Double Lairig Mor and more.
I regularly checked the weather forecast the week leading to the race. It wasn't good, with a "be aware" heavy rain forecast for Fort William I had second thoughts about making my way west for this race. Being Aberdonian, the thought of squandering the entrance fee on a no show didn't sit comfortably. I took the Friday off work to prepare, then left a glorious sunny day for the murky west.
The forecast was spot on, heavy rain as I checked in to the Glen Nevis camp site and made my way to Fort William for registration. A technical hitch meant registration took longer than planned, then it was time for a fish supper and return to the camp site.
Wind driven rain hammered off the camper all night making me question why on earth I was here and about to run a mountain ultra in such conditions.
The alarm goes off at five, barely audible above the sound of heavy rain. After some breakfast I get kitted out in full waterproofs as it's a mile walk to race start at Braveheart car park. It's dark, I need the head torch as I walk along the road. There's a gazebo, a few runners are taking shelter, I join them in an effort to keep warm before race start.
It's obvious participation numbers are down and there's news from race organisers. The river crossing is in spate, although they are confident getting runners across with the aid of a rope and marshals wearing dry suits, in the event of an emergency runners (and riders as this is also a cycling event) may become stranded. The race will now be an out and back with the half way point at the end of Loch Eilde Mor. I have no problem with this, it's the race directors decision and I don't fancy a swim.
Lets talk about Lairig Mor though, as we'll be running it twice today. It's a bit like Marmite, runners either love it or hate it. It also just happens to be the last 15 mile section of the West Highland Way Race. During the last six years of ultra running I've covered the Lairig Mor only three times, one Glee training run in daylight and two sleep deprived dark stumbles at the end of the West Highland Way Race. I must admit, I'm not relishing the thought of doing the Lairig twice today.
I remove my waterproof trousers and pack them away as I'm wearing running leggings underneath. At seven we are off, runners surge ahead up the forest track, I employ my run 30 walk 30 method and soon reach the turn off heading towards Lundavra. A few of us run together along the trail, avoiding the deep puddles and unaware that all the streams will be in spate ahead. Rain, driven by the wind, feels like needles on my face, this saps energy making it a tough day at the office as we try and keep up a good pace.
The first checkpoint is at Lundavra, the marshal is sheltering behind the information board. We dib in, I don't have a drop bag here so just carry on. There's the first of many deep streams ahead with a photographer strategically placed for action shots. A runner ahead veers off to the left in an attempt to find a narrow crossing, I decide to go splashing through giving the photographer the shot he has been waiting for. Little did we know, this type of stream crossing would be the order of the day, keeping feet dry would be impossible.
I'm wearing my Saucony Xodus goretex shoes rather than Hokas. I have sacrificed cushioning for grip and begin to regret my decision. Yes, I have lots of grip in the wet conditions and the goretex outer seems to keep my feet warm despite countless dunks in streams, but I begin to get a pain in my heel, as if someone is sticking a hot needle in it. The streams cool the feet every now and then meaning I can ignore the pain and carry on, hoping it doesn't get worse.
There's a lot of walkers on the trail today, well wrapped up in the foul conditions, making their way to Fort Willam and complete the West Highland Way. I reach the turn off for Kinlochleven and stay on track for Mamore Lodge where checkpoint two is located. It's a great view down to Kinlochleven and the sea loch, even on a dreich day like this.
I dib in, there's drop bags in the back of the van. I'm about to tuck in when a runner comes over to chat. It's Jeni and she says she is out of the race. "Injured?" I ask. "Nah, I just can't be bothered" is the reply from Jeni. "Well you can't pull out with CBA, particularly after speaking to me as I've a reputation to keep up".
And so we team up, the half way turn around should be eight miles ahead (it ended up shorter). The track climbs and it's not long before we meet and congratulate the race leader on his way back. "He's only 12 miles ahead", I amusingly remark.
"Well done" is dished out as runners return, the trail follows the loch, we are both looking for the half way checkpoint which eventually arrives after 18 miles. A land rover is parked by a ruin with two marshals and the dib machine. There's no drop bags here, they are all back at Mamore lodge. Blast, I was looking forward to a can of coke, but no worries, I have a couple bars of chocolate in reserve.
And so it's time to get back to Fort William. Jeni keeps a good pace on the flat sections which stops me walking. We encourage runners who still have to reach half way, the first of the mountain bikers also pass by on their way to the turn around point.
We arrive back at Mamore Lodge, there's a barbecue on the go. I down a can of coke and pick at a few biscuits before we head back onto Lairig Mor. We head back to Fort Bill with the wind and rain in our faces once more. Through the deep streams once again, we walk the uphills and run the flat and downhills.
The heel pain has relocated to my calf and now the Achilles tendon is beginning to protest. Jeni is keeping up a good pace, I consider just walking back but carry on regardless. At every stream crossing I briefly stop and keep my right foot submerged in the freezing water to numb my foot.
Neil and a few runners catch up, there's good banter as we all reach Lundavra and dib in once more. We are now on the last section with only six miles to go. Cyclists pass fast, we have to step aside at the single track sections to let them through. We pass and will some walkers on who are almost at their destination as we run through the forest.
We are now on the forest track, I ignore the Achilles tendon pain as we are only 3 miles from Braveheart car park. I apologise and have to take a couple of walking breaks as the track levels out, the conditions today have made this a tough race.
Seven hours, fifty four minutes and 37 seconds after setting off we arrive back at Braveheart car park, cross the finish line and dib in. At 36.33 miles it's a bit shorter than the official 42 mile route but it feels like more.
I'd like to thank the race organisers for continuing to hold the race in such difficult circumstances. I'd also like to thank the marshals and volunteers for looking after runners and riders in challenging conditions. Thanks to Jeni for the company and keeping a good pace, I was really chuffed getting in under 8 hours.
Week ending 25th Sept. Mon 3, Sat 36. Weekly total 39 miles.
Thurs 3, Sat 8. Weekly total 11 miles.