running, Scotland, Scottish Hills, trail running

My first marathon! The Glencoe Marathon Gathering

I ran the Glencoe Marathon last Sunday! 26.2 miles. I only went and flipping did it! And enjoyed it – oh heck, what if I end up doing more of these mad things?!

I finished in 6 hours 6 minutes. A solid 54 minutes faster than I thought I would be! Here’s a wee run down of the course for anyone considering taking part in this race. I would highly recommend it!

Race day

The race starts at the Red Squirrel Campsite, just outside of Glencoe village. The event is organised by Wildfox Events, who had put on a coach that can take you to the start from Fort William. I camp an awful lot and was confident that I would get a good nights kip in my wee tent, so decided just camp over the night before the race to save super early starts or stressing about catching the bus. October can be freezing, but we weren’t too bad on the night.

The Glencoe Marathon start

There may have been a moment right before the start where I questioned my sanity… Why the hell did I sign up for a whole bloody marathon? Who ever thinks that is a good idea? There is no way I’ve done enough training. I feel like the picture above paints me a totally regretful.

Wave C: 3, 2, 1 go!

How do you know it’s a Scottish marathon? If the scenery and the rain aren’t enough, the bagpipes at the start should be the giveaway!

The race starts in waves depending on your predicted finish time. We headed off up to meet the main road through Glencoe, but were very quickly off of tarmac and onto single track. I actually really liked this. I was glad to have put myself in the right starting group, as the single track forced a challenging but achievable pace, settling into a rhythm quite quickly. A few slower runners had to step to the side to let people through, and the faster folk struggled to push through where the track was wider, but I quite happily settled into place.

The rain had been on and off all morning, prompting lots of worry about whether I should wear my jacket or not. Occasionally the cloud would lift and the light would play beautifully on the hills.

The pace slowed at steeper and muddier sections, and the single file became a tad frustrating. We crossed the road a couple of times to stay on the old military road, supposedly following the route that the MacDonalds would have fled down in the 1692 Massacre of Glencoe.

A bog and a bloody big hill

You hit a food station at around mile 5, and then you hit the bog. There had been a few days of rain before the race, so some sections had you sinking into knee-high muck. You do need to watch your footing to avoid falling in face first or taking a tumble, but there is little point dancing about trying to keep your feet dry – just get through there!

The first bit of the bog stomp is good fun, and you can really see who has trained for this terrain. However, after about 20 mins of sliding and being soggy, I was so ready to get back on the track again!

The next bit of track is known as the devil’s staircase. It climbs 240 meters up from the Glencoe side, before dropping down into Kinlochleven. The climb is steep, and unless you’re in wave A I think most people had dropped to a brisk walk. All of my hiking must have helped because I passed a fair number of people on the hike up!

The descent into Kinlochleven was fantastic. There is some fairly technical trail, so make sure you train for the downhill as well as the up! I fell in beside a local lady who had a wonderful technique over the ankle-breaking ground, and I my best to follow her short, light and fast gait. It really did feel like you were flying over it!

The terrain eased off after a bit, and it was a much more runnable ground in the final approach to the halfway mark. Coming in here at 2 hours 40 mins had me feeling like I was flying.

Up again

After the total high of hitting half way so strongly, I was brought back down to earth by the climb out of Kinlochleven. It’s bloody harsh! 330 meters of climbing from sea level over rough, blocky and loose gravel – this was definitely the hardest section.

The pack around me at in this second half were certainly not running consistently at this point. I was extremely glad to meet each of the fuel stops – there is one at around mile 17 then mile 20.

6 miles to go! 

The last six miles feels like it goes on forever. There’s a little climb out of the last fuel stop, and it’s undulation for a bit before you hit the forestry.

I like maps. Too much. But studying the route map obsessively meant that I knew I was nearly there. Two blocks of foresty with a clearing in the middle, then it’s almost over. As soon as I caught sight of Ben Nevis through the trees I started to pick up the pace!  And then very quickly started walking again…

The last three miles were a bit of a hobble – a knee niggle that had been bothering me back in June decided to appear again, though I guess overall, the fact that it waited until around mile 23 was pretty good going!

As you get close to the end you can hear the commentator over the microphone announcing at the finish line. I felt almost cruel since you do double back on yourself very slightly at this point, but on the day it got me going for a strong finish! A quick downhill then a 100-meter sprint over the clearing with everyone at the finish line cheering you on.

6:06:19. Smashed it indeed. Though I’m looking a tad sore.

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If you’re considering the marathon – DO IT! 

It’s a beautiful route, and I definitely enjoyed the first part of it more! Just make sure that you get the hill and trail training in.

Also, check out the video from the race this year! And look out for number 188 – that’s me! Made my Dale at Dropro: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRinqbWCbl8 

 

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