Wow, what a race. This year’s Devil O’ the Highlands race was one to remember. I actually wish I could have watched the battle between Marcus Scotney and myself as a spectator because it was an all out, no-holds-barred, crazy-paced clash which provided some great drama.
The first 19 miles or so to the checkpoint at Blackrock Cottage (Glen Coe) were pretty uneventful, although the split time of around 2hrs 11mins was quick and set the tone for some serious record breaking. Five of us ran a pack to that point; Andy Davies, Andy Rankin, Ben Kemp, Marcus Scotney and myself. Thereafter things started to get going.
I was first out of the Glen Coe checkpoint after a quick refill of drinks bottles and I decided to put on a short burst to see if I could split things up a bit. Marcus had other ideas, my mini-break was soon countered and we were back running as pair within a few hundred yards, with Andy Rankin close behind. The faster pace did however continue to the foot of the Devil’s Staircase at which point there was just a few yards separating the three of us.
From the top of the Devil’s Staircase Marcus ran an incredibly fast descent, moving away from me at a remarkable rate. I responded by upping the pace, but I couldn’t match his downhill speed and soon lost sight. Into Kinlochleven his advantage was a solid couple of minutes which helped focus my mind on a fast re-fuel. I probably stood still at the checkpoint for a maximum of 15 seconds, enough time to get some calories poured down my neck and grab a couple of fresh handheld bottles. As I told my checkpoint crew, there was a battle on.
I gathered my thoughts on the climb out of Kinlochleven – 14 miles to go, focusing on a fast crossing of Lairig Mor to close the gap on Marcus well before the descent into Fort William where I new he would have the advantage. The twists, turns and undulations of the vehicle track across Lairig Mor provided a great hunting ground for me. I’m not sure whether Marcus was looking back, but the chances are he wouldn’t see me if he did, yet I had near constant sight of him about 400metres ahead where I could monitor his progress and roughly time the gap. The trouble was, as the miles clocked by, the gap wasn’t closing. I was pushing maxed-out to try and reel him in but he wasn’t having any of it and matched my pace consistently. Finally, on the approach to Lundavra, I started to close him down. His relentless pace finally slowed and I took the lead.
The final section through the woods and down into Fort William brought back some very special memories of my WHW run in 2006. I was in the same situation again, motivated to run all out to ensure I set the fastest possible time I could. 5hours 22minutes was my final time – a new course record - which I was absolutely delighted with as it completes my set of three along with the WHW race (2006) and The Highland Fling Race (2008).
Marcus finished close behind in 5hrs 32mins and local Fort William runner, George Cairns, third in 5hrs 47mins. Remarkably, seven runners finished under the previous course record of 6hrs 08mins, which in my view is down to Saturday’s perfect combination of great running conditions and a highly competitive field.
Having had a few days to reflect on my run, I have come to the conclusion that it was my best performance in a race – ever. I know that is big statement, but I am pretty sure it’s true. Never before have I been pushed so far and so hard in a race. The extent to which the record was broken says it all – 46 minutes, over a mile a minute faster than the previous record. That’s no disrespect to John Kennedy - the previous holder - it just shows what can happen when the right competition, conditions and support are there, and I was very lucky to have all three.
Support is where I would like to end these ramblings on Saturday’s race – a massive thank you to George and Alasdair for their slick support operation on Saturday, what a team! They came in at the last minute, nothing was ever too much trouble and supported me like they had known me for years. I owe them big time……
Check out the full race results at http://www.devilothehighlandsfootrace.co.uk/
Next up – The North Face Ultra Trail Tour du Mont Blanc on 29 August.
- Jez Bragg
- Welcome to my blog which I hope to develop with some interesting material on ultra running both on the trails and road including reports on races and interesting training runs, views on kit and equipment as well as anything else I find of interest. I love running for adventure, opportunity and well being. Enjoy!