some food in me. Colin massages voltarol gel into my foot and calf. It's agony and really hard to get back on my feet but once I do I feel almost human again and Chris takes over running support duties. Julie joins us to Alnafedah and arms linked we start towards Kingshouse Hotel singing "We're off to see the wizard...." Wait, was that just me??

Just past the hotel, Colin comes running along with a package. It's toast!! With butter!!!! It's like a gift from the gods. I'm ordered to eat 2 slices and happily oblige, especially as he's had to trade the dog for it.

At Altnafedah I'm given the option of choose 2 things to eat or we give you 4 so I grumpily choose a muller rice and a bar of chocolate and start the climb up the Devil's Staircase. I keep a hold of Chris's arm and head up and up and up. It's actually easier going up and I enjoy the change in muscle use. But when we reach the top and have to descent it's a long long way down and darkness descends both literally and metaphorically. It's hard. I'm in good spirits despite the pain and discomfort and seeing Kinlochleven in the distance assures me I can finish.

Fiona and Silke pass moving well. Fiona offers me yucky things I don't like and I gratefully decline and then they're away into the distance in no time. Paul appears and he phones ahead to tell Colin I need a change of shoes. I've saved my biggest sized shoes til last and boy do I need them. We get into the community centre, I get weighed and sit down to change my shoes. The pain is horrific so I take a few moments to gather myself together, enjoy yet another cup of tea before we hobble out towards the climb back out. Colin has been roped in to endure this last section. If anyone can help me make it to the end then it's him.

Once I'm moving it's not so bad, though my left foot is also agony too now and my right knee and hip are going too. What a wreck! I hold Colin's hand and don't let go until we reach the Nevis Bank and I'm thankful that the climb out of KLL isn't as bad as I remembered but with the terrain on the section following towards Lundavra every step is a struggle. Victoria passes and remembering I saw her with Louise earlier I ask after her. She's pulled out. I'm gutted for her. She's worked harder than me for this but she'll do it next year I know!

I start seeing dead bodies, some of them naked, and animal carcusses including a woolly mammoth. I don't say because I know my mind is playing games but it still freaks me and I wonder if someone is doing a sweep of bodies at the end. I have another hard patch and Colin forces a glucose gel into me. It's disgusting but I do as I'm told. I imagine Lundavra is just around the corner. An hour later it is. I don't stop though, worried that if I do I won't ever move again so I soldier on while Colin collects my final cup of tea. Coming through the forest I'm so tired I stop in my tracks and close my eyes. I just need a wee sleep even if it's standing up.

I don't know what got me moving, pro plus possibly, but I did and after what seemed like an eternity we emerged from the darkness of the forest to daylight and the fire road towards Braveheart car park. I can see Fort William in the distance and shed a few tears knowing that I've almost made it. Local knowledge keeps me going as I'm able to identify landmarks and their distance from the town centre. Chris comes up to meet us and we soon reach the road. I know this road well and it's just a short shuffle now. Paul comes to meet us and we stop for pictures at the old finish post. We reach the corner of the road to turn into the leisure centre and I can barely believe I'm here. I stifle tears as the boys get their cameras out and break into a run, up the stairs and into Ian's arms sobbing. The emotion gets the better of me and I hug everyone who will allow it. I did it!!
Trying to keep it together...
....up the steps and finish!
Ah, that's better

 Post Race

After getting weighed I sat down to take my shoes off. What a relief. Lee brings me a cuppa and I look at my feet which are a mess. Both very swollen, the right more than the left, and agony. I just want a shower and a lie down but I cannot physically stand up again. Sean comes and has a look and gets some ice on it. After a long 10 minutes I want a shower and Morna offers to help me out. I get carried through and all I can do is sit under the shower and attempt to wash myself. It's not my finest moment. I manage to get dried and dressed, assisted, and get carried back out. Sean looks again at my foot. It's not good and Chris scoops me up and plonks me in the car and off to A&E we go.

The pain is almost unbearable and once I get taken through to a cubicle I can hardly cope. They give me paracetamol and tramadol which has no effect. They try entonox but it has little effect and soon they're inserting a cannula into my arm to give me morphine and put me on a drip. Even then I'm screaming into the entonox mouthpiece until the edge is finally taken off and I fall asleep.

It's only tendonitis but my feet are a mess and my right lower leg is also swollen. Dr Chris stops by to check up on me and I'm gutted as he makes his way to prizegiving without me. It doesn't detract (much) from how I feel about completing, however, I'm elated. I thought I could do it, everyone I know thought I could do it and I did it! I'm still not doing it again though!!