Distance: 52.97 miles
Glenmore 24 is a 12 or 24 hour trail race near Loch Morlich in September. The course consists of a 4 mile loop on forest trails, and runners aim to complete as many laps as possible. In the final hour of each race, a shorter loop around the campsite/field is opened, and runners complete as many of the shorter laps as possible, stopping when the horn sounds, and placing a tent peg with their number on it into the ground where they stop. I opted for the 12 hour race, because I don’t hate myself.
My third week back at school breezed by, and after a few frantic, last-minute purchases during my lunch break on Friday (of course I needed 36 glow sticks and an inflatable parrot), I was ready to go. Elaine and her fiancé Rob picked me up at school, and showed me the backseat of their car, where I was free to Tetris in as many of my belongings as I could manage. Thankfully, everything squeezed in, but one of the items mercilessly wedged into place was my body, so it made for a somewhat uncomfortable ride to the Hayfield, which we would soon come to view as a place of comfort, cheers, and, quite importantly, toilets.
Arriving just after 6:30pm, we started pitching our tents as the sun started to set, being eaten alive by midges as we soldiered on. Though I had enough food to feed a small army, I took Elaine and Rob up on their offer to join them for a meal in Aviemore, a few miles down the road where they would be staying in a luxurious hotel room that night. Despite every warning alarm going off in my head, I ordered the chilli, which was served with approximately a kilogram of jalapeño peppers as garnish. Continuing to ignore good sense, I inhaled the lot of them, along with a couple of beers, before I was dropped off back at the campsite to join in the pirate themed party.
By this point, Vicki and Iain Shanks had arrived, and I chatted to them, Mike Raffan – remarkably fresh after his UTMB debut the weekend before- and George Reid, race director of the D33, among others, before stopping sensibly at 2 beers and heading for my tent. Despite wearing about 3 layers of clothing and zipping into my winter sleeping bag, I was freezing, and had to peel my socks off and rub my feet vigorously to thaw them out enough to stop the pain from keeping me awake.
I awoke at about 7 am on the Saturday to the sound of heavy rain on my tent. I did a quick check to make sure there were no leaks, and then read my Kindle until it stopped. Iain and Vicki eventually stumbled by and offered me a lift to Aviemore for some breakfast, which sounded pretty good to me. We ended up at the Mountain café, and I had a fairly generous serving of French toast with fruit and bacon (it worked, trust me). After picking up a few more essentials in Tesco, we started back for the Hayfield, admiring the bright, clear skies and the views of the hills. It looked like a good day for running.
At around 11:30, everyone gathered near the start for the race briefing. One or two light drops of rain peppered the crowd. The briefing continued. The rain got heavier. People started to shuffle under marquees for shelter. The rain intensified. It looked like a crappy day for running.
After the briefing, I found Elaine, who had mentioned earlier that she had brought 2 running jackets. As I am in the middle of moving, my running jacket is in a box somewhere, and when I had looked at the forecast earlier in the week, I packed for sunshine and maybe a couple of light showers. Elaine lent me one of her jackets. Elaine is my hero.
As noon approached, runners made their way to the start line, where I caught up with Rhona, Graeme, and Iain for a quick photo before the horn. I casually hit start on the Garmin, and followed the soggy mass of runners around the grassy field of tents and up the hill before snaking along the trails on the heels of the person in front. This is the only time there was any kind of congestion. Spirits were high.
After about a mile or so, I caught up with Rhona and Graeme, and we chatted our way around the first lap, walking any significant inclines (mainly from just before the halfway aid station to the top of the hill), and running the rest. Before we knew it, we were coming down the steps, across the car park, and shouting our numbers at Ada as we crossed the start line again.
At the Stonehaven club tent, Vicki was offering to fetch out any snack we desired from out loot, and I opted for a tattie scone and a swig of Lucozade. Without wasting too much time, we set off for the second lap. It also passed without incident, and so did most of the third. About 11 miles in, however, the jalapeños from last night’s dinner made themselves known, and as we pulled in to complete lap 3, I left Rhona and Graeme to themselves as I headed for the sanctuary of a portaloo.
This is also roughly when we experienced the only 30-ish minutes of sunshine and almost-warmth during the whole race. And I spent 10 minutes of it inside a plastic cubicle. Typical.
I emerged feeling slightly less queasy, and set off on my first lap by myself. I was at half-marathon distance and feeling good. I was a little concerned that I was starting to overtake people as it was so early in the day, but I felt good, and told myself they were probably doing the 24 hour race and conserving energy. Without company, I had no distraction from the views, and kept on truckin’, enjoying the last of the sunshine, and even pulling the hood of Elaine’s jacket down for the first time.
At the end of lap 4, I saw Graeme at the Stonehaven tent sorting out something to eat. He was beginning to struggle, which is unsurprising as his longest run since March has been 15 miles (!!!!), and I joined him for the start of lap 5. Before the halfway station, however, I had pulled ahead, and it was back to my own thoughts (or, more realistically, ‘Reach for the Stars’ on a loop inside my head). I caught up with Fiona Rennie, and as we turned left for the downhill run we both commented on a rather ominous looking cloud looming on the horizon. Sure enough, within about 5 minutes I felt a heavy drop on my head, and put the hood back up. Then I saw something fall from the sky a few feet ahead of me – and bounce. You have got to be fucking kidding me. The final mile of lap 5 involved squinting through a hail storm and trying to ignore the fact that I (and everyone else) was being pelted with sleet and hailstones the size of my fingernails. When I finally got back to the marquee for shelter, Vicki told me that Iain had made it back just before the onslaught, and would be up for some company once it had eased off.
After about 10 minutes, we both set off on lap 6. Again, it was good to have company, but again, I pulled ahead before the aid station, stuck in a rhythm I felt comfortable with. It crossed my mind that I should maybe ease back, but this was the first time I had intentionally not worn my heart rate monitor, so I didn’t have my usual way of monitoring how much effort I was using. As the kids say – yolo.
By the time I had completed lap 6, the hail on the course had melted. I was confident everyone was suffering from trench foot.
Laps 7-9 were a bit of a blur, apart from running into Elaine at the halfway station at one point and running with her as she ran into ultra distance for the very first time! I also continued to feel good running the flats and downhills, but was starting to fatigue, and the cold was really getting to me. I took 20 minutes or so after this lap to go to my tent and change into dry clothes, a hoody, and my hiking jacket. I put my head torch in my pocket as it was starting to get darker, and chatted to a few people, before heading off on lap 10. I thought I was going to start walking by this point, but every time I hit a flat or downhill, I broke into a jog and felt fine. This meant that I was perhaps a tad overdressed for running, but I’d much rather be too hot than too cold (and wet), so I wasn’t too bothered.
I managed to get away with finishing my 10th lap without putting on my head torch, but by the time I made it back to the Hayfield it was time to switch it on. At this point Geraldine, who had come to support, joined me for a lap in the dark, and I was glad for the company. I would have hated to be out there alone, with only thoughts of bears, werewolves, and other evil creatures lurking in the shadows. Although we walked a great deal, we did break into a jog on some sections, but with about half a mile to go before the campsite, the jalapeños struck again, and I was reduced to a walk. At the end of lap 11, I paid another lengthy visit to the portaloo, taking my phone in and switching it off flight mode so that I could send and receive updates from Ian and friends.
12 minutes later (yes, I timed myself), I was gearing up for what I had decided would be my final lap, which I power-walked most of. Thankfully I had some delightful company from Karen, and we were happy to take our time reaching 48 miles before the short laps opened. We made it ‘round with a little over 10 minutes to wait for the short lap to open, and took the time to have a snack and chat.
With a minute to go before the lap opened, George shouted on us to get a move on, as by the time we made it to the top of the hill, the lap would be open for us, so off we shuffled. I had intended to walk most of this, but since the lap goes around the campsite, the crowds were out in force shouting as us to “Run!” and “Don’t stop moving now!” That last hour saw me cover just over 4 miles on a quarter mile loop, and it felt just like a cross-country race. I felt strong, and the minutes kept on ticking by until finally, the sound of the horn saw all the 12 hour runners shuffle to a stop, before placing our tent pegs in the ground, and making our way to shelter.
Muddy, cold, sweaty, tired, but elated, I met up with everyone I knew running to give them a hug. The beers were opened (though I felt a bit funny, so ended up having my four for breakfast before prize-giving on Sunday), and Elaine and I used a cooking pan to pour hot water over each other’s’ heads after one of the most satisfying shampoos I’ve ever experienced. Elaine headed to her tent with Rob, and I gave myself a baby wipe ‘shower’, before changing into clean, dry clothes and heading to one of the event marquees to chat with some of the other finishers, and cheer on the 24 hour runners in yet more disgusting rain.
After a chilly sleeping experience I was up and dressed for my breakfast beers, and we all gathered under the marquee yet again to watch the last couple of hours of the 24 hour race. There were groggy but enthusiastic cheers every time a runner hit 100 miles and Ada tooted the horn for them, and even more cheers during the last hour, and the short laps, and then it was all over, save the BBQ and prize giving before Rhona and Graeme gave me a lift back to Aberdeen.
If I can still walk after next year’s Ironman, I’d love to come back for another bash, but I think, just in case the weather is anything like it was, I’ll stick to the 12.