Devil O The Highlands Footrace

On Saturday 5th August 2017 I faced the ‘Devil’ – a 42(ish) mile ultramarathon run on the West Highland Way from Tyndrum to Fort William.

Elevation profile

It’s the second oldest ultramarathon in Scotland after the West Highland Way Race and celebrated its 18th year this year.

It’s fair to say that I did not prepare as well as I should have for this one.  I wasn’t casual about it but equally I did not do the level of preparation I normally would.

My taper was non-existent as the preceding week (right up until 12.30pm the day before race day) I was on my feet for 14hrs a day as staff at a Scout International Jamboree.

So not only was I physically exerting myself, but I allowed myself to become dehydrated and also had much less sleep than I normally would too.

Glamis & Culzean sub camps coming together for the closing ceremony
Paint party in the shadow of the tower
Cloud inversion down Glengoyne as viewed from Glamis Sub camp

The one positive was that I was extremely well fed.  Having porridge, shake and herbal tea every morning, protein bars a plenty and plentiful meals as well as all the offers of tea, coffee, cakes and biscuits as I did my daily rounds of the c500 scouts and guides on my camps, there was no way I was going in under fueled.

So Friday afternoon arrives and I get myself into my hotel, some peace and quiet, a bath and I sort my kit out and do some personal admin (toenails, foot care etc) ready for a 4am alarm and a 6am start time.

I videoed the entire run and condensed into 6 mins, so I won’t do chapter and verse here.   But I will share a few salient points that may be of interest or use to you, the reader.

Devil O The Highlands video – 6mins
Miles 1 to 10 went exceptionally well.  Timings going great and I was on for an 8 to 8.30hr finish.

Miles 10 to 17 were a real mixed bag.  At one point I actually considered myself to be bored!  What an ungrateful jerk!  Surrounded by beautiful scenary in glorious weather and I’m bored.  So I gave myself a talking to and pulled my finger out.

At mile 17 I arrived into Glencoe Ski Centre, the first checkpoint where a drop bag was located.  In mine I had a Trek Bar, some trail mix and a small tin of beans.

I scoffed the beans as one of the marshals filled my bottles with fresh water and my CR7 Drive sachets (absolute star!)

And here was the first realisation things were not quite right.  Other than my shake and porridge at 4am, for 17 miles I had not eaten anything and had only drunk about 500ml.

I just wasn’t feeling hungry or able to onboard any fuel and was being overly cautious about running short of water – which considering the rainfall in the Highlands that week was ludicrous!

Onwards along Glencoe, towards the Devil’s Staircase and up over it.  Absolutely blowing through my backside and at the top (22.6 miles) I was spent!

Trying to make up a little time running down the far side towards Kinlochleven and the onset of cramp in my groin, both hamstrings and calves pulled me up short.  A sure sign I was dehydrated.

Only 4 miles out from Kinlochleven now so I necked the remains of one of my bottles and refilled it from a flowing stream, adding in one of the spare CR7 sachets I was carrying.

At the Kinlochleven checkpoint, I opened my 2nd drop bag whilst another fabulous marshal filled my bottles again.

I necked my espresso and managed a banana and a packet of salted crisps.   And felt immediately sick.

The climb out of Kinlochleven is a tough one and the sun was beating down at this point.  I’d already finished one bottle halfway up and still had 6 miles across the Lairig Mor to go so I refilled in a small waterfall and also soaked my cap to cool me down.

The next 6 miles were tough.  Emotional highs at getting to under 10miles to go followed by lows as my ankles and feet became sore from the constant battering off the rocks on the path.

Lundavara check point. 7 miles to go and the route is well know to me.

 Another emotional high because I know what is ahead and I finally feel like I am in control.

Marshals here were ace as well.  Filling my bottles for me whilst I gathered myself.

Over the following 7 miles I managed a mix of running, walking and shuffling.  Ben Nevis revealed herself as the clouds shifted and at mile 38 I was pretty much running on empty.

At the top of a small climb, a family had set up a checkpoint with fresh orange segments.  Pure nectar.  I managed 2 and set off with ‘less than a park run to do’.

One thing that surprises me is no matter how exhausted or tired I feel, I still manage a ‘sprint’ finish.  Well, I manage to run across the line.

So here’s my learnings from this little adventure.

  1. Dehydrated before the race and not drinking enough had a massive impact on my performance and I could not replace what I was losing quick enough.
  2. Train for the terrain.  The hills kicked my arse big time.
  3. I’m mentally stronger than I gave myself credit for.  I recognised the signs of things going wrong, accepted them and worked around them.
  4. When negative thoughts entered my mind, I’d quickly switch back to thoughts of the preceding week.
  5. When the terrain was tough, I focussed on someone and a situation that needed tough action and worked through that to propel me forward.
  6. Being prepared to alter plans is necessary.  Adapt to what is happening.
  7. I made epic kit choices.  All worked brilliantly, even if the shorts aren’t exactly flattering!

The fotos here are a mix of stills from my GoPro Hero4 and also from Monument Photos, Stuart Macfarlane, Fiona Rennie and Clark Hamilton – to whom all runners are very grateful for them being out on the course and taking these photos for free.

Here’s the link to the video, enjoy!  And watch out for reviews of some of the kit I used too!

Devil o The Highlands 2017


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