Great Glen Ultra 2018
5th of July 2015 I made my first ever steps on the Great Glen Way, which stretches from Fort William to Inverness and is roughly 71 miles long. At this time it was a massive jump up in miles for me, but I wanted to attempt the Great Glen Ultra. The longest race previously was 38 miles. I had a pretty good day, finishing in 12 hours 40 odd and managing to pick up 2nd place that day. This was beyond my wildest dreams at this time, and I knew on finishing that one day I'd return to run it better prepared. As you may or may not know, I ran a few ultras in 2016 which culminated in the Glenmore 24 hour, managing 130ish miles. Then I had a year off completely in 2017 due to the birth of my mad baby and getting hitched. I missed the long runs more than I thought and I was itching to get back to it.
At the start of the year I still didn't have concrete plans as the races I do are very much dictated by my weekends off at work, but I knew the Great Glen had to make a come back. I love the BAM races that I've done and this is an amazing route. Controversial maybe, but I think this is a much better route than the West Highland Way. Flat and fast the first 30 miles and then three decent steep climbs before arriving in Inverness. If you look back to my Blackpool marathon blog, you'll see that training didn't go to plan at all due to illness. After this I managed a good 5 week stretch and was pretty happy with some new ideas that I was fitting in, and really feeling the benefit of these. However, Blackpoolitis struck again, and in what was to be my peak week I was struck down again. I had somehow managed to find myself with sepsis, which I am blaming entirely on being bitten by some Argyll insect while at work. Again this resulted in a zero mile running week. And again I could barely sit up without being forced to a lie back down again within a few minutes. I was given 2 weeks of a massive dose of antibiotics, and against doctors orders I started to train ever so slowly after a week. I felt pretty shit while doing so but not as shit as the cabin fever that I am ever so prone to. This took me up to the taper fortnight which is horrendous at the best of times. But...happy that I was actually running and able to get outside was great, and I was now happy that I would make the start line. Adding to the taper woes was the reality that I had again missed every proper long training run (see a pattern here) and that sucked more confidence from me and done more damage than that stupid Argyll midge had done.
So I was now turning up on race day not having ran more than 30 miles for a massive 22 months. It seemed like a massive jump up in miles yet again on this route. So again the task seemed daunting. I'd have been happy with one long run to settle the legs but it just wasn't to be. It's just the way life goes sometimes so I just had to suck it up buttercup. At least this time I would have a good bit of experience in my quiver which I could use to shoot down some problems I would no doubt encounter on the way.
Different to 2015, we drove straight to Inverness and set up camp in the Bught campsite which is right beside the finish. Tent set up was hassle free. I then unsuccessfully chased sleep for an hour or so while the sun beat down on the tent. I then got things organised for my drop bags with the help of daughter number 1. Tailwind and bananas were going to be the order of the day along with the odd wee treat of nakd bars and oat bars. I'm all about the bananas when I run, despite hating them outwith running life. I can thank Mrs Shaw for this after force feeding me these during some race. They do the trick but they are rank. So everything organised and we headed off for the bus back to the start. Sleep eluded me on the journey back, so I'd just have to deal with being tired and ready for bed before the off. Not to worry. I opted to wear race shorts and vest with some Inov-8 Race Ultra Sleeves which I had unbelievably managed to find that fit my 8 year old size arms. Ultimate Direction Race Vest to carry my gear, and finished off with Injinji toe socks and Mizuno Fresh Foam Zante to make sure my feet were comfy and blister free throughout. There was a wee hang around at registration which allowed me time to do my warm up routine and contemplate the long run ahead of me.
I had a fairly clear plan of what pace I was going to run for the 1st 30 miles. After this I was just going to hang on if I could. Due to the lack of long runs I was unsure what would happen here so it appeared as good a plan as any to run the 30 at a pace I knew I could stick and then see how I felt. At 0100 hours off we went and my Garmin told me I was at 7:20 per mile pace. I was keeping an eye on my heart rate which was ideal about 140 bpm ish. So far so good. I found myself at the front along with Rodger Sangster and Chris Harris. The pace suited me so we settled in and it was good to have some company for the first bit, albeit there was little talking. After about 7 miles you've to cross the canal. There was a swing bridge about this point, but no arrow and I was fairly confident the turn was a little further away. A look behind showed some headtorches on this bridge (everyone is always eager to make a turn) but rest assured a little further up the road Bill was on course to direct us over the correct turn. There was then a wee bit of trail and I slowed up and let Rodger and Chris move on ahead. Gavin Taylor then came past about this point and he was out of sight pretty quickly. It's always good to witness people moving so quickly. By this time the other runners were out of site too, and I enjoyed the quiet as I passed along the water. There was no breath of wind at all and even though it was dark the views were great. I passed checkpoint one where I picked up my banana and oats and I think I was passed by a runner at this time. I turned my head torch off at this point. It was still dark but the moonlight was enough and I really enjoy running in the dark trails with no light if it's safe to do so.
Between 10 and 20 miles I hit a massive low point and really started to struggle. I wasn't low on energy or anything, maybe I was just tired. But it was a real struggle to even keep my pace up at this point already. What a kick in the stones to feel so low so early in the race. Running breaks my heart so many times over and over again. I was genuinely gutted at this point and thought about throwing the towel in already. I just felt so let down by my body, which immediately responded by throwing up the banana and oats I'd just eaten. So much for not being sick throughout the race! As I said earlier I do have a good bit of experience now, so I knew it would pass as I just had to knuckle down and grind it out. I got into the checkpoint about 20 miles in, and just decided to get some more banana down me and I knew the low would pass. It always does. There was a climb right after this check point and I hiked it while eating my banana, which I promptly threw up again right away. I was in 3rd now and even though I wasn't bothering about position at this point it was good to keep a wee eye on it. About 25 miles in or so there was a good wee descent and this is where I started to feel good again. Even although my legs were right sore already. I knew they would be like this at this point in the race and I just made peace with that and blocked out the pain. I caught up with Rodger in 2nd place about this time just before we went onto the canal for the 5 mile stretch or so. I remember hating this bit in 2015 but it was unbelievable. The water was perfectly still, the sun was up and piercing through the mist above the water and it was great to see. It was without doubt one of the best sun rises I have ever seen. Time passed quickly and I was running some decent splits without digging too deep, and the canal section was done before I knew it.
I got up to Fort Augustus and Ada told me that I was about 10 minutes behind 1st place, and while I was forcing banana down, told me not to be sick on her trainers. Seemed fair so I plodded round the corner and threw it up at the side of the road instead, almost in the exact same place as 2015!! Lucky enough this was the last I would be sick and I settled after that. I wasn't worried because I was still taking in a decent amount of calories, and wasn't losing loads while being sick and still felt good.
After about 33 miles or so was the first decent climb. I managed to take in some more calories and the tailwind was working a treat. I power hiked the steep bits, hands on knees effort which I always enjoy, and was feeling good enough to run the bits that weren't as steep. There wasn't much flat at the top and then it was down again. I didn't go too hard here as I wanted to save the quads for a bit later. I arrived in Invermoriston and had a wee seat on the camping chair there while the awesome marshalls filled my bottles and I ate more banana. I was told 1st place was about 10 minutes in front, and also that my chair had an ejector seat, so up I went and started the steep climb out of here. I really enjoyed the climb this year. Most of it was a power hike and it was decent to run this in sunshine instead of rain like it was in 2015. It did go on for longer than I remember but it was all good as I was enjoying grinding out a decent pace up the hills. Once at the top you can see the trail in front for what seems like miles. No sign of 1st place ahead and I just carried out the way I had been, still feeling good and getting some splits in that I was happy with. This section was the longest between the drop bags, and by now it was really starting to heat up. I had only tailwind, so I couldn't even pour that over me to cool things down a bit, and there were zero streams left on the hills to use. There was then another great descent which took up to a water only aid station. I was informed at this point that Gavin in 1st place had left exactly ten minutes ago so I didn't hang about. I remembered this next section clearly from the last time, and I knew it was short until the drop bag station. I then put in a bit of an effort on the downhills and was happy for the quads to take a beating now. I worked really hard on this stretch and was rewarded with a couple of 7:30s which I was delighted with. I thought if I was running this speed, then I was very unlikely to be caught, and hopefully I was putting a bit of time into the gap in front.
The left turn into Drumnadrochit lasted forever, and I was starting to convince myself I had went the wrong way. I just didn't remember it being so long before. I started to doubt myself and asked a few walkers if I was on the right way. The all looked at me like I had 3 heads. Clearly they didn't understand my accent so I just bumbled on and then thankfully seen the aid station. I was rewarded in here,by learning Gavin had left 5 mins in front, so I was delighted that I had managed to close the gap even though he wasn't in sight. I ran the next road section before the last climb and hoped to see him here because I knew there was some good views in front. Not to be!! This was a bit of a sucker punch to me at this point and I hiked my slowest miles up the hill. I was staring at my garmin just counting the lost minutes that I had worked so hard to close down. Near the top of the steep bit of the climb there is a way marker that sends you to a view point over the water. I took this and wandered about at the top, looking for the path that wasn't there. I then remembered I had done this the last time aswell, and headed back to the trail so pissed off that I had wasted even more time. I was so down beat again. I didn't know how far behind 3rd place was so that was my sole focus on keeping moving. My head was down and I was mile counting on garmin to get to the end. Out the forest and there is a great view up the last of the climb to the trail ahead. I then seen 1st place a couple of minutes in front, which immediately jolted me into a quicker pace again. I managed to close the gap and me and Gavin spoke for a few minutes before I headed off to the next aid station which was a mile away or so.
I knew it was about 11 miles roughly to the end. I managed some irn bru, skipped my banana and decided to get on the energy gels to the end. One of the lovely marshalls told me that I was about 5 minutes in front of course record pace which got me going quickly. I was head down and onto the road section which has an great open view. I didn't look round at all until I was just about entering the trees. I looked round and didn't see any runners so I was pretty happy I had a good gap of about a mile or so. I was still feeling good, and managed a few energy gels down into me. Feeling good doesn't last forever though, and with 5 miles to go I really started to struggle again. My legs felt good but I was really over heating, and was starting to feel really dizzy. I didn't want to slow down so I just kept pushing but the dizziness was becoming worse, so I had a few walking breaks which helped. I was hoping I wasn't going to do a Hawkins and wanted to make sure I got to the finish line without that happening. This part of the course is really enclosed with hardly any views behind, and still limited shade. I was convinced I was going to get caught. After feeling so good for the last few miles it was tough to take to think that I would get passed so close to the finish. I went from picturing crossing the line in 1st place, to picturing getting passed as I was on the last canal section, and worrying I would pass out and not do either of these things. I would have been gutted to get caught this late on, and it made me wish I had never caught 1st place so that I wasn't in this situation. It was just such a pendulum of emotions and I didn't know what was going to happen. But I love it. These feelings, and feeling like you cant go on before running another 40 miles are what I pay my money for. I honestly love it so matter the outcome. I struggled on and on, and soon found myself at the housing estate which I remembered meant I had half a mile to go. Onto the canal bank and I was delighted to see that the swing bridge was down and I need not worry about having to wait for a passing barge. I swung back to feeling good again as I seen the running track and the finish. I felt instantly cheated when I realised that I had to run 400m instead of the 200m like the last time, but my girls gave me a big cheer as I passed and I picked up the pace for the lap of the track, finishing in 11:08.
Finish lines hurt. I always think that the pain really kicks in once you have crossed that line, and it really hurt this time! I forgot how sore legs could get, but I felt more relief than anything with this race. After a while out it was great to get back to the longer stuff and prove to myself that my legs could still hack it and I could dig deep when I needed to. For those who haven't ran the Great Glen, it's a fantastic route. We were spoiled with the views this year. Probably my favorite things about this race though...we camped right next door to the finish line. So once I was able to walk, we could sit in the sun and watch the other runners coming in. It's amazing to sit and watch and I had a great time lying on the ground feeling sick and watch the other runners come round the track and across the line, some sprinting, some limping, but all smiling. All while it was enjoying a beer which took me 3 hours to drink haha. Even once we had to head back to the tent to feed the kids, we could hear the runners coming into the stadium and over the line to cheers and applause. This must be the thing I enjoy about this sport the most. I won't be back next year, but without doubt I will return to the Great Glen again and I look forward to when it happens.
Here's what I ate and drank during the race
Tailwind Caffeinated Raspberry Flavour (6L volume, 24 scoops)
6 bananas, 3 of which I threw back up.
6 Nakd bars
4 Graze oat bars
1 packet cliff shot blocks
High 5 Energy Plus Caffeine 8 gels all in the last 10 miles
Now that might not seem like a lot of food, but I had worked my calories out before hand and I knew this would see me through. I went into the race fuelled well and even when I was sick, I managed to only lose a wee bit of food, I wasn't emptying my stomach. That being said I feel the tailwind worked amazing for me yet again. I've previously made it too strong and struggled to get that down me. But 2 scoops into 500ml of water was perfect and the caffeine helped keep my heart rate at a decent level when it mattered.