Great Glen Ultra

Part 1

We arrived down in Fort William just after 11pm and we set about sorting out our kit and having a quick chat with other runners. Just before 1am, we were given the final race briefing and thereafter ushered outside onto the canal path. After an old fashioned count down from 10, we were hootered off by the BAM team and sent on our way towards Inverness.

I deliberately started off slow as I was very conscious of blowing up half way through the race. I knew the first 30 or so miles were the flatter half of the course so I knew that if I took it a bit easier, I could try and make my way through the field later in the race. The first 7 or so miles were along the Canal bank and somewhat lonely. A good number of runners took off very fast and I could see 30 odd headtorches in the distance, most of them disappearing within a few minutes. I got quite concerned about how slow I was going, but I had to remind myself the race was 72 miles, not just to the first checkpoint. Miles 7-10 were along the Loch shore line and it was amazing to run in the darkest hour, with nothing to hear but our own foot steps. I went passed a few runners as we approached checkpoint 1 (12 miles), where I took on a banana and a shot block or two. I noticed from the clipboard that I was in 28th position in a time of 1 hour and 44 minutes.

For the next 6 or so miles, we ran on a forest trail. It was lumpy, with a mixture of long straights and even longer inclines, enough to get the HR up and the glutes firing. I was joined by a lovely lady called Shona around mile 15, and this would be the start of a super partnership. We were bang on the same pace and it was nice to run with someone. Without Shona, I would have definately slowed down and been a good bit further behind. Shona was older and fitter than me and she told me of her previous ultra experiences. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and I made it my mission to keep up with her. We came off the trails and made our way onto the tar for a few more miles, passing a few more runners. At mile 22, we finally made it into checkpoint 2 in a time off 3 hours and 13 minutes. Here we spent a few minutes trying to refuel.

Part 2

Shona and I left checkpoint 2 in 20/21st place and we began the long slog through the forest. It was a hard few miles, with a tight path leading it’s way up the hill in a series of switchbacks. We had to hike for a few minutes at a time and it was an effort to keep up with Shona, who was chewing up the hills and spitting them back out. We picked off a few more runners and ran with a few of them for a short while, before breaking away together. Eventually we got onto the canal path which would take us all the way into Fort Augustus. I knew in advance that this was a long section of canal, but my god it went on forever! It must have been about 5 or 6 miles and although we were racking up the miles at a fast pace, I was pleased to see the boats line the canal bank as we entered CP3 – Fort Augustus (32 miles) in 5 hours and 11 minutes.

After refuelling, Shona and I set off again, this time in 16/17th place. She offered me a caffeine tablet as she could see that I was struggling with my nutrition and that I was getting tired. I gladly accepted it but it tasted absolutely horrendous (should have swallowed). The climb out of Fort Augustus was the hardest one yet, with the climb going from 0 to over 1000 ft in 2 or 3 miles. It wasn’t runable, so again I had to hike with such an effort just to keep up with Shona. We went passed a few slower hikers, but a few of the fitter lads went passed us. At the top of the hill, the trail opened up and it became a runners paradise. Unfortunately for Shona, the caffeine tablet must have kicked in as I left her on the downhill sections. It was my favourite part of the trail as the views over Loch Ness were simply amazing and it was the first stage in the race where I thought I was doing pretty well. I enjoyed the last few miles of road on the way into CP4 – Invermorriston (41 miles) in a time of 6 hours and 56 minutes. A quick look at the checkpoint clipboard showed that I was in 14th place.

Part 3

I spent a good few minutes at the checkpoint as I was secretly hoping Shona wouldn’t be far behind me and that she would catch up. Poor Shona didn’t appear so I left without her and hiked my way up the next horrendous incline and to the highest point on the course. The heat was unbearable. I was splashing water on my face and I soon realised that I had used most of it. The streams were dry and I was thirsty. I battled my way through the trail and a couple of bikers told me that there was a group of 4 ahead of me, only by a few minutes. I started eyeing up a top 10 spot so I put the head down and ran consistently for about 4 or 5 miles, hoping to catch the group. The group never appeared so I ran faster and faster. Eventually, I turned a corner and I was at the unofficial water checkpoint (mile 50). This was in place because the distance between CP4 and CP5 was in excess of 15 miles so you could refill on water. When I asked the Marshall about the group of 4, he laughed and sent me packing.

For anyone that knows this next section of the Great Glen Way, you’ll know its boring as f**k. 6 miles of road running was not what I needed but it had to get done. It hurt. Alot. The decent into Drumnadrochit was fast as I could see the next runner in the distance. I was closing the gap on him and I could feel myself getting excited that I was still moving up through the field. As we ran through Drumnadrochit, I saw the chap exit the petrol station with a cold bottle of Lucozade. It was decision time, do I go into the shop and buy something cold or run ahead and get in front of the chap. I chose wrong. I thought I would gain at least a few minutes on him, but by the time I entered CP5 (56 miles) in 9 hours and 48 minutes, he was right behind me. I was now in 13th place, but I did not feel good. I could feel myself beginning to wobble on my feet and I could sense the marshalls were concerned about my fitness to continue.

Part 4

I was encouraged to eat a few things by the Marshalls before I left the CP, but it just wasn’t happening. I told them I was feeling great and that I would be ok. The chap who arrived behind me was off, running his way along the main street and out of my view. Once I was able to muster enough energy to get the legs jogging again, I trundled along the A82 towards Tychat Estate. I knew the next few miles were all steep inclines as this was the final big climb. Hiking after running 55 miles was brutal. I was walking alot and I just had to hope that no one was closing up behind me. It was the first stage in the race that I really questioned my sanity and my fitness. I started jogging on the flats and stopped every few minutes as my head was gone. I knew I was on pace for my sub 14 hour finish, but I was struggling. Thankfully it wasn’t long before I could see the high viz vest of the Marshall at CP6 (62 miles), which I entered in 11 hours and 36 minutes.

The Marshall asked me if I had seen Shona and I explained that I hadn’t since before Invermorriston. Suposeably she was lost and had called the race director for help. If I didn’t feel bad enough already, I did now. The Marshalls geared me up for the last 10.5 miles and I was off. As I was leaving, I could see a runner behind me in the distance, maybe half a mile behind. I pushed on for a good 3 miles, looking behind me every minute or so, ensuring my 14th place was safe. I had to stop for a walk but I needed to get running again. Having one last look behind me, I saw the runner again. They were getting closer. I pushed on again, this time for maybe a mile at a time before walking for a quick rest. The 3 mile stretch from Blackfold to the mast was horrendous, I hated every second of it. I passed through the gate by the pond and it was from here that I could see the finishing line. It was a mere 3 miles away in the distance.

Part 5

It looked so close, but I knew it was still so far away. I knew the route down to the finish line almost perfectly, as it was one of my training routes. I took the downhill trail to the old hospital at speed, making sure I couldn’t have been overtaken. As I looked back up the hill, a figure appeared in the distance again. I wasn’t sure if it was a walker or a runner, but it was enough to give me a scare. I hobbled down the tight lane known as ‘Nurses Brae’ and it wasn’t long before I was on the final stretch along the Canal bank. I stopped and walked. I just couldn’t face running anymore. I dipped my cap in the water and poured some water all over my head. I walked to the bridge and the running track was in plain sight.

Having crossed the road, I jogged under the tunnel and through the gate leading to the track. There was lots of clapping and cheering, from marshalls, competitors and family. I completed the lap of honour, before finishing under the big inflatable BAM sign in 13 hours and 48 minutes. I was bloody delighted with 14th place too. It sunk in that I had run from Fort William to Inverness in less than 14 hours. My good pal Martin had finished 8th and was already recovered.

As I stood with family, the awaiting crowd started clapping again and it was clear the next runner was just entering the stadium. I looked over to see Shona. SHONA!!! How on earth was she so close to me? She was supposed to be lost on the hill somewhere. She completed her lap of honour and crossed the line a mere 8 minutes behid me. I congratulated her on her run and the first thing she said was ‘I should never have given you that caffeine tablet’ 🤣🤣

Conclusion

An absolute fantastic route along the Great Glen Way with some amazing views. The event was well organised and the and stations were well set up. The finish at the stadium was a nice finishing touch and everyone was so friendly.

Distance- 72 miles

Cost- £85 with an extra £10 for bus to start.

Placing – 14th finisher

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