Around five o'clock I began to stir, aware of the noise, soft at first but getting louder, I realised it wasn't a dream. The noise even drowned out the sound of a nearby burn I'd fallen asleep to. "Oh no!" I thought, memories of the whw raced through my mind, "not again!". Rain hammered off the roof of the static as I tip toed round the caravan and got ready for the day ahead. Coach appeared "your not running in that are you?" she asked. Admittedly, for a micro second I thought about pulling out, but I put on the hardest face I could muster and replied "wimping out is not an option".
A short drive to Buckie, registration and a nervous wait before we boarded the bus at half seven. I chatted to a fellow runner doing his first ultra which passed the time. Rain continued to fall, the bus threw walls of water as we made our way to Ballindaloch. At half eight it was time to leave the comfort and warmth of the bus and step into the rain. With half an hour before race start, everyone tried to seek shelter under the trees. Unfortunately, even the trees couldn't offer solace as my weatherproof jacket gave up and let the water through. I was getting cold and just wanted to get going.
Nine o'clock and we were off. My strategy was try and average 10 minute miles for as long as possible and hopefully finish around 6 hours later, a tall order considering the lack of high mile training since the whw.
I start at the back of the field and am surprised at just how flooded the disused railway line is. There's absolutely no point in trying to avoid the mud and floods so I quickly employ the straight through method.
A bit later I refine this strategy further by realising I have a choice of surfaces to run on. The soft grass verge and mud which saps my energy or the hard compacted footpath mostly under water. I choose the water and take great delight splashing through deep puddles without a care in the world. The only downside is I can't see whats under the water but it's a good strategy where I splash past a few runners.
Twelve miles later and the first checkpoint. I'm doing another strategy where I collect my drop bag and continue without stopping. On leaving the checkpoint I'm cheered as I run through the deepest water pool of the day, great!! Across the road and an uphill section where I eat my sausage roll and have a strawberry milk shake. I'm passed by one runner on the uphill but soon catch up once I've finished the food. A few other runners catch up before hitting Ben Aigan but I hold my own, alternating between power walking and running before reaching the top and being rewarded with the view towards the Moray Firth. Downhill now and we're guided off the forest by a marshal onto a steep washed out stony track. I take it easy here not wanting to go over an ankle. I'm still holding position here and averaging 10 min miles but I start to feel a bit tired, time for Mrs Tilly's tablet. It's quite a long road section to Fochabers including a quad busting downhill section just before the second checkpoint at around 25 miles.
I grab my bag and carry on, eating the contents. It's here where the wheels fall off my pacing strategy and the minutes per mile start to head up. I'm beginning to suffer and resist the urge to walk as I run through Fochabers, under the road bridge and head towards Spey Bay. I take a walking break here and am immediately passed by a runner going strong which irks me. I run as much as possible but get passed by another two runners. This time I have a talk to myself, I must not get carried away with other runners, I must run my own race against the clock. At Spey Bay I lose time trying to phone coach, my fickle phone is playing up and I can't see it in the strong sunlight. I eventually get through and give an eta at Buckie then start running as much as possible again. I manage to pass a few runners before reaching Portgordon and make a mental note to come back and photograph the seals here in the future. It's all road now and I am alone running through Buckpool and Buckie, guided all the way by the excellent marshaling we have had for the duration of the race. Uphill and follow the flags across the line, 6 hours 24 minutes 46 seconds, 45th place.
Thank you to Sarah-Louise Grigor and the marshals for organising a cracking ultra race and giving what the Deer Runner thinks is one of the coolest medals yet.
So, one more ultra for 2012, Glen Ogle 33 on the 3rd of November which just happens to be entry month for WHW 2013.......