I wanted to do this event from the very first moment I saw it pop up in my Facebook feed – a new event and a scenic but hilly loop in Scotland in winter might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s right up my street and the early signs on the page were that it was going to be a friendly event with great organisation. I got my entry in as soon as they opened and it certainly didn’t disappoint, and at the entry price ridiculously inexpensive especially given that a bespoke Rerun tee and a finishers medal were included in the price. I really hope this event becomes a regular on the running calender because it’s up there with the most enjoyable I’ve done.
Most people who know me well will be aware that 2019 was a bit of a disappointing year for me, I seemed to have cold after cold after chest infection after sinus infection after cold and spent most of it just gradually getting slower and more frustrated with my running, until finally at the beginning of December I got diagnosed with adult onset asthma and put on various inhalers, gradually since then my run pace has bounced back to somewhere near ‘normal’ and I feel like I’m back where I should be for the training I put in, so this was perhaps the first event I’ve actually started in what feels like forever in good shape and raring to go, and I really wanted this one to go well. I had 100 miles as a firm target in my head though I was aware it was a far from fast flat loop.
So, onto the event – set at the By The Way hostel (on the West Highland Way) at Tyndrum, with parking just up the road at the Green Welly Stop. It was lovely that the local businesses all knew we were coming and there was an illuminated sign outside one cafe wishing us luck. Registration was quick and efficient and we were given our race tee (all different so you got to pick what colour/design you wanted), number, and dibber to keep track of laps.
There was a 6, 12 and 24 hour race all taking place at the same time and the laps consisted of 5 mile laps for the first 12 hours and 4 mile laps for the rest, with a staggered start so the 24 hour runners went off 15 min before the 6/12 hour runners – well thought out given the narrow paths on the first part of the course and it meant everyone spread out nicely quite quickly. The baggage area was right next to the start and finish of the lap and lit and covered so it made picking things up nice and easy.
We started at 11.45 and weather conditions were perfect, after a couple of early showers on Saturday on the journey up and after we arrived had passed and while it was very cold, the wind was light and it was sunny. Mandatory kit was a phone and emergency blanket, with various other items (goggles, full waterproof body cover, headtorch and batteries) to be left in the baggage area and to be indicated if they must be carried on a board at the start of the lap (head torch was added to the list on the board at 3.30 pm) but I wore my race vest and carried my phone and blanket plus light waterproof jacket, drinks and food for around 3 laps at a time so I didn’t have to keep stopping. I set out on the first lap keen to treat that loop as a recce, but to steady run the full lap to suss out which bits in terms of terrain and hills were going to form natural walk breaks.
There was a river crossing right at the beginning of the lap, though fortunately the water level was low and it was crossable with care without getting wet feet using rocks as stepping stones.
There was then a good path section round to a stream bed and rough rocky section under the railway, this had been well flagged to show the easiest route through, and that led up to a mudddy clamber back onto a good path through some woods (after a few laps this did get a bit of a quagmire). Mid way along this path was a section where there had been a land slip and you had to traverse another rough section, and again the easiest crossing was well flagged. The path then dropped almost back to the start of the loop at a level crossing – this first section of the loop was the one mile part of the lap that was removed at midnight as the rail line was closed from that point on so we could just cross the railway to reach that point. I believe the line serviced the mine.
The route then headed up into the forest on good forestry commission track and there was a climb that was about a mile or so long that gained about 400 feet, the climb flattened out in the middle with section that was slightly downhill (I called that bit the mile split saver as it stopped that mile every lap being insanely slow) then ramped back up – I’m not going to lie, even on the first lap I walked a lot of that climb. There followed a steep descent still on reasonable track, though with some decent sized loose rocks that looked like they could catch you out in the dark with tired legs. The descent continued to a gate onto a really good decent track that led up to a mine, we turned left at that point and in varying steep and gradual descents dropped down to the West Highland Way – the mine track was a good surface but the steepness of some bits of the descent gradually took it’s toll on my quads as the event went on. Then came a section of the WHW that gained the nick name in my head of toe stub alley. It was a narrow section where passing was nigh on impossible, (though all through the event everyone was great at just stepping off the path and letting people by or asking if you wanted to come through – I certainly hopped aside whenever anyone came up behind me) it had a few yards of sticky up rocks followed by a bit of smooth path then more sticky up rocks or stones and so on, and even the small stones froze to the ground over night so if you kicked any of them they didn’t move and you got a sharp ouchy reminder to pick your feet up. After a gate you then did the last 400 yards or so along the river on a smooth cinder laid path that was lovely and flat, before a slight incline back into the event village. While on the 5 mile lap you did a short out and back section on a loose gravel track between the camping pods and camper van pitches (this bit was removed once the lap dropped to 4 miles), support on this section was lovely as runners friends and family staying there gave you a cheer as you passed. Then back into the drop bag/water/dibbing in area where the marshalls all gave you lots of support as you passed through.
After this first lap I came to 3 major conclusions, 1. The hills were going to be walked from the start 2. The rocky sections in the first mile and a couple of bits in toe stub alley were definitely going to be walked once darkness arrived as they held the potential for some serious muppetry and 3. 100 miles might actually be a bit of a tall order!! My first lap was, as expected, the fastest of my whole race, after that paces were pretty consistent until I made my first stop in the drop bag area after 3 laps when I needed to top up water and food and collect my head torch. My early laps were uneventful and it was nice just chugging along enjoying the views and having brief chats with people as you passed or they passed, it was a lovely friendly relaxed atmosphere and everyone out on the course was really friendly and supportive. Ian and Molly were always there for a cheer at the end of my laps, in fact I think Ian only missed 4 of my lap finishes as I booted him off to get some sleep in the early hours of Sunday morning – I felt a bit guilty as I wasn’t stopping at the end of most laps just waving hello and then carrying onto the next one.
Once darkness arrived the temperature dropped quite quickly. The river crossing became gradually more perilous each lap as the wet rocks became icy and by my last 2 crossings it was a toss up between risking balancing on the icy stones or just wading as you inevitably ended up slipping off the rocks anyway. The section after you’d gone under the railway got very quaggy and the puddles on the tracks gradualy froze solid. The lap seemed to be split as the sheltered section in the trees didn’t feel too cold but the section on the mine track was baltic and a few times the wind got up down there and it really cut through you. There was a cheering squad toward the bottom of the mine track where a group had set up a fire pit and gathered to support and the medics were there as well. They had towed up a gazebo and an old 3 piece suite and set up for the duration and every lap there was music and cheers from them it was a real lift getting that support each lap.
My laps up until 60 miles when the lap changed were all fairly consistent apart from the one at 50 miles where I stopped to change my socks and grabbed a cup of coffee at the same time. I was surprised when I took the socks off to discover I had a blood blister at the base of one of my big toe nails as, though I could feel a hot spot it didn’t feel like it was going to be trouble (it turned out not to be and didn’t cause any issues throughout). I went through 50 miles in around 10 ¼ hours so despite my early reservations about my target at that point I was pretty confident 100 miles or more was doable barring muppetry or injury.
I knew from Ian that I was gradually climbing in the overall standings as time went on, and that I was second lady out on the course. I’d occasionally check how far ahead the lead lady was, though it didn’t really matter as I had to stick to my race plan to get the best out of my legs, it seemed to stay fairly consistently between 10 and 20 minutes depending on whether I had stopped that lap or not (slower laps invariably meant a loo stop, head torch battery changes or picking up food). There wasn’t much I could do about the gap, I was working hard and I could only hope she might fade more than me towards the end – which certainly didn’t happen.
I felt pretty good for the whole of the event with just a short spell in the early hours of the morning where I got heartburn and felt a bit sick, I can’t decide if that’s because I didn’t eat enough or because I ate too much, it’s unusual for me for feel sick in an event unless I fuel solely on sugar, and I really don’t usually suffer with heartburn, but the fact that a couple of laps without eating helped I’m guessing it was eating too much. I was more than ready for it to get light when it finally did – the 16 hours of darkness really did start to grind as the concentration required to get safely round each loop without muppetry was quite draining, but on the up side that also meant that there was zero chance to feel like the repetition of laps was getting dull, and the scenery when it was light was glorious.
As the event drew to a close Ian told me what my standings were and I knew my position was secure whether I went out and did another lap or not, but I’d already decided as I ran the lap that took me to 100 miles that I was only going out for another lap if the leading lady hadn’t, any remaining laps would only count if you completed them within the 24 hours – I actually thought my last couple of laps were slower than they were so although I would have had time – it wouldn’t have changed the result so I’m happy with that decision.
So the stats, 100 miles, nearly 10,000 feet of ascent, 5th position overall and second lady – I’m calling that a good start to the year in terms of my ultra events – and considering my next one involves a tunnel and quite a lot of darkness as well I’m thinking those 16 hours might have been quite useful practice.
As ever huge thanks to my super support crew Ian and Molly who keep me sane, focused and more importantly smiling when I do this kind of thing and a massive thank you to all the marshalls volunteers and organisers that made this fab race happen – I had a ball and I’d do it all again next year like a shot!!!