Sunday, 16 June 2013

Lochalsh Dirty 30 : Race Report

This year's Lochalsh Dirty 30 was blessed by wall to wall sunshine, and I was lucky enough to there to experience it.  Memories of bejeweled sea lochs and grand vistas overlooking Skye and mountains inland will stick with me for many years, long after the memories of aches and pains have faded.

The adventure started with on Friday evening trip up with friends Andy and Tom, in Tom's motor-caravan.  The motor-caravan, nicked named "Sloshie" by Tom's kids, is not the fastest of vehicle, combined with a route diversion via Loch Lomond due to an accident meant that it took over 5 hours to get up from Callander to Glenelg.  We arrived at sunset parked up "Sloshie" and had a quick pint in the Glenelg Inn before turning in for the night.

"Sloshie" parked up Glenelg
We awoke to low cloud clinging to hills above and on Skye, it wasn't cold, and the forecast was for sunshine later so we dressed for a warm day.  Tom treated us bacon rolls for breakfast, while I taunted Tom and Andy with my pre-race drink of Beetroot juice.  Andy and I would be running, while Tom was going to walk up Beinn Sgritheall, a local Munroe that he hadn't yet tackled.

We enjoyed breakfast all too much as suddenly it was 8:30am and time to lace up and head down to registration at the Glenelg community hall, with 170+ walkers and runners it was buzzing when we arrived. The organizers did a great job of getting us registered efficiently, we had time for a few final tweaks to our kit and then we were outside for the briefing.  To everyone's amusement a local cat decided it wanted to be the centre of attention, upstaging our event organizer!

Then we were off, with last years winner Scot Kennedy and ultra runner Donnie Campbell leading the way and a bit over 30 runners and well around 140 walkers in their wake.

Race start, Scott and Donnie setting off at record breaking pace, everyone else sensibly didn't follow!

Section 1: 6miles, Glenelg to Ardintoul Point.

The route starts on small roads that take you to the Glenelg/Skye Ferry point, with first half mile shaded by trees, but the next mile we were now bathed in sunshine.  Andy and I settled into a steady 8 to 9 minute/mile pace along the road, it looked like were in about 13th+14th place as we made our way along the road at the Ferry point.

View out towards the Ferry Point and over to Skye
Due to a foot injury my training over the last few months has been next to none existent, I had injured my foot back in mid March, running too many miles in a worn out pair of shoes.  Since mid March I have tried resting up, the trying a little bit of running, then resting up, progressively I've had to cut the running back more and more over the last two months and had to pull out of the Highland Fling.  In the last month I only put in 3 runs of 6 miles in a desperate attempt to rest up and fix my injury for race day. However, my foot wasn't fixed and I could already felt the strange sensation like a having a pebble in my shoe under my 3 and 4th metatarsal heads.  The sensation wasn't bad, but with 29 miles to go it was a reminder to take things easy.

Given my lack of training, the least I've ever done going into an ultra, I had a plan to take it easy and use my heart rate monitor as guide for my pace to make sure I didn't get carried away.  Previous three years I had run the Dirty 30 with an average HR of 163, 165 and 164 respectively, so I figured keeping my HR below 165 was sensible, and for the first section wanted to keep it below 160 to gently ease myself in.  As we hit the first incline just before the Ferry point my HR started heading upwards so rather than match the pace of others around me I told Andy that I was going to ease off and he moved on and joined two runners ahead.  Once past the Ferry point the path heads up and short incline and along a path that traverses a low wooded coastal ridge.

Walking up the incline I joined Helen and Mark Legett who were doing the event for the first time.  Andy was obviously feeling good and left us behind, while Helen and Mark and I formed a relaxed running trio, walking the inclines and running the flats and descents chatting all the while about living and running in Scotland.  Both Helen and Mark had run the Highland Fling several times, both with PB below 10 hours, well under my own time of 10:46 set last year so I was expecting them to leave me behind at some stage.  New to the route they seemed happy to just follow me along the coastal path to the first check point at Ardintoul point.

We pass through the check point after 55 minutes running, pretty close to my previous times and faster than I had expected as so far the pace had felt very relaxed.  Helen and Mark stopped at the check point to fill up with water while I just ran though so suddenly I was on my own.

Section 2: Ardintoul to Letterfearn.

After the check point the you follow a road briefly inland and steeply uphill, as I began my climb I could see that Andy and few other runners were at the top, some heading left along the 30 mile route, with some heading back right and inland to complete the 12 mile route.  By the time I got to the top and started the descent down the path all the runners ahead had been swallowed up by the countryside leaving me on my own.  The sun was shining and views over to Skye were stunning, my foot pain had eased off and I was running with ease, life was good!

After a descent of couple hundred feet the path goes through a small wooded glade and wooded bridge, then turns right and heads uphill through an area where the forestry has been felled.  The path is broken and immediate landscape pretty scrappy, but beyond the mountains, forests and sea lochs stretched out. The lack of shelter along the path combined with the cloudless sky meant the ascent  was a hot one so I took my T-Shirt off and attached securely with my rucksack straps.  Fair skinned I burn easily so decided to just run an hour without my T-Shirt.

The ascent takes you into a woodland where the path mostly petters out, disappearing and reappearing as you follow fire breaks in the woodland, or going directly through the woodland in places.  Event organizers had put out red and white streamers on route making the route easy to follow, and thanks to the recent dry weather the wooded section was only a little muddy in places - it's this section that gives the Dirty 30 it's name and this wasn't living up to it!

Once through the forest you come out onto open hill side before descended rapidly down to Totaig,  the views was just amazing, the Skye bridge at Kyle arcs out elegantly over the water in the distance towards the west, while the first glimpses of Eilean Donnan Castle across the other side Loch Alsh comes into view.  It seems so small dwarfed by the mountains and vistas.

Once down from the hill you join the road and head south east towards the next checkpoint at Letterfearn.  The road is nestled amoungst trees and meanders along so you rarerly get to see far along it.  A mile along the road Letterfearn comes into view and for the first time in an hour I see three runners ahead, one of them I guess must be friend Andy but it's a bit too far to know for sure.

Section 3: Letterfearn to Shiel Bridge

As I approach the checkpoint two of the runners had moved on while one had been drawn in my the Jelly Baby Pitstop - a table laid out with Jelly Babies and water.  As I came across to the table he moved on leaving me to feast!  OK, I only took a couple of sweets but certainly made the most of the cups of water provided as my the litre of water in my Camel back was not going to last all the way to Shield Bridge.   My pitstop left me 30 meters behind the nearest of the three runners, so for the first time  in the race I started thinking about placings, this was further cemented by own of the spectators saying that I was in 5th place.   Given how many runners that was ahead of us earlier in the race and I had only overtaken a couple of them I was perplexed, did most of them go round the 12 miler route?

The sight of runners ahead would normally spur me on to up my tempo to catch them up, but with my HR pacing plan I found it easy to avoid this competitive urge, we were still just 11 miles into the race. I would allow my HR to get to 165, but no higher, if my pace at this HR meant that I was catching them or being left behind I'd accept it equally.  It found it a bit odd thinking in this detached way, but it did mean that I could focus on the day itself rather than race places, and what a day it was!

The views were so good I could resist getting my phone out on my ruckstack to take a photo, as I took the phone out of the zipped up pocket a small poly bag that I had used to store my money, caffeine tablet and salt tablets ripped and exploded out on the tarmac.  I picked up what I could find on the road, stuffed it back in the pocket, took my photo and heading on my way.  With this caffufal I lost a bit of time but was still in touch with the 2, 3 and 4th place ahead:

After another half km I was now catching the 4th placed runner and looked like I'll pass him before Rattagan, and likely catch the two next runners some time around Shiel Bridge, despite my severve lack of training over the past two months things were looking good.  Then... it dawned on my T-Shirt was no longer attached to my rucksack, in adjusting my rucksack to get my phone I must have dropped it, even before my little incident with my supplies falling.  Frustrated and anoyed I was tempted to crack on regardless but I knew that this was foolhardy, I had already had my hour in the sun, another 3 hours would fry me so dejected and sligtly angry turned around and headed back, hoping that it wouldn't be too far back along the route.

I passed several bends in the road, each time hoping to see my T-shirt waiting for me on the road but nothing, so I had to keep going and was now starting to wonder if perhaps I'd missed it.  Half a km back along the route I meet another runner who had just passed it, and there it was just waiting for me.  Ahhghghh, the frustation of loosing time and another place all because of wanting to take a photo.  In the end the mishap had cost me 5 and half minutes and an extra km.

I donned my T-shirt not wanting to risk another dumb mistake and headed off in pursuit.  This time I found it more difficult to run by my HR monitor, my instinct just wanted to up the tempo and catch back up to where I'd been.  My head knew that such a mid race spurt would be suicidal and thankfully overruled my heart, if I was to catch them up it would be done slowly and steadily.  A little luck was on my side as the runner that I had just passed while running back to get my T-shirt had stopped to water the verge and I regained my 5th place.

At Rattagan the youth hostel had put out a table beside the road with cups and jug of water but as it was unmanned when I arrived I just helped myself, no body to thank in person but still very much appreciated on such a hot and relentlessly sunny day.  As I drank my water another runner arrived, Australian Patrick Harrington.  Patrick had gone the wrong way just after the first checkpoint at Ardintoul, following the 12 mile route for a distance before he realized and then got back on track.  Patric was running more strongly so left me behind, again my plan of following my HR was tested but the pace felt right when keeping my HR below 165, above it felt too much effort so my confidence in using the HR monitor as a pace tool was growing.

As we ran the last mile into Shiel Bridge and at the half way point I was now aware that knees and hip flexores were all begining to feel fatigued and sore.  Both feet were also feeling rather raw, especialy behind the toes so began to suspect that blisters were begining to form.  I very rarely get blisters even in really long runs so was surprised to have this level of discomfort in my feet.  The discomfort in the legs I was expecting though, I had now run the furthest I had been in 3 months.

Loosing my caffeine tablet when I pulled out my phone was blow, my plan was to take it at Shiel Bridge using it as a boost for toughest section of the race to come and to down regulate the pain that I was expecting to build through the later stages of the race.  On the positive side I was still running smoothly and was coping far better with the heat than I have ever done before - I'm convinced my shorts spells in the sauna once a week has helped acclimatise me for the heat, getting rid of the heat without my usual salt loss was apparent as normally I'm caked in salt in these conditions.

Section 4: Shiel Bridge to Moyle

I arrive at Sheil Bridge with 2:45 on the clock, 16 miles down and 14 to go.  After going through the checkpoint I nip across into adjacent the camp site and refill my empty camel back.  Patrick had also stopped at the camp site and departs just ahead of me, again looking strong.  Once you leave the camp site the route immediately changes into more barren and rocky outlook that is classic for the highlands. The path follows the bottom of the valley rising steadily uphill towards a mountain pass.  Patrick pulls away steadily and by the end of the valley is a couple of hundred meters overtakes a runner that is ahead.  The path narrows and starts steeply up the right end side of the valley.

All of us are now reduced to walking, but at different paces.  I keep using my HR monitor to guage my intensity letting it climb no higher than 167, I know that there is still over ten miles to go and I've already run further than I've ran all year so won't to make sure I get home in one piece.  With the HR monitor holding me back I actually find the walk up quite easy and comfortable eat and drink.  I catch the next competitor ahead who is stopping regularly to rest and take in the view.

Not long after I hear heavy breathing behind and get passed by David Gallie and and Karren Lyons who are rapidly marching uphill, I briefly chat with them to find out they are hill runners that were slow on the road.  I don't attempt to keep with their pace, instead keep using my HR monitor as a guide to make sure I run my own race efficiently.  I keep the same distance behind Patrick so I know I can't be doing too bad, after another ten minutes climbing Patrick is also passed by David and Karren, shortly after we all reach the top of the pass and begin our descent.

On the steeper parts of the descent I began to catch Patrick who looks to be struggling more or the rocky and narrow path.  David and Karren are no where to be seen clearly there hill descending matched their hill climbing.  Once off the hill the route goes across rough moorland that is mostly runnable and Patrick pulls away again.  On every step my knees and hip flexors are now sending painful reminders that I haven't trained enough to run 30 miles over rough terrain, but my energy levels remain good.  I have to start a mental battle to keep moving when my body is asking to stop and walk, apart from the discomfort I am still feeling positive so mostly can keep moving.

Near the end of the mile long moor crossing I come close catching another runner who is now run/walking.  It turns out to be Andy which gives me a lift, looks like we might be able to finish together like we did the first time we ran the Dirty 30 back in 2010.  I catch up with Andy at a small river crossing where he's cooling himself and drinking water.  Once across the water the route becomes a forest track and head uphill into what was the forest.  The forest has almost completely been felled though so it's a bit eerier running through the barren land.  Andy is struggling more than I, walking more of the inclines, he's not in pain but just out of salts, perhaps literary given just hot and relentless the sun had been.

Section 5: Moyle to Balvraid

We arrive at the Moyle checkpoint and have a cup of water the marshals provided.  Scott Kennedy, last years winner  was helping out with Mashalling, having just ran the 12 mile route and reported that Donnie that had already been through an hour earlier and was on course to set a new record.  Our time through Moyle checkpoint was 4:03 which was only five minutes down on the time that Andy and I went through back in 2010, on the way to finishing in 5:24 so I'm boyed up and get on my way.  Andy is dragging behind and I call for to get going but he suggests that he's just going to taking things easier and I should go on.

Disappointed, in pain, but still feeling reasonably fresh I head on and not long after meet Patrick who is heading back towards me along the track.  Patrick wasn't sure about the route ahead so decided to back track to get instruction but in turning had rolled his ankle on a stone.  After several hours running on really rough ground rolling your ankle on a seemingly benign forest track is tough, just shows how you can't ever entirely relax and just coast along.  We walked the first incline together and once the track flattened off we got running again, Patrick's ankle was sore but looked to be easing off.

Running together we began a good conversevation about running and life in Scotland.  I lead the way on narrow paths with Patrick struggling on the more technical parts due to his ankle but when the trail widened and returned to paths we'd run abreast.  Patrick was an Australian now living in Edinburgh, back in April he'd ran the London Marathon in a time 2:50, over forty minutes faster than my own PB, so I rather felt a bit of impostor.   For next half hour we chatted, walking the uphills and jogging the flats and downhills making steady progress towards the next check point at Balvraid.

About a mile before Balvraid and with improving underfoot conditions it was beginning to be clear that Patrick was moving more comfortably once more and was running more of the inclines than I felt comfortable doing so - my HR readings were above 165 once more and home made energy snack I had just eaten was causing indigestion suggesting at this work-rate my digestion was shutting down.  I bided him good luck and eased off.

Within five minutes my stomach had settled but hip flexors were now not only painful but beginning to tighten up so my stride became more of pained shuffle.  With no company to distract me I resorted to mind game to keep myself running.  I'd allow myself to walk inclines but set myself a bush or stone that I'd have to reach before walking and another before the each summit that I'd have to run from.

Section 6: Balvraid to Glenelg

The farm at Balvraid come into view and when I arrive with two marshalls welcomed me, that took my number, clipped my race card and gave me another cup of water.  No bottles to take with us this year, the hottest year by far, but thankfully I still had a little water left in my Camel back to see me through the last four and bit miles.  Looking over my shoulder I could see another runner perhaps 400 meters behind.  Now in 5th place I wasn't about to just roll over and let it go, while I was in pain and not moving well I still had plenty of energy left and was coping remarkably well with the heat, my head was still in the race even if my connective tissue didn't want to be.

After Balvraid the route is along a road that gently meanders down a narrow valley that is mix of pasture and light woodland.  The small sections of road that were shaded by trees were bliss, as were the gentle descents.  As I had a runner not too far behind I knew I'd need to keep moving, running all the flats and descents and only allow a brief walk for any short ascents.  I was in pain but was able to keep moving, average 10 minute miles, certainly not fast by I hoped it'd be enough to keep ahead.  I kept checking over my shoulder on the straights with no one in view, looking back this was a clear sign that I really was wanting to be able to take it easier, walking was so much less painful that running and was an ever present lure.

I made it out of the valley joined the road that goes around the headland and the last mile into Glenelg and was back into unbroken sunshine.  Just before a little rise I so wanted to walk it, but on looking over my shoulder down the straight behind I was taken aback to see that my pursuer was within 50m.  Yikes, this was a re-run of 2010 race when Andy and I found ourselves being caught and finally passed in the last run into Glenelg.  I wasn't yet ready to loose a place after pushing through so much pain for the last hour, I knew competitively the right thing to do was make a decisive increase in pace to make it clear to my pursuer that they'd really have to work hard to have any chance to catching me.  

The spurt of adrenalin associated with the surprise of being caught was enough to override the discomfort from my knees and hip flexores and I made may we in to at a blistering Glenelg at 8min/mile place!  It's amazing how much effort even an slow run can be after running for over 5 hours.

The view was stunning though and just couldn't let the view go unrecorded so I got out my phone and slowed to a jog to take this photo of the bay at Glenelg, Sky the hill to the left:

Turning back to the road I was presented with the sting in the tail, the route doesn't go around the nice flat road around to left, no... it goes right and up steep hill, it's the sting in the tail after 30 miles of running:

I allow myself to walk half this little road section, it's not a big hill but it's about as welcome as a needle in the eye.  I have got my racing head back on and quickly get back into running and while in pain it was great to actually running strongly.  Off the top of the hill the route goes down a steep path and then joins the road past the Glenelg Inn, through the village center and on to the finish. Tom had great walk and was back in Glenelg in time to catch me running in.  Tom took a great sequence of me running past, and even caught me fleeting glance over my shoulder as I checked to see if my pursuer was going to challenge me to a sprint finish:

I was comfortably clear though.  I finished in 5:37 in 5th place, whilst my pursuer, George Lees , ended up finishing 2 minutes later 5:39.  I'm really glad that George appeared when he did, the prospect of bit of competition spurred on a strong finish.  Patrick finished in 4th, a couple of minutes head of me in 5:35. Mark and Helen Leggett whom I had run the first section with finished not long after George, in 5:41 and 5:43 respectively.

Donnie Cambell came in first setting a new course record 4:15, ten minutes faster than Scott Kennedy's time in 2012.  David Gallie and Karren Lyons who passed me on the big ascent at mile 19 came in together 2 and 3rd in a time of 5:22.

Andy came in at 6:15 having walked much of the way from Moyle.  He had been in 2nd place at Shiel Bridge when the runner who he was with pulled out due to ankle injury.  He stayed in 2nd place till the descent from the mountain pass but then really struggled on the descent down to Moyle, dropping down to 6th.  While he wasn't in much pain or low in energy, his motivation to keep running had melted away and just wasn't bothered by loosing another 10 places in the last 8 miles.  It was such a lovely warm day taking it easy and enjoying the day I can't blame him for taking it easy.

My own time of 5:37 is the slowest I've ever ran the race, a well behind the 5:12 I ran last year, but had I not messed up dropping my T-Shirt I would have done it in 5:31 and taken fourth place. I'm sure had I not dropped my caffine tablet I would also been able to run the last 10 miles faster and in less discomfort.  I don't know whether the potential of a 2nd place would have driven me to run harder as well, but realistically I don't think I could have ran the faster than 5:22 required.  While this is all speculation, what I do know for sure is that I'm chuffed to ran as well as I did, completing a tough 30 mile run on a hot day without so little training in the months running up to the race.  The result breaks my preconceptions on just how much raining is essential when you have experience behind you and your head in the game - sure without the right training it hurts more and you run slower but it's still possible.

Liquid refreshment

After a shower, a very welcome soup made by volunteers at the village hall Tom, Andy and I headed over to the Glenelg Inn for a pint.   What a beautiful location that pub has, with great views from the beer garden:

View on the way to pub
One of the world's great pubs!

Myself enjoying the shade, while Andy enjoys the sun

Andy (left) and Tom (right) enjoying one last beer at Glenelg Inn, with views of Skye over the water

"Sloshie" takes us home

It was so very, very tempting to just stay at the pub and relax for the rest of the evening.  We all have families to get back to so we bundled ourselves back into Tom's van and headed back home. The first obstacle for poor "Sloshie" was getting up over the mountain pass and then safely back down the other side.  Smell of hot break pads filled the cabin on the descent so we took a short breather to let the brakes cool and to enjoy the view

And what a view down to Loch Alsh, Shiel Bridge at the end of the Loch and five sisters lined up above:

It's a rare day when great weather and an event take place on the same day.  While as a runner it being hot and relentlessly sunny might not be ideal, it was simply epic to be out driving, running and hanging out.  Looking back over the photo's now and finishing up the account brings it home to me just how great a day it was, and one that that took part will cherish for the rest of their days.

My thanks go out to race organizers, marshals and volunteers who put on another great event.  Thanks also to Tom McCourt and "Sloshie" for transport accommodation and some great photos.

Personal stats: Average HR 161, Time on HR monitor 5:36:42.  30 miles (+0.62miles for being an idiot :-) and 3000ft ascent/descent.

Full race results for runners (taken from Lochalsh Dirty 30 website):

Campbell, Donnie4 hours 15 minutes
Gallie, David5 hours 22 minutes
Lyons, Karen5 hours 22 minutes
Harrington, Patrick5 hours 35 minutes
Osfield, Robert5 hours 37 minutes
Lees, George5 hours 39 minutes
Leggett, Mark5 hours 41 minutes
Leggett, Helen5 hours 43 minutes
Clements, Gordon5 hours 44 minutes
Morrison, Gary5 hours 53 minutes
Britain, Frances5 hours 59 minutes
Redgrove, James6 hours 0 minutes
Fortune, Carole6 hours 1 minutes
Owen, Russell6 hours 3 minutes
Vinall, Jo6 hours 7 minutes
Dimmer, Andrew6 hours 15 minutes
Budge, Neil6 hours 18 minutes
Lothian, Kristeen6 hours 26 minutes
Burton, Mark6 hours 29 minutes
McWhinnie, Jim6 hours 29 minutes
Gall, Allan6 hours 55 minutes
Dalrymple, Claire6 hours 55 minutes
Gilligan, Steven7 hours 7 minutes
Merrett, Andrew7 hours 7 minutes
Milne, Ronald7 hours 33 minutes
Nicoll, Elizabeth7 hours 33 minutes
Fay, Elspeth7 hours 39 minutes
McKerral, Lesley7 hours 59 minutes
Dyer, Adam8 hours 22 minutes
Fay, Peter8 hours 34 minutes
Duggan, Donna8 hours 47 minutes
Morrison, Peter9 hours 55 minutes

1 comment:

  1. Whatever the lost time or the potential place you could have achieved or not, that looks like a truly stunning race (at least in nice weather).