Grand Union Canal Race 2017 – Part two

…Arriving into CP5, 70 miles in Mike had me sit down. He had bought an ankle support and had a hot meal of chilli con carne ready for me too. Ed Jones was also waiting having made his way along the canal from Wolverton. Another bag of snacks, raisins, jaffa cakes, tribe bar, grapes and a top up of Tailwind. Gasping for a refreshing drink Ed did me a favour and bought me a bitter shandy. I changed into my night kit of a baselayer, t shirt and Rab hoodie over the top also taking my lightweight Salomon jacket too. Roughly 15 miles to the next checkpoint and Ed with me things should be ok. I just needed to try and jog while dealing with the ankle pain. Another coffee and it was time to get cracking. Initially off to a good start i had to take a walking break, interspersed with the odd squat to stretch out the thighs. Ed was doing a good job of keeping my mind occupied and helping the miles pass. At the next checkpoint I was looking forward to meeting Rodrigo Freeman, he ran and finished GUCR last year but some how amongst all the buzz we wasn’t acquainted at that time. It was only when I saw an article in a work publication that I then realised that Rod worked in the same industry as myself and got in touch with him online, which is how he then told me he would be at the Bletchley, 85 mile checkpoint. There are no particular difficulties along this stretch, no tunnels, no junctions or diversions. It’s just a matter of getting into a mentally comfortable spot to jog on. The problem was that time and distance seemed huge. I’d get into a jog, keep going for a period of time that felt like i’d maybe covered another mile, maybe 10 or 12 minutes and actually i’d only made 0.3 of a mile!!

Ed had me do a mental task of giving one life event for every year of my life, which all though my brain was dead tired and starting to feel scrambled already, was enough to keep it awake and enough to keep the time and distance passing. Ever so slowly now the miles were passing by but thus far I had suffered no cramp and no sickness that some other runners are often struck down with. I arrived into the Bletchley checkpoint 6, 85 miles at 02.00am now 3 hours off the plan but 2 hours 10 minutes ahead of my 2016 effort and still well inside the cut off times and above the average speed needed to finish. I said hello to Rod then crashed into my chair while Mike went about giving me food and drink and checking things were ok, in hindsight it’s bit of a blur but after a short while we moved on. I doubled back briefly remembering something I wanted and was also given a ginger beer by Rod, tasty, easy to drink and more needed calories. Never refuse anything you can manage to get in to your system. Another 15 mile stretch to the 100 mile mark, CP7, by many seen as the true halfway point of the race. The last 45 feeling just as hard as the first 100. I was beginning to get bad heartburn from the dinner I had eaten plus everything I was consuming on top. The only thing I could do was drink some water every time it happened. with painkillers and endorphin’s the ankle was holding up enough to keep moving at a decent speed.

Milton Keynes was uneventful this time around, last year getting some abuse and being followed was a good incentive to get a move on. The pace was beginning to drop with large periods of speed walking mixed with some feeble efforts to jog. Long into the night I was awaiting the sight of breaking daylight to both try and wake up and lift my spirits. With runners well spread out at this point the canal seemed like an empty place to be. I knew the group I wanted to be in contact with were a good couple of hours ahead by now. In races, especially ultras it is always good to have someone in view, even if it is a mile away as it gives an extra incentive to push on and see if you can catch them. At this point with no one about it was get to the next boat or get to the next bridge. one foot in front of the other. after 5 1/2 hours of trudging, jogging and limping through the night I ran into CP7, 99 miles at the Grand Junction Arms at 07.15am. I was 2 1/2 hours quicker at this point than last year and still moving quicke enough to stay above the average speed and stay inside the cut offs. Last year the 100 to 120 section was where I lost the race. It killed me and I was unable to manage the aches, pain and tiredness, gave in and stopped far too often. This is where the race really started and It hadn’t been a smooth ride so far with a bruised ankle. Sausage and beans for breakfast, fruit pot, coffee and a banana and it was time to head off into the early morning.

It was already very warm. I had been drinking a lot and always make sure I use an electrolyte based drink or eat food often to avoid hyponatremia. Ed said he’d see me through to Tring which was only a mile or two after the checkpoint so i’d be on my own again until I caught up with Adrian Eeles. My cousin had said he’d also try and meet me in the Hemel Hempstead area too. I forged on very mindful that this section was my nemesis from last year and was determined to get through without giving into the tiredness. Nearly two hours later I saw my cousin and we power walked together having a catch about our families, as we neared Fishery road there is a river side cafe so he went and got me a can of coke which was a welcome boost. I left my cousin at this point and carried on not knowing where Adrian would be and fortunately not much further on he appeared on the canal. Great to have another companion to occupy the mind and not allow me to stop and crumble to the ever increasing tiredness. Through the night I had made do with coffees and buzz gum, a caffeinated guarana gum and had also taken a couple of pro plus. I probably could have taken more or a larger dose as it was barely taking the edge off the tiredness but having not experimented much I didn’t want to end up making things worse by ingesting too much caffeine. Again with Adrian we had the odd short jog..boat to boat, some power walking then jog to a bridge etc. Just keep ticking off the miles. I wasn’t thinking of anything beyond 120 miles at this point. If I made it there i’d cracked it, I would be a finisher. mile after stifling mile Adrian chatted and took my mind of the never ending 20 mile section. dousing with water and keeping cool as possible. slowly, wearily and painfully we headed on to Springwell lock CP8, 120 miles arriving just before 15.00pm, 3 hours 20 minutes ahead of last year! although this year was feeling way harder and more painful timing was still good. i had another surprise visitor at this point as a club friend Iain had turned up which was a welcome distraction. Another seat, more food and drink and it was time to go again. I was feeling in good spirits at this point knowing I had overcome the problems of last year and less than a marathon to go! 13 miles to CP9 Hamborough Arms and then the final 12.

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I left Springwell feeling pretty good if still in a degree of pain. I can’t remember at what point Adrian left me but it was during this next section. Sn enough I would be back to my own motivation with no safety net should I crack and give in to feelings or emotions. I was determined to make a good effort here as last year I arrived at Bulls Bridge around 23.45 in darkness. Not this year. During the trudge along the canal I remember seeing Jon Aston who looked quite pained and also Neil Carter who was trotting along quite comfortably. After having done a 20 mile slog the 13 miles should breeze by. they didn’t. Again any effort to jog soon ground to a halt only having covered .25 or .3 of a mile. Fine. Walk a bit and then do another .25 stint. so on so forth. I was starting to get concerned that my average speed had dropped to 4mph, above the 3.3 needed but an obvious sign that checkpoints, stopping to stretch and the slower walking efforts were all eating away at my time. If I really could only walk it had to be a purposeful power walk, at least 4mph to keep the average up. I recognised bridges and areas from last year and once I could see and hear the train line I knew I was getting close, probably 4 or 5 miles, and this spurred me on. And finally, still in daylight, Bulls Bridge. Another mile and the final checkpoint would be in front of me. I was feeling the excruciating tiredness as I had last year, I couldn’t think properly and even conversation was an effort. I pushed on to CP9, 133 miles, arriving at 19.30pm, 4 1/2 hours ahead of last year. Still 8 1/2 hours on the clock to cover 12 miles. Pat ‘Paddy’ Robbins was at the checkpoint but I couldn’t even be bothered to speak. Mike fixed me up, I felt dire. New larger sized shoes to allow for the swollen feet. The only thing that could stop me now would be and accident caused by tiredness or my own mind.

Leaving the checkpoint on Mike’s words of 2 10k’s to go, usually 1 h 30m I dragged myself off. He was planning on meeting me at a bridge about midway to help break it down. But not having gt this far last year it was all new and I couldn’t judge where I was and how far I had to go. Such immense tiredness, i’d veer to left, then fight to straighten up and avoid a dip in the canal, then veer back to the right and crash on top of a concrete bench. No, it’s not happening again! Count to 10, I know Mike’s watching on the tracker and the phone will go. Get up, forge on, can I jog, no, shuffle on. A text, not far from the bridge now, keep moving. A light ahead. It’s not getting closer. Eventually Mike was there again. 21.50pm. 10k had taken me just over 2 hours. A few more encouraging words and the final 6 mile push lay ahead. setting off my head was just wanting me to lay down and give in to the painful desire to sleep, the legs were painful but it’s a finite amount, the pain had peaked hours ago, it was just a matter of managing and digging deep to keep going. 4 pieces of the buzz gum and within a mile the edge had been taken off the sensation, I power walked on knowing I was so close now. My Garmin had died at CP9 so I had no idea again of time or distance. A text. 2 miles to go. Don’t go for it yet, I didn’t have the energy to last 2 miles all out running. power walk onwards. text. 3/4 mile to go. Go for it! I dug in, gave it every bit of final energy, ignored any of the wincing pain from my legs and ran all the way into the finish.

At last I was Grand Union Canal Race finisher!! crossing the line at 23.48pm, 41h 48m.

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Still some lessons to be learned as to footwear, socks and some food items. It was a shame about the ankle holding me back but then some people would have stopped all together! Now to sit back, recover and on to the next race, supposedly on the 10th June if i’m fit enough.

 

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The Punishment And The Prize

After the improvement at St Peter’s Way it was back to training out on the local roads, trails and gym sessions. The gym sessions have moved away from the heavier weight sessions as I felt they were slowing me down a bit. I have moved to a lighter cardio based session switching between bodyweight and light weights. A general session will be as follows.

Treadmill – up to 5k at 16kmph

press ups – as many as possible,usually around 70 to 80…still can’t hit the 100!

shuttle run

v sit ups – as many as possible

shuttle run

chin ups – 10

shuttle run

bodyweight Squats – 25 to 50, depending how achy I am

shuttle run

pull ups – 8…one of my weaker moves

shuttle run

pistol squats – 10 each leg

shuttle run

straight arm plank alternating raising each opposing arm and leg

shuttle run

lunges – 20

Treadmill – up to 5k at 16kmph

This round will usually take about 55 minutes, it’s working pretty well. My next bit of running was a bit of fun and charity raising doing the Vertical Rush for Shelter the homeless charity running up Tower 42 central London. WHAT. A. KILLER!!! That was one of the hardest bits of all out cardio I’ve done! I heaved myself up the 932 stairs and 600 feet in 7m 40s and finished 257 of 1099 entrants. By comparison my friend I went down with managed 6m 16s and finished 47th overall…what a result!

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 The next race booked was one of the Enigma Week At The Knees marathons on Wednesday 15th March at Willen Lake, Milton Keynes. I knew Steve Edwards was running and chasing a record of 700 marathons at sub 3h 30m. I have been trying to break 3h 30m with my PB standing at 3h 34m. After setting out from home early the day was starting to warm up already. After finding my way to the event and the registration and talking to a few people I introduced myself to Steve and told him of my plan to use him as a pacer for the day. We were soon ushered to the start were a few words were said and an award given to Tiago Dionisio who was running his 500th marathon, then David ‘Foxy’ Bayley set us on our way! I set out at the front with Steve and another runner as planned. Willen Lake is a lapped course and after the first lap I was a little concerned that the pace was a bit high running 7m 30s a mile. sub 3.30 only needed an average 7.55 per mile. By time the second lap came around even Steve dropped back a little and I mentioned to the other runner with me we needed to ease up a bit. By the fourth lap in hindsight I should of picked up my drink and didn’t..even Steve pulled me up and asked if I was going to drink. By mile 16 his words and the early fast pace came back to haunt me. I began to cramp badly, my legs began to lock up. I’ve fucked it for today!  It was all I could do to walk, let it pass, carry on for a bit, lock up again…so on. From being at the front I began to drift back with Steve eventually lapping me and finishing in 4th place in 3h 58m…what an embarrassing disaster. Steve had completed his 773rd marathon, Tiago in 2nd on his 500th and Frenchman Denys Baudry had something like 408 marathons to his name…me on measly number 18 inclusive of ultras..I didn’t feel quite so bad. Punished for not doing enough threshold long runs.

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Back to the drawing board and continued with the training. Next up was Canalathon 100k organised by cannonball events. My goal this year is to complete GUCR after failing at the 133 mile point last year so Canalathon was not just about finishing but time on the feet and kit testing. In a useful way I would be running this race tired too. I managed to get about 4 hours sleep and was up at 2.30am to drive up to the start at Sowerby Bridge West Yorkshire. The race started at 7am and headed along the Rochdale canal into the edge of Manchester and then turned back to Sowerby Bridge. The first 10 miles was gradually up hill passing loads of lock systems before gradually dropping down towards Manchester then a return of 20 miles gradually up before the final 10 down to Sowerby. I ran with a group early on which held a good pace and helped time pass. we slowly filtered apart and getting on towards the turn the legs were hurting so I made full use of the aid station filling up as much as I could manage. I headed on the return not feeling great but it happens often in long races and you learn to work through it as it invariably passes. about 35 in and I freshened enough to get a move on again…40 miles and back to a struggle. I had in mind the last 10 was down hill so forged on towards the 50 mark and the final aid station, again filling up for the final push. I used every bit of downward slope to gain momentum and kept myself going..I was picking a few people off. I love this part of a race when people begin to tire, it fires me up to push on really hard, see if I can pass them and turn it into what it’s supposed to be. A race. demoralise their efforts as I run on strong and cheekily egg them on to see what they have left ‘come on mate, stick with me!’ A couple of younger fellas were having a good day of it..I hadn’t once see them walk, just a steady well paced plod. After initially passing them, around mile 57 or 58 they caught me up and put me on the spot! The legs were protesting but I pushed and stayed with them..on..and on. Come on. Don’t let these youngsters do you! closer and closer. How far lads? ‘about a mile’…hold on to them, hold on to them. The finish line beyond the final bridge…half mile tops. Come on then lads lets see what you’ve got left. Giving it the 5k parkrun effort I left them behind. Not a great time by any means finishing in 12h 25m but a good distance on a route and surface very similar to GUCR. A real fun event and well organised, I’d certainly go back and do more of their events.

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After recovering from Canalathon I was feeling really strong, injury free and felt I may be getting back to some reasonable form. The next race up was Ranscombe Spring Challenge, an 8 hour enduro event. I’m not the fastest of long distance runners, I don’t claim to be, my Strava is open for anyone to see. Looking at previous Ranscombe results there only seemed to be around a half dozen that went for an ultra distance..I thought I’d have a good chance of finishing in a decent position if I could hold it together on the day. I know Naomi Newton Fisher having been in a few races together and asked for a bit of info as to how hilly it was. Another early start and a cold foggy morning lay ahead as I made my way to Kent. I found it fairly easily and got kitted up and made some conversation..little did I know what lay ahead!! The start soon was upon us and off we went on the first lap. The course curved around and onto a downhill section, so far so good. It then began to rise up across a field, slightly down again then a long rise that went some way, across an open meadow, turn right through a gate, across a ploughed field then onto a hill within a wooded area…shit!! this was a steep kick..slightly down again then even steeper still! eventually up on to a track way turning right and thankfully a long downhill section that slowly dropped down and about 1.8 miles back running parallel to a railway line through some woods and back to the start finish. After the second lap the first half of each lap was mainly uphill and the steeper arts of that were killing me. From the 3rd lap on I had to walk the steeper sections. Fill up at the aid station, out for another lap, fill up, another lap, fill up, another lap. Most people enter these events to rack up another marathon and drop once they reach that target..leaving the foolish amongst us to forge on to what ever ultra distance we can manage. The 7th and ultimately marathon lap came around. A large amount of people were beginning to drop as they completed their target. I didn’t know at the time but there were 17 of us eventually moving on to an ultra distance. This is my second enduro event and you easily lose who is on what lap, distance and how long they’ve taken. The more I pushed on the more I felt I could finish top ten. The rules are that the 7th hour is the cut off for completing another lap, arrive 6h 59m.head on for another lap..arrive at or just after 7 hours it’s race over! I began calculating how much more I could cram in. If I pushed had on these next few laps it would by me enough time I may just push myself up into a top 5 place. I arrived back on my 10th lap in 6h 45m. ‘Are you doing any more?’…’As long as there’s time I’ll keep moving’..out for the 11th and final lap..i arrived back in 7h 33m having completed 41.1 miles. Traviss came over with my finishers medal, ‘well done’ ‘I’m pleased to tell you you’re today’s winner!’. WHAT! My first out right win since being at school! I want this win to show people that tenacity and determination can count for a lot. I didn’t win because I was particularly fast but because I kept forging on as long as there was time on the clock. And on that day it was enough by 1 lap, 3.7 miles.

What a boost for the confidence and self esteem. Still cracking on injury free, strong and coming back into some form. Another race was needed. The only options I could fit in around work and pre GUCR were marathons. The next available option was Barrow Good Friday, Chocathon Easter Sunday or Boston, Lincs Bank Holiday Monday. Chocathon had sold out, Barrow or Boston. Steve Edwards had told me he was going to be at Boston..let’s see if i’m any closer to that 3.30. Another early drive and 1h 30m later I was up in Boston, Lincs ready for another race. I knew a few friends and online acquaintances were going to be there and kept an eye out for those I knew. I saw Richard Hayes who’s fairly easy to spot with his mohican, introduced myself and had a chat. I saw Steve Edwards again and had said I’d get a copy of his book. Typical! No book as he’d sold out. I also managed to catch up with my friend Gin Lawson from Sudbury Joggers, Alison Davidson and Colin Johnstone who introduced me to Haroon Mota. After chatting in the market square I made my way towards the front of the marathoners ready to see if my form was truly building and that 3.30 marathon was any closer. Boston, Lincs is flat as a pancake with Garmin ultimately telling there was 0ft elevation. A good course for PB hunters. The course heads out around fields and along the edge of the marsh land so can be empty of support. I was ticking of a perfect pace, 7.42, 7.55, 7.41, 7.54..right on target. On my previous PB i had stopped 3 times at aid stations and clocked 3h 34m. In hindsight if I hadn’t stopped that may have been the 33.30 there. Today I wasn’t stopping. Through the aid stations, grab a bottle, Freddo frog chocolate and some Tailwind. Through half way in 1h 43m..still on target. The day was warm and I was glad I went with my club vest to run in. Through mile 20 in 2h 39m, the pace had slipped a little now an average of 7m 57s. Still inside a 3h 30m marathon and well inside my PB of 3h 34m. This was looking to be a good day! 21, 22..I didn’t feel great at all!! I started getting awful stomach pains. I tried not to stop, I kept moving forward but I was slow holding my stomach with one arm and trying to keep momentum with the other. Maybe I had drunk too much water and was a bit bloated, I don’t really know but it wasn’t comfortable and I couldn’t run properly. My pace was dying. The 3.30 was slipping away rapidly. 9.22, 9.23, 9.52. Mile 24, it had eased off the 3.30 was dead in the water, I was now clinging onto the slim hope of a slight PB improvement. 8.08, 8.06..i’d picked up the final couple of the miles…too little too late! 3h 35m 42s, a minute slower than my PB. It was a disappointment that yet again a 3.30 was there but circumstance cruelly saw to my time being eroded away. I came away happy with that effort, It was a good effort, an on form effort and realistic of my current ability.

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Now sitting here I am 4 weeks away from GUCR, 145 miles from Birmingham to London. That nagging demon that has been hanging over my head for the last year. As mentioned earlier although capable of holding a fair pace I rely on tenacity, determination, sheer bloody mindedness. It’s a discipline where being a stubborn bastard can count for a great deal. I really don’t have a care for smashing myself to bits. On GUCR I was still positive in mind to the end, it was just a matter of the body had stopped responding to what I wanted it to do! I learned a lot about myself, how I may tackle this differently. For one I will have my friend, motivator and experienced ultra runner Mike Abel crewing for me. He has full permission to give me as much abuse and arse kicking as is necessary. I have had some great help and advice from some very experienced and knowledgeable people in the ultra running community. I thank them. They will be in my thoughts. I will not let any of them down. Least of all myself.

My Run From Bridge Of Orchy To Fort William On The West Highland Way

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The idea and the planning had been going on for weeks. Where should i go for a test of distance and endurance, what would i need to take and logistics of getting there and back. I settled on making my way from Bridge of Orchy to Fort William. The reasons being that the train stopped at Bridge of Orchy at 08.15am the morning of Friday 21st June and left Fort William at 19.50 the same day. The train was the Caledonian sleeper service out of London so i had no need to worry about advance accommodation as i slept on the train in both directions. The only down side to the plan was the fact that i had 11 hours and 35 minutes to cover the distance. Having missed the train i would then be stuck 500 miles from home with no accommodation and having to re arrange travel back home, not to mention an upset wife and children!

I left home at 18.00 on the Thursday 20th June to get in to London for the sleeper service and made it to London Euston without any trouble and was an hour early for my train. After milling about and wasting some time it was time to board the train.

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I was sharing a cabin with another traveler who was doing the 3 peaks challenge and on his way to Ben Nevis to meet up with his fellow climbers. After having something to eat and checking through my gear it was time to get some sleep.

I had a 7am alarm call and was greeted with a cup of coffee from the on board train host. I made sure i had a large breakfast consisting of porridge with granola topping, ready salted crisps, banana, an energy gel  and about a pint of water. With an hour and a half to go until i got started it was enough time to let it all go down. After gazing out of the window and admiring the scenery for a while we were almost at Bridge of Orchy. I bid farewell to my fellow traveler and went and waited in the corridor ready to depart the train. Bridge of Orchy, i jumped out of the train and instantly headed in the wrong direction! Good start, after spinning 180 degrees and heading for the station exit i was on the road and away. The initial few hundred yards are a road way heading towards the trail of the West Highland Way.

On leaving the station you come down to a cross roads where you cross and head for the hills beyond.
On leaving the station you come down to a cross roads where you cross and head for the hills beyond.
Bridge over the river Orchy leading on to the West Highland Way trail which then starts on a gradual climb through the forest to the Inveroran Hotel
Bridge over the river Orchy leading on to the West Highland Way trail which then starts on a gradual climb through the forest to the Inveroran Hotel

Once across the bridge you head out on to a trail proper and begin a gradual climb through a pine forest. This eventually turns in to more open ground and after about 2 miles you come upon the Inveroran Hotel and take a left hand turn on to a tarmaced section of road where the next marker point to head towards is the forest lodge.

Heading down from the initial climb towards the Inveroran Hotel
Heading down from the initial climb towards the Inveroran Hotel
The road towards the Forest Lodge
The road towards the Forest Lodge

After working up a good sweat starting out on the climb up it was good to get on to the flatter road and try and calm down a bit and be mindful to take it easy, slow down and pace myself. Another mile or so along the road and the Forest Lodge came in to sight. There is a gateway to pass through at Forest Lodge and the problem from here was that the road turns back in to the original surface of cobbles. It was a firm surface to run on and not loose under foot but was lumpy and bumpy as you can imagine. I knew this was going to be a head down section as the next point to aim for was the Kingshouse Hotel about another 9 miles away. The path wound onwards and gently climbed as it went eventually passing Lochan Mhic, a small lake. Then way ahead i could see the A82 main road which i need to cross to get to the Kingshouse Hotel. I pressed on along the track and noticed that i had a very wet back and my legs were getting wet. I knew i was getting hot but something wasn’t right, i kept going and checking my watch i was about 45 minutes ahead of my planned schedule and thought i could afford myself 5 minutes to stop and buy a drink at the Hotel. I reached Black Rock Cottage and the A82 was right in front of me, down to the road, cross over and i was almost on top of the Kingshouse Hotel.

Approaching Kingshouse Hotel
Approaching Kingshouse Hotel

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On reaching the Kingshouse Hotel i found out the cause of the wet back and legs. My water bladder had split and all my water was leaking out! I had lost about 1 litre over the last 12 miles, i decided to keep it, headed in to the Hotel and went to buy a can of coke to top up on. I had reached the Kingshouse Hotel in 2 hours 17 minutes and was doing well. After having a fight with my bag trying to find enough change the landlady told me i could have it for free. I thanked her and continued on my way. I drunk the coke and then made a start on my water before i lost all of that as well. The trail then continues along a steady rise heading towards the infamous Devil’s Staircase. The Buchaille Etive Mor was rising up like a giant pyramid from the edge of the A82 but was rapidly becoming covered by cloud and soon it began to rain. I pulled out my mac from my bag while trying to keep momentum and not stop completely. Now about 13 miles in and on a steady rise my legs were beginning to burn and i had to slow right down knowing i was only just over a third of the way along my entire planned route.

Buchaille Etive Mor
Buchaille Etive Mor

towards devil's staircase

The way then continues and lowers slightly to briefly come back in to contact with the A82, this marks the start of the Devil’s Staircase. My god i had under estimated how tough this section was going to be! I was just approaching the 16 mile mark not quite the half way mark and my legs were so heavy and burning it brought me to a stand still. A mild panic washed over me, i checked my watch and i was still ahead of time but if this was how it was going to be i thought i may not make it. Rather than try and be a hero and jog up and kill myself it was time to be sensible and power walk.

Looking back down the Devil's Staircase.
Looking back down the Devil’s Staircase. The trees at the bottom marks the start of the climb next to the main road.

Initially i kept coming to a halt so i took on a gel and had some more drink and eventually managed a steady pace and only stopped briefly a couple more times before making the summit. Was i glad that was over, i was now looking forward to the decent thinking it would be easier and i could make some more good time.

Summit of the Devil's Staircase approx 1790 feet elevation.
Summit of the Devil’s Staircase approx 1790 feet elevation.

From the summit the Way then leads down towards an old military road that leads in to the town of Kinlochleven. I started to descend what was quite a loose and rocky footpath and i felt my quads tighten up. Then i had my first cramp. My calf’s and hamstrings were holding up well and are quite strong but i’m not used to such steep descents and my quads were clearly too weak for the task. I was now 17 miles in and my legs kept locking up and i was in agony. I thought the military road would be flatter but it wasn’t and the decent continued and so did the cramp. Kinlochleven was going to be make or break. I was either going to quit and bail out at Kinlochleven and get the bus back to Fort William or i was going to continue at a far slower pace and stand a chance of missing the train.

The descending military road towards Kinlochleven
The Hydro electric pipes fed from the Blackwater dam.
The Hydro electric pipes fed from the Blackwater dam.

I headed to a local shop to top up on drinks again and did some math about how much time i had. It was now 13.30 i was bang on the best schedule possible, i had set myself an absolute cut off of 15.00. If i had been that late it was a no go and i would have had to get the bus for fear of definitely missing the train home. But my legs were cramped badly, i was in agony but i was also dead on the best schedule possible and had about 6 hours to cover 15 miles to Fort William. Decision time. I had come for a test, i was willing to fail but failure would have been missing the train. Let’s do it! Onwards!

I knew the way out of Kinlochleven was another hugely steep climb. I had descended from 1790 feet to just 50 feet above sea level and now had to climb again. i needed to let my legs freshen up and regain themselves if i was to last so i started out on the steep climb and again i had waves of panic and i really felt like throwing in the towel and heading back for the bus. The daft thing that kept me going at that point was the fact it hurt less to climb up than it did to descend down! keep marching on. On reaching the top of the steep climb it again meets up with a military road. Although i had about 13 miles to go i knew i was on the home stretch, it made me feel so much better and once on to the road i managed between a shuffle jog and brisk walk if the legs started to cramp again. I had been passing people all the way along the route and it was good to have something to aim at ahead. This section was a little quieter.

Ruined cottage along the military road to Fort William
Ruined cottage along the military road to Fort William
Looking back to the ruined cottage
Looking back to the ruined cottage

A bit further along i checked my watch and the GPS had stopped working! The stopwatch was still running but i had no average pace time to see if i was moving quick enough. I could only do rough math from the elapsed time adding it to the time i started out and estimating what the time was. It packed up at 25.45 miles, the battery was indicating it was getting low so i can only think it is a power saving aspect of the watch.

I could see another group of walkers much further ahead and pushed hard to catch up with them. If nothing more at least i could get the time from them. On reaching them and finding out the time it was 15.20. A quick calculation, that gave me about 4 1/2 hours to cover around 8 miles. Come on! It had to be in the bag, no way was i going slower than 2 miles an hour. I was then in turn caught up by another walker, Stuart and his girlfriend he said he had seen me from miles off and had hell of a time trying to catch me. My slow down to get an accurate time from the walkers and discussing distance left had meant he managed to catch me. We were now coming to a split in the road that has two alternative routes back to Fort William.

The split in the route. Right is the longer official route. The left is an alternative more direct route.
The split in the route. Right is the longer official route. The left is an alternative more direct route.
On the military road to Fort William 5/6 miles to go.
On the military road to Fort William 5/6 miles to go.

On pointing Stuart in the direction of the official route i was able to start jogging again. It may have been more direct but flat it wasn’t! One steep climb mentally repeating “don’t run it hop and bounce, hop and bounce” trying to keep a momentum going led into another steep descent. It was absolute hell and my legs had had enough, they kept locking up and i was doing a weird stiff legged sideways crab like jog/skip. It may sound a bit stupid but i was so exhausted i was getting quite emotional and seriously thought i was going to collapse and be stuck there.

The final stretch
The final stretch
looking back towards where i had come from
looking back towards where i had come from

Then the best sight i could have seen to lift me up and get me to the end. Fort William. Looking at my watch and it was almost at 8 hours and 30 minutes, i had almost 3 hours to cover around 2 to 3 miles. Through all the pain, the cramp and the agony i knew then i had made it!

Fort William comes into view..and the end.
Fort William comes into view..and the end.

I can only imagine what the locals were thinking of this bedraggled, sweaty mess that was shuffling along towards the centre of town. When i started out i had bought my MP3 player thinking the long quite periods would get to me and i would use it to get by and help keep me going. I hadn’t used it once. My mind was so in the moment and concentrating on every footstep, how i was feeling, how far i had to go and doing mental calculations along the way i had no use for it. It had been me and nature, my brain and my body nothing more nothing less and i loved it.

The End! Fort William High Street.
The End! Fort William High Street.

It was the longest, hardest, most arduous, exhausting, painful, excruciating, amazing, fantastic and mind blowing experience i have put myself through in one day of my life. I made the 35 miles to Fort William in 9 hours 1 minute and 4 seconds and had 2 hours spare which i used to get a meal and a celebratory pint in my favourite pub in Fort William the Grog and Gruel. I had people who doubted i could do it in 11 and 1/2 hours, i even doubted myself physically but i knew mentally i was as tough as they come and i could push through pain that most people would fold and give in to. Would i do it again? definitely! but please give me some time to recover…and next time i’ll do it quicker! Now, time to sit down and dream up the next challenge.