The 4th of July, appropriately enough, was the Dollar Hill Race. Two weeks after the West Highland Way Race might have been a bit soon to be attempting to re-enter the world of spit and snotters hill racing at its much faster pace than ultras but it's just along the road and what else am I to do with a sunny Saturday afternoon? It was on the climb up Kingseat Hill when i realised that cutting the grass might have been the more sensible option and on the descent down the other side, as my uncomfortable Walshes were forming a nice blister on the bottom of each foot, that I came to the conclusion it was too soon to be racing full-tilt again and my quads were really going to take their revenge. I reached the finish only a few seconds slower than last years PB but for the next few days I paid for it by putting myself back about a week in recovery terms and no amount of McVities Chocolate Digestive consumption was going to make up for it. I tried though.
A week later, having not managed much running due to my trashed quads, I was off to Chamonix. The plan was to run the UTMB route over three days with Lucy and Andy R who would join us after his race at Seirre Chevalier. Day 1 was the big day, Chamonix to Courmayour, about 50 miles with 10 000+ feet of ascent. We had to crack on at a good pace to make sure that we got there before dark and most importantly in time for food. By the time we got to Saint Gervais, about 15m into it, it was clear it was going to be a tough day for me. Lucy was bounding along bursting with energy whilst all I wanted to do was lie down somewhere and sleep. I filled up my Camelbak with water and Coke and hoped this would perk me up a bit then we headed off and promptly got lost. I was really losing the will to live at this point, wondering if I could get a bus to Courmayour or something, but there was really no option but to plod on. We ran with a French guy for a bit who got us back onto the route to Les Contamines where again I had to stop and down more Coke, strawberry milk and cake as locals and tourists stared at the two of us. The route started to get steeper and less runnable now and the more it did the more energy I seemed to get, the cake was kicking in. It was amazing to be running this part of the route in daylight since it was dark when I raced it, the scenery was incredible and it felt great to be running in such an amazing place. The long descent into Courmayour was made bearable by the thought of good pizza as we had now crossed over the border into Italy and it was a pleasant surprise to discover the place we had booked into was a lovely luxurious hotel. I don't know if they were as happy to see us though, standing in the reception area all dusty and sweaty from 14 hours of running, but it's not an understatement to say I was glad to be there!
Day 2 the plan was to run on to Champex, a shorter distance of about 25 miles but some huge climbs. It was a real treat though. I was starting to really enjoy the running now, flying down the descent from Grande Col Ferret was fantastic! We flew down the trail, with snow capped peaks and glaciers all around what better a place to be.
Day 3 began in style at the best bakery on the UTMB route. It's owned by Leon of Petite Trot a' Leon race fame and his family, and boy do they know how to put on a breakfast. After stuffing ourselves with food and coffee we were off into the final section back to Chamonix. Another day of some of Europes best trails followed with Andy and I racing each other on the descents and some lung busting climbs with the odd wrong turn thrown in for good measure. We stopped for lunch at Vallorcine, as it was getting really hot, filled up with water then it was off over La Flagere and back to Chamonix and the end of 3 fantastic days running.
Just over a week later and I was passing by Aviemore, Scotland's version of Chamonix only cheaper and with a good chippy, on the way to the Dufftown Highland Games to do the Ben Rhinnes Hill Race. This has become a bit of a habit now as I've done the race for quite a few years now, so it was good to be lining up on the games field again with the sun shining down on us for the start. It's a very runnable route for a long race so it's fast going, but this time I felt in much better shape and took 9 minutes off my PB. All that Alpine air must have done wonders!
Next up on the training plan was a run from the Linn O' Dee up the Lairig Gru to Aviemore and back. I set off a bit late in the day, about midday, and felt pretty trashed by the time I got to Aviemore so decided to get some chocolate milk, coke and crisps and let them do their magic before starting back. I sat in the warm sunshine and before I knew it I'd drunk a half litre of choco milk, half litre of Coke and some water. As i waddled off back down the road my stomach was protesting vigorously so I thought I'd better sit down on a grassy verge and let things digest, and in the warm sun I somehow fell asleep for an hour. I woke up, looked at my watch, jumped up and started running. It was a couple of miles down the track when I realised I was going the wrong way so after doubling back eventually got back in the direction of the Gru. I was thoroughly knackered when I got back to the car, the detour had meant my the distance was exactly 45 miles and it was pretty rough running in sections too but what a day to do all that in a oner! (And get a kip in too!)
As I lined up in Tyndrum 7 days later at the start of The Devil O' the Highlands Race I was a bit worried that the Gru might still be lingering in my legs but this is one of my favourite ultras so I was raring to go. The pace was fast to start so I dropped back and just got into my own groove. I ran along with Peter H a fellow Carnegie until just before Kingshouse, it was Pete's first ultra and he was going well. Then George C passed me and I knew it was game on. I chased hard past Kingshouse and planned to pass him then disappear into the distance up the Devils staircase but George was much too strong for me this time and he made the climb look easy as he passed me and I disappeared into the distance... behind him.
I still managed a good time, 6:07, but was about 12 mins slower than last year.
So, here I sit, back in Chamonix waiting for tomorrows TDS race. It's part of the UTMB only a shorter race at 106km and 6700m of climbing. I've been here since Saturday doing a bit of running and trying to get up high to acclimatise. Yesterday I spent all day up the Auguille Du Midi which is 3800m. I was joined by a few other WHW'rs George R, Drew S, Davie and Sharon, Hugh Kerr also. It's amazing how light-headed you get up there, especially when Sharon asked me if I was looking for a good time! Of course she meant in the race! Well I'd love to run well in this one but I'm wondering if I've maybe pushed it a bit far recently. Soon find out.