42 miles from Tyndrum to Fort William following the West Highland Way.
Should I run or should I not? Was it really so crazy to run the Devil's only 2 weeks after the Anglo Celtic Plate 100k? Could I even win this race? Who was the competition? Should I just run slow and try to enjoy the experience?
I cannot say my legs were fully recovered from the 100k. I am no Mike Wardian. My quads were still sore and in fact I could not stride out as much as I wanted because my hip flexor was still very tight after the AGP. To add more excuses: I could have done with a little bit more hill work to prepare for the Devil's. But honestly I was under the impression that I was still in good shape. Or - again - in good shape. And I had certainly recharged my carbohydrate storage over the last 13 days. In fact I had done my second taper in 4 weeks and a taper must be followed by a run (or race). Otherwise would be crazy ;-)
So what can I say about the Devil O’ the Highlands route, the 42 mile long “second half” of the West Highland Way? Carrying a map for that race was certainly weird. It was a requirement and I respected it. But I feel I can run that route in my sleep. I had done that route so many times now. 1) As the actual 42 mile race, or 2) as part of the WHW race. 3) I have walked it and 4) did it many times in training. And I was really looking forward to running it again. And even slow. As a reward for missing the WHW Race this year. I just had so much good memories about that race. And the weather was great too. Maybe a bit too warm for super fast times but the course suits me. More than the Highland Fling (the first half (53 miles) of the West Highland Way).
I wanted to give it a try to go fast from the start. I could always back off and take it easy if I blew up or had other problems. That 100k two weeks ago would give me a good excuse to mess this race up. Although I would probably hear a few "told you so" from “the girl who fell into the canal". So I better not screw this up then... ;-). And that very girl (you may have figured it was Debbie Martin Consani) introduced me to Casey Morgan just a few seconds before the start: "THIS is your competition" she said. And I swear there was a bit of a cheeky smile in her face when she said that... And when she said it she had almost a "told you so" expression in her face.
She had a point though. Next to that guy I looked pretty unfit. He displayed a less than 8% bodyfat engine in a Salomon outfit. And he played for Shettleston. And he did not just look fast… as I soon found out.
So off we went. Uphill first into a sunny morning towards the magnificent Bein Dorain along the West Highland Way towards Bridge of Orchy. There was hardly any cloud in the sky and my legs responded well enough and I really enjoyed that first section. The field stretched and similar to last year I tried to take the lead. Thus allowing me to chose my own line. I have to confess though I would take any excuse to run fast from the start. But despite a seriously frisky pace I just about managed to squeeze myself to the front. But could not really open a gap. In fact my "Plan A" to lead the race from start to finish ended in Bridge of Orchy. Despite running a PB (45 minutes) to that first BoO checkpoint Casey took the lead. That young guy had his own race plan. Debs told me so ;-)
I ran straight through the checkpoint just grabbing a gel from Yvonne from our club Greenock Glenpark Harriers who had kindly agreed to support me over the Devil's course (backed up by my sister in law and my two nephews). After the climb out of Bridge of Orchy I thought I could regain the lead on the downhill section but the bad news for me were that I could not match Casey's downhill pace. Not even close. So instead of me taking the lead it was Casey who opened a gap of half a minute or so. I did run steady over the Rannoch More and the gap was closing again. Slightly. But on the downhill into Glencoe I fell back again. The official splits were 2:02 for Casey and 2:03 for me but I think I was through more 2:05 as my Garmin data showed later after the race. We both were still way under record pace at the time. However I was not much faster than last year. So pacing wise it was all still ok.
My plan was to have something solid to eat here. The reason for that was that I had developed stomach issues in the 100k two weeks ago which were probably due to the ‘gel only’ liquid diet. And the caffeine gel I had taken after 60k almost blew me up. So Yvonne handed me my brioche cake but there was no way I could get any of that cake down. My mouth was too dry. Although drinking more than usual (I think about 500ml/hour) it was not taking enough fluid. So I continued with gels. Not ideal. But I had no time to rehydrate. Would I be able to stomach the caffeine gels I had planned for the last section? Should I even try without them?
Climbing the staircase was hard work. Caused by the increasing heat and lack of hill training. I was walking a lot of it. And in places I was not even power walking. It was just walking. The climb would take 17 minutes. Can’t say this was a disaster but it was 2 minutes more than last year. And if I remember correctly my climbing wasn’t my strength last year either. Overall I would say I did well on the shorter climbs and slightly undulating or flatter bits. And I owe that to the training for the 100k.
Back to the race. Once at the top of the Staircase I had gathered on the leader. But I had no illusion about getting into Kinlochleven first. There was some steep descending over the Staircase and Casey just killed that section and was out of sight too soon. The long and rather steep forest track down into KLL was the usual pain. Not so much because of sore quads but I just could not gather any speed on the descent.
When I got down to the checkpoint I was desperate to know how far I was behind. Two minutes (according to Yvonne) did not sound too bad though. I denied the soup though which I had prepared for that last Checkpoint. I just did not like the idea of having it. I stuck with gels but they seemed to work ok for now.
The chase continued. Maybe I could close the gap on the climb? The Lairig More is never easy to run. The track is very rocky and undulating. But it was always my favourite section and I was looking forward to it. And I wanted to enjoy it. I had to get rid of negative thoughts. I just love the race and I just loved the great weather, even if it was getting almost too hot now. I was actually feeling strong. What more should I ask for? So it was all good.
The climb was hard work again and I was feeling the heat more and more. So I stopped at many of the small streams to cool myself and that did help a lot to deal with the heat. Once I reached the top of the climb I spotted Casey less than minute ahead but he soon opened the gap again on the following downhill. The path was actually quite busy with walkers so there was a bit of a struggle to keep the ideal line through all those cobble stones since the walkers also preferred the better parts of the trail.
Eventually I decided to ease off the pace a little to enjoy the run a bit more. All that racing and worrying and competing was tiring and stressful. I fell into a more relaxed stride and soon enjoyed the experience again. Although I was not slowing that much as it turned out.
The enjoyment mode changed into race mode again once I spotted Casey and I noticed he was slowing. First I thought he was eating and taking it a bit slower but the gap actually closed very quickly. I took another gel, drank something, cooled myself at one of the streams and then decided to go for it. I passed Casey whilst zig zagging through a bunch of walkers. He gave me a "Well done Thomas" and I replied "thanks but that race is not over yet". Maybe he took it easy for a while but the problem for me was if I could not open a huge gap on him before reaching the top of the Glen Nevis forest he would catch me on the downhill. As I learned later his stomach had blown up and it took him some time to recover.
But I was in my element. As so many times before (including the last two West Highland Way Races) I run strong over the Lairig More and run strong all the way to the finish line. I did hurt I have to admit. In particular the downhills. And I certainly did feel the 100k race over that last section. But my energy levels stayed high up to the very end.
So it happens that I won. And it was a particular privilege not just to win but also to win my favourite race. I was delighted that I almost matched my time from last year. I won the race in 5:36:17. Averaging 8 minutes per mile.
Casey finished in 5hrs 55 mins 47 and second place and Robert Soutar crossed the line together with Craig Cunningham in 6:21.
Debbie Martin Consani shows that she cannot just win super long and flat canal races (like the 145 miles GUCR) but also the short, fast, furious, technical and scenic Devil’s. If we can call 42 miles short that is ;-) She finished first female in 6hrs 54mins 06secs almost half an hour ahead of 2nd Hazel Dean (7hrs 23mins 45secs) and Michelle Heatherington (7hrs 23 mins 54 secs).
|Last year we finished 2nd. Not this year though :-)|
Silke finished the Devil's comfortably. Supported by her brother and sister in law and 2 nephews who had been over to Scotland for a visit. And she completed the mighty "Triple Crown". That is 1) the Highland Fling, 2) the West Highland Way race and 3) the Devil O' the Highlands. She too had some reason to celebrate.
Thanks Yvonne for her brilliant and flawless support!
And thanks to Garry and Gemma and all the helpers and volunteers for another great Devil O' the Highlands! See you all next year!