In my first year of Ultra Running, I had two “A” races. The Highland Fling and the Devil O Highland’s.
You may recall from my Blog regarding the Highland Fling that I wanted to turn my attention to more hill work and Strength conditioning to get ready for the Devil O Highlands.
My post Fling recovery didn’t really go as planned. I took 3 weeks recovery of easy running, I had one week of Norovirus and then lost another week to a Duke of Edinburgh expedition. Just like that, 5 weeks of training had disappeared.
In some ways the time off was good, but I was genuinely feeling frustrated and ready to get back to some hard training.
Training for the Devils
On average, I planned to run 45-50 miles per week across six sessions. At least three sessions on trail, one hill repeat or long hill session and one session in the gym, focussing on core work.
Where possible, I spent my long runs, which I class as 15-20miles + on the trails. Mostly on the West Highland Way. I had a good training partner, Angus Alston, who was also taking part in the devils.
Together, we ran Tyndrum to Glencoe, Glencoe to Fort William and then a tough session of Ben Lomond up and down, followed by a run to and from Inversnaid. Amongst other sessions, this put us in a strong position to finish the Devils and gave us a good understanding of the terrain and hills involved. I would recommend training on the route for anyone wanting to take part next year.
I spent one day per week in the gym, doing mostly squats, lunges, kettlebell work, stretching and plank. I plan to continue this routine right through the winter and see how next year’s times compare to this year.
Tapering for the Devils
It wasn’t great! The weekend before, I felt sore and sluggish/overly tired. By the time Wednesday arrived, all my motivation had gone out the window, I felt hungry all the time and de-motivated. I had ran 5 miles during my lunch hour and by the time I got home, felt like I had ran a marathon. Something was wrong!
On Thursday morning, I woke up with flu like symptoms and the reality was setting in that I might not be able to run the Devils. I started on the paracetamol/Lemsips. Whilst that took the edge off things, I was still feeling light headed and empty. Come Friday evening, I had decided to sleep on whether to race or not, knowing that I was getting up at 3am to get to the start of the race registration for 5.15am. On the drive up, I knew I wasn’t going to run. I was feeling sick, my head was throbbing and I still felt empty. Not a great combination heading into a 42 Mile hilly Ultra Marathon.
When I arrived at the Green Welly Tyndrum, there was a buzz in the atmosphere and I seen plenty of familiar faces. I spoke to a couple of folk and explained I just wasn’t feeling up to it and had decided not to run. I just kept thinking it was such a long way to start and not be able to finish.
Having squared off with myself not to run, I seen two friends that I had trained with previously, George McLaughlin and Liam McGregor, who gave me some sound advice, told me to man up, get my kit on and just do the best I can. George has had a tough year himself and was kind enough to offer just to “bimble” round with them and enjoy the day out. I walked outside and met another friend, Lisa Martin, who also encouraged me just to give it my best shot, albeit, she said I shouldn’t run with a cold. I went back to the car, got ready, collected my number and headed to the start line.
Standing at the start line, I still wasn’t feeling great, but as the horn sounded, off I went. I tried to keep my starting pace sensible, as the tougher miles are in the second half of the race. A couple of miles in and I was feeling ok. It was a perfect day, clear with a light breeze and no rain. Albeit, fairly humid.
I approached Bridge of Orchy 7 miles in around 57 mins. I had a mandatory kit check and off I went to the first prolonged climb of the day. I was still feeling positive and fuelling was going well, unlike the Fling where I was unable to eat anything.
Then, after approx. 8 miles of running uphill towards Glencoe checkpoint, I hit a massive downer. I started to feel how I had felt pre-race, tired and empty. My head started to say this isn’t your day Mark and I started playing with the idea of pulling out at Glencoe (17miles) in. I don’t know where this came from; perhaps it was because there was a bail out option here in the form of a lift back to the start. I collected my drop bag, took on some food and switched my Tailwind bottles.
I jogged slowly away from the checkpoint, but then I stopped. I started to well up in frustration that my race was coming to an end. As I dropped down to the road crossing towards the Kings House, I met my friend Emma Hamilton, who asked how I was doing and said, “You look very pale Mark”. I explained I wasn’t feeling up to it and in reply Emma said “You are still breathing and you can still put one leg in front of the other, so keep going”. It was true; I was ok, just running on empty going into the toughest sections of the race.
I crossed the road and I have to admit, the further away I got from the comfort of the checkpoint, the better I started feeling. The sun was shining and I couldn’t wait to see the views from the top of the Devil’s Staircase.
I got over the first large climb of the day no problem, and was rewarded on the descent into kinlochleven by seeing two fighter jets flying below me through the valley. It was an incredible sight and the noise was EPIC. The descent into Kinlochleven (KLL) is approx. 5 miles with some rocky/rough terrain to navigate. You would think five miles of downhill can’t be hard, but it wasn’t easy! From this point, I have to admit, I never again thought of giving up or not finishing. I already knew from this point that I was going to finish!
I arrived at KLL around 5 hours (28miles in). I ate a whole custard pot, a full protein bar and then a Mars bar. Many people claim the climb out of KLL is harder than the Devils Staircase and I have to agree, especially considering how many miles you have run by this point.
As I started the climb, I began to feel sick. Bloody Mars Bar! I had to take a seat for 5 mins and give my body time to digest all this food. It was a good idea in the end, as I started running shortly after and felt fuelled through the whole of the Lairig Mor. I love this section of the run and the views were incredible. I knew that when I reached Lundavra checkpoint (35miles), I was due some sympathy and hugs as Noanie put it and this would mean 7 miles to go, 3 of which were completely downhill! Nae sympathy or hugs given, just a swig of Water and off I went, feeling positive.
I ran all of the downhill sections with a spring in my step and Fort William was in my sight. As I ran downhill, I was thinking about our previous training run and knew the finish was close. But! At the bottom of this section, there was marshall and aluminous arrow pointing up this massive hill. I reckon it was another mile of climbing before a sharp descent to the Lochaber Leisure centre where the finish line awaited!
I crossed the line feeling elated. I done it!
Official Finish time 8:35.07.
There is so much to be said for getting some help from my friends. I truly wouldn’t have started or continued without your encouragement. Thank you!
There is also a lot to be said for having a positive mind-set. I battled so many demons during the first half of the race, which my training had helped me cope with.
Thanks to John, Noanie and the army of Marshalls who made the day safe and special. Thanks to Fiona Rennie for the cuddle at the top of the Devils! Thanks to Monument Photos for all the pictures and everyone else who made it a special day, you know who you are!
Finally, thanks to my beautiful wife Donna and our two boys for all of the love and support throughout!
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