Friday evening, we are all packed and on our way to The Spittal of Glenshee - Lynne, Skye, Harold and me.
The forecast wasn't too good for the weekend but we had a lovely run up Deeside with blue skies and sunshine. We arrived in good time, unpacked and ordered supper from the bar. I registered while waiting for the fish and chips to arrive, I'm still a pescetarian. After the food and a swift pint it was back to the room to get drop bags ready and have an early night.
Fuel for the day ahead - breakfast was served 0530 where I downed scrambled eggs, toast and cereal. I had three drop bags, each containing a packet of jaffa cakes and a small bottle of coke. These were for the last three check points - Blairgowrie, Bridge of Cally and Enochdu. In my rucksack was a tuna mayo sarny, chocolate bars and a Mrs Tillys Fudge out of the Cateran goody bag.
Before I write about the race I need to explain my tactics for the day. In my previous blog I mentioned how good I was feeling despite the low miles covered in recent training. I listened to the Stuart Mills podcast, read his latest blog posts and thought, why not start an ultra race strong for a change? Now I'm no expert on the subject of a Negative Split in racing, and I'll never be competing at the quick end of an ultra but I had my own reason to start faster than normal. On these ultra races I usually view them as training for the big one, start slow and plod to the end. Get the miles done without injury ready to taper and be fresh for the 22nd June. But not this time. I wanted to exhaust myself, get the feeling of nothing left in the tank, struggle towards the end, that was going to be a realistic training race for the full WHW run.
The morning was cloudy with a strong northerly breeze, runners and support congregated outside to the tune "Justified and Ancient", a great early morning atmosphere before the Race Directors briefing. It's a 5 minute walk to the start, crossing the main road and over a stile.
0700 and we're off where I somehow find myself right at the back, so much for a strong start.
The first couple of miles are through gates and fields where there's a bit of queuing to get through.
Some runners are trying to avoid the mud and puddles but I immediately adopt the run straight through method, jokingly saying it will knock ten minutes off my time. I make my way up the field, running way faster than I normally do and find my race slot. I have passed a lot of runners and feel like some sort of impostor who shouldn't be at this party, punching well above my weight and who will be found out later in the race.
Approaching the first checkpoint I'm passed by a runner going strong and I think "here we go, I'm getting overtaken already and I'm not even at the first checkpoint". This person stops for water so I regain the place as I go straight through. Another runner is walking and eating after the checkpoint so I pass and take another place.
Pace is being assisted by the strong wind which means it could be tough in the second half of the race but "make hay while the sun shines" I think to myself. I can see a couple of runners ahead but there's no way I'll catch up on the road section so its a run walk strategy uphill then coast down to the first large stile of the day. I grab half my tuna sandwich on the first uphill walk of the day but struggle to get it down. I'm getting closer to the runners ahead so pack away the other half for later, take a good drink of water and march on. I manage to pass one before the summit but the other is off down the hill. I tail him but he is doing a good pace so I don't want to pass, not yet anyway. There is a boggy patch of downhill just before Loch Shandra where I pass the second runner and employ the run straight through method once again, not bothering to avoid deep water or mud. My only worry is a Hoka might come off in the mud.
After Loch Shandra I manage to convince myself I have taken a wrong turn and double back, only to find I was originally going the right way, you wouldn't think I've done this ultra twice previously. I come across a runner who says he's been waiting for twenty minutes as he didn't know if he was going the right way. I advise him we are only 10 minutes from the next checkpoint so we run and chat for a while before he slows down. I ask if he's okay, the answer is fine so I run on alone into checkpoint Glenisla.
George and Karen are there, all I need is a top up of water. I take the other half of my Tuna sandwich from my back pack ready for another uphill walk and get going. The sandwich is soggy, I've no appetite and don't want it but force down a couple of mouthfuls. After passing a few hill walkers the rest of the sandwich goes to the birds. Another drink of water, it's hot this morning. I look back after entering the woods, there's a runner not too far behind. I've got to keep going, I don't want my race to fall apart. More water, I'm in trouble, the supply is not going to last until Alyth. I'm determined to keep going as I know runners are catching me up.
After a short road section the trail heads up a steep field. Someone is closing on me and I'm not happy. The legs are tired and I'm out of water. The trail levels out and I manage to keep ahead of the runner behind but not for long. The path twists uphill again through trees and I stop to get the fudge out of my back pack.
The runner passes by, we exchange "Hows it Going?", "Not bad" I lie, because I feel crap and don't want to be passed by runners so early in the race. I eat some fudge which makes me even more thirsty, there's a fair bit to go to Alyth. Negative thoughts begin to enter my head, like pulling out at the next check point as I am walking sections that I should be running. On the descent to Alyth the clouds look ominous, it's time to put the waterproof jacket on, I'm surprised the weather has held for so long.
It's practically impossible to take a wrong turn in Alyth but I manage despite this being my third Cateran.
I convince myself I've passed a turn off for the checkpoint, take the next side street down and turn in the opposite direction from Den of Alyth. I lose about five minutes and finally check-in for some much needed water. No drop bag here although I am offered food from the marshals which I decline. I do take a cup of coke though before being chided by Johnny Fling for spending too much time at the checkpoint.
After the checkpoint it's a nice run through the valley before a long road walk uphill, time for more Tillys Fudge. Someone is catching me so it's a run / walk strategy to try and get away. It's not till I reach the forest where I take a look back and find I'm alone. Onto the 2 mile downhill section to Blairgowrie and there's a runner ahead. I slowly catch up but don't pass until the Blairgowrie checkpoint, I want to save the quads.
A quick top up of water from Bill, grab the drop bag and go as I know there is another uphill road section.
Two Jaffa cakes, that's it, that's all I can eat. Usually at home I can demolish a whole packet in one go!
The bottle of coke goes down a treat. This ultra is fueled by sugar. Onto the long farm track and back to my run walk strategy. I keep expecting runners to catch up and pass me, runners on a far better strategy than mine but it's all clear behind.
I'm getting tired and can't keep a steady run on the flat sections. I count the steps - run 30 walk 30 run 40 walk 30 run 30 walk 40. Depending how I'm feeling, I change things around. Sometimes more walking than running and vice versa but the important thing is I'm still making good progress. There's quite a few walkers on the moor and this helps to keep me running, I don't want to walk past walkers if you get my drift.
I'm approaching Bridge of Cally checkpoint so it's time to put on a happy face despite feeling exhausted.
A water top up then I grab the coke leaving the packet of Jaffas behind, I still have a packet, minus two in my pocket. Another long uphill forest section so it's back to Mrs Tilly for fuel. I convince myself I'll be getting passed by runners soon so this jolts me back into the run / walk method.
I must admit, I am a bit done in at this point but this was my intention. The bog section is approaching and I'm cautious. The Hokas don't have a good reputation in mud. I come up to a deep muddy bit of track and take the split second decision to run around it, so much for the run straight through method. Its a slope of wet grass and before I know it I'm on the ground winded with a face full of mud. I get up quickly and run on, it's an instant reaction when I fall, I've got to keep going. A check while i'm running confirms all is okay but the bog is approaching fast and I have lost confidence with the shoes, mind you there's not a lot out there that will grip on the steep side way slope of the bog section.
I have a cunning plan, I fell because there was no side way grip from my shoes. On the bog section I point my feet uphill for grip but run side on. It must look ridiculous but there's no one around to see. This technique works as I complete the mud slopes without falling down.
Run walk run walk, I'm on the way to Kirkmichael and still no one has caught up. I've not seen a runner since Blairgowrie and I certainly don't want to see one now. Although I'm exhausted and feel done in, I put on my "checkpoint" face for the marshals at Kirkmichael, ask how they are doing, decline the offer of a Gel, check my water bottle, thank them and push on for Enochdu.
It's pretty flat here, run walk run walk run walk, keep it going, I want to keep this place I've worked hard for. I eventually arrive at Enochdu, swap the open packet of Jaffa cakes for a full one, I don't know why as I don't eat anything else for the remainder of the ultra. Coke, a lovely bottle of coke then it's onward, I'm on the home straight. Up the track and through the forest I march on but there's a sting in the tail for this race today. The higher up I get the stronger the wind. The wind gave us time at the start as it blew us along, now it was pay back time, big time as it is head on and must be gale force. Once on the hill I have to lean forward and march on, I couldn't run into this wind even if I had the energy. Wind, rain and hail, it's a final test which sucks the last bit of energy from my body. The track can be seen way back on the hill and there is no sign of runners gaining so I just have to keep going and grind it out.
The last uphill, it's steep and I have to take a breather now and again on the way up. My heart is hammering, I can feel it in the pulse in my neck. Over the top and the wind driven hail stings my face like little needles, nothing is going to stop me now as it's a one mile downhill stumble, trip and slide all the way down to the best finish in ultra racing, The Spittal of Glenshee Hotel.
Now there was a wee bit of calamity at the finish line, as my lovely wife and support forgot to take the lens cap off the SLR camera. It took a few attempts to cross the line and get the above picture, courtesy of Johnny Fling.
A quick shower then something to eat, all the while cheering and clapping the finishers as they enter the bar. And the biggest cheer? For the sweepers and deservedly so.
After everyone was in, it was time for prize giving, a great atmosphere cheering everyone from first to last.
|Harold and I|
A massive thank you to Karen for organising the best race in the world, and to all the marshals and helpers who contributed and made it happen. Roll on next year.