It’s Movember!

To quote the Movember Web Site:

“During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of moustaches on thousands of men’s faces in the UK and around the world. The aim of which is to raise vital funds and awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and other cancers that affect men.”

Now I can’t claim to be the cleanest shaven of guys. Other than my fairly discreet sideburns/sideboards, I generally go no longer than a few days between shaves. I don’t know what it is but I tend to feel hot and itchy if I don’t get the shaver out and start afresh. On top of that, I just can’t see myself with a moustache!

However, despite all of this, I have decided to cultivate the requisite facial growth for the month of Movember. What’s more, I aim to run each and every day during Movember without fail. Having run 25 out of 30 days during the month of September I know that this will be tough and, I am sure, by the time I get to the end of the month, I am sure that I will feel quite wrecked.

At this point I am questioning my sanity as I have also signed up to run Marcothon 2011 which entails running a minimum of 3 miles (or 25 minutes, whichever is sooner) each and every day in December. And yes, before you ask, that does include Christmas day! I am actually wondering if, by December 31st, my New Year resolution will be to give up running (as if!).

So, setting aside injuries, I have 2 months of daily running to look forward to and it is a good feeling to know that one of those months will be in the name of a good cause – Movember. (roll on 1st January 2012 lol!)

If you would like to support my efforts or even just see how I am doing then feel free to visit me online at:

And in the meantime, ask yourself… should I become a Mo Bro or a Mo Sister (Yes ladies, you can also participate).

In 2010, over 112,000 UK Mo Bros and Mo Sistas got on board, raising £11.7 million

You don’t have to run. That element is entirely down to me.

However, as I have mentioned in previous posts, I felt that my running petered out in 2010 after I completed the Loch Ness Marathon and that, by the time the ultras started again in 2011, I was essentially back to square one in terms of fitness. This year I am determined not to let that happen and my Movember running pledge and participation in Marcothon 2011 are going to help me along the way.

Escape To The Cairngorms

New post at The Running Bug, ‘Escape to the Cairngorms‘.

There is nothing better than a change of scenery to freshen up your running schedule and this is especially true when it involves time away in the Cairngorms National Park where I was fortunate enough to find myself last week. Staying in Aviemore with my wife and her family, we were blessed with the kind of weather that you cannot even guarantee mid-summer in the Cairngorms and, looking at the Cairngorm Mountain web cams this week, it would appear that we timed our stay to perfection, leaving just as the weather turned and the snow arrived! It beggars belief that the same mountain we all sat atop of last week for a lunchtime picnic now has a good dusting of snow.

For anyone who has yet to sample the Cairngorms, I strongly recommend a visit. There are miles and miles of trails, from low level forest routes through to mountain routes and, of course, these all provide great opportunities when it comes to training. I was determined to make the most of my time there and to focus especially on hill work which will be a factor in my as yet to be revealed ‘greater goal’ for 2012.

I set the alarm to wake me at 6 a.m. on that first morning there so that I could get out and make the most of the running opportunities before then heading back to participate in whatever walks and/or bike rides the family had planned. Thankfully I had the foresight to take a head torch with me as it was sorely needed in the chilly darkness of the morning. One thing in particular that I have noted since my return is just how difficult it is to get up at 6 a.m. when you are heading to work and not out on the trails!

At the south end of the main street next to the entrance to the youth hostel, there is a path which takes you underneath the A9 road at the back of Aviemore and on to the Craigellachie National Nature Reserve. There are a number of different walk/run options but I headed for the top at approx 496m/1627ft. The route up is steep and on occasion technical. However, the punishment of running up is well rewarded with an excellent view over Aviemore itself towards the Cairngorms, and, in the other direction, of the various mountains, lochs and lochans of the Reserve.

Once at the top, there is the opportunity to venture further though I did find that the pathways petered out and I was left running in the kind of mud and bog that tries to rip the trainers from your feet.

For every up, there is generally a down, and the return down in to Aviemore was a fast paced affair. At times I found myself having to reign in my speed for fear of tripping and ending up crashing down the pathway, such was the steepness of the route.

Repeatedly running this route was excellent training but brutal at the same time and, by the end of the week, my quads in particular were longing for a rest. However, this was not to be. A friend with whom I ran most of the 55 miles of the Cateran Trail Ultra was in town for the Aviemore Half Marathon on the Sunday. We agreed to meet for a slow few miles on Saturday evening but it ended up as a fast paced 8 mile out and back route that took us along the excellent Rothiemurchus pathway and in to the forests.

My legs on the Sunday were glad to be heading for home instead of running the half marathon but despite this, I feel like I could have picked up a half marathon PB. With my continued weight loss my speed seems to be coming on no end and, as such, 10ks and Half Marathons are once again starting to appeal to me, especially now that they may hold PB potential.

I can’t wait to return once again to the Cairngorms. Given half a chance I would be out running, walking and biking the trails from dawn till dusk! However, if the weather continues as it has been this week, then there is a lot more chance that the next visit there will involve skiing!

September Summary (Better Late Than Never!)

New post at The Running Bug, ‘September Summary (Better Late Than Never!)‘.

September was a memorable month for me in a number of ways and I wanted to share this with you before we get too far in to October!

In terms of running I hit, and passed the 1000 mile mark, slightly earlier than last year. In 2010 I ran the Loch Ness Marathon and hit the 1000 mile mark in mile 26 of the marathon for that double accomplishment feeling. An injury in the run up to the marathon had done its best to try and spoil my carefully planned 1000th mile and, as a result, instead of tapering in the week leading up to the marathon, I ended up cramming in the mileage to make up for lost time (definitely not recommended as an approach to ‘tapering’!). Having made up the mileage shortfall, I was delighted to cross the finish line, hitting my mileage target and setting a new marathon PB.

Without a race in the foreseeable future, I then did what I have done on so many occasions. I let the running slip. Not altogether, but in a sufficiently unstructured way so that, by the time I lined up in March of this year for the first ultra, I was essentially back to square one. Talk about making things difficult for yourself!

This year, with the benefit of hindsight, I am determined not to do the same thing and, as such, I have set both short and long term goals, with the short term goals focusing on both pace and weight.

As mentioned previously, I completed 6 ultras this year whilst tipping the scales at a weight of just over 15 stones. I have spent much of the past few years following one calorie counting diet or another and, it has to be said that, other than a few pounds here and there, which generally ‘sneak’ back on, I have not had much success. Last year in particular I found that the combination of running long distances and attempting to diet did not sit well together and I found my health suffering as I picked up every bug and sniffle going!

In 2011 I decided to stick with my normal diet for the duration of the ultras. With only 3 weeks between the majority of the races, getting ill was not an option. When my wife came home at the beginning of September and told me about a colleague who had shed approximately 2 stones in the space of 2 months it was a timely ‘ray of hope’. Never known for my patience, this sounded like my kind of diet – results… and fast!

Tasked with finding out more, my wife returned from work the following day and advised me that I needed to eliminate carbs from my diet.

Initially I found this really tough. For one, I realised the huge carb reliance in my current diet. My eyes were opened to my ‘dependency’ on everything from bread, to porridge, to pastas. I eliminated everything that was not meat, fish or vegetable and, as I later found out, I was essentially following the ‘Dukan Diet’, albeit having ‘skipped’ the 100% meat ‘attack phase’ recommended by the diet.

The ‘Dukan Diet’ lets you eat meat and fish and lots of it! Hunger pangs are not an issue on this diet as you are free to snack on meat and/or fish whenever hunger strikes. An increased water intake is also recommended and this also helps to keep hunger at bay.

I am not advocating that this diet is a good choice for anyone. I simply do not know enough about nutrition to comment on how good or bad the carb depletion approach is. However, as far as I am concerned, it worked for me and, having emerged from those first few days of thumping headaches (withdrawl symptoms apparently), the weight started to drop off.

By the end of September, I had lost a stone in weight.

Alongside the diet, I endeavoured to run at least 5 miles every day in September, which I did on all but 5 days where running was not possible due to other commitments.

The constant running eliminated recovery days from my schedule and each run felt like the end stages of a race, where the legs are tight and tired. Combined with the effects of the carb elimination, the runs increasingly felt like they were being done whilst ‘running on empty’. However, I persisted, partly through determination to log a high mileage month and partly to try and ‘assist’ the diet.

At the end of the 3rd week I decided to have a small bowl of porridge before heading out to run. The bowl was half, if not a third of the size of the bowl that I would normally have had.

The lethargy lifted soon after starting the run and I really felt like I was flying. The combination of the weight loss and the reintroduction of carbs into my diet, albeit on a small scale, powered me through my run and I logged the fastest mile that I had run in years. In fact, all 7 of the miles I ran that day were on average 2-3 minutes quicker than those that I had logged running on those particularly lethargic days of the third week.

The weight is still coming off, albeit at a slightly more moderate 2-3 pounds per week. I have reintroduced carbs back in to my diet now but in much smaller quantities than before and it is unlikely that I will ever return to the carb intake levels that I previously consumed. I still aim to lose a further stone in weight and with this weight reduction, I will also benefit from an ‘unintended’ increase in running pace.

This week I recorded another mile PB, knocking a further 30 seconds off of my mile time. Not bad at all considering that, at this point, I have not actually turned my attention to speedwork!

The Scottish Ultra Marathon Series 2011

New post at The Running Bug, ‘The Scottish Ultra Marathon Series‘.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to read and/or comment on my initial blog posting. It is much appreciated and I hope that my postings will not disappoint! My initial ‘Setting the scene’ post came together quite easily but I have to admit that this, the ‘difficult second post’ was a lot more troublesome. It’s not that I have run out of things to say (already!) – Quite the opposite in fact. So many things have happened since my last post and, on top of that, I wanted to share more of my journey from 10k to ultras.

I decided that the stories can wait for following posts and that I will, instead, mark the completion of the Montane sponsored Scottish Ultra Marathon Series (S.U.M.S.) for 2011 as this has been the main focus of my running efforts this year.

The Series, created in 2010, brought together 9 of Scotland’s ultra marathon races, both old and new, ranging from 33 miles to 96 miles in length.

In 2010, the year in which I ran my first ultras, I completed 2 out of the 3 Series races which I entered.

In 2011, I completed all 6 of the Series races I entered. I came in 39th position overall in the males results table so not exactly troubling the series leaders. 44 males completed the 4 ultras required to participate in the Series. A great many more males and females participated in the Series overall and some 380 runners started the Montane Highland Fling, the largest of the S.U.M.S. ultras – testament to the growing popularity of ultra running in the UK.

Given that I did all of this whilst tipping the scales at just over 15 stones, I regard 2011 as a successful year! At approximately 5 feet 9 inches and with a less than adonis like physique it should be obvious to all that I am far from athletic in terms of build. Indeed, at the start of many of these events, surrounded by typically athletic looking runners, I have looked around and evaluated the possibility that I might just come in last. This has not happened yet but there would certainly be no shame if it did. As far as I am concerned, ‘to finish is to win’ and whilst this may sound like a cliché, I am almost certain that, for the majority of the Series participants, it is completion that they strive for.

Six people, including myself, completed 6 of the 9 races that make up the series, with 1 person each completing 7, 8 & 9 races respectively. When I look back on 2011 it will be in a positive light. Not only did I banish the demons of my 2010 DNF – I completed 6 ultras (albeit slowly), something that I would never have thought possible even a year ago! Along the way, I got to savour some of the finest countryside Scotland has to offer and to meet lots of great people.

Congratulations to all who participated and a huge thank you to all race directors, marshals and helpers, without whom none of the above would have been possible.

I can now turn my attention to 2012 and to attaining goals both old and new. Reading back over this post, it has turned in to another ‘scene setter’ in some respects. From this point on, I will be blogging on my preparation for 2012 and with regard to lessons learned along the way. Hopefully you will join me and, in the meantime, why not check out the Series for yourself and remember to Aim high!

Setting The Scene

I used to hate running with a passion! In fact, for a long time I didn’t even know that I hated running. I was that far removed from it. I was probably one of the most unathletic children in the school and this was a trait that I kept up throughout my years at University.

I started smoking around the age of 15. I then had a somewhat extended foray into academia, spending some seven years accruing an honours degree and a number of postgraduate qualifications. In this time, I smoked and drank unhealthy amounts and a typical breakfast often consisted of a pack of viscounts!

I funded a large part of my studies working the clubs as a DJ and, on days where I was working, my cigarette intake was often in the 40-60 range. The one positive to working as a DJ was that I curtailed and then completely eliminated my alcohol intake.

I don’t recall what it was that led me to the gym that first time but I liked it. To start with, I would work my way around all the machines with the exception of the treadmill and I would emerge an hour later, hugely sweaty and in need of a cigarette! After a few months I realised that I had plateaued, largely thanks to my continued dependence on nicotine.

I had a few abortive attempts at stopping and then, finally, I quit smoking for good. Most people that I have spoken to can tell you the day, the date, the year… even the time when they had their last cigarette. I can’t even recall now how many years it has been (approximately eight or nine) but I can say with certainty that I have never looked back.

My health improved considerably and I even ventured onto the running machine. The treadmill, or for so many people the ‘dreadmill’, became my friend. It let me switch off and run without thinking and as I ran I was always accompanied by my music, usually the kind of trance music that accompanied the exhilaration of running so well.

Thinking back a few years to the midpoint of the local Baker Hughes 10k road race, I can recall that I was absolutely pooped! A work colleague passed me by and offered words of encouragement. It was May and, having just passed the 3 mile mark, it dawned on me that this was the furthest that I had run all year.

This year, having completed six ultramarathons ranging from 33 through to 55 miles and, with my mileage this week likely to hit the 1000 mile mark, I can look back safe in the knowledge that anything is possible. In 2012 I will be looking to achieve six new PB times and to significantly up the ante with a hopeful completion of the 96 mile West Highland Way Race.

I also have a ‘greater goal’ but more on that later. In the meantime, hopefully some of what I have gone through and have yet to go through will be of interest to people, from those considering their first 5k to those who might even be considering an ultramarathon. Whatever your goal, take the advice of one of my friends and always ‘aim high’.

Speyside Way Race, 36.5 miles, 27th August 2011

Heading in to the weekend of the Speyside Way Race, I was filled with mixed emotions. On the one hand, ‘all’ it would take would be one more completion and I would have successfully finished all 6 of my ultras for the year without a DNF in site. It would also, unfortunately, signal the last ultra of the year for me and, as Leanne will no doubt testify, I would be at every run under the sun if I could!

I always find it so much easier to train when I have something to aim for and last year, if truth be told, I kind of lost my way a bit after I finished the Loch Ness Marathon. As a result, when I started off this years ultras back in March at the D33, I was essentially starting fresh all over again. At the D33 I was doing well until approximately 18 miles in when everything went pear shaped. Looking back now, this was hardly surprising. If I recall correctly this was the furthest distance that I had run since the Loch Ness Marathon the previous October and training had not exactly gone to plan!

This year I am determined to avoid a repeat performance and, as such, I have set myself 2 longer term goals – I want to beat each of the 6 new PBs from this year, starting with taking a fair chunk off of my D33 time come March 2012. There is also the matter of completing the full 96 mile West Highland Way race in June 2012, something that I know is also on the mind of a number of my fellow runners.

Having completed the Speyside Way Race in 2010, I had a pretty good idea what to expect this time around. The route itself, from Ballindalloch, North through Knockando, Aberlour, Craigellachie, Fochabers & Tugnet (Spey Bay) and then East towards Buckie, is a scenic one with a good mix of terrain underfoot. Around 13 to 15 miles in to the route the (seemingly never ending) climb over the 1546 feet Ben Aigan starts. Last year I hated this bit. This time around it felt much better, perhaps in part as a result of the recently completed and ever so undulating Devil O’ The Highlands run.

The weather (for once!) was favourable for running. Once up and running, the bitter cold from the start of the morning soon gave way to a gently breezy day, somewhat far removed from the torrential rain and strong winds that had been forecast. The following day the Peterhead 10k was cancelled due to the extreme weather. It would have been bad enough running 10k in those conditions, never mind 36.5 miles.

I took the opportunity to catch up with people before the start of the race including Colin Knox, Mike Raffan, Dave Morrow, Tommy and Alan. Tommy and Alan were running their first Ultra and going by their performaces, I hope it will not be their last!

I ran most of the first 13 miles with Sue Walker and found that I seemed to warm up and start to feel comfortable far quicker than I normally would. Thanks to Sue for setting a good pace and for the good company which was much appreciated. I generally take 6 miles to get warmed up these days, hence the general avoidance of 10ks, so it was good to make a slightly faster than planned start. I spent too long at the first checkpoint at Craigellachie, approximately 13 miles in, as I attempted to cram as much of the contents of my drop bag down me as possible. The total of 19 minutes for the mile that included that checkpoint was evidence enough that I need to significantly work on speeding up checkpoints!.

I actually felt pretty good coming out of Craigellachie on the start of the uphill that would eventually see me up and over Ben Aigan, something that I did not expect given how bad this stretch felt last year!

All was going well until approximately 21 miles in. At this point, I developed a sharp pain on the outside of my right knee. Soon after, the pain spread to my right hip. Classic signs of Iliotibial band syndrome. The next 15.5 miles proved very painful. I was gutted! Up until the 21 mile mark I had visions of smashing my 2010 time of 7.44 by at least 45 mins. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case.

I finished, looking somewhat ‘broken’ by all accounts, in 07:23:45. I had not ‘smashed’ my PB, at least not by as much as I had earlier hoped but I had improved on the time nonetheless, taking 22 minutes and 55 seconds off of my 2010 time.

The Speyside Way Race route is great and there are some cracking bits that I absolutely love – most notably, the trails underneath the bridge at Fochabers and then on towards Tugnet, and then again shortly after leaving Tugnet en route for Buckie. The forest on this part in particular resounded with creaks and groans that were thankfully from the trees and not my weary legs! It is quite weird that this excellent, runnable and so very peaceful trail all exists in such close proximity to the A96 with all of its roadworks and bypass construction!

Thanks to Iona, Sarah and all of the marshalls for yet another cracking Speyside Way Race – Here’s to the Speyside Way Race 2012 🙂

Speyside Way Race Elevation Profile

Speyside Way Race Elevation Profile

Speyside Way Race Route

Devil O’ The Highlands, 43 miles, 6th August 2011

Travelling down to the Devil O’ The Highlands run on the Friday after work we encountered someone driving at us at 70mph up the wrong side of the dual carriageway. Only Leanne’s super quick thinking and evasive action meant that we survived to tell the tale and the subsequent stunned silence spoke volumes. We just slotted in between cars who themselves were breaking wildly in an effort to avoid a pileup from the other fast lane vehicles who had also taken evasive action to avoid colliding with the apparently oblivious woman driving straight at them. We were fortunate to be continuing onwards towards Tyndrum and boy did we know it!

Arriving in Tyndrum around 9.00 we quickly found the By The Way Hostel*, having prior knowledge of it’s location thanks to its positioning at the finish of the Highland Flind race earlier in the year. Bags were quickly offloaded into the room and we set off in to Tyndrum, destined for the Real Food cafe where I enjoyed a desperately needed coffee!

I went off to sleep around 11pm and the 4am alarm was an unwelcome awakening from an unusually decent pre-race sleep. Pecan pastry, porridge and coffee started the usual pre-race routine and I was ready to leave for the race registration shortly before 5am.

The Green Welly Stop, surely one of the most famous things in Tyndrum, had kindly opened their doors (and cafe) to runners for the 4.30am – 5.30 race registration and, by the time I arrived, the place was full of runners and support crew. I saw a lot of the ‘usual’ faces for SUMS events and caught up with Colin Knox, Dave Morrow, Mike Raffan and Iain & Vicki Shanks.

Knowing the hilly nature of the route and having not quite found my race fitness since my return from 2 weeks in Menorca, I was nervous about the impending run. Unlike Canada, where I managed to get a good run in most days, Menorca was just too hot, even in the early hours of the morning and, as such, I struggled to run more than 5 or 6 miles on the 4 or 5 days that I managed a run. I felt that my lack of race fitness was all to evident in my poorer than expected showing in the recent Clyde Stride Ultramarathon where I suffered for the last 20 miles approx.

Initially, I had thought that the requirement of a support crew was a pain as I am used to the drop bags system that is in use at most other ultras. However, with my wife Leanne and her brother Ross as my support crew I actually found that it was good to look forward to meeting up with them. Further, I could be far more flexible with my hydration and nutrition without the waste that accompanies the use of drop bags. They did a great job of keeping me fed and watered and cajoled me onwards towards the finish. Thanks to them both – consider yourselves hired whenever a support crew is required 🙂

With regard to the route itself, I have Colin’s excellent blog to thank for the exact route details.

At 6 a.m. approx 130 runners set off from Brodies store in Tyndrum, headed for the first check point at Bridge of Orchy. We started climbing out of Tyndrum on the old military road from the word go – no gentle starts then!

I reached Bridge of Orchy ahead of my planned time and hoped that this would not be too early for my support crew. I ran some of the way with Dave Morrow and Vicki Shanks and I have them to thank for helping me get in to a good pace, something I always find difficult as my body objects to running for about the first 6 miles! I need not have worried – as I crossed the bridge (built around 1750), Leanne and Ross were there with everything ready. I had to laugh as Ross did his best ‘Kenny’ impression trying to escape the worst of the midgies. To say they were swarming was an understatement!

With my Powerade replenished and having thrown back some pasta, a banana and a Red Bull I set off out of Bridge of Orchy, straight in to a steep climb up on to Mam Carraigh (approx 1000ft). According to the race info, this part “Heralds the beginning of rougher country underfoot that continues more or less unabated until the end of the race”. It was at this point that I realised I was becoming oblivious to the midgie menace, even the ones intent on flying up my nose and in to my eyes! At this point I also started to really appreciate the beauty of the surrounding countryside. The Devil O’ The Highlands route really does take us through some of Scotland’s finest, and the best was still to come.

I enjoyed the view of Loch Tulla and the speed offered by the descent down to Black Rock Cottage. Next up was Rannoch Moor which I have admired for its beauty in the past. I have to admit that, on this occasion, I just got on with the job in hand and welcomed the site of the Peter Fleming cairn which signalled that the next check point was not too far away. Approaching Kingshouse, with Buachaille Etive Mor in the background, I realised I was going to have to make an unplanned pitstop at the Glencoe Ski Centre. I would later regret the time spent here, including time spent queuing, as it impacted on my chance of a sub 10 hour time. As before, my support crew were all prepared and, after yet more pasta and Red Bull, and with bottles filled, I set off for what I expected would be the toughest climb of the day, over the Devil’s Staircase.

Like so many others, I was welcoming the change in the forecast. At the beginning of the week the forecast had been for heavy rain, which would have been bad enough for the runners but awful for the support crews. However, as the week progressed, this was amended to showers and sunny spells. This I could live with. Far too many of this years runs have been done in the heat. Unfortunately, the rain held off until I was approx 3 miles from Fort William and, instead, ‘sunny spells’ were replaced with baking heat and it would appear that the peaks of the temperatures were reserved for the big climbs of the day!

The route continued down to Kingshouse and then to a climb along the side of Beinn a Chrulaiste where I really started to feel the heat. Arriving at Altnafeadh, and with the Devil’s Staircase (849ft but feels like so much more!) looming, the temperature continued to rise. The height gained is all the more impressive when you consider the view of Buachaille Etive Mor that you had at the bottom against the amazing view from the top. This is the highest point of the whole route at 1798ft. Again I was glad of some company on the ascent from Dave and Vicki and also from Iain who was supporting both Dave and Vicki and, in climbing the Devil’s Staircase with them surely went above and beyond the call of duty!

Once over the Devil’s Staircase the descent down into Kinlochleven began. This should have been the ‘easy’ part, but with treacherous terrain underfoot and legs burning from the ascent, it was all I could do not to ‘fall’ down the path which in sections appeared as steep as to ‘throw’ you down towards Kinlochleven.

My team were patiently waiting in Kinlochleven for me and again made sure that everything was topped up and ready to go. This was going to be it until Fort William which I knew was going to be some time away.

The climb out of Kinlochleven was brutal… and unexpected. I really should have checked the map a bit more carefully and then the climb, with a full stomach from the last check point, would not have been such a surprise. As it was, I found this climb to be even worse than the Devil’s Staircase. The route, up to the Lairig Mor (the high pass) climbs approx 1100ft. However, as before, the views from the top more than made up for it.

I spoke with a few runners on this stretch and also with members of the Wilderness Mountain Rescue Team who offered words of support and ice cold water which was much appreciated.

It was not until the latter stages of the run that I managed to get lost. Looking behind me, I could see 2-3 runners in the distance. Determined not to be caught, this spurred me onwards and I stopped only briefly to take in the sheer beauty of Ben Nevis. I descended down towards Fort William, realising that I might just get a sub 10 hour time. However, I took a path to the right and ended up running the long way to the finish, on the pavement by the side of the road. If I had kept going down the forest track I would have seen a spray painted sign which indicated that the finish was this way – doh! As it was, the people that I had seen in the distance finished before me, coming in just under 10 hours. I finished in 10 hours, 3 minutes and 9 seconds!

The Saturday before the Devil I had not even managed to run 3 miles without stopping as my calves felt that they were about to snap and/or combust. As such, I set myself the target of finishing the run within the allocated 12 hours. From looking at results from the previous year, I had set myself a 10 hour 30 minute ‘perfect day’ target time on the Friday. Thus, while I did not get the sub 10 hour time, I really can’t complain with the time I did get.

After the run we stopped off at Morrisons so that I could have my, as of this year, traditional apres run beer. As most of you will know, I generally abstain from drinking so these are the only times I ever drink alcohol! It tasted great at the time but unfortunately I required an emergency pit stop at Spean Bridge to deposit it by the roadside – doh! Heading back to Ellon via Aviemore, we stopped off at Roos for a meal as a way of saying thanks to my support crew. Fortunately, this did stay down!

So, after my first, somewhat long-winded first attempt at a race report, I can only conclude by saying the Devil was everything I expected and a whole lot more. I loved it and I will be back for more next year, hopefully with the same support crew (hint, hint guys!). It was great to have the opportunity to run in such beautiful surroundings and to see everyone again. As I mentioned before, it was also great to see my Wife and her brother at each of the check points. I am used to seeing them only at the start and finish and this made them feel part of the day. Thanks as always for your support of my running 🙂

Hopefully see you all at the Speyside Ultramarathon at the end of the month!

* An excellent choice of accommodation which appeared to be almost entirely filled with runners and support crew. One of the owners, Kirsty, was also running in the Devil O’ The Highlands. Have already booked in for next year’s Devil O’ The Highlands!

Compulsory Kit:

This list of safety equipment is to be carried by each competitor and a duplicate copy is also advised to be carried by the backup team:

  1. Map
  2. Compass
  3. Space Blanket
  4. Full body waterproof clothing
  5. Water
  6. Food

Check Points:

  • Tyndrum (Booking in for the start of the race)
  • Bridge of Orchy (Checkpoint 1)
  • White Cottage Glencoe (Down from Ski Center) (Checkpoint 2)
  • Kinlochleven (Checkpoint 3)
  • Fort William (Checkpoint 4 and Finish)


  • Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy: 7 miles (11.2 km)
  • Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse: 12 miles (19.2 km)
  • Kingshouse to Kinlochleven: 9 miles (14.4 km)
  • Kinlochleven to Fort William: 16 miles (24 km)

Devil O’ The Highlands Elevation Profile

Devil O' The Highlands Elevation Profile

Devil O’ The Highlands Route

Montane Highland Fling, 30th April 2011

It’s been too long since the actual event to do a race report. However, The 2011 Montane Highland Fling was an important event for me and, as such, deserves a mention.

In 2010 I toed the line at the very same event for my first stab at the 53 miles. It was my second ultra marathon having completed the D33 months before. I had vague recollections of the route from having walked it a few years back – or so I thought! It turns out I had forgotten just how rough underfoot the route can be, and how undulating parts of it were. By the time I reached Balmaha, having been up and over Conic Hill, I was beat! Having done almost all of my training on the local Formartine and Buchan Way, I was simply not prepared for the undulating terrain and certainly not for the slog that is Conic Hill. The Formartine & Buchan Way is a former railway route and, whilst off-road, rough underfoot, and pleasurably scenic, it is also really, really flat!

I cannot recall the exact temperature from the day. Suffice to say it was unseasonably hot! In the heat of the day I found that I just could not stay hydrated. I was drinking as much as I could and yet this only resulted in a slooshing feeling in my stomach. Certainly not conducive to running. My clothes were starting to cake with salt and, by the time I reached Rowardennan, a marshall commented on this, advising that I should carefully monitor the situation. I ran on for a further mile before turning back to Rowardennan. Whilst I knew I could make the next checkpoint, I was not convinced that I could finish and I knew that the next checkpoint was far more difficult to reach by road, which would make any ‘rescue’ by Leanne more difficult.

I had, for some miles, been on a real low and it was only when I decided to pull out that my mood lightened. It dawned on me that it was not my day, and that I would far rather be with Leanne and Ross, leisurely enjoying the surroundings and sun, than torturing myself further.

Even though I had made a conscious decision to quit, to say the DNF (Did Not Finish) played on my mind would be an understatement. I beat myself up over my ‘failure’, reading every single blog and race report that I could find on the run courtesy of Google, and basically spent the next few days, if not weeks, with lingering self doubt.

On the plus side, from reading all of the blogs I did find out about electrolytes which, before the run had been alien to me and, armed with this new found knowledge, I was able to work out a strategy that appears to work best for me – Water, but in moderation; Powerade, which I ‘discovered’ in Canada and found I could drink far more of than any other sports drink before getting sick of the taste; and Hammer Electrolyte Replacement Supplements, which I later replaced with Succeed S Caps.

It had been my decision to quit. It was not ‘forced’ upon me by illness or injury (though I do feel that my condition would potentially have deteriorated if I had tried to finish). Mentally, I was not tough enough to finsh the 2010 Fling.

Montane Highland Fling 2011

In the weeks leading up to the 2011 Fling, the one thing I dreaded was a repeat of the 2010 temperatures and I honestly thought that this would define my race. If it was hot, I would fail without question as the strains of carrying my very non ultra friendly bulk of a frame, coupled with my propensity to sweat buckets, would combine to put success outwith my reach. Nothing like a positive state of mind – nothing like it at all!

At my pre run breakfast a few lone runners were dotted around the room. Two of the runners had struck up a conversation from their respective tables. One, an old hand who had previous experience of the Fling, the other a Fling newbie. Some sound advice was handed down and one thing in particular stuck in my mind.

“When you get to mile 30 and feel like shit, don’t ask yourself ‘If I feel this bad now, how bad am I going to feel in another 20 miles time’. The truth is, you will feel just as shit, only you will be 3 miles from the finish!”

Sound advice indeed. Having completed 6 ultramarathons at the time of writing this, I now appreciate that you go through all kinds of highs and lows, and the lows can really, really suck! They do, however, also play a huge part in making the highs quite so high! It is only natural over the course of such distances and hours spent out on the route to go through any number of emotions. The difference between my 2010 Fling and my 2011 Fling is that I did not let those emotions determine the outcome of my race.

It was hot, even hotter than the previous year! Thankfully, in the week before the run I had purchased The North Face Enduro 13 backpack, a slimline pack with little room for anything more than the absolute essentials. One of the reasons for the purchase was the 2 very accessible bottle holders at each side. On the day, I implemented a, by now, carefully practiced, monitored intake of fluids. This, coupled with the Succeed S Caps and the more robust approach to nutrition gave me a much better shot at finishing.

It was tough. However, I felt miles better descending Conic Hill than I had done the previous year, thanks in no small part to some sessions on Bennachie in the run up to the race. I also left Rowardennan in a much better state of mind than the previous year which had a hugely positive mental impact, especially once I passed the point at which I had abandoned the race the previous year. The terrain after Rowardennan slowed me down considerably and I made it to the cut off point with barely any time to spare. The next 13 miles were the real test for me. With the heat subsiding, the real challenge was the seemingly never ending, undulating forest terrain. 3 miles from the end, and still in line to get a sub 13 hour time, I experienced the worst leg cramps, resulting in a hop-swing approach to the last few miles. In the last couple of hours, I had let the electrolyte regime slip and I was finally paying the price. I popped a couple of Succeed S Caps and these kicked in, or I ran it off (who knows really!), close to the finish line.

One of ‘the’ things I was most looking forward to was the sound of the piper. I was gutted to find that the piper had, by this point, made his way to the ceilidh which was about to kick off! That’s my incentive to run it faster next year! I will also turn 40 in time to see me move up an age category. I have racked my brain for positives on hitting the big 4-0 and the only thing I can come up with is the earlier start time (7 a.m.) and additional hour at the Fling lol!

Amongst the people waiting at the finish area were Leanne, Ross, George Reid and Karen Donoghue. It was great to see everyone. I think I was somewhere beyond exhaustion so I dont know if I made it clear to anyone how glad I was to see them. Thanks for being there at the end – sorry I took so long 🙂

I couldn’t eat. I knew that I should but the most I could manage was some ice cream. That night, around 11.30, I started to doze off. I turned to get into a more comfortable position only to feel what felt like a bolt of lightening shooting through my right leg. The pain was unbelievable but there was nothing I could do to relieve it. I could not move. When the sharp pain finally subsided to a dull ache, I tried in vain to get back to sleep. After a nervous pre race sleep and the efforts of the day all I wanted to do was sleep but this proved to be beyond me!

On the Sunday we took the scenic route home. It was gloriously sunny. I was subdued by lack of sleep and muscular pain but I really didn’t care. I had banished my demons and, in turning my DNF into a finish, I had proved to myself that I was capable of completing ultra marathons. Looking back, I have a lot to thank the guy at breakfast for but he doesn’t even know he helped me!

I was 271st out of 320 finishers. Over 50 starters did not finish.

Here’s to the Montane Highland Fling 2012 🙂