Mark had run this event in 2016 and had praised it highly, so when Sarah Burthe offered her place to a fellow harrier in the event of her withdrawal due to injury (hope you’re on the mend soon, Sarah) I snapped it up. It’s quite a pricey event, which had put me off in the past – £50-60 to enter, NOT including t-shirt, bus transfers and, most shockingly, food at the finish. There are no prizes or goody bags and all you get for the price is chip-timing, feed stations and a medal generic to all the events at the festival – Glen Nevis 10k, Mamores half marathon and Glencoe marathon. They do say they raise a lot for charity though, so I hope a large chunk of that goes to good causes. Anyway, I donated to a charity of Sarah’s choice in return for her place, so will stop whingeing about price now!
The night before the race, Mark and I checked into the brand-new Garrison Hotel in Fort William High Street. It’s a refurbished former police station, and I had originally booked a double-bunk ‘cell’ room, a budget option for an overnight stay. When I asked if there was a kettle in the room, as I was running the race and wanted to make up a porridge pot before checking out early, they upgraded me free of charge to a double as cell rooms don’t have them! The double room was lovely, modern and cosy and it was a struggle to get out of bed the next day at 5:45 am.
We drove to Ben Nevis visitor centre where the event hub and finish line is, so I could catch the shuttle bus to the start at Red Squirrel Campsite. Mark headed off further up the glen to Polldubh, to run a couple of Munros in training for Lakes in a Day ultra in mid-October. The weather was pretty grim already, having rained heavily overnight. Forecast was for showers and moderate winds, so I put my waterproof on and didn’t take it off until the finish line.
When the bus arrived at the Red Squirrel start line, it became clear what a tough race this was by the queues for the ladies loos! There was pretty much no queue for us and a long line for the gents. Nerves kicked in and I visited the lovely queue-free loos 3 times before the race start. Hot drinks and snacks were available for runners, so I warmed my hands with a cup of coffee. The race went off in waves, a couple of minutes apart. Apparently, we’d received an email to tell us which wave – A, B, C or D – but I hadn’t so made a rough guess that wave B would be about right. I’d set a target of 5 hours, based on my previous race times along that section of the West Highland Way, but the climb out of the Red Squirrel was new territory so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Wave B set off at 09:02 and we headed up the old military road towards the top of the glen. The first few miles were fairly innocuous, and the narrow track helped keep my pace in check as I stayed in line behind other runners, negotiating slippery wet rocks. About 3 miles in the route became very boggy, exacerbated by recent rain. There were a few trips and falls (myself included, goodbye nice dry gloves) as we trudged our way through mud, bog and wet grass. 4 miles of energy-zapping bog later, I was so glad to see the Devil’s Staircase – hard ground at last! The route joins it about half way up, so no nasty climb after all that bog. Near the top a marshal shouted “You’re 6th lady, well done!” and I did a double-take as loads of runners had passed me on the boggy section. It gave me a boost though, and I really enjoyed the long, steep descent into Kinlochleven. There was a motor bike race going on near the bottom of hill, so we had to keep our wits about us as bikes zipped up as we ran down. Their race was way-marked in similar coloured flags to ours, which caused a bit of head-scratching amongst those not familiar with the WHW route.
Into Kinlochleven and the second aid station, I stopped for some Lucozade and a handful of peanut M&Ms. I didn’t stay long though as I’d passed another female runner on the descent and was excited about the prospect of a top-5 finish. I’d passed half way in 2:15, so was ahead of target even if I ran a slower second half.
The Mamores half marathon had joined us at KLL, setting off at 10:00, so the route was quite busy now. After an initial climb, the drove road towards Lundavra offers a welcome chance to run without too much climbing, and I settled into a comfortable pace. The route was very wet though, so I trudged straight through the streams and puddles as it was pointless trying to stay dry. The sweeping views of the Mamores were glorious, though slightly dampened by the constant showers. It was pretty windy here too – a headwind, of course. I looked up the valley and spotted a runner coming down off one of the hills. I thought either they’d gotten lost, or had gone for a comfort break. As they got closer I recognised the gear they were wearing – it was Mark! By complete coincidence he had descended into the valley just as I was passing. We stopped for a hug and kiss and laughed at how random it was! It was freezing cold though, so we bounded off on our respective routes feeling really cheered up.
I reached Lundavra in around 3:45 with about 6 miles to go and was feeling positive about beating my 5-hour target. I’d passed one more female I was sure was in the marathon, although it was getting hard to tell now the half marathon had joined us. So, I relaxed and enjoyed the next section, which snakes through deer fences and forestry works and finally breaks out above Fort Bill. Ben Nevis was hiding under a hat of thick cloud, but I felt its presence looming as I hit the descent into the glen. The last few miles were fast downhill, and I was surprised my knees were still holding up. I passed quite a few runners here, and before long I could hear the tannoy at the finish line.
Just as I turned onto the path leading down to the final field, I heard a lady shout “Harsh, but I’m going for a sprint finish!” and the legend that is Jeni Rees-Jenkins sped past me. Darn it! I knew she was in the marathon as I’d spotted her at the start. Oh well, if you’re going to get pipped to the post at a finish line, it might as well be by someone like Jeni! I did consider pulling a sprint and passing her in the field, but didn’t want to look like a twat, so I crossed the finish line just behind her in 4:38:23 – well ahead of target. Mark turned up shortly after having run his two Munros, and we paid £5 for a hog roast roll and drank a ‘free’ cup of tea before the long drive home.
A couple of days later I checked the results. There had been some errors to sort out as runners who had swapped to the half marathon from the full had gotten marathon gun time results, and vice versa. Turns out, by chip time, I was actually 3rd lady. Didn’t need that sprint finish after all!
Glencoe marathon is not for the faint-hearted, but it is a fantastic trail race with a bit of cross-country thrown in. If you’d like to race the WHW but aren’t ready for the distance of the Devil o’ the Highlands Footrace (which is a superb race, by the way), this is a good alternative. Just maybe take a packed lunch for the finish line 😉