This race was simultaneously the worst and the best thing I have ever done – I’m still buzzing from it 4 days later as I write this 😁 So many challenges along the way, but I managed them all and came away with a result that I still can’t quite wrap my head around! But more of that later, let’s go back to the beginning…
After Julie ran Loch Ness 24 last year, I was keen to give it a shot. It sounded like a course that I would enjoy, and the winning distance of 26 loops (112 miles) meant that if I had a good race I should be in the mix for the podium places. It fitted well in the gap between BWOG at the start of July and the Ochil 100 at the end of September… at least until I tried to cram in another failed attempt at Ramsay’s Round at the start of August 🤦♂️ Once again aggravating the tendonitis that has been bothering me since May and having blistered the entire skin off the end of one of my toes meant I had a couple of weeks of mostly rest, before a 40 mile week, then a few days taper!
Last year we enjoyed the festival atmosphere of camping at Loch Ness 24, but with the weather forecast looking decidedly wetter we changed plans at the last minute and opted to drive up early on the Saturday morning rather than face pitching the tent in the rain. This was a good call as the rain continued into Saturday morning and the camping field was decidedly boggy in places. Julie wonders why whenever she crews me it rains and when I crew her the weather is hot 🤷♂️ Anyway, we had plenty of time to get the tent up, get registered and ready for the 10 am start, in between hiding from the rain so it was a good decision.
With the rain set in for the day I set off with a jacket on. However, with persistent heavy (torrential at time) showers I was soaked through and opted to ditch the jacket by the end of lap two – at least it wasn’t cold or windy. There were a few minor course changes from last year, with a bit more gravel path and less gnarly rooty bits, but any advantage was cancelled out by the muddy sections which were just next-level ankle-deep bog! I had worn Julie’s gaiters which worked well for a few laps until the elastic straps snapped and I ended up rolling them up my mid-afternoon. At least they kept my feet clean-ish for a few hours. I enjoyed the course a lot – the hills weren’t as steep as I had thought, and even the shingle beach was not too bad – mainly due to the amount of mud everyone stamped into it, turning it into a well-bedded-down path! So of course I hared off like a total noob, believing I could hold to a 40-minute lap pace – way faster than the 45-50 I had planned on 🙈
Of course this came back to bite me and by laps 7 and 8 I was struggling to keep up a pace, letting myself think about the 16 more laps I needed to do to get to 24, and generally having a hard time of it. There were a range of motivational slogans hung in the trees by the marshals near the bottom of the last big hill, and one of them stuck with me “The warrior says – I am the storm” (check out this version on Youtube… gives me goosebumps) and every time I passed it I was like “I am the fricking STORM, baby”! It got me out of my rut, stopped me feeling sorry for myself and back focussing on what I was doing (and should have been doing from the start). I was in the top 10 by this point, but not out of touch with the leaders only about 10 mins ahead of me but it was time to stop getting carried away with ‘racing’ and focus on finishing the race. I added in a couple of extra short walking sections on gradual uphills and let my pace slow down to 50 minutes per lap.
I had top-notch (as always) support from Julie, who had set up a little aid-station for me just 50m on from the start/finish area where I was stopping every lap to drink and eat. I had been managing a good amount and variety of solid food up to lap 10, when without much warning I puked everything up just over the top of the first hill (fortunately out of sight of the camp!). Fortunately I was carrying an emergency gel in my back pocket so was able to eat that half way round the lap to avoid having to run the full lap on an empty stomach. It was now about 7pm in the evening, so (a bit earlier than planned), I switched to my night plan of one gel per lap, plus KMC Isomix drink, and just got on with it.
From here on in, it was like a switch had flicked in my head and I kept focusing on hitting my run/walk markers, no micro-quitting, running with good style (head up, strong core), walking with pace and purpose and I banged out lap after lap at ~52 minute pace right through the night. By 10pm, the half-way point there were supposed to be fireworks, but unfortunately these were cancelled as there were two lost dogs on the campsite (eventually found by the morning). I had completed 15 laps and from nowhere I came up with a new goal – if I could complete 23-and-a-bit laps (100 miles) before 6:30 in the morning I had a chance to beat by 100 mile PB! And what’s more it would be done on a hilly, muddy, traily course (about 7800 ft in 100 miles) compared to my previous PB which was set on Leeds & Liverpool Canal! I really had the bit between my teeth now and Julie commented at the time that I looked like I was on a mission. Around midnight, the leader Rosie Doull had a couple of slower laps (I think she may have stopped in camp for 5 or 10 mins) and without realising it I found that I was actually in the lead – how things had turned around from the afternoon 😲 I put in a faster lap to try and make sure no-one behind me would have me in sight again.
I hit my 100 mile goal about quarter past 5 in the morning, just before the dawn started to break – a new PB by well over an hour 🎉 As the sun rose and I could finally ditch the head torch I found a bit more speed as I was caught and passed by another solo runner – you could easily spot the fast pairs/team runners as they had green bib numbers, whereas the solo had blue. From talking to him it seemed he might only be a lap behind me and with 4+ hours left I was running scared! I found a couple more minutes per lap and actually got progressively faster from loop 24 to the end as I knew at this point I didn’t have to hold anything else back.
As morning came, I was starting to feel hungry again so I though I should try to re-introduce some solid food for ‘breakfast’ – I tried a few bites of watermelon and was violently sick again… so back to gels! I was getting fed up with them by now as I’d eaten nothing else for 15 hours, but they were doing their job I guess. By now my feet were beginning to get a bit painful. I’d had a couple of paracetamol earlier as my achilles tendinitis was becoming noticeable, but now I could feel my feet were on the verge of blistering, I had a few bits of grit in my shoes, and the soles of my feet were not liking the hard packed gravel paths. Even the nice soft mud was now mostly dried out! But with only a few hours to go I just gritted my teeth and stuck at it.
I completed my 28th lap at about 9.30am – it wasn’t until this lap when Julie told me that the first placed lady had stopped after 24 laps and the fast-moving guy who was now in second place was still “only” on lap 26 that I finally believed I was about to win the race! I headed out on my 29th and final loop knowing I would finish after 10am, but I really wanted to enjoy this one 😁 It was great knowing that every section I passed I would not have to do it again. I was able to thank the marshals (especially the last marshal point, whose motivational quotes kept me going early in the race), congratulate other runners who were finishing their own races and then run, whooping, past the campsite and in to the crowd, down the finish funnel and across the line!
To have come into the race with relatively poor preparation (although my base fitness this year is clearly good 😳), screw up my pacing for the first third of the race, push through soaking rain and mud to come away with a win and push the course record up to 29 loops (125 miles), I’m just absolutely blown away. Three things that I think have really helped (same ones as at BWOG, really) are:
- The best crew support ever 🤩 Julie put up with camping (or hiding in the car) in a sodden, rainy field with 4 kids and still was there every lap with food, drink, and just exactly the right things I needed to hear. Couldn’t have done it without you – and I know at some point it’s going to rain when I’m crewing for you 🤣
- Fast walking – keeping my pace at faster than 15 min/mile for the walk sections allows a good bit of recovery while not actually hurting my lap times much at all.
- Strength training – I’ve now been keeping up a twice-weekly, 30 minute strength training programme for about 3 months and I think it’s paying off. I felt I could keep up good running form with a strong core and was able to trust my single-leg and ankle stability on the rooty and muddy sections which seemed to slow a lot of people down.
What’s next – another month of rest (although being stuck standing-room-only on a train from Edinburgh to Leeds on Monday was not a great start to that 😱), short recovery runs, then getting ready for the Ochil 100 in 5 weeks time. Looking forward to that now… even if it goes half as well it will still be great!