I was surprised to get in as there’s just 300 places for this very popular ultra. Jan also got a place, so we quickly booked our accommodation at Strathfillan Wigwams as they are just 3 miles from the start. It’s a 42 mile race from Tyndrum to Fort William following the second section of the West Highland Way, the first section being covered by the Highland Fling race from Milngavie to Tyndrum (53 miles), or if you’re seriously hardcore you could do the full 95 mile West Highland Way race!
I had to drop out of the Highland Fling race during training due to injury and had this in mind over my training for the Devil. Too much running on tarmac was my downfall for the Fling, even though I was also on the Pentlands a lot. I stuck mostly to trails for the Devil training, but still doing some road as there’s a lot of hard stones on the rough trails of the Devil, so too much soft ground training would also be a mistake as I’d need to be used to the impact.
Jan and I went up to the Strathfillan Wigwams the afternoon before the race. Unfortunately any thoughts of an early nights sleep were quickly shattered by a neighbouring wigwam blasting out heavy techno music at seriously loud levels till 11pm, but still very noisy till 3am! With getting up at 3:30 to get ready for race registration at 4:30, I got about 2 hours sleep with the noise. I was still positive about the race though as I remember I had serious insomnia before the Lochness marathon back in 2010 and all was fine once I got started.
We headed down to the Green Welly Stop at Tyndrum who were open super early to take us all in before the race and we got our two drop bags and race finish bags dropped in and picked up our bib numbers and time chips. We met Sadie, Gilly and Alan there and we had some coffee before heading to the start. We headed off at 6:00am on quite a damp but fine morning.
There were only two things that were needed in our kit, a foil blanket and a mobile phone, which was great as some races need you to take quite a bit. There was a kit check at mile 7 and everybody got checked.
P1 – Bridge of Orchy – 7 miles – water
CP2 – Glencoe Ski Centre – 17 miles – water – drop bags
CP3 – Kinlochleven – 27 miles – water – Coke – drop bags
CP4 – Lundavra – 35 miles – water – Coke
With this being my first ultra I was quite worried about it being over 50% longer than any run I’d ever done before! I’d done quite a few 26 mile runs over my training, but the one week I was to do the longest run of my schedule of 31 miles I went on a three day Munro trek. This turned out to be fantastic cross training really, but I still was concerned how I’d manage another 16 miles on top of anything I’d run before over quite a tough course. I decided early on that I’d just take it easy, as finishing was important and time was not so much for my first ultra. I started off keeping to a slow 10 minute mile or so, this was quite easy going and I thought it would be easy to keep to along the route apart from obvious steep parts I’d have to fast trek.
The first section of the race was brilliant and even the masses of midges that were landing on us all were not any trouble as they quickly drowned in our sweat before biting…. Nice! We were rewarded with great views after ascending to higher ground. Fantastic lochs and hills along the way as we notched up the miles.
We got our chips scanned manually at Bridge of Orchy and headed onto the Glencoe station where Susie jumped out from behind the woman registering my number and gave me a hug! It was great to see a friendly face at mile 17, just before my first ever drop bag point. Thanks for marshalling taking everybodies time Susie! I however did what a few other runners were doing and sat down next to them to eat some salty crisps to avoid cramp and had a chat. I didn’t realise I should have really just grabbed everything and eaten as I was going, but I didn’t really have enough space in my bag to fit the extra food, so I thought eating it all there would be best. A lesson for next time not to do this as I was quite far back now.
After munching too much and heading back off I met Alan at the road crossing point, who was great for motivation! It was great entering Glencoe from the south this time (we headed from the north from the Red Squirrel campsite for the Glencoe Marathon I did last year which covers the second half of the Devil). The views were outstanding as we ran towards Buachaille Etive Mor, and then along most of the glen before heading up to the right to start our ascent of the Devil’s Staircase. We all got a lot of support from tourists trekking parts of the route along the way which was great. I was looking forward to seeing Yan at the top of the Devil’s staircase as he was playing the Bodhrán at the top, just across from the Devil with a pitch fork to spur us on! She was very encouraging and was handing out jelly babies.
The sun was still out and the views were brilliant looking down the glen from the top. I kept thinking how slow I was going compared to doing this section in the Glencoe Marathon. I’d not ran 18 miles or so before getting to this point before though. The stones descending the Devil’s Staircase were quite wet and I had to take it easy jumping from rock to rock on the way down to avoid slipping. I’d seen a few runners take bad falls on route and knew how easy it would be to get injured and not finish. I had tripped on a stone previously with my left foot and as I corrected myself I strangely pulled my right calf muscle. I did a couple of stretches and all was fine to carry on. I was taking too long to clear the slippery rocks and was getting quite worried about the cut off time at Kinlochleven. I however had well over an hour to spare when I got there and picked up my second drop bag. I again spent a bit too long there but not as bad as the first station. The marshals at the checkpoints were great and offered assistance with everything, from taking our litter from food, drink and jells, to handing out jelly babies and helping us refill our water.
I knew there was a steep forest climb after Kinlochleven but it wasn’t too bad and I had a chat with a few other runners along this section. I was looking forward to running past the Mamores mountains again and this didn’t disappoint. They again looked stunning in the sunshine and although it was now hotter, it wasn’t too bad. The scenery is so fantastic you really want to look at the views for a few seconds as you run, but this is very treacherous as the trail is scattered with stones and rocks. This section is great but quite long and it took me ages to get to the fourth and last check point. I was quite hot at that point and pored two cups of water over my head to cool down when I eventually reached the station. The marshals were again great and I had a good chat with them as well as other runners. After the flat run past the Mamores to Landavra, there’s a very long uphill section before heading down the forest track to the finish. I really started to slow even more here, but I was quite invigorated by the fact that I’d ran far further than I’d ever done before and knew I’d be able to finish even if I had to walk parts.
The views kept me going as my legs started to hurt. My knees were really complaining now at any downhill stony ground, which was all there was really! I eventually got to the forest trail section but couldn’t run very fast down the trail like I had done in the Glencoe marathon. It was great to see Ben Nevis towering up to the right of me through the trees. I thought I’ll be seeing you for the hill race next month if my knees are better! This was the finishing section of the Glencoe Marathon, so I was disappointed to see that we took a left turn up a smaller steep trail which totally wiped me out for the last mile or so. My watch was almost out of charge like myself, but still showed me I had covered more than 42 miles. I think I had zigzagged here and there and gained a mile by the end! It was great to hear the music from the finish line at last, and there was some totally brilliant soft grass before the finish line, so I managed to start running again to the finish line. I was a bit taken back how long it had taken me, I had thought I’d have been quicker but it wasn’t to be and I enjoyed it and had finished my first ultra which was the main thing.
Jan gave me a big hug as I crossed the finish and Alan handed me my goody bag. Gilly and Sadie were there too and we all had some great food in the finisher tent with a great selection of dishes as well as a free beer! We were all given a token for a free shower at the Sports Centre, so I headed there after as I knew I didn’t have too much time before getting the bus back to Tyndrum at 6:00 which was organized by the race and we paid for before the race. It was a fun journey back and we had a good chat with others runners who were also quite taken back at how long the bus took to get back to Tyndrum and so highlighted the distance we had run!
I’ll take some tips from this race for other ultras in the future and go for a better time.
This is a fantastic epic race and I’m very glad to have finally done it. Thanks to all the fellow Harriers for their support and banter along the way! Marshals Susie and Alan and runners Jan, Sadie and Gilly for such a fun weekend.
Penicuik Harrier times:
Jan Dawson: 8:36:13
Sadie Kemp: 8:36:13
Gilly Marshall: 9:04:05
Mark Dawson: 10:50:34