Great Glen Ultra Report – 5th July
Last year in my first attempt at the West Highland Way Race I managed to complete the race in well under my goal time of 22 hours. So back in November when the entry period for 2014 came around I had a tough decision to make – should I enter the WHWR again and try to beat last years time? or should I instead extend the ultra journey north by entering the new race on the block – the Great Glen Way Ultra?
In 2013 there was a successful trial run of the race with just 5 people running the 72 miles from Fort William to Inverness, so 2014 was to be the first full running of the event with approx 100 places up for grabs. After some deliberation my mind was made up, so almost nine months later at 1am on Saturday 5th July I lined up at Neptune’s Staircase outside of Fort William with 86 fellow nutters and a billion midges to start racing up that ancient fault line. So momentous was the event the ancient fault line felt the urge to relieve a little stress two days before the race by releasing a 2.3 magnitude earthquake. Fortunately a little strike-slip didn’t noticeably add any extra distance or height to the route! So after some good advice from the race director about not falling in the canal we all set off.
It was a clear and warm night for that part of the world and the first couple of hours went by pretty quickly. I had based my race plan on a strategy of “go out all guns blazing from the start and just try and hang on when it all goes pear-shaped”. The main reason for this was a trouble-some left knee which keeps getting very irritable after an hour or so of running, and had limited my training in the run up to the race. The 22 mile opening leg on the John Muir Way Relay had been my only run of any significant distance run since the 53 mile Highland Fling race back in April.
Darkness did not last long and we were treated to a marvellous sunrise with a combination of light, mist, hills and water doing all sorts of wonderful things for the eye to see. It also got quite cold with the temperature well down into single figures and a heavy dew fall soaking the shirt. As we got further into the day it warmed up considerably and remained mostly dry with sunny intervals for the rest of the day. The first 30 miles to Fort Augustus were fairly flat apart from a humply section around Invergarry. However the route boasts over 10,000ft (3200m) of ascent, so most of it came in the latter half of the race with lots of long climbs on never-ending switchbacks that rise up the side of Loch Ness and then back down again and then back up again. However it was almost all very runnable on good dry forest roads and tracks with some short sections of minor road. The knee was fine on the ups and the flat, so I felt the need to push hard on these, because knee-pain was forcing me to go easy on the descents and loose time. Still I managed to more or less hold my position for the majority of the race, and ended up running the last 50 miles largely on my own. The race was unsupported with water and drop-bags available at checkpoints roughly 10 miles apart. There was also a very welcome water station on the longest leg (14 miles) between Invermoriston and Drumnidrochit. The last 20 miles from Drumnidrochit included a steep climb up away from Loch Ness and some lovely forest paths before the final run-in to Inverness. The finish was on the athletics track at Bught Park (same place as where the Loch Ness marathon finishes). Mike Raffan arrived in 1st place in an amazing time of 10hr 48 well ahead of 2nd place Gareth Mayze (11hr 23) who was almost caught by 3rd place as with less than half a mile to go he had to pause due to the swing bridge on the Caledonian Canal was shut for a passing boat. I plodded to the finish in 12hrs 19 to claim 7th place just ahead of Antonia Wesley (1st female) who suddenly appeared on my tail with 400m to go and spurred me into a sprint finish. Full Results http://www.greatglenultra.com/race-results/2014
Thanks to BAM (Bill and Mike) racing and friendly marshals for putting on such superb well organised event and gave up so much of there time. Every finisher received a beer at the finish, and an engraved crystal whiskey glass plus miniature at the presentation the following day. There were lots of spot prizes – I received a buff for being all happy smiley at each checkpoint (I had gone mad & delirious but they didn’t know that). For anyone interested the date of the 2015 race will be 4th July.
Phil approaching Checkpoint 6 at Loch Laide (60miles)
(photo by Elaine Sandeman)
Map of the Route