Louise Marshall, student veterinary nurse studying at our Edinburgh centre, amazed staff and fellow students recently by completing the notorious Devil of the Highlands Ultramarathon in a fraction over eight hours! Louise started running properly around April 2017 and did her first ultramarathon, Ochil Ultra, in September 2017. After finishing third female in that race, she set her sights on running another ultramarathon. The Devil of the Highlands, a 42 mile ultramarathon covering 6500 feet! However, in April this year she faced a set back after suffering shin splints that forced her to take a month off running. Despite this, Louise’s determination to face the Devil of the Highlands was as strong as ever! Thank you Louise for taking the time to share your experiences of the race with us…
Louise’s race report
The day before the race I pulled all my kit, food etc. together into separate checkpoint bags. We had a big lunch at 2pm and left Dundee a little later than planned but still made it to Tyndrum at a decent time. Around 7pm, we headed back to the hotel and I started to prepare all the food and drink for the next day.
The day of the challenge!
I slept well, which was surprising given how nervous I had been. I woke up before the 4am alarm and dozed until it finally sounded. I leapt out of bed and shovelled my overnight oats down, conscious that I only had 2 hours until the race started. I had a quick shower and then got dressed and organised. We left the hotel room a little later than planned but I still had plenty of time. Then it was time to walk round to the start. My stomach was churning and I felt very nervous, but I knew once I was running it would all settle down. The countdown began and there was a real buzz from the crowd. I said my goodbyes to James and we were off, trotting slowly as the race begins on a small hill.
The first section to Bridge of Orchy is fairly flat and I settled into a comfortable pace. It was easy to keep eating and drinking along this first section as the terrain wasn’t technical so every 10 minutes or so I popped some food and took regular drinks of Tailwind. I felt good along here and before I knew it I was at Bridge of Orchy. From my watch, I thought I had passed through here in 58 minutes (which was bang on target), however the race result splits say 52 minutes!
We headed up the muddy hill at the back of Bridge of Orchy, and I managed to twist my knee a bit while trying to get my phone and bivvy bag out of my race pack. Next was the never-ending 7-mile ascent to Glencoe! I didn’t enjoy this section, I felt tired and heavy and I started to question why I was doing this. The descent down the path to the ski centre is littered with large stones and rocks so it was useful to follow the path of another more experienced runner.
Arriving at Kingshouse
When I finally arrived at Kingshouse it was like a building site, with lots of development going on. I was needing to go to the toilet and had been holding off for the last few miles so I could use the public toilets at Kingshouse. Unfortunately, I had to wait for 5 minutes as there were walkers in the toilets, so I lost a bit of time here. Feeling a bit more comfortable, I ran around the corner to find the official checkpoint which was just a little further up the path.
The Devil’s Staircase
I left the checkpoint feeling ok, if a little tired. However, when I hit the path running parallel with the road before the Devil’s Staircase there was quite a strong headwind all the way along here. I tripped a few times and felt I was moving too slowly despite passing a few other runners. I was generally feeling low. There were some supporters standing at the bottom of the staircase and they helped to lift my spirits a little as I started the steep ascent. The Devil’s Staircase gave me some time to walk, eat and reflect. When I reached the summit, there were two women dressed as devils and a lone piper at the top, which really added to the atmosphere. It felt pretty special to have arrived at the highest point of the route.
The relief was short-lived though, as the track quickly turned into a steep, rocky descent. The rocky path turned into sheets of rock, which were wet and slippy, so I gingerly trotted down this section. The final section into Kinlochleven is very steep with tight bends, however after having to traverse over the rocks of the previous section, this part of the path came as a bit of a relief despite the impact on my quads and knees.
Finally, I could see the checkpoint at Lundavra and I managed a jog towards them. We had a quick chat and they got me on the road again. If I’d know that I was still on target for my 8 hours finish I wouldn’t have sat so long here but I thought that plan was long gone given I’d had to walk so much of the last section.
The last stretch
It was at this point I looked at my watch and realised that I had 30 minutes to do the final 3.3 miles if I wanted to hit my 8 hours target. The first mile was fine, but I was tiring quickly so eased back a little, desperately trying to do the calculations in my head. As the minutes ticked down I tried to forget about my watch. Suddenly I came across a race marker pointing away from the official WHW route markers – the final hill.
Finally, I reached the top and the trail started snaking back downwards and I was able to pick up the pace again. My watch by this point said I was over 8 hours so I resigned myself to the fact that I was a little too late, but I was still nearly finished, which was a great feeling. I jogged slowly down the grass and rounded the playpark to see the clock said I had 5 seconds to get to the finish to make it before my 8 hours target! I mustered a sprint finish from somewhere and crossed the finish line in 8 hours and 1 second. I had a nice cup of tea then sat and ate veggie chili with a can of Magners cider. After a well-earned shower, we headed home.