Every race is a special occasion and yet paradoxically, it’s getting harder and harder to say just what it’s all about (without endless repetition) – still, here goes anyway . . .
Despite pre race trepidations about lack of training, I came off The Fling on a complete high after an exhilarating, stress free and PB experience. This euphoria was taken even higher after being support crew on the West Highland Way Race in June. So why worry about 42 miles at the beginning of August? The eternal struggle to find enough time grind away at those long training runs will never go away and this is what was nawing at me.
For me, there is no better base camp than the Kings House Hotel. There are many reasons for this, not least that my Dad spent many of his happiest days on the mountains in Glencoe but also because it puts you in the very heart of the race route. Booked room so far ahead and boy was it worth it – an amazing family room which everyone approved of – phew! Good food, final details sorted and then, at last, sleep.
Commence Race Sequence
Up at 04:00 hrs, porridge and coffee down and driver / son Andrew gently prodded into action. Road to Tyndrum clear and wide and there, as always, was the now familiar friendly face of the ultra community. I am slowly starting to feel less anxious now – there is only one race, and that is yours.
T Minus Zero
There comes a tipping point when you just have to cast off and go for it – this comes just moments before zero hour and its ever so exciting and the power of self belief really does have to step in. Proud and pleased to have Andrew there to help with all the last wee bits and pieces, take photos and wave me off . . . “See you in Glencoe dad” . . . “I’ll be there son” – good bonding stuff!
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For me, the reality of it all is so many things – some small, some large, some within control and some not. Start with focus – I really do work hard at settling down to one of my treasured mantras “Relentless Forward Progress”. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to find a ‘rock’ to run close to and this helps. And yet you can find yourself thinking maybe they don’t want some old hippo lumbering along behind them. Other times, though not very often, you find others following you even when there is plenty space to pass. I accept these rare situations as a compliment – I must be doing something right (I hope). Familiarity is good – it makes life so much easier when you know where the route goes and what to expect and so how the deal with it all. And so it was that the trail by the railtrack to Bridge of Orchy, over the hill to Inveroran and Victoria Bridge and along the drovers track to Glencoe passed by. Some rain but nothing serious. The special sight of cresting the rise and realising that the awesome splendor of the Coe is spread out before for you, is truly a sight to behold. Nothing can touch the majesty of the Buchaille, the Great Shepard, and his mighty compatriots spreadout beyond him. And yes, there it is, The Devils Staircase, the pass to the north.
Passed by checkpoint at Glencoe Ski Area and down the Kings House where my support team (my wife, Aileen, and children Andrew and Jennifer) where being eaten alive by midges but still ready with oatcakes and Philadelphia, avocado and milk – what a feast and, incidentally, inspired largely by the legendary Chris Finill. Photos and onward into the clouds which were constantly threatening with dark foreboding.
Halfway up the Devils Staircase and ironically, the heavens opened. This combined with a strong wind was a challenge for sure but the wilder it gets, the happier I get! Delighted to meet Fiona Rennie and friends at the top with encouragement and sweeties.
The rain continued as I moved down the very steep track into Kinlochleven. Again, support team ready with fuel which this time was washed down with flat Coke – strange but true. My team ended up taking a chap, who had unfortunately crashed his bike, to the Belford Hospital in Fort William. As his story became apparent, so it was heart breaking. His son had developed a brain tumour aged 5 and died. He was embarking on various challenges to raise money for charity. Onward and upward through the trees and out into the magical splendor that is the Lairig Mor. High and unbelievably steep sided mountains soar up either side of the glen and the horrendous Devils own rain was finally receding. The light that comes after the rain is often vibrant and razor clear and today was no exception – the green, green grass positively glowed. That, of course, is looking upward. Underfoot was near riverlike in parts but once the feet are wet, they are going to stay that way.
As the WHW route slowly pulls round toward the north, an old friend swings into view and the joy that comes from knowing that the end is not so far way is something else. Yes, there is no mistaking the mighty Ben.
If the penultimate challenge was the rise out of the Braveheart carpark, then the final one was the descent to the finish area – quads squealing all the way. However, this was totally eclipsed by the sight of the (red) finish arch, warm sunshine and a welcome racket of cheers and cowbells! The pint of chilled Stella that I was given slipped down a treat and a quick scan of the goody bag confirmed what we all expected – a great spread! I was also delighted with The Devil hoodie – gotta have it!
The Devils Disciples
It’s been said by many others but can be repeated too many times – Johnny Fling and his team have organised and executed a fantastic race with no detail left out and all streaked with the Devils red – just brilliant. And the marshals en route – again, just amazing and my favourite was Fiona Rennie et al at the top of the Staircase – wicked. I can honestly say that the Devil is my favourite race and it just got even better – thank you guys.
The Support Crew
Behind every runner and their endeavours is a great support crew and my story is no different. Aileen, Andrew and Jennifer endured the rain and midges, enjoyed the sun and the atmosphere and were there not just for me but also the injured cyclist. I think they earned their dinner at the superb Real Food Café at Tyndrum – don’t you?
I re-started running in 2003 and took up with ultras in 2011. In the beginning, I had no idea what I was doing and even less about why. As the years have passed, I feel a bit less of a Sunday jogger and more importantly, I am now coming to appreciate why I’m out there. I used to obsess with who I was passing, who was passing me and whether I would finish at all. I do still look at my watch but all the other clutter is slowly slipping away. Which all brings me to my other favourite line . . . “Run and Become” . . . I think I maybe. Out on the trail I am at my happiest (apart from the day I got married, the birth of my children etc etc – lol).
After supporting on the WHW race, I made a personal commitment to submit an entry for next years race. In so doing, I kind of assumed that perhaps the Devil wouldn’t really be necessary. That was until some bright sparks (bless you Ross & John) posted stuff about something called the Triple Crown – gotta have the t-shirt – lol!