The Glencoe Marathon 2016

AKA – The Post That Almost Never Was

AKA – My first Did Not Finish

I planned to write-up my first marathon experience, like most people, within a few hours/days of finishing and returning home, however #SPOILERALERT that was before I crashed out in spectacular fashion with little more than 8 miles to go

… and it all started off so well!

(I should say, two posts have been shared on the Glencoe Marathon facebook page recently that have spurred me into a) stop wallowing in self-pity about bombing out, couldn’t be helped… b) finally writing up my mini-adventure (… that isn’t to say there wont be a none-to-subtle undertone of bitterness throughout), you can read both posts here and here)

I’d first heard of the Glencoe Marathon back in 2015 when a friend took part.  I actually heard about it after the fact but seeing the pictures and listening to them recap it, I was very much intrigued.  I hummed and hawed for a few months but eventually bit the bullet and signed up.  It was to be a race of “firsts”.  My first visit to Fort William and Glencoe, my first Marathon and first trail-marathon*, very much a Go Big or Go Home moment.

Off road doesn’t scare me and given that there was no call for my non-existent orientation skills, it boiled down to getting the miles in and getting over my general aversion to running up anything higher than a curb (a simplistic view I know, but why complicated matters).  I planned some milestone races before the main event – the Glasgow Men’s 10K in June (47mins) and the Run The Blades Trail Half-marathon in July (1:52) – I was ultimately just looking to finish the marathon and training looked to being going well.

Things may have got a little awry with my tapering before the big day.  Two weeks prior were spent on holiday in Lanzarote  where I have to admit, running wasn’t 100% my main focus… but you’re supposed to run less… eat more protein… there’s protein in beer right?

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LOOK… tapering like an absolute BOSS!

 

ANYHOO, with 48hrs to go I’m home and packed and waiting to go.  I opted to take the train up to Fort William on the Saturday, stay over the night and be somewhat refreshed for the race on Sunday.

The train ride up started off a little.. moody
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an hour in, things didn’t look any better…
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but the old adage held true “if you don’t like the weather in Scotland… wait 20 minutes”

… and I never had to worry about the weather for the rest of the weekend… almost!

Since I was on pretty much the first thing smoking out of Glasgow I reached Fort William a few hours before registration opened so it gave me time to wander round see the sights and find the way to the registration hub (was dead hard to find too..)

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There were actually 3 races organised for the Sunday, the marathon, the Mamores Half Marathon and the Glen Nevis 10k, but registration for the marathon was only open on the Saturday at the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre.  How lucky for me that I managed to secure a nice little berth in a near by bunkhouse so I didn’t have far to go to stow my junk after I checked in and got my number… and t-shirt… and a headband, before I even started!

 

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… headband’s in the envelope

I’ll get this out of the way now, I don’t think I’ve ever, EVER taken part in a better organised race… ever! Start to almost the end in my case!

I’ll fast forward a bit with the cunning use of another Gallery…

In the two hours before I turned in, the rest of the bunkhouse dorm occupants showed up and it turned out all 8 of us were taking part across all 3 of Sundays races… I’ve never seen a room full of people, all over the age of 21 agree to lights out before 9pm in my life… IN MY LIFE, with an agreement we’re all up an’ at’em for 06:00!

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… by no mean the worse view in the world to have a cup of coffee to in the morning!

As I said, the bunkhouse was close to the Registration Hub, just the other side of those trees mid-picture actually, which was also the pick up point for the buses to take participants – with a stop in Fort William proper – to the start line at the Red Squirrel Campsite (you could obviously make your way to the start on your own by why drive when you can be driven… that and there was no parking there… and you were finishing 26.2 miles away from your car so… never let it be said I was above taking the bus)

With my bus ticket pinned to my t-shirt, my hands stuff firmly under my arms, they were not coming out for anything short of deflecting a direct blow, it was so cold, me and 2 others from the dorm taking part in the marathon boarded the bus and headed off

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It was like a magic mystery took, whatever hot/cold combo was going on fogged up all the windows so we literally had no idea where we were going so had no choice but to sit back and wait to be deposited at the start line

{insert on 20 minute power nap}

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On arrival, there was a short walk into the campsite where there were a number of runners who’d stayed/braved the night there, hardy souls, and all the free HOT tea and coffee we could consume.  I eventually hooked up with Rachel and Kristan, runner’s I know from the Achilles Heel stable of assorted headcases.

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… there’s that headband that was in the envelope earlier

Don’t think for second we’re smiling, our respective lips had frozen to our teeth by that point.  I have to admit, I had my first niggle of doubt while we were between us trying to decide which wave to run in.  I was shaking uncontrollably due to the cold (this is the “almost had to worry about the weather” moment I mentioned earlier) and thought “If I get laid up anywhere along this route I’m going to have set myself on fire to stay warm!”.  Decision made, we were off in the next wave.

So off we popped, the first 2k was quite convivial.  We ran together along the entrance road to the campsite, chatted to all an sundry before hitting the A82, at which point the sun shone and the last worries I had about the weather burned off! We followed it for the next 8k or so along assorted paths and trails either side of it.  Even that short section offered some of the most stunning scenery I’d ever seen (sorry, no pics here, lesson learned – should have brought my GoPro)

By the time I reached the first aid station, circa 9k,  I had already lost Rachel, who scooted away somewhere around the 5k mark – you can read Rachel’s take on the race here (9th lady back no less) – Kristan a few short k’s later.  I was under no illusions and keeping up with either throughout the race, both are much better runners.  The aid station was as fully stocked as any I’d seen (they all were! Every table was brimming and every steward attending had a smile, they were all of them fantastic).  This also probably marked the beginning of my troubles.

We left the nice stuff behind us and headed in the wilds!  Lets just say 200lbs+ and soft, muddy bog-like terrain just do not mix!  I’m sure there are many a hefty runner out there that can make light work of bogs and mud but I run across terrain like that the same way I swim, which is to say straight down… and keep going!

There was maybe a mile worth of it to negotiate (seemed a lot longer) and I must have found the deepest, gnarliest way through the lot of it.  I don’t think I saw anything below my knees for what felt like an hour.  By the time I go to the bottom of the Devil’s Staircase I had to take a breather.

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resting face

And then I looked up…

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Why did I look up… this is why I run with my head down, nothing good comes from looking up!

Now, I’m not a huge off-roader and not terribly clued-up with what constitutes ascents and what not so forgive me if I get this wrong. According to my Runkeeper data, from the point of getting out of the mud and back on a path… of sorts, and reaching the top was just shy of 1 kilometre… and 25 minutes of what felt like the most gruelling of my running life. But I eventually made it to the top and again, the views made it totally worth it
20161002_110425 20161002_110508_pano 20161002_110909 20161002_111938 20161002_111943The camera on my mobile really doesn’t do the scenery any justice at all.

All in all it took me 2hours to tick of 13k and to reach the highest point on the course.  At the point, I wasn’t sure how that was going to translate into my getting to the finish line in my predicted 6hrs, but I figured that it was all downhill from here so I could make up some time here if nowhere else.

From the summit there was a long winding mix of rock, trail, fire path and eventually a short stretch of tarmac that lead us into Kinlochleven which marked the halfway point.  It had taken me a just a little over 3hours to make it this far.  I’d already begun getting cramp in both my calves but, and again I can stress enough how good these aim stations were, I took some time to rest, stretch and refuel.

Kinlochleven itself was a nice wee place, what we got to see running through it before heading into woodland and along the West Highland Way.  This also marked the start of the second major ascent of the course and some serious problems.  I really began to struggle, running was totally out of the question, not simply due to how steep the climb was but that cramp I though I had worked off earlier was coming back and working slowly up my both legs.

I managed to reach the top, and with that a clear view of what I’d just come trough

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But unfortunately it had taken its toll.  The cramp had taken hold and no amount of stretching was getting rid of, or even lessening it.  And it must have shown since nearly everyone who was now passing me slowed to make sure I was OK, which was lovely, but I was getting worried at how bad I must look if everyone was asking.  Not quite willing to admit defeat, but not so arrogant as to not make contingencies. I gave the next two people who passed me my race number and asked them to let the medics at the next aid station (the 17mile point I believe) to be reading for me coming in.

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This was my view for the next hour (coincidentally my last), in which I managed to cover only 3k.  By this point my quads and seized up too and I was struggling to even bend my legs.  As I hobbled over the crest of a hillock I saw two of the medical team sitting on the side of the road to which I was greeted with…

“so… you must be 678”

Which marked the end of my adventures in the Highlands.  I can’t thank the medical team enough.  They spent the best part of the next 2 hours straightening me out as my legs seized up so bad, when I stopped proper I cramped up in the foetal position and had to be laid out on the ground, and also for their sense of humour.. “you know, you’ve technically ran over a half marathon… think you could get a medal for that?

I saw out the remainder of the course from the back of the medical 4×4, and by “saw out” I mean this was my view..
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After the getting a once over from the medics at the aid station, I was also driven to see the course Doctor.  A very nice chap who reassured me that I wasn’t dying in anyway and that by the looks of things I was suffering from salt and electrolyte depletion.  So, not the greatest of endings to what should have been my first Marathon.  I have of course signed up for this year with some further preparatory work in the form of the Edinburgh Marathon in May…  I will be having that finisher medal and all the fame and glory that comes with it!!

*  – I think there needs to be a distinction as I’ve run 5k’s off road that have taken nearly an hour as and the weekly parkrun that takes about 25mins.  Terrain is most definitely a factor!

 

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