The Devil o Highlands Footrace is a 42 mile Ultramarathon that takes place on the northern part of the West Highland Way from Tyndrum to Fort William. It is scenic and has over 7,000ft of ascent.
This was the first time I’ve ever run this part of the West Highland Way, the furthest north I had been on the route was to Tyndrum whilst running the Highland Fling. I have to be honest and say that when I left Edinburgh on Friday to head to Fort William I was feeling a little apprehensive about the race.
I felt that my preparations for this event had gone well, I had taken part in the Edinburgh Marathon in May and also completed a new event called Run100 an event that saw a small group of runners run from Inverness to the Skye Bridge. The terrain on Run100 was similar to the Devil O Highlands and I find that repeatedly running on tired legs is always good preparation for an ultra. I followed up Run100 by completing two long runs in the Pentland Hills following the Pentland Skyline route which over the course of 16 miles has over 6,000ft of ascent.
After checking into our hotel we headed out for dinner and then to bed for an early night, the bus that had been organised to take runners to the start line was due to leave at 4am so I didn’t want to risk missing it.
We arrived at Tyndrum and the Green Welly was already alive with excitement and the familiar buzz of runners just keen to get started. This is the part I dislike the most, waiting to start the race.
As soon as the race began I felt a sense of relief and normally I wouldn’t listen to any music whilst running but for an unknown reason I decided that today I would listen to my music for the duration of the run.
The first 6 miles were very runable, pleasant underfoot and the majority of this was flat. The first 6 miles to Bridge of Orchy would take just 51 minutes, I arrived at the 6 mile checkpoint feeling great and excited for the rest of the course.
I made it to Glencoe (mile 18) and I was feeling very hot, I had started with my OMM jacket on but after less than a mile I had to remove it, my top was drenched partly because of sweat but also because the Scottish weather was very damp and the air was wet with mist. I was delighted to see some familiar faces at the Glencoe checkpoint, Debbie Consani, Paul Giblin and Sharon Law. It was brilliant having some of the countries top ultra runners looking after us and their checkpoint was like a well oiled machine. Debbie stuffed by pack with my drop bag items and handed me a can of coke and simply said ‘you look like you need a can of coke’ (thanks Debbie!) I asked Sharon how far it was to the devils staircase and she said around 4 miles and that this was the best part of the course coming up but she also said that it was ‘a bit cheeky’…
I made a decision not to stop until I reached the bottom of the devils staircase then I would walk up it and take on some food/liquids. I had wanted to climb the devils staircase for years and finally I was getting my chance, the gift if reaching the top…a 6 mile downhill into Kinlochleven.
Upon reaching the top of the staircase I was met by two people dressed as devils, I couldn’t work out if I was hallucinating but I decided to give them a wave and a hug as I was excited for the 6 miles down into Kinlochleven (KLL), finally some downhill!
There’s a well known phrase, be careful what you wish for and it definitely applies here, as I began my descent into KLL it became apparent that the path was not the soft, pine cone laden, muddy trail that I had hoped for but instead it was a path filled with wet, slippy rocks. I’m sure most of them had the potential to be ankle breakers and I felt like I kicked every single stone on the way down, it’s still unclear whether two of my toenails are going to survive the week after taking a beating on this section.
The third checkpoint where runners could get their drop bags was at KLL (mile 28) I had been happy to reach this checkpoint in 4hr 40mins which was 20 minutes faster that I had estimated. Unfortunately Ferelith hadn’t managed to get to the checkpoint in time to see me pass through, when she arrive I had already been and gone 10 minutes before. Up until this point I was feeling very well, I walked for roughly half a mile whilst I ate the contents of the drop bag before arriving at the bottom of a hill. Now, this is where it wen’t a bit pear shaped for me, having never run the route and being honest never having done any research on it I hadn’t factored in a big muckle hill at this point, turns out this was the biggest ascent of the day at 1,000ft in height and it completely took it out of my legs.
I lost over 14 places on this climb and it’s really given me food for thought on what areas of my running i need to improve and work on, uphill is definitely a must but not just running, simply hillwalking regularly would help me with this part of the ultra racing so that’s what I intend to do for my future races.
I found the section from KLL to Lundavra really tough, probably the hardest part for me, to give you some perspective it took me almost 3hr 30mins to run the last 14 miles, with the undulating route I simply couldn’t get into a rhythm.
After 42.5 miles and 8hrs 08mins of running I made it to Fort William and the finish line, I was aiming for 7hr 30m but as it was my first time I chose to give myself a break at the end and vow to be back next year faster and wiser and possibly wearing a triple crown. That will depend on whether I am lucky enough to get into the West Highland Way Race.
Thank you to all who supporter and organised and to Ferelith for coming to support me.
Congratulations to Donnie and Caroline who took first places male and female.