It’s Been A While

Hard to believe that my last blog post was way back in July. The most neglected that my web site/blog has been in years. But not without reason. Back in July I completed my final ultramarathon for 2015, the last event of my comeback year and, despite a distinct lack of event specific training, I made it!

I made it through the 33 miles of the D33, and what’s more, of the 5 times that I have run the event, it was my middle time, some 25 minutes adrift of my 2012 PB but, all things considered, a time that I was more than happy with.

By the time the Highland Fling rolled around in April, with further interruptions to ‘training’, I was seriously considering a DNS. However, after some 6 months of investigation, SEAT finally contacted us to say that they had resolved the issues with our Alhambra, and we had to pick it up from Glasgow. Coincidentally, the pick up date was the day before the Fling and thus, by my reckoning, we had to be in Glasgow anyway so I might as well just run it and see.

Filled with self doubt, I started at the back of the 1000 strong field. I had no expectations of myself. I was just going to do what I could.

It turns out that muscle memory is a wonderful thing. Despite the absolute lack of event specific training, I managed a PB! It was close, with my body finally fading noticeably in those last 10 miles approx. but, nonetheless, I did it. Funnily enough, it was a PB by only a couple of minutes but, over the course of 53 miles, it seems funny to be so close to my previous time.

And then, before I knew it, it was July, and time for the big one, my #1 event of the year, the 73 miles of the Great Glen Ultra, an event that would see me starting at 1am in Corpach and running through the night to arrive in my final destination, Inverness.

Still far from where I wanted to be in terms of training, I approached the event with the same aim – do what I could and try to enjoy it. With my stomach knotting itself on the bus down, the prospect of ‘enjoying it’ faded somewhat and I spent a good portion of the race considering a DNF. However, as my last post outlines, I got there, and in a time of 16:02:49, far, far removed from any time that I had expected. What’s even more gutting is that I had spent a good 10-15 minutes getting ‘lost’ at the end of the route, upon my arrival in Inverness.

That’s not to say that it wasn’t tough. Filled with negativity, and running mostly in torrential rain, I finished the race vowing that my ultra days were over. But, in true ultra style, this lasted no more than a few days (admittedly, the longest I have ever stuck to my ‘never again’ stance!).

It’s hard to believe that we now find ourselves just a couple of days away from December. I’ve managed to keep the running going, though not exactly ‘ultra training’. I’ve embraced something entirely new to me. A few weeks ago, Ellon got its very own Park Run, something that I would previously have placed firmly in the ‘my idea of hell’ category – run as fast as you can for 5k and try to hang on to your breakfast as you cross the line. Far, far removed from my more sedate ultra ventures and, in some ways, considerably more difficult for a ‘Clydesdale runner’ like myself!

That said, I’ve sat just outside the top 10 each of the 5 weeks that I have attended, with a variety of times in the 22 minute scale, and with 3 PBs, an ‘equals PB’ and, funnily enough on the day that I placed higest yet and felt best by far, a ‘PW’ in terms of recorded Park Run times. It had to happen, and especially as we approach the wet/snow/ice season, when an element of self preservation will kick in to play. That said, it was still a psychological blow. Ironically, it was also on the day that server problems delayed the release of the official results until evening, resulting in a ‘day of pain’!

I’m sure there’s a great many people will read the above and wonder why it takes me 22 minutes to cover 3.1 miles. It’s not a fast time for many. I’m well aware of that. However, not that long ago, I was happy to run 30 minutes for 3 miles so I am more than happy with my 22 minute times and will, of course, strive to take those times down into the realms of 21 minutes (and beyond!)

Unfortunately, after the fluke of maintaining my 100% Ellon Park Run attendance record thanks to the cancellation on health and safety grounds of last weekend’s event when I was away in the Cairngorms, I missed yesterday’s event through illness. Typical! Missing it once was enough to see me lose my place at the top of the Ellon Males Points Table.

This will likely be the last post of 2015. Talk about ‘prolific’ lol! I’ve decided to take a different approach to the site and, behind the scenes, I’m working on a whole new look and feel, hopefully to be launched in the not too distant future. This web site is ‘going back to its roots’. It’s going to be very much about me, my family, and my journey. And, of course, my photography.

I’ve decided to limit the reviewing side of things for one. Life’s too short to spend hours and hours reviewing products. If it’s something that I genuinely believe in, then that’s different. However, I know the brands that work for me and I’m most likely going to stick with them and ‘run with them’ (no pun intended!).

Those brands, by the way, are as follows:

  • Salomon – the truly awesome Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 12 SET Backpack, Salomon S-Lab Advanced SKIN 3 BELT SET Waist Belt, and most of my clothes, from shorts to t-shirts, vests and jackets
  • Altra – the Lone Peak 1.5, 2.0 and Superior 2.0, by far the comfiest shoes I have ever had the pleasure to run in
  • Drymax – pretty much the only socks I wear now, having first worn them at a very wet, and often submerged course, back at the 2012 Speyside Way Race
  • OMM & The North Face – for super-lightweight waterproofs
  • Montane & Rab –   for everyday essential jackets like my Montane Fireball smock, Montane Prism jackets, and my Rab down jacket

I will, however, admit to having applied again to become an Altra ambassador. Altra is one brand that I ***would*** be delighted to represent.

After last years application, a promising email did get my hopes up but they focussed their efforts instead on their North American ambassadors. Hopefully this year, this will be extended to the rest of the world.

When I first tried on a pair of Altra Lone Peak, the comfort levels had me thinking back fondly to the Inov-8 Roclite 305s that I loved so much, a shoe that I ended up going through 5 pairs of. Funnily enough, I found an old pair and stuck them on for the day just last week. It turns out that they are like an old favourite film that you wish you hadn’t actually watched again. There’s just no comparison in terms of comfort, and the toebox on the 305s feels like a straight-jacket in comparison to the spacious toebox on the Lone Peaks!

So, finally, lets round up this extended post.

In terms of imagery, I’ve added a gallery of photos from our trip to the Cairngorms last weekend, when we were fortunate enough to benefit from the fresh perspective of a covering of snow on our favourite trails. It also gave us an opportunity to take Harris, quickly approaching his 3rd birthday (February), skiing and climbing for the first time.

And lastly, what’s on the cards for 2016?

I am in for the Highland Fling. That’s a definite. I thankfully grabbed myself one of those 1000 spaces before they sold out. Nuts to think that the race sold out in under 2 hours! Testament indeed to the efforts of RD John (Jonny Fling) Duncan and his team.

I am awaiting the ballot for the 95 mile West Highland Way Race. There are 265 starting spots, with the expectation that illness/injury/lack of training/life will reduce this to 200 actual starters. Unfortunately, at time of writing, there are over 300 applicants so some of us will be disappointed for sure. I’m going to be really selfish and hope that I am not one of the unlucky ones. After my 2012 race, I want to return and at least attempt to finish without having to go through quite such a time of it!

As for the rest of 2016, I am hoping to run the Great Glen Ultra again, though (ultimately sensible) rules prohibit anyone fortunate enough to finish the West Highland Way Race from running GGU in the same year. In the event that I don’t get into this year’s West Highland Way Race, there will almost certainly be an application going in to the 2016 Great Glen Ultra!

I’m also hoping to enter the Glenmore 24, which would be my first attempt at a 24 hour, lapped event. As the name implies, it’s held in the forests of Glenmore so I will be more than happy to spend 24 hours running around some of my favourite Cairngorm trails.

I’m also hopeful of securing entry to the Devil O’ The Highlands, which would mean an attempt to complete my second ‘Triple Crown’ of Fling / West Highland Way Race / Devil O’ The Highlands events.

After the success of last year’s event, when John ‘Jonny Fling’ Duncan, took over the reigns as RD, the Devil will likely be another quick to sell out event. Will have to set a calendar reminder or two for the day entry opens!

That’s all for now. Hopefully back with a new site soon, all things going to plan.

Happy Running

The Great Glen Ultra 2015

(Thanks to Fiona Rennie for the 4 excellent checkpoint photos)

Towards the end of 2014 I made the decision to end my parenthood inspired 2 year ultramarathon hiatus, signing up for The D33, The Hoka Highland Fling, and The Great Glen Ultra.

I fully appreciated that training was likely to be ‘impaired’ by the demands of parenthood, and certainly when compared to the kind of hours that I used to log in training pre-Harris.

However, it’s safe to say that I didn’t expect 2015 to be blighted quite so much by illness, as I stumbled from one ailment to another, including cellulitis and chickenpox to name but a couple.

The numerous ailments, together with on-going back pain resulting from a bad fall, impacted considerably on training and, looking back, I’m still surprised that I managed to complete even one of my chosen events, never mind all three of them!

In terms of long runs this year, I’ve managed a couple of 18 mile runs prior to the D33, the D33 itself, where I was beset with bad leg cramps in both legs at the 18 mile mark, and the Hoka Highland Fling, where I somehow managed not only to complete the race but also to bag a PB, albeit only by a few minutes.

Other than this, ‘training’ has consisted of a few 12-13 mile runs, and a number of 3-5 mile runs squeezed in over a lunchtime, supplemented with cross training, cycling and swimming.

One thing’s for certain – I’ve certainly kicked my habit of logging junk miles, running the same routes at the same pace time and time again!

Anyway, down to business, the events of this weekend just past and the 4th July Great Glen Ultra 2015.


Based on the above, I had 3 goals.

Don’t Die!

OK, so ‘slightly’ melodramatic, but I seriously felt that out of my depth. Sure I completed the 95 mile West Highland Way Race in apocalyptic weather conditions back in 2012, but that was the culmination of 3 years of solid ultra running and training and couldn’t have been further removed from my build up to the GGU.

Less melodramatically, the aim was not to do myself any long term damage and, having already managed my first post GGU run, an admittedly short (but speedy) 3 miles on the treadmill, I appear to have succeeded on that front.

I can’t actually recall running quite so quickly after any of my previous events, let alone one of this distance.


I have one DNF to my name, my first ever Fling back in 2010. That DNF bugs me to this day, though I appreciate now that my training at the time lacked the specificity to see me safely to the finish line. The temperature on the day and my body weight at the time also didn’t exactly help matters.

Since then, I have had an unswerving goal to finish at all costs!

And yet, this weekend just past, I found myself seriously considering a DNF from around miles 10 through to 30.

From the few GGU blogs that I’ve read so far, most people appear to have had the same train of thought at some point or another throughout the race! At least I was not alone in that respect.

By the time the bus left Inverness destined for Fort William, my stomach was already tying itself in knots and, come race time, my stomach hadn’t seen any food in over 5 hours. Hardly ideal, and a ‘bit’ of a failure in terms of my planning. I couldn’t wait to get to that first checkpoint 10 miles into the race.

Repeated visits to the gents prior to the start of the race didn’t get the desired results and I was fearful of a repeat of my 2012 West Highland Way Race experience.

That, on top of the existing nerves and concerns, did my confidence no favours at all and it was only when I started to approach the 1/2 way mark that I finally managed to banish some of the negativity from my thoughts.

Finish In 18 Hours (Ideally)

Why 18 hours? It was a time that fitted in with my sons sleep routine, albeit one that would see him start his evening sleep in the car travelling home rather than in bed. Throughout the day, the thought of some family time was THE thing that kept me going.

The Outcome

As it was, I finally crossed the line in a time of 16:02:49, in 36th place out of 73 entrants, 7 of whom did not start (DNS).

I will admit to being slightly gutted to have lost out on a sub 16 hour time but, upon arriving in Inverness of all places, I found myself uncertain of the route and wasted 10-15 mins approx. using Google to try to verify that I wasn’t about to embark upon some unnecessary mileage.

I really, really didn’t want to run any further than was absolutely necessary at this point and the thought of having to retrace my steps in the event of heading off on in the wrong direction filled me with dread.

Unfortunately, either Google Maps or my phone reception (or both) didn’t want to assist on the day! Thankfully I did end up on the correct path. For some reason I was convinced that Bught Park was far closer to that final hill that dropped us down into Inverness than it actually was.

The Route

“The Great Glen Way is a long distance path in Scotland. It follows the Great Glen, running from Fort William in the west to Inverness in the east, covering 79 miles. It was opened in 2002 and is one of Scotland’s four Long Distance Routes.” (Wikipedia – The Great Glen Way)

The Great Glen Ultra route, starting from Neptune’s Staircase in Corpach, comes in around 73 miles approx., with checkpoints at approximate distances as shown:

  • Checkpoint 1, Clunes (10miles)
  • Checkpoint 2, Laggan (20miles)
  • Checkpoint 3, Fort Augustus (30miles)
  • Checkpoint 4, Invermoriston (40miles) Water Station 1: (45miles)
  • Checkpoint 5 : Drummidrochit (50miles)
  • Checkpoint 6: Loch Laide (60miles)
  • Finish – Inverness Stadium @ Bught Park

I have to stress that these are approximate distances. Ideally I would be able to say exactly how far along the route each of these checkpoints was but an ‘issue’ on the day with my Suunto Ambit3 Sport prevents me from doing so. More to follow on this shortly!

Starting at 1am, I was fairly oblivious to the first section alongside the canal. There wasn’t much to see other than a stream of headtorches, bobbing along the route, with the runners all fairly closely packed at this point.

I can’t recall exactly where, but a later canal path section really did knock the stuffing out of me. It was just so compacted, and so very, very long and straight. As a result, progress felt very slow along this section.

Thankfully, there was also a considerable amount of time spent in various forests along the route, which was far more to my liking.

The route was very undulating, if indeed, this is even an adequate description as, at times, we found ourselves climbing high above the mist that hovered over the loch beneath us. Just when you thought you couldn’t climb any higher, another switchback appeared to signal otherwise, and it was these same switchbacks, ensuring that ascents weren’t too direct and too steep, that likely caused the aforementioned problems with my Suunto.

The Lows

I have to admit to struggling for long periods of the Great Glen Ultra. For some reason I just found it so hard to get my head in the game, and I often found myself wallowing in negativity, just looking for an excuse to drop from the race.


The dreaded midges and various other insects were definitely out to annoy. Bad enough for those of us running the event. Absolutely dreadful for the marshals who had to remain at their checkpoints.

The Rain

The forecast had been for heavy rain with the possibility of thunder and lightning. Thankfully we didn’t see any of the latter, but the rain was often and torrential.

With temperatures that would have ‘cooked’ me had I donned a waterproof, I opted just to get wet, and it was only in the latter stages of the race when the cold finally started to get to me, that I opted for some protection from the elements.

The one redeeming element of the rain was that it at least brought some respite from the dreaded midges!

Given the choice, I would most definitely take rain over midges any day!

Thoughts Of A DNF

I perhaps assumed that I was destined to fail on the day. It’s the only possible explanation I have as to why I spent quite so long considering dropping from the race.

Thankfully, as I clocked up the mileage, and especially upon reaching the 1/2 way point, my thoughts turned to a more positive assessment of the day.

The runners and marshals that I chatted to along the way, whether they knew it or not, lifted my spirits sufficiently to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

The Highs

That Sunrise!

The photos just don’t do it justice. The sunrise started as nothing more than a thin orange line sitting on top of the loch but culminated in a fiery red sky that lit up the clouds. If ever there was an excuse for a 3 am run, this is it!

Those Marshals!

Each and every single one of the marshals couldn’t have gone out of their way more to assist, whether it be retrieving and opening drop bags, assisting with litter, filling water bottles and so forth. What’s more, they did it in some atrocious weather conditions, all whilst being eaten alive by those b&%$£&^^ midges! Thank you all :o)

Camaraderie & Friendship

I spent a lot of time running with fellow runners, some of whom I knew from previous events, and some of whom I was meeting for the first time. Thanks to everyone for the company. You all helped me make it as far as Inverness.

One thing that is evident from the photographs taken throughout the event is that despite the weather/midges/pain/sleep deprivation/everything the majority of runners were still smiling.

Going by Fiona Rennie’s pictures, which I was totally unaware were being taken, I was having a whale of a time. I was delighted to see these, and I have to admit that the smile on my face leaves me questioning whether it was really as bad as I remember it.

That Mistake – The Suunto ‘Issue’

They say not to do anything new on race day. I should have listened. However, concerned with just how long I was going to be out running, I took it upon myself to create an ultra specific Suunto Ambit3 Sport mode, with a focus on maximum battery conservation.

The last thing I wanted was, as happened in the West Highland Way Race back in 2012, an incomplete GPS track of my route or, even worse, to be left clueless with regard to how far along the route I was.

Ironically, my battery preservation efforts backfired spectacularly, and the final mileage recorded by my watch was approx. 66.5 miles, considerable less than the 73 mile route.

The lost mileage, stemming from a reduced GPS tracking level, was no doubt amplified by the numerous switchbacks along the route.

It was soul destroying to realise that my watch couldn’t be relied upon for mileage, especially when the checkpoints weren’t exactly located 10 miles apart.

Ironically, as I finish writing this report, some 5 days after the event, my watch has still to be charged and has a battery life of 38%!

Checkpoint Times

Checkpoint Time of arrival Leg splits
CP1 01:47:56 n/a
CP2 03:35:20 01:47:24
CP3 06:02:00 02:26:40
CP4 07:37:52 01:35:52
CP5 11:16:00 03:38:08
CP6 13:14:17 01:58:17
FINISH 16:02:49 02:48:32

What’s Next?

The big question at this point is what’s next for me?

I swore during and after the GGU that this was my last ultra, at least until I was able to train properly.

That statement sits in contrast to my earlier stated intent to try and run the Highland Fling, West Highland Way Race or Great Glen Ultra, and Devil O’ The Highlands in 2016, assuming that I was fortunate enough to gain entry to each event.

In true ultramarathon runner style, the pain has already subsided and I am once again giving thought to putting myself through the pain and torture of events.

Indeed, the fact that I spent last night considering how best to tighten up on time spent at checkpoints is surely testament to the fact that I am already considering future events. I’m investigating Tailwind Nutrition to see if this offers an alternative to fuelling that works for me. As much as I do love the real food approach, it does result in longer spent at Checkpoints than is ideal.

Whilst I am not quite so certain that I will now be taking another ultra hiatus, I am 100% certain that I am not about to try and bluff my way through another year of ultras.

I’ve already lost 3 stone in weight in the build up to my 2015 events and the difference in my running has been evident. I don’t think that I would have completed any of the three events had I attempted to do so on such limited training and at my previous weight.

I’ve set myself a goal of making further ultra participation dependent upon continued weight loss of at least another 1/2 stone, but ideally a stone.

In terms of training, I will likely never return to the pre-Harris mileage that I ran in my first 3 years of ultramarathon involvement. However, I most definitely do need to put a more structured training regime in place, complete with more long runs. Of course, successful training will also be dependent upon continued good health, which was the main issue this year.

So that’s all for this year as far as ultramarathons are concerned. There was some thought about signing up for The Speyside Way Race but I’ve managed to double-book that weekend with a few days away in the Cairngorms, which has taken the do I/don’t I issue out of my hands.

This weekend, we are again bound for the Cairngorms, with a joint celebration of our 5th wedding anniversary and Leanne’s dads early retirement. Thankfully, it would appear that I am going to be fit enough after the exertions of last weekend to make the most of it.

West Highland Way Race 2016?

With only 11 days to go until the 2015 West Highland Way Race, social media, and Facebook in particular, is buzzing with race chatter. Given my 2 year ultra sabbatical, inspired by the birth of my son Harris, I thought the West Highland Way Race might be that bit too ambitious for my comeback year, but it doesn’t stop the pangs of jealousy as I read about those who are about to embark upon their own West Highland Way Race experience.

Whether it is your first year or your 10th (or more even!), you are almost certainly guaranteed a weekend that you will remember for the rest of your days.

I ran the West Highland Way Race in 2012, the year of the ‘apocalyptic weather’, and things didn’t quite go to plan (understatement!).

Summing up my own experiences, I wrote the following, and it is as true today as it was the day I wrote it, not long after completing the event:

“Without a doubt, my completion of the 95 mile West Highland Way Race in 2012 ranks as my all-time running achievement to date. That weekend in June changed me and, to this day, I still think back to what I learned over the course of the weekend.

95 miles in under 35 hours with 14,760ft of ascent would have been enough of a challenge. However, I also had to contend with apocalyptic weather conditions, explosive diarrhoea and projectile vomiting. Overall, it amounted to a very challenging 31 hours, 1 minute and 50 seconds of running! Not the time I was aiming for but, under the circumstance, one that I am very happy with.

That weekend was a roller-coaster of highs and lows like I had never experienced before and it redefined just how low I could go and yet still carry on.

I had briefed my support team to expect to see me at my worst throughout the weekend. Little had I expected, however, that this was actually going to be the case!

What’s more, we had only just found out that my wife Leanne was pregnant with our first child days before the race. To this day, I still feel guilty for putting her through the stress of seeing me at my worst.

In a lot of respects, I had the easy part. All I had to do was keep moving forward. My support crew however, had to witness what happened to me through the course of the weekend and to try, where possible, to keep me fed and watered and moving towards Fort William – not an easy task given my reluctance to consume anything for fear that it would soon exit from one end of me or the other! To this day I cannot figure out exactly how I managed to keep moving.

I’ve collated a number of posts relating to that event below.

My own race experience totally redefined what I can and will endure in a race, and demonstrated just how quickly the darkest of lows can turn into a high, from projectile vomiting at the 50 mile mark, feeling absolutely finished, devoid of energy and all but ready to throw in the towel, to running strongly again and knowing that I could make that finish line in Fort William, all within the space of 5 miles.

Hopefully your own race experience will be significantly easier than my own but, regardless, it will almost certainly be an experience that lives with you forever.

I am gearing up for my own challenge, the 70 miles approx. of the Great Glen Ultra, on 4th July 2015 and, true to form this year, my ‘training’ following my shock finish (& PB) at the Hoka Highland Fling has again been blighted by illness.

Regardless, I am still eagerly anticipating competing in the Great Glen Ultra and can’t wait to run along the banks of Loch Ness.

Maybe 2016 will see me return to the West Highland Way Race for another attempt, if I am fortunate enough to gain entry. Failing that, I am sure that I will return one year in the not too distant future. I can only hope that, on that occasion, I have an easier time of it!

All the very best to the 2015 West Highland Way Race runners, crew and race personnel. I hope that you all have a fantastic weekend.

Spiderman’s Heroic Hoka Highland Fling

As I approached the final few miles of my recent Hoka Highland Fling, I spotted ‘Spiderman’ running not too far ahead of me. Unlike my 2012 West Highland Way Race, I couldn’t put this down to hallucinations! This was, as many of you will know, real life superhero Ross Lawrie, running the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling in full Spiderman costume. I should, at this point, stress the FULL aspect. As the video above demonstrates, Ross’s costume doesn’t contain any mouth or eye holes!

It’s not often that I come within sight of Ross at ultra events, other than at the very start, and, as such, I knew at this point that Ross must have been having a tough day of it. Reading his ‘Heroic Hoka Highland Fling‘ blog post confirmed my suspicions:

“Partially sighted, limited oxygen intake, heat exhaustion, leg cramps and I’m only just hitting Conic Hill – 18miles in…!”

Not content with running ‘just’ the 53 miles of the West Highland Way in full Spiderman costume, it’s Ross’s intent to run the 2015 West Highland Way Race, again in full Spiderman attire:

“On Sat 20th June 2015, Ross Lawrie is attempting to run the complete distance of the West Highland Way Ultra Marathon Race. 95 miles in under 35 hours, in aid of CHAS – Children’s Hospice Association Scotland. As everyone knows… …”With great power, comes great responsibility!” ;)”

It wasn’t until watching the above video that I actually realised just how special this charity is:

CHAS is a charity that provides the only hospice services in Scotland, for children and young people who have life-shortening conditions for which there is no known cure.

You can support Ross’s efforts and the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland at the following URL:

Run, Walk, Cycle Scotland