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.
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.