Thursday, 12 August 2010

Devil-done but not dusted....

It's 3am and I am dragging myself out of bed to face my usual pre-race big bowl of porridge and anything I can add to it - Complan, Golden Syrup - stuff I would never dream of eating normally. I'm feeling quite nervous about the day and I know the reason why. I am running in a bit of an unknown quantity. I'm not a competitive runner, the only challenge is for myself against myself but having had surgery at the end of May and only getting running again the last 6 weeks, I don't know how it is going to feel. I've done a couple of longer runs and they have been unproblematic so here's hoping.

As we drive up the A82 I try to sleep but the adrenalin is already building so I give up and watch the dawn starting to break.I think to myself that poor Terry and Chloe(12) have also had to drag themselves out just for me and a little bit of guilt sets in. Tyndrum is amok with runners and crew. It's lovely to catch up people for a few minutes then it's the pre-race bit. Never heard any of it through the nervous mutterings so assume it was all about "Don't cheat, don't do anything stupid and if you do, don't blame us", sounds fair enough to me. I'll do my best.

Then we are off. OMG they have all set of like whippets out of the traps and I am immediately thinking that I have made a mistake and should have taken longer to rehab. Then I remind myself that I am only trying to get around within the 12 hours, still in a lifelike state and having had fun. I slow down to a more realistic pace and am delighted to catch up with Karen D who always makes you feel better with her sunny disposition. She has run all the big ones this summer and she is up for the UTMB in a few weeks. What a wimp I am being. We run along towards Bridge of Orchy, through the lifting morning mist, chatting happily when suddenly she launches herself forward on the ground. I quickly check and decide that she definitely isn't facing Mecca and she really has fallen but thankfully she is OK, unlike her Garmin strap - still better that than broken bones. We try to work out why she fell and realise that I had just told her to look at the beautiful view over Ben Inverveigh. Does that count as cheating? I'm just glad that she will live to fight another day, or at least a UTMB. Sorry Karen.

Quick stop, catching up with Terry and a surprisingly awake Chloe on a bike, then upwards and onwards to Victoria Bridge. I am feeling fine, there's even a wee spring left in the step so I'm feeling good. Maybe the day will go OK afterall.

As I run towards Forest Lodge I feel a wee beastie around my face as I cross the bridge....oh no. I don't think I have ever involuntarily consumed so much wild protein since my elder brother tried to force feed me a bit of corn beef covered in blue bottle eggs when we were kids (he's a vet now, no joke). I try to use a bit of empathy psychology by telling myself that the poor midges only get to live for a day and isn't it amazing how they always find you - but it doesn't work. They are awful. The route at this point is quite cobbly and greasy in the dew so it's a bit tricky under foot aswell as overhead/in face. I hope for a breeze to blow them away when we get out onto the moor but it never arrives. Inspite of that it is wonderful to be so far away from roads and traffic and I love the solitude. As I approach the end of the moor, starting the ascent I check on what I have consumed- one Zipvit bar and a good bit of water- and I start planning what to eat as we descend over into Glencoe, other than midges that is.

After a quick stop I set off along to Altnafeadh. I don't much like this bit as it goes next to the road but once again I run with Karen, and find that she has forgiven me, so that helps pass the time. I haven't been up the Devil's Staircase for years which helped because instead of dreading it I look forward to it and am not disappointed. The views from the top are amazing. If my breath hadn't already gone it would have been breath-taking! Whatever else happens the rest of the journey this will make it all worthwhile I tell myself and I still feel that way now.

Over the top and down the other side things come slightly adrift as I start the descent and I feel a sudden sharp pain on the outside of my right knee. The 2 women ahead of me get further away as I have to slow down and work this out. It doesn't take long - I'm a physio. I have lost gluteal bulk and my gluteus medius is not strong enough to support my ITB so my right knee has been twisting inwards and causing overuse on the ITB. So if I can't strengthen up mid-race how am I going to manage this? I quickly adjust my gait ever so slightly so that my foot is just a little more outwards (both legs equally to keep the balance) and make sure I try to keep my knees moving over my toes and not drifting internally. It soon starts to settle and I can forget about it again. I make a mental note to start strengthening my hip abductors and knee VMO's. I have been lucky so far since I started running in 2007, not to have had any serious injuries and today I have escaped again. One of the things I love about the endurance runs is learning to really work with my body- to listen to what it is asking for in terms of food, electrolytes and water and also to take it's gripes and groans seriously and respond as soon as they start, not ignoring at my own peril. It's very easy with today's frantic pace of living to become desensitised to yourself, not keeping everything in tune. So far so good.

As I run towards the bottom of the hill I try munching another Zipvit bar. Peach and apricot is so much better than the chocolate ones in the heat. Must remember to eat the choc ones early on and save the others for later. I've had a Complan on the way to Altnafeadh and things are going OK. Well they would be if I hadn't got lost.... I can''t remember this bit of the WHW and I've just crossed a bridge where there is a path up to the left but more definite track going round to the right. I hum and ha and get my map out when I hear the little patter of Karen D feet. She saves the day and we start off towards Kinlochleven.

I grab a bit of watermelon and a banana from the ever patient crew, dive into the local pub and drag myself regretfully past the ice cool lager towards the ladies loo. Some folk can drink beer and run - I'm not one of them sadly! The hill out of Kinlochleven is as it always is -a pest. I know that I am running pretty slowly but I enjoying my "day out with runner friends" as Ellen McVey called it, like we were just going for a genteel picnic or something! I look at my watch and wonder if any of my usual training pals have got in. I hope so. As I push on up the hill I dread the gaps between the trees where the sunlight seems to concentrate into pockets of intense heat. If I had more energy I would try and speed up at these points just to get through them but not today. So it's a slog but then the wonderful breeze starts to hit me as it comes off the Lairigmoire and my spirits, if not my energy levels, lift.

I love running through the Mamores towards the spectacular Ben Nevis in the distance. I usually get into a lovely rhythm and things flow but much as I am enjoying the run, I am having to dig deep. The rocky path is tricky and I am tired so have to work really hard at placing my feet to avoid ankle injuries. As children we used to have races across beaches where we weren't allowed to touch the sand but had to jump between the rocks. We lived in our bare feet and I think the experience serves me well over terrain like this. I must try and get my own kids to have go.

Everytime I pass the rescue medics they ask me how I am feeling. I've just run 35-odd miles on a hot day, how do you think? But I appreciate why they are doing it and try to string some intelligible words together and smile sweetly so they don't make me retire. It seems to work and I thank them for turning out and carry on my way. I am such a bloody-minded person when I want to do something. It's probably helping right now.

I can see Ray McCurdy ahead of me. I feel that I should be passing him but he's getting away from me. I'm not fast but I've had the edge on him in the 2 races we've run before but it's his turn today. He's running well and I try not to look at him and just focus on my own race but it's hard. Eventually he is so far ahead he's out of sight. It's a relief.

I usually love running down into Fort William, at least until the road. I enjoy the freefall of downhill but today I am just so tired it's hard even to run downhill and I am ashamed to say I did have walky bits! Finally I see Terry and Chloe and we trot towards the finish. I imagine the light starting to fade and the theme from Midnight Cowboy playing as some old guy sweeps the empty street.... but it wasn't as bad as that and the organisers at the end gave such a lovely cheer, which must have been hard to sustain for all the stragglers but they did a sterling job.

Later I receive an email from a fellow runner which makes me smile. It says "Saw the family up a tree....". He said that he suddenly became aware of something above him but rather than some divine moment it was Terry and Chloe up a tree cheering on the finishers. I wish that I could have got in faster to see that. Maybe next year.

I ran a pretty slow race but I loved the journey and am pleased that my muscles have held up with no injuries whatsoever even after such a prolonged layoff. Just goes to show that we are capable of so much more than we often allow ourselves to believe.

I am delighted to see Sarah's 7hr 55 min time. I always knew she had it in her. Imagine what she would be able to do if she really put the specific training in! Here's hoping. I'm also delighted to see that both Ellen and Lorna (Masterton) have got PB's. I have learned so much from them. I've never run the Devil before so now I have a time to work from. Hopefully next year I will only have to fight with the Devil not my erroneous insides,and so for this runner's year the Devil O The Highlands has been done but definitely not dusted.

So what have I learned from this race?

1) I need to review transporting arrangements! The Last Drop ruck sack was very comfortable and I had no problems with dislocating my shoulder to get my water bottle because I carried a bottle belt below the sack but...... I found I didn't respond so spontaneously to my need for food or electrolytes as I had to think to remove the sack from my back which I constantly told myself I would do " at the next checkpoint" but would then forget to do. I am going back to the waist pack for next time.

2) I need not only to work out what to eat but to be a bit more systematic as to exactly when I eat. I know that I have extraneous factors coming into play here as regards my eating so I need accept that and to trial out feeding types and intervals more accurately.We all have our cross to bear and that's mine. Could be worse!!

3)After the race, even though I had such a long layoff, I didn't suffer any major muscle injuries, joint problems or biomechanical issues which is fab. Areas needing a little attention are right glut medius, right VMO. Not to say I didn't feel trashed but that would be due to loss of stamina due to layoff and resulting lack of training.Remedy; to specifically target muscle groups for strengthening and start to increase weekly mileage to rebuild endurance (download training plan from ultra website)
4) Enter RAW to have goal to help motivation
5)Introduce skipping into cross-training to improve plyometrics and intrinsic foot muscle strength. I have noticed after layoffs (there have been a few!) that my feet always feel like slabs of meat when I am running. My professional take on this is that as I have not been able to exercise, I have developed muscle wasting. The intrinsic muscles of the feet are small and therefore more affected by wasting with more obvious objective signs such as flat-footed gait.


  1. Great read. Well done on the race.

    I need to sort myself out and get my entry for RAW in. Somehow I'm lacking the motivation to run another 40+ miles.

    Debs :-)

  2. Your'e as tough as old boots Ann, it was a strong run after all the medical rubbish you've had going on. Look forwards to some more winter training runs XX

  3. This is a great story to share about. Nice post there!!!