Well it wasn't quite the slaying of the MacDonalds of Glencoe by the Campbells, and the only common thread you could make is that no prisoners were taken in either circumstance. Without being too corny about it, it is difficult to put the experience of running the Glencoe marathon into words.
With a deluge of rain falling in the preceding week, it was a pleasant surprise to wake up and find a dry, cool morning. The bus journey from Glen Nevis to Glencoe at 7.15am felt part of the experience in itself. Knowing that you were soon going to run back to Glen Nevis through this majestic, mountainous landscape was quite a thought.
We arrived at the Red Squirrel campsite in good time to relax and prepare for the run. Weather was still on our side as we neared the start. A young piper played to build the atmosphere, which was quite surreal given the drama and history of the surroundings. If the task ahead was less mountainous, I would say it should be compulsory that every runner be clad in tartan, rather than black and psychedelic lycra. However, running through 4-5 miles of bog and climbing The Devil's Staircase in a 16oz kilt (wet) is a bit too much to ask.
The first couple of miles were straightforward, single file trails combining flat with undulations. This soon changed to ankle-deep bog for the next 4-5 miles, with the occasional quicksand-like drop to my knee. There was even one competitor who had to be lifted out of the mud, which went beyond her knees. All this before any real climbs.
The route then takes a northerly turn, which basically means you start to climb uphill. This became even steeper as we approached The Devil's Staircase, zigzagging to a height of 548m. As expected, this is the first point where my thighs started to feel it, but my recovery was good as the trail flattened off. This was followed by a long, and at times tricky descent back to sea level at Kinlochleven - half way point. The downhill went on for around 2 miles and was quite unforgiving. At times very rocky and steep, with every step it felt like putting the brakes on, and the front of my thighs started to let me know they were taking more than their fair share of the strain.
Kinlochleven was a very welcome checkpoint, as I knew I had family and friends there to provide that welcome boost. I'm not sure my kids (Kirsty and Fraser) were overly enamoured by a big sweaty kiss and cuddle I gave them both, but it felt good to me. I felt strong at this point, though my legs were definitely tired. It's difficult to know how much the bog had taken out of my legs, but there was a real sense that I would really have to dig in for the second half. Next, there was a really steep and long climb out of Kinlochleven (326m). I decided at this point to try and stretch a little to stave off any cramping, which I've had once before. Knowing it was down to a lack of salt, my nutrition and hydration plan included taking salt tablets. It certainly helped, though unfortunately around 15 miles, the front of my thighs started to grip. A few times thereafter, I had to stretch and do some massage to free the muscles from their vice.
Around 15 miles, I saw my brother Thomas not far behind and we decided to run together. We both went through periods when one of us felt pretty strong, whilst the other struggled. Admittedly, I had to stop and ease the cramps a few times. One minute I felt strong, then going up a little incline my legs would feel like wading through treacle. Thomas ran with a GPS watch which gives distance travelled. At around 22 miles I asked him how far we had gone. He was taking a carbohydrate gel at the time for energy, and his response to me was 'I've only got enough energy to do one thing at a time'.
With around 2 miles to go, we were up quite a height and could see the tents at Glen Nevis, where the finish line was. The steepness of the descent for the first mile led to the front and back of my thighs twinging with every step, but I managed to avoid any further cramping and felt strong for the last mile. We managed to keep going and overtook around a dozen runners who had nothing left in the tank and had resorted to walking. We crossed the line together with the encouragement of a fantastically supportive crowd. It felt euphoric, not because we were glad to be finished, but to have experienced an adventure as epic and challenging, in one of the wildest and most awe-inspiring locations in Scotland. I have to say I also felt good that I had completed the task and had done my bit to help Ryan and Oscar, which is the most important part.
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