Devil O’ The Highlands – Part 4 (Iain)

The Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

The approximate distance from Tyndrum To Fort William is 42 miles. The journey started with a single step but it didn’t finish until step 77,000!

Kinlochleven (CP3) to Somewhere in the middle of nowhere (CP4)

I changed my clothes and shoes at CP3. It’s amazing what a difference a fresh pair of socks makes. My wife joined me as a support runner/walker. She had been due to race but had to drop out due to injury.

It was good to have company although I’m not the most talkative or appreciative person in events. I switch to a “just get it done” mode that I struggle to shake until an event is over. It’s a mental strength which helps with endurance races but probaly doesn’t help my marriage! Thankfully, she would forgive me afterwards… I hoped!

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I slathered on sun tan lotion and then we headed out. I put a bottle of Lucozade and a can of coke in my backpack so I could treat myself later. The climb out of CP3 to CP4 is the longest climb of the day. It’s not hard but in the heat it was a slog.

I decided it was too hot too run so I fast walked this section…and the next section 🙂 – in fact I didn’t run again until 100m from the finish.

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It was probably the most beautiful part of the course. It was very peaceful walking through the valleys. Occasionaly we would pass  a runner or walker but mostly it was just the two of us plodding along.

The check point seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. It might have been near civilization but it was very difficult to tell. I refilled my water bottle and had a celebratory coke. Only 10K to go

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere (CP4) to Fort William (Finish)

I felt good leaving CP4 and was confident of finishing. The route was undulating for a few miles. Some single track roads in which it would be easy to trip over rough terrain. As one man discovered when he jogged past and then tripped over a tree root 20m later. He jumped up unhurt but he looked a bit embarrassed.

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A lot of this section was spent staring at Ben Nevis. It seemed so close but despite walking on and on it felt we’d never get there.

I’ve climbed it a couple of times but I’ve never been seen it on a day as clear as this.

One man asked me “is that the hill we have to go up at the end?”. He’d heard there was a hill right at the finish. I said yes, even though it wasn’t the hill. He looked really scared and ran off. I shouted I was only joking but I’m not sure he heard me.

As we reached the finish line. I decided to jog a little just so the finish photo would look like I had ran it all.

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I crossed the finish line in 9hr 40min-ish. My aim had been sub 9 hours so I was pleased to not be too far off it. The hot day meant it was an achievement just to finish!

I picked up some tasty hot food and sat down for the first time time since 5am. When the car came to collect me it was a struggle to get back up.

Devil O’ The Highlands – Part 3 (Iain)

67577532_2583083361736825_5999390484340932608_nThe number 666 is commonly associated with the Devil but did you know the number 33 is associated with God?

The reason why is because:

  • AMEN in numeric form is 1+13+5+14=33.33 degrees latitude and 33 degrees longitude is where angels are supposed to have fallen to earth. and 33 Celsius was the temperature on Saturday that caused me to shout “OH MY GOD! It is so hot!” 

This year The Devil O’The Highlands was aptly named because it was hot as hell.

Glencoe (CP3) to Kinlochleven (CP4)

Up until CP3 the the conditions were warm but bearable but as soon as I left Glencoe the clouds parted and the sun broke through. It got hotter and hotter as I approached the Devils Staircase. There was no wind to cool me down which made the climb tougher than usual.  At the top I was greeted there was a Devil handing out Jelly Babies. I took one. I may have sold my soul in the process. I’m not sure. I didn’t have a chance to check the terms and conditions for taking a sweetie. 67503001_2582997831745378_4241893929856794624_nFrom the top it was mostly downhill to Kinlcohleven. I enjoyed this section as the views were great and the running was easy although towards the end of the run I felt a slight pain in my left leg. I ignored it and hoped it would clear up once I was on flatter terrain. Just before the finish I heard someone sing “Woah, we’re half way there!” which worried me as i was sure we were two thirds of the way there. They than sang “Woah, livin’ on a prayer!”. Thankfully it wasn’t a runner proclaiming the distance but a walker playing Bon Jovi very loudly from a stereo strapped to his rucksack. He was walking with a few other folk who I hope all loved Bon Jovi too. 67922300_10156299200341196_6121587084210733056_nI reached Kinlchleven about twenty minutes slower than planned but I was happy to have got this far in good time.Only 15 miles to go! 

Devil O’ The Highlands – Part 2 (Iain)

Toblerone Mountain

The triangular shape of the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps is commonly believed to be the inspiration for the shape of Toblerone chocolate. But I think Mr Theodor Tobler (the creator of the bar) must have walked the West Highland Way and seen the Toblerone-esque Ben Dorain.

I’ve only climbed Ben Dorain once. It was a cloudy wet day with no view from the top. When I got back down, a man asked me “did you get to the top?”

I replied yes.

He said “the second cairn?”

I replied “what second cairn?”

“The second cairn is the real top. The first one is a false top”

DOH!! One day I’ll go back and reach the real top.

Tyndrum to Bridge Of Orchy (CP1)

My plan was to take this section easy. Don’t run past anyone just stay at the pace of the group.

That plan lasted until the first slight incline when lots of folk started walking. I suspect they were following a “walk the climbs, run the flats/downhills” plan but it seemed too early for that so I kept running and overtook them all.

I thought the section was relatively flat but afterwards I noticed one of my mile splits was 6 minute pace!

There must have been a downhill section that I didn’t notice.

I blame the early start. I was still half asleep.

There’s a road crossing at Bridge of Orchy manned by volunteers stopping the traffic. I was amazed I recognized one of them. I’d been at Uni with him but hadn’t seen him in years.

Its a very Scottish thing to say what something is not rather than what something is. Ask a Scotsman what the weather is like on a sunny day and instead of replying “it is sunny” he will say “its not raining”

Ask a Scotsman how an event has gone. Instead of saying “it was good” he’ll say “it wasn’t shite”

I realised this after he shouted “how are you” and I replied “I’m not bad”

Why didn’t I just say I’m good? As I was good. I reached the CP in just over an hour. Right on schedule.

Leaving CP1

Bridge Of Orchy to Glencoe Ski Resort (CP2)

The only previous time I’ve done this section was during a night walk. It was pitch dark and I didnt’ see a thing. I was looking forward to seeing the route in daylight.

There was a kitcheck as soon as I left CP1 and then the first hill of the day. I walked most of it to conserve energy.

After that the route it was a bit dull and samey. Lots of moor! It turns out I hadn’t missed much by not seeing this section previously.

After a few miles I got bored of the view so I tried to listen to a podcast but my hands were so sweaty my touch screen phone wouldn’t respond to my touch. I tried wiping it on my clothes but everything I had was either damp or sweaty so it didn’t help.

After the race I realized I didn’t need to use my hands I could have just said “Siri – play music” DOH!

The midges got worse as the leg progressed. Thankfully I grew up in the Western Isles. Mainland midges are just a minor inconvenience compared to the flesh eating flying monsters I’ve experienced at home.

I reached Glen Coe just after 0900. Thankfully, my support team were there as I’d told them to get me at 0930. I was bit quicker than I originally thought.

I picked up some food and refilled my bottles before heading off. The next section was the one I was looking forward to the most. If asked to describe the next bit I would have to say “its’ not flat…”

Devil O’ The Highlands – Part 1 (Iain)

The Devil O’ The Highlands is a 42 mile point to point race along the West Highland Way from Tyndrum to Fort William.

I’ve always wanted to do the race for no other reason than the name sounded exciting. Who wouldn’t want to race the Devil?

This year I fancied doing a race that would challenge me as much as an IronMan distance event but without the faff of the swimming and biking. So I entered two ultra marathons. A 50K warm up (https://twinbikerun.com/2019/04/01/john-muir-way-ultramarathon-part-1iain/) and this race.

Pre Race

I drove up with my wife the night before the race. Registration was quick and easy. I was all done in less than five minutes. This left plenty of time to pop to the Real Food Cafe ( https://www.therealfoodcafe.com/) for some dinner.

They had an impressive range of sweet treats but I’m not sure if a Creme Egg donut is appetizing or an abomination !

Creme Egg Donut

Start

At the start of the race a women next to me said. “I’ve not trained for this” I looked at her. She looked very fit. She looked like she should be on an advert for a gym as an example of what would happen if you went to the gym and trained every day for a year.

She then said, “I’ve done nothing since The Highland Fling (a 53 mile ultra)….other than three marathons and loops of Glencoe every morning before work. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this.”

If she did not think she could do it then I was f****d, as I’ve not done any marathons and the only loop I do in the morning is a breakfast bowl of Honey Nut loops.

Oh well – there was nothing more I could do! At least I’d made it to the start line fit and healthy. I had a plan that I was confident would get me to the end of the course.

I would run the 10K to Check Point 1 in bridge of Orchy in 60 minutes. Run the 10 miles to CP2 in Glencoe in 2 hours. Run the (hilly) 8 miles to Kinlochleven in 2 hours and then run/walk the rest of the way to Fort William in 4 to 5 hours.

I just had to trust the plan….

The Start

Outdoor Swim Review: Loch Venachar (Iain)

In a scene from the comedy film Zoolander the eponymous male supermodel hero, Derek Zoolander, dresses as a merman and swims towards the camera to utter the line:

” Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty.”

But in real life Merman are anything but beautiful. In contrast to mermaids, mermen are traditionally described as unattractive extremely ugly creatures with green hair, teeth and skin, narrow eyes and a red nose.

Which is also a valid description of what I look like when I’m hungover.

I learnt this “fact” after spotting two swimmers at Loch Venachar. It was a hot day. The water was perfect for swimming without a wet-suit but they were wearing multiple layers of neoprene . One of them was so covered up he looked like the gimp from Pulp Fiction.

But they were not swimmers or gimps. They were free-divers practicing their skills. They hold their breath diving 20m to the bottom of the Loch.

I looked them up on Google and discovered they do mermaid courses https://freedivers.co.uk/mermaid-course/

REVIEW

Ease of Access: I parked at the Loch Venachar cafe car park. It was just a short walk from here to the Loch side. There’s a few other car parks along the shore.

Water quality: Clear water close to shore. I could see the bottom of the Loch. Temperature (in July) was 19C

Swim Quality: Hard work. It was a bit windy. I battled waves as I swam out from shore. It made the swim more exciting.

Other People: There was a lot of folk in the cafe. They were watching from the terrace as I swam. There was also a few folk walking along the shore.

Would I go back: Yes. It was a nice spot. I’d like to try swimming to the other side of the Loch but on a less windy day.

Hebridean Triathlon 2019 Race Report (Iain)

All photos https://www.facebook.com/ColinCameronPhotography/

This was the fourth edition of the Hebridean Triathlon – the most remote triathlon in the UK. It’s as far north and west as you can go in the UK before you reach Canada.

It’s also the best value race as it’s only £30 to enter. £10 for each event is a bargain.

Swim

The swim course was two laps of a triangular course. Each side of the triangle was approximately 250m.

I was glad I’d gone to check the course the previous day because it was in a different loch than where I thought.

There were three large buoys in the loch the day before but only two on the day. One had run away during the night, nobody was sure how it had managed to come loose but thankfully it was found, in a local field.

The water was warm (19C) and there was no wind. It was perfect conditions for a swim.

I have done a lot of swimming this year so I was confident of a decent time. The race started. I headed straight to the first marker but about half way to it I looked left and spotted a number of swimmers. They seemed to be taking a scenic indirect route or I was lost.

I like to think that one of my outdoor swimming strengths is my sighting. I usually manage to swim in straight line but I started to doubt my line as I watched so many of them do a Jermey Corbyn – embrace the left wing!

I stopped, I took off my goggles and double checked I was actually heading to the correct marker. I believed that I was so I continued in a straight line. Afterwards a few also mentioned this scenic route swimming but nobody had an explanation why it had happened.

After the first marker I was mostly by myself but occasionally I’d see another man. He was a good swimmer but his sighting was very erratic. One minute I’d spot him way off to my left and the next he’d be way off to my right.

Despite his wayward route we finished at the same time. I checked Strava afterwards. He swam 250m further than I did. Which shows what a difference bad sighting makes.

Snapped by the Paparazzi

Bike

The bike route is an out and back undulating route to the Callanish Stones. Normally a fierce wind either blows you there or back. One year it took 60 minutes to do the out but only 30 minutes to do the back.

I haven’t done much biking recently so I took my TT bike to the race. My thinking was that I might be slow but at least it won’t be the bikes fault.

Within a mile of starting I was passed by a man on an old battered bike. As he passed he said “I don’t think my gears work!”

Which shows you don’t need a good bike when you’re a good biker. He raced off away from me.

Towards the end of the bike leg I spotted a man with a puncture. I thought about keeping going, as stopping would effect my finishing position, but I decided that would be bad karma. I’d hate to be stuck on the side off the road and have people bike by me.

We tried to fix his puncture but, unfortunately we weren’t able to do it, despite using three different inner tubes and having more than one person try to fix it.

After the third tube exploded I called it a day and continued on. Despite losing positions Andrew hadn’t passed. I was happy to carry on knowing I was ahead of him.

Run

The run starts by going straight up a small hill. I started running and immediately felt very heavy. My first thought was I must have eaten too much whilst spending the previous week at my parents home eating my mum’s baking.

I then realised it was because my back pockets were full of the spare parts from the puncture repair. Broken tubes! CO2 canisters and tools. D’OH!

I had to run a mile before I spotted a bin I could put it all in.

I’d ran a lot during the week, which meant my running motivation/energy was very low. I aimed to run 5K and then evaluate from there how fast/slow to do the last 5k.

The course was tough – hilly and wet. The rain had started just after I’d left transition. After 5k I decided my legs didn’t have anything in them so I walked a little bit on the way back.

I kept an eye out behind me to ensure Andrew wouldn’t catch up.

Finish

I collected my medal and a change of clothes and headed to the changing rooms. I was happy to be ‘Top Todd’. I opened the door to the changing rooms and Andrew was there! Already changed!

Feck. He’d gone past me when I was changing the tyre but I hadn’t seen him.

He was happy because he was fourth.

Double feck. If I hadn’t stopped I’d have been fourth!

Run The Blades 2019 Half Marathon (Iain)

When you are at a dentist, getting a tooth removed, do you close your eyes or keep them open?

According to my dentist, most people close their eyes, but I prefer to keep my eyes open so I can see what they are doing. I’ve paid enough money for the “experience” so I might as well get my money’s worth!

Which is why the day before the race I was looking up at a dentist as he prodded around my mouth trying to work out which tooth was causing me tooth ache.

After he wrenched the offending tooth out of my mouth I asked whether it was wise to run a race the next day? He went quiet and said “hmmmm…” which I took as ringing endorsement of my decision to run!

Last year, I wrote that due to limited parking I had to park the car one mile from the start. This year they had changed the parking: it was now a 1.5 mile walk.

Which turned the race into a 16 mile run/walk.

One thing they had improved since last year was the toilets. This time thhey had plenty of loos and plenty of loo roll.

There was a lot of rain before the start of the race but it cleared up to leave warm muggy conditions and one very large puddle on the course.

The route was the same as the previous year. The first half has a number of small hills and second half has two longer ones.

I started off well but quickly ran out of energy. I think my body was expanding all its effort on recovering from my tooth trauma. I managed to plod round in the roughly the same time as last year but if at any point there had been a way to quit and go home I’d have taken it!

It’s a well organised race on a scenic course. I’d recommend it to anyone thinking of taking the leap from road to trail racing.

After the race I put the tooth under my pillow. I’m still waiting for the tooth fairy to take it away. It’s as if she might not be real…

Outdoor Swim Review: North Third Reservoir (Iain)

North third reservoir is strangely named as I can find no record of a North First or North Second reservoir. Maybe this one was third time lucky after the other two failed.

The reservoir is a great spot for swimming. It is surrounded on one side by cliffs and Forrest. It’s a nature lovers paradise but it’s also a paradise for lovers of a different kind. The Daily Record reported the story of a man put on trial after he was discovered naked in the Forrest.

My favorite bit of the story is his very British excuse – “I can’t possibly be having sex with men. My wife made me sandwiches!”

REVIEW

Ease of Access: There’s a small car park beside a gate next to the path that leads down to the reservoir. If the spaces there are taken then there’s spots nearby to park.

Water quality: A bit murky and a little bit shallow in places. There was much less water in the reservoir than when I was last here in March. The water temperature was 18.5C.

Swim Quality: Excellent – There’s a nice loop around the islands. The water was calm.

Other People: There’s usually folk fishing at the side of the loch and I’ve occasionally bumped into other folk either heading in or leaving after swimming themselves.

Would I go back: Yes. Its one of my favorite places to swim.

Challenge Roth – Support Tips (Iain)

There is a misconception that you can drive as fast as you like on a German Autobahn. You can’t. I found this out during a previous German trip when a policeman handed me a speeding ticket after I’d raced along a road from Cologne to Stuttgart. I had wondered why I was the only car, on this section, driving fast!

My driving has improved since then. During this trip, after I’d completed a left turn, a man wound down his car window to shout “Schweinhund” at me. He also waved his fist. I’m sure that must be German for “Nice manouver. Well done you.”

A car is essential for Roth as the nearest affordable accommodation to town was 40K away in Nuremberg. I’d visited the city before in 2006 during the World Cup. I had a three game ticket to follow the USA and one of the games was held in the city: USA versus Ghana. I can’t remember anything about the place but I hoped a visit back might remind me. It didn’t! I still don’t remember anything about it. The beer must have been good there…

2006 – USA! USA!

TOP TIPS

  1. Get a good navigator. I had three people in the car who each had a shot at navigating. They gave me the wrong directions to the hotel, They gave me the wrong directions to transition, they gave me the wrong directions to the swim start, they even gave me the wrong directions to Roth. As Roth is the one place everyone else was going to too, just follow the other cars, not your passengers!
  2. On race day work out where to park in Roth as it is very difficult to drive from the swim start to Roth due to road closures. We got lucky finding a space but it took us two hours to do what should have been a twenty minute trip.
  3. Go to Solar hill. It’s only a 25 minute walk from the swim start. The atmosphere is amazing. And once your athlete has climbed the hill on lap one, you can head to Roth for the run.
  4. Get petrol before race day! We nearly ran out whilst driving around. There were lots of petrol stations but not many open on a Sunday. Thankfully we got one but make sure you have a full tank in advance.
  5. It’s a long day. I was up at 0415 and didn’t get back to bed until 0030. There’s lots of standing around and walking. I managed nearly 15 miles of walking in the day.
  6. Cross the finish line with your athlete. Challenge allow non-athletes into the finisher chute. Take the opportunity to take in the acclaim of the crowd without actually having to do the race! Like John Terry at the 2012 Champions league final when he appeared on the pitch in full strip despite not having played the match.
  7. The internet reception for mobiles doesn’t work very well on the course or in Roth. Too many phones in one place made it very difficult to get a connection. Make sure you print out maps in advance.
  8. Bring Euros. There was lots of opportunity to buy food and drink on the course but finding a cash machine or an ATM was next to impossible.
  9. The tracker is good for working out what time your athlete should be in places. Use that to plan when to spot them but see point 7. Don’t rely on it always being available.
  10. When you get home. Your athlete will try to claim a lift back to their house because “their legs are tired!” Tell them to GTF and drive you instead! You deserve it!
My lap of honour. Andrew got in the way of the pic!

St Marys Loch Triathlon (Iain)

It is two years since I last did a standard length triathlon. Which is my excuse for why I forgot to take my bike helmet to transition. Thankfully, someone spotted my mistake. I ran back to the car to get it.

It wasn’t my only mistake, I lost my swim cap during the time it took me to receive my swim cap and then walk the short distance to the loch to put it on. I still haven’t worked out how I manged to do that.

The swim temperature was announced as 15C so I was surprised when I got into the loch that the water felt much colder. I swam a little distance to warm up and water suddenly became warm. I assumed it was just a cold patch at the start but the fluctuating temperature was present throughout the swim. On one stroke my hand would enter warm water and on the next the next it would enter freezing cold water. Very strange.

I enjoyed the 2 lap swim. The loch never felt too busy and I was happy to swim round with no one near me. I think swim drafting is cheating so I try to avoid it. I’d rather do the swim using my own power than be dragged along by someone else.

I got into transition after the swim and discovered the socks I had left there were inside out. I had to correct that before starting the bike. A gentleman has got to have standards!

The organiser had warned us that the roads might be slightly busier than usual because there was a classic car rally taking place nearby. There was also a beer festival on. Beer and cars. What could possibly go wrong?

Thankfully the classic car drivers must have been sleeping off their beers as other than a Model T Ford I didn’t spot any classic cars.

The organiser said no-one had ever got lost on the route. It was easy to see why. There is only one road and no option to take any other route.

The route itself was on a decent road surface. The road was undulating rather than hilly but there was a draggy climb near the end.

The race manual describes the course as “It’s almost completely flat (really!) – a couple of small undulations – maybe 5m climb on each. “

Not according to my watch. It shows there was 70m of climbing. Which is not allot but it definitely is not flat course. The trail means there’s lot of small up and down sections.

I like running off-road so I really enjoyed the run but it definitely did not match the description of the course.

OVERALL

It was a great race. I got a PB for the distance and its definitely a course I’d do again. The race gets a bonus point for its t-shirt which is a snazzy baseball style affair.