It was 7pm, I was descending the West Highland Way into Glen Nevis, the Ben in front obscured by thick cloud. In my head I was debating the pros and cons of heading up the Ben. Would I make the cut off? I was behind schedule but I still had 2 and a half hours to get up there. With each step down the steep track, my knees creaked with achy pain, and every other step my left ankle hurt, leaving me wincing. I’d been going for 15 hours at this point, enduring the weather, the sickness, the pain and the mental torture that comes with all that. Watch the video or read on for the full break down.
Turn back the clock 24hrs, I’d not had the best run up to the day before an endurance race. A week of sleepless nights, nerves getting to me I think. The running had been all but non-existent for 5 weeks since inexplicably doing my ankle in crossing the road. My knees during the weekend ride to Berwick and back were better but not sure how I’d fair on the 180kms, never mind after a half marathon (or so it was meant to be). All these factors had my mates calling me brave for toeing the start line. Truth be told, I’m not sure these are the things that broke me that day. But I did make the decision to start.
So I was there at 4am toeing the line with just over one hundred other mental humans. It was nice to be surrounded by others contemplating completing this race, all my time training it was alone or with friends with different race goals. I had planned my training strategy on a modified Ironman plan with help from fellow triathletes and endurance enthusiasts! Was it right? Did I get enough in?
I felt strangely OK at 4am, and it was such a novelty starting a race on the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle. This is the Edinburgh people see and not many races that claim they are in Edinburgh are actually held in Edinburgh. So starting here was special, kudos to the race organisers for organising that.
We set off at a quick pace down the hill, and through the semi deserted streets dodging the random drunks who were on their way home from a night out, and to the homeless man who sang ‘Keep on running’, he cheered me up and I hope we provided some entertainment for him.
The ankle seemed to be holding up which had been a constant worry all week. I got into a rhythm but it felt hard, I attributed this to the lack of running and so I eased off. Reaching Dalmeny estate, the sun was rising and beams of light almost horizontal was lighting up the trees and crops. It was the calm before the storm. Reaching South Queensferry, the bridges reaching out across the Forth, the view behind obscured by a dark cloud. The sun and rain made a rainbow reaching from the Forth up through the bridges and over head. I knew I was going to get wet. We took the most convoluted route to get to the bridge, I wasn’t feeling great, in fact I was feeling sick. The steep incline to get onto the bridge didn’t do anything to help, neither did the steps at the other end to get across the road. My knees didn’t thank me for them either. I decided to walk back up and into Transition.
The run was 25kms, something that seemed to upset a few folk as it was advertised as a half marathon. I had mapped it and it came out at 23km so I wasn’t that surprised. I was surprised it had taken me 2hr 15 to get here which was my worst target time. I decided to change and head out without much of a rest. I threw some haribo down my face to give me some energy.
Leaving transition, I felt strange. I didn’t know at that point if I’d make T2. I wasn’t feeling it and the profile out of Inverkeithing was uphill. My heart rate reached 180bpm. I wasn’t well. It was hard to settle and even 30kms into it, I was still feeling rubbish. I tried to eat an oat bar, but it was difficult. The wind wasn’t really a factor at this point and it was dry with a couple of rain showers. Reaching pit stop 1 in Gleneagles was a relief. It couldn’t have come sooner and I was glad to stop and grab something to eat. A ham and cheese sandwich, packet of salted crisps, some cake, and a blue riband. I was there for 15mins, composing myself and getting myself ready. I got cold quickly so I decided to get going and warm up.
I felt marginally better at this point leaving the pitstop after some fuel but I knew I didn’t feel right. I was cold on this section as it was mainly downhill and fast. The rain started and my back started to ache. All throughout my training I’ve never had a bad back, and so I wondered why now? What was causing the pain and would it go away? The questions in my mind were weighing on me and I had thoughts of giving up.
I was pushing into Crieff, and the back was really achy and sore. The route turned West and into the wind toward Comrie, it was here I stopped to stretch the back which had got progressively worse. Stretching seemed to help so I continued for a bit until I gave in and decided to take painkillers. I was holding off on the painkillers as I knew it was going to be a long day and I needed to use them when I needed them. I was also acutely aware that masking the pain may do more damage.
Would I make it to Kinlochleven? This was really going through my mind, thoughts were on pulling out but I decided to give the drugs a chance. I rode out of the layby and started my journey toward pitstop 2. It was here that Irish dude pulled up and I decided to hang onto him to get some drafting going. My back was really painful and the drafting helped. I took my turn up front but I couldn’t stay in my saddle for long, choosing to get up and crank out of the saddle. This seemed to ease the back pain. The views were incredible along the loch reminding me of an Ironman practice ride with Tina back in 2013.
The Irish guy and I exchanged chats until pit stop 2 and we sheltered each other from the wind. I managed to eat something here at pit stop 2, half a sandwich, some crisps, some cake and a handful of jelly babies. Andy had just arrived after being delayed witnessing a car accident.
I decided to put on my waterproof as the weather ahead looked dark grey. Leaving pitstop 2 I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the next. The long drag up from Lochearnhead was tough but I grinded it out, the weather was starting to change, the views were amazing though.
The climb was over and done with sooner than I thought and the downhill started, but so did the rain and the driving wind. The descent was perilous, wet road, fast cards, windy roads and pot holes to avoid. I didn’t like it and I was cold. The road after this to Crainlarich was long and undulating. It wasn’t fun, and I wasn’t in a good place. My back was still painful and the rain was torrential. I joined a chain gang with a guy on a yellow bike. We stayed together for a while, and I lost him at Crainlarich, the road turning North and uphill from here to Tyndrum. I rolled into Tyndrum wet and cold and into Pit stop 3. I devoured two bits of quiche, some cake, a cup of tea, a blue riband and some jelly babies. I needed it. I hadn’t been able to eat anything on the bike due to the rain and effort I was putting in, not wanting to drop or be dropped in the chain.
I knew the next section was going to be tough, some large climbs and a long section some 60kms to go. I’d been on target with my timings at pitstop 2 and 3 which made me feel better but the trip over the moor would be the deciding factor.
I left Tyndrum in the rain, the wind was on my back for once as I rounded the hill and onto the road to Bridge of Orchy. It was downhill and I was having a fast spell. I really enjoyed this bit, and my back had eased. Perhaps powered by Quiche!
Once we’d passed Bridge of Orchy, there was a long drag climb to get onto Rannoch Moor. It was tough. I reached the top and took a stop in the layby to get some more painkillers down. I saw a group of cyclists coming toward me, drafting each other and helping each other in the relentless headwind that was now being funnelled over Rannoch moor. I jumped on the back of the train and joined them. Taking turns at the front. It was good team work and we all seemed to appreciated the help. The rain was so hard I had to take my glasses off as I couldn’t see, and then had to wince as the rain drops hit my face like hail. Exfoliation by nature. The view was epic though, even in grey cloud.
The long drag before Glen Coe was really tough, as the wind got stronger and the rain worse. Dropping into Glen Coe should be fun, yet we had to cycle down hill and hang on with dear life. It was exhilarating but I wasn’t feeling good. I’d not drank much on this leg which I think is half my issue. The road levelled out and wind dissipated once we had dropped height. I knew at this point that I was going to make the cut off and have time to eat in transition. I arrived into Kinlochleven glad but there were no tears of joy like there had been in other races giving my bike over, there was relief but also the great unknown. What would the run be like?
I was a bit dazed as I realised I didn’t have my Bike to Run bag but I’d picked up my Run to Bike bag that had been moved from transition 1. Once I found the correct bag, I took my time changing and changed socks, top and dried my trisuit with at towel.
I tried to eat, cheese sandwich. The cup of tea and caramel shortbread went down better. Filling up my water was an effort. It just seemed too hard. I wasn’t feeling great and was a bit disorientated when I left.
My mandatory kit was checked and I decided to put on longs for the first time ever when running. The weather was horrific. Rain and wind and cold.
I couldn’t manage a run, I was too tired and my cycle legs were still there. I decided to walk to the climb and then take the climb easy. I marched past a few folk who looked better than I felt but I just wanted to get this done with.
The climb out of Kinlochleven is uneven, steep and through a wood which sheltered us from the weather briefly, though reaching the top we were exposed to the most horrific head wind and rain. It wasn’t fun. I tried to run. It was difficult and slow. My pack was heavy and my legs weren’t being picked up high enough, I kept on tripping on every rock on the track. It wasn’t good going and certainly wasn’t as good as I rememmeberd. I hated this section. I wanted to have a nice clear track that I could bimble along. I thought about the West Highland Way race, reaching here after 70miles! I decided then that I wouldn’t do that race which is a shame as it was on my list, but this experience put me off.
The rain was relentless. The track was basically a river. I was running through inches of water and the streams and mountain run offs were several inches thick and fast flowing. My Inov8s and merino wool socks coming in handy and it felt like SwimRun. I kept on kicking these rocks though which aggravated my ankle injury. I found it easier to run than walk on it, my forefoot stance changing it slightly making it easier. The going wasn’t good, I was about 8-10min every km. My estimation was making pit stop at Glen Nevis at 7pm which meant 2.5 hours up the Ben which was still doable. I had serious concerns though.
I couldn’t eat or drink, I felt sick. I was working hard and kept retching. I was walking intermittently, and up every hill. The incline off the forest track wasn’t welcome and I had forgotten about this section, though i was glad to be off the track.
I’m sorry but I need to talk about my toilet situation so please skip a couple of paragraphs if you don’t want to read!
I hadn’t pee’d all event save a dribble at pit stop 2, some 14hours of going. This was bad. My stomach wasn’t holding up and I decided to try to pee to help relieve things down there. Sorry for being graphic but this was survival. I had no plans to try to go the other way, as that would mean undressing in that weather. Thankfully the wind wasn’t too bad here, as the direction of travel was North and the wind was from the West. Which meant I could pee with relative calmness.
I managed to pee. It was hard. I was feeling rough.
I could see now the track that would drop me down into the Glen. Ben Nevis should have been visible but the cloud was too thick.
I started to descend on the forest track, it is steep, and switches back a fair few times. My knees were killing me, and my ankle wasn’t great. Every 2nd step I’d stumble.
I reached the pit stop and I had the decision to make. I had been going over it for the last 3 hours on the run. Would I go up? Could I get up? Would I get down?
It was 7pm and if I didn’t go up then, would I ever make it up? I was in some pain and I’d not eaten on the run. I tried a sandwich at this pitstop but it wouldn’t go in. I couldn’t stomach it. I knew that if I didn’t eat then I wouldn’t be in a good state climbing a mountain on an empty stomach. It was then that I decided I would make my way to Fort William via the Youth Hostel as Andy was going to be meeting me there.
The pit stop marshal was telling others that it was -5 windchill and very windy up there. It put me off totally at that point.
I think I could have made it up, climbing with these knees wasn’t an issue. It was the descent I was worried about, and if I was unable to eat would I be able to get down OK. The risk was too much and I wasn’t that gutted about it.
After speaking with Andy, who was ready to drive me back to Fort William, I said I was going to get to Fort William on foot and headed along the road, some 4kms to go.
I took this time to think and make peace with that decision and I was Ok with it. I needed to drink and eat something hot. I managed a bimble to the hill and walked up over cow hill, reaching the finish and I think I was only 9 people at that point who had got there.
There were 52 folk who made the Summit, 4 people arrived after midnight cut off but that’s brilliant still. 19 people made it to Fort William without summiting, the race decided to recognise our efforts and put our results in a separate list. I know it was an achievement to get there, but now I wonder if I could do it. Maybe one day I will attempt it again. Out of the 52 folk who made the summit, no one left the Glen Nevis pit stop after me, which goes to show that I don’t think I would have made it up and down in that time. The last person to summit and finish before midnight was at Glen Nevis half and hour before me.
64 people didn’t finish. They didn’t make the cut off at the Bike to Run transition or retired. I realised looking back at photos there weren’t many bikes there which really says something about the bike course and conditions out there. I don’t think I would have made it without the drafting.
You can see the results here
I’m going to think about where it all went wrong, and write a blog about that but I can say that I made it to Fort William from Edinburgh some 185kms of riding, my longest yet and 50kms of running. That’s something!
All in all a well organised event from Rat Race. They clearly know what they’re doing. The pit stops and signage were excellent as were the marshalls and safety team. I was very impressed with the smooth running of the event. Well done!
Thanks to Andy of course for his continued support and chauffeuring me about the country on my mad events.