Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Devil O The Highlands 2012

Well that didn’t exactly go according to plan! After the Highland Fling my aim was to tun the Cateran Trail Ultra however I was diagnosed with tendonitis in my left foot (a fancy word for “bloody sore”) and that meant I had to stop/reduce and get my sensible hat on. Cue lots of grumpy moods, weight gain and lashings of vodka.

I was back training in June and only managed a few 2(ish) hour road runs at weekends. Then I attempted to run the Mourne Way (26 miles through the Mourne Mountains) when I was back home in N-Ireland in July. I got lost thanks to some poorly thought out waymarking and had a comedy moment after 2 hours running where I ended up pretty much back at the start! 2 hours ran, 0 miles achieved. However, I did about 25 miles before calling it a day and it was pretty spectacular. I will definitely pencil in the Mourne Way Ultramarathon as a future event.

And so the Devil race was upon us last weekend. My Dad flew over from Belfast to join my sister as support crew. We stayed in Tyndrum both nights at the Pine Trees Camping site in one of their luxury camping cabins which was superb.

The race itself is 43 miles from Tyndrum to Fort William over the second part of the West Highland Way. In my opinion it is the best section and certainly one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland. It has 2 main climbs - the Devil’s Staircase and the ascent out of Kinlochleven. It really is a cracking race and probably my favourite to date.

However, it is a different proposition in the heat which was a bit of a shock! This turned out to be a good thing in the end because the challenge gave me lots of valuable feedback and I learned key lessons.

- The midgies at Inveroran are just mental. Next year wear a long sleeve with long trousers unless you want to look like a heroin addict with measles afterwards.
- I need to take it a bit easier for the first 20 miles. I keep scoring an own goal here.
- I need to run my own race rather than trying to overtake or catch up with folk. As much fun as it was trying to catch Minty the whole race I should have been more concerned with my own effort levels.
- I need to drink more water earlier in the race. I get nauseous after about 5-6 hours running and during the Devil this was definitely caused by dehydration.
- “Real solid food” just doesn’t play ball with my stomach during races. I appreciate the need for calories and carbs but will need to err on the side of slimfast/coke/gel/soup etc rather than a muller rice/cake fest. Solids just tie my stomach in knots and add to the nausea. I won’t eliminate them entirely but I need to think about more calories in liquid form.
- Last year I was faster due to better speedwork and about 1 stone lighter. I want to be like that again as running is far easier.
- BIG LESSON=even when it is “game over” you can still find untapped reserves to carry on. Yes, this is the reason why we enter these things - to find out what happens when we go beyond our limits. To see how far we can go when our body throws a hissy fit and cries that it can’t go any further. However, the thing is I’ve never really had this before. Normally in an ultra I will blow up with about 10-20% distance remaining and then I’ll bitch and moan until the end probably with a bit of swearing and growling. This time I was feckin gubbed walking up the Devil’s Staircase. My heart rate was at 5K race level and I was walking. Mentally I had quit and physically I was a mess. Yet I was only half way home. Somehow I went from total defeat to being able to jog/bimble/walk/jog within 30 mins. This was a bit of a revelation! I managed to run into Kinlochleven looking forward to meeting the crew, getting some coke and then heading on. I was  similarly broken after the scorching climb out of Kinlochleven. I was totally destroyed and incapable of any continuation. However 15 mins later I was jogging again (albeit with 2 min walking breaks). I am delighted to have experienced this - even though I was 30 minutes slower than planned (I finished 9:00:30), the race was a huge success from the confidence I gained. I assumed I would need a number of 50+ milers to get the courage to attempt a longer race. Now I have that self belief.

Lastly what a great crew my Dad and sister were.  I am rather hoping they can do some more in the future!