Glencoe Marathon 2012
Earlier in the year having no concept of what it is like having two under 3s in the house I signed up to do the Glencoe Marathon. This would be the inaugural year of the event so details were a little vague but it looked promising. Now I’d never run a marathon before; I’d once got to about 30km or so training for the Edinburgh marathon and that broke me. So, what possessed me to have a go at another marathon, and one that was all on trails and with 1600m of climbing?
Well, I’d been doing a lot of reading about ultra marathons and I’d been a bit scunnered with what I’d been perceiving as the increasing commercialisation of sport in general and the rapidly growing endurance events market in particular.
The Glencoe Marathon seemed to come along and allow me to do an event that was well organised but raise money for charity and have an experience that might be pretty close to running an ultra.
So, I was now signed up and committed to running this thing. I’d done a few longish runs and was relatively confident I could plod my way round. I’d also convinced Cazz that the four of us should go up to Fort William for the race and we piled my kit and the kids into our wee car and trundled up the road.
Paul, Sharon and me at the start line of the first Glencoe Marathon
Sunday morning came with some of the best weather I’ve ever seen in Fort William. It was clear and a wee bit chilly and I could see nothing but clear skies as I walked down to catch the bus to the start line.
It was all very low-key here. We signed in handed over our kit bags for the finish and huddled together and engaged in the usual pre-run chat while we waited for the gun to go off. I met up with Paul Crowther and Sharon McKinley before the start. Given how well that they’d been running throughout the summer it looked like they’d go pretty well in the event.
The fast runners looking to push a fast time lined up first and were off a few minutes later the rest of the field set off past the Clachaig Inn and down the side of the A82 through Glen Coe.
The first half of the race took us through Glencoe, over the Devil’s staircase and down into Kinlochleven. For a couple of miles we ran on a mix of singletrack and Land Rover track underneath the Three Sisters. We were stuck in single file for this section and once in the line you were stuck at this pace until the track widened out. I knew I was running faster than the pace I’d planned at this point but because it was slower than my usual pace I still felt good and let it go. Turned out this was a bad idea but more of that later. We crossed back over the road at the now notorious Jimmy Saville’s cottage at Allt-na-Reigh. Another couple of kilometres on decent track followed before another couple of km over open bog-land to get onto the Devil’s Staircase.
I’d managed to go knee-deep in the bog a couple of times before the start of the climb and my feet were soaked through. The weather was still glorious though, so I figured that they’d hold together for the duration. From the start, I’d always planned to walk the Staircase so I packed away my ego and let any thought of trying to hold onto anyone else on the way up go. I set into a steady plod and watched person after person, of all shapes and sizes, overhauled me.
Once at the top I did manage to go past a few people taking a breather and although I thought I could go faster I took it steady on the way down, reminding myself it was a long day.
The view on this section of the run was spectacular. In one direction you look out over Blackwater reservoir and Glas Bheinn. Keep running on and the view shifts with the Mamores laid out in front of you. Sadly, something was gnawing away at me at this section into Kinlochleven. In the car on the way up we had, on occasion, let some of Eilidh’s songs onto the iPod rotation. One in particular was beginning to cause issues. ‘Wednesday is Watermelon Day’, by the Wiggles. For those of you unfamiliar with this little ditty it something like this,
Wednesday is watermelon day
It’s the third day of the week
Wednesday is watermelon day
It’s melons I love to eat
I love what I do on a Wednesday
Wednesday is watermelon day
It’s the third day of the week
Over and over and over and over and over again. Stuck in my head and it wouldn’t go away.
Despite being way back in the field, I could see that I was up on the pace I had planned and would be into the halfway checkpoint 30mins earlier than planned. I thought I might go through before Cazz, Eilidh and Ruairidh and miss them. I shouldn’t have worried as I could see them at the end of the road. On the way past, I took Eilidh’s wee hand and she ran along to the food station with me. Absolutely my favourite part of the whole day.
Kinlochleven about half way in
Eilidh gave me a race update. Obviously worried that her dad might not win, she let me know that some of the other runners were in front of me. Un-phased by this news I took on some carbs and a cup of soup. Knowing that you’ve got at least another 3 hours of running to go allows you to be intensely relaxed about aid stations.
mmmmmm soup at halfway
Half way until about 30km was without doubt my least favourite section of the race; couple of kilometres of climbing out of Kinlochleven and along the base of the Mamores. I didn’t appreciate the climbing and I could feel my hamstring tighten and glutes begin to ache. I walked the ascent and started running again when we hit the land rover track. The track continued to weave it’s way upward and I knew now that the second half was going to take me much longer than the first. I dropped the pace to a steady plod which I managed to hold on the flats and downhills. I was reduced to a hike on most of the uphills.
I was now quite settled mentally that I’d make it in one piece to the finish. Having never run more than about 36km before and with the lousy build up it took until the 30km mark for me to be totally sure that I was going to finish without ruining myself.
Trying to keep my form at about 30km
There were many kilometres of lumpy land rover track, undulating but never too steep before we made it through some cleared forestry and round the bottom of Meall a’Chaorainn where we started to get a view out to Glen Nevis. This was also the only time in the race there was any hint of rain. It drizzled for about 10 minutes but really light and the drop in temperature from the cloud was more of a worry than the rain.
I was flagging quite badly but managing to hold onto a couple that were not too far up the track. I worked hard to keep them at the same distance until the final aid station. Once there I had a wee pause as from here the was the penultimate climb of the day and my hamstrings were telling me in no uncertain terms that they had had about enough. I didn’t let them whine for too long though and I had a blether with a woman from Ainster Haddies which kept me going on the way up. She’d paced herself much more evenly so when we hit the top she powered on and I settled back in to a shuffle.
The next stretch was downhill and my quads were taking a pounding. I started to make some ground up on runners ahead who were now having to walk the downhills. I was still struggling on the ups and was caught be another guy who I got chatting to. We discovered that this was the first marathon for either of us but he seemed even more haphazard about his preparation than me. He’d heard about the race and signed up on a whim about 10 days ago. After a bit of a chat and running together I took it easy to get some food on before the last few miles and he put a wee gap on me. This suited me fine. I mostly prefer to run on my own, in my own wee world. This was especially true now as my knees and ankles were really starting to protest and it’s quite hard to keep up pleasant small talk through a grimace.
A wee windy section now through the woods, much nicer to run on than some of the lumpy track we’ve been on for most of the day. Next up one final wee (but spiky) climb and we’re onto the forest track that’ll take is down into Glen Nevis. Quick check of the Garmin and it looks like it should be about 3km, and all downhill. I know this section because I’ve biked it as part of the Ben Nevis Triathlon. It’s basically two massive sweeping hairpins and a flattish and straight section parallel to the road through the Glen but we seem to be too high up for us to reach the finish in 3km. Because it’s so close to the end I get a bit carried away and run 3 fast (for this point in the race) kilometres Unfortunately I’m still not at the finish so something has gone badly wrong.
On the plus side there are people out there in even worse shape than I am, unable to run the downs and still walking when we hit the flats. It really hurts now but below us I can just about see where I think the finish should be. It’s not clear where we’ll be cutting down to the main road and the finish so I am running along fairly tensely in case there’s some horrible sting in the tail.
Thankfully there’s not and it’s a quick drop through the trees down, a sketchy muddy bank, over a stile, though one last wee field and onto the road and there it is; couple of hundred metres up the road are the banners for the finish. One last look at the Garmin as I cross the line 44km, 6:30:26.
I’m not sure what I expected at the finish, a massive outpouring of emotion, an enormous sense of achievement? I definitely didn’t expected to be as underwhelmed as I was. I sat down on my bum in the field for a few minutes then walked over to pick up my drop bags and see If I could find Cazz and the kids – no sense of elation or achievement, maybe that would kick in soon?
Turns out that Eilidh was having a bit of a strop back at the car park down the Glen, so Cazz and the wee people were delayed. So I started to walk back to meet them and boy did it hurt now! This felt way worse than I had running. Clearly my joints had decided to hurt just enough to not stop me getting round and were now unleashing on me what they had in reserve.
Cazz tells me that I looked remarkably fresh when I made it back to them and that I often look worse coming back to the flat after a midweek run. I certainly didn’t feel that way but she insisted on taking a few photos to confirm this. Turns out I didn’t look too bad after all!
What I remember feeling like at the end
Looking fresh Mr. Marshall or what Cazz remembers I looked like at the finish.
Although, as I’ve said, there was no immediate elation at finishing I definitely enjoyed the race. The event was really well run, the scenery was stunning (helped in no small part by some atypically brilliant weather) and all of the people involved, runners, marshals and supporters, were supportive and encouraging.
Having spoiled myself with this as a first marathon, I don’t think I could face one on tarmac. So, next up is the Glen Ogle 33; my first ultra and only 4 weeks after my first marathon. I hope my legs hold up and hopefully I’ve learned a fair bit from this race that will help with running one that’s even longer.