Fort William Runduro

Posted on February 29, 2016. Filed under: Hill Running, No Fuss, Runduro, running |

With age comes the experience of oddities that I only ever marvelled at from afar. The first silver nose hair. The exertion groan that accompanies every rise and fall on to the sofa. The preference for a bottle of Amarone over a bottle of Jaegermeister and a shot glass.

But there is also an inexplicable shift in perspective.

There were people that I used to call The Crazies – the ultra runners, the hill runners and the marathon swimmers. And then I found myself finding the idea of an ultramarathon or a mountain run or a marathon swim as Not That Crazy.  And then I signed up for an ultramarathon. And a hill run. And a brace of marathon swims. And then I contemplated whether my perspective on what is Crazy had changed or whether I was now a Crazy.

It is like I am living out Catch 22 inside my head.

But, all that said, I still prefer The Clash over Coldplay. So even if I am an ageing Crazy, I’m not a totally middle-aged mental.

Anyway, I felt I needed that by way of introduction, an excuse even, to explain why I found myself standing at the bottom of some rather large hills with trainers on.

Some time ago I signed up for the Fort William Runduro based largely on some glowing recommendations from last year’s inaugural race. Then I obviously crashed a car at some pace and derailed the training effort. But, with an ultra looming, it was an essential training step to ascend some hills. No matter how slowly.

The Runduro concept is simple, yet complicated. We run stages which are timed with transition stages in between. The whole course was about 20k, included what felt like a bawhair off a vertical kilometer of ascent with stages attracting names such as Heart Attack Climb, To Hell and Back and Up, Up and Away.

IMG_20160219_154119It may seem frivolous heading into the Nevis range while there were Coastguard helicopters buzzing the area looking for missing climbers but such is the organisation of No Fuss Events that everything felt safe and well controlled. With extreme snow warnings issued by the Met Office full waterproof cover had to be carried by all runners.

Anyway, with a foul weather forecast fresh in my mind, full waterproofs stuffed in my snack pack along with two gels and a very large banana, it was time to actually go for a run.

Registration was at the Cotswold shop on the High Street. I jogged out the door, into the square and started on the first hill.

My heart rate monitor suggested that my heart was about to explode and cover the western Highlands in slimy gore and cardiac muscle. Just before the darkness closed in and I lost vision I realised that the first stage had not started. Up ahead I saw a vision that screamed HILL RUNNER.  A skeletal frame and gnarly calves. In shorts. And a flimsy top. AND WALKING UP THE FECKING HILL.

I slowed to a walk. Although it may actually have been faster than my run. I can only assume the thin air was affecting my cognitive abilities.

Just as we broke through the clouds I caught up with the Hill Runner stretching out the gnarly calves, although I suspect that no amount of stretching would have contorted them into anything but a sack of writhing serpents.

“Is the hill climb as steep as that climb to the start?”, I gasped incoherently through heaves  of dry boak.

“Och, it is hilly but it evens out so you can catch your breath”

Momentarily reassuring, however, within 15 minutes I discovered that Hill Runners are fecking liars. These people will say anything to entice you up a hill.

Anyway, there was about 100 metres of path gently easing upwards and then we ascended. Soaring towards the skies like a rocket. Like a wheezing, slow, uncomfortable rocket.

That was when I discovered that Hill Running had very little to do with paths. Or trails of any kind. It mostly felt like I was running up a waterfall. That was, of course, until I had to jump over an actual waterfall which put the little path waterfalls in perspective.  As I ascended I was overtaken. By Hill Runners. And hillwalkers. And if I am not mistaken, by a tectonic plate.

At the top of Cow Hill there was about 100 metres of flat before the checkpoint at the transmitter mast. I broke into a jog and promptly jogged clean out of my trainers. As the wind howled through the transmitter and the snow started I stood in my soaking, muddy socks and  looked back at my gaudy green daps lounging forlornly in a peat bath.

20160220_095254I checked in and, somewhat casually, slipped into my waterproof jacket. Fiddling slowly with my zip gave me some additional time to defibrilate myself. And some time to photograph the eponymous hill cows of Cow Hill.

The next stage was called The Descent. My first ever proper downhill run. Basically losing all the hard earned ascent in one long terrifying plummet of 220m over 1.9k.


Which was what I damn near did to myself.

I came pretty much last on that stage. I have no idea how you go quicker without dying. Or burning your legs down to stumps. Or turning your face into mince on the forest floor.

So much fun. But there were times when I genuinely had to slam the brakes on and contemplate my mortality.

Stage 3 was a bog standard ascent followed by another ridiculously steep descent and a long transition.
20160220_111619And then came Heart Attack Climb. I jogged a bit. And then I hopped up giant rocks. And then I realised I need to lose most of my bodyweight and just run up as a skeleton. There was nothing pleasant about it. Not even the sense of achievement. Just a deep relief that it was over.

Another long transition and then Up, Up and Away. I was cooked by this point. I sucked on a gel. Pineapple SIS. Probably the foulest thing I have ever voluntarily put in my mouth trumping both Peruvian guinea pig and Icelandic rancid shark.

I took a long look at my Lemon SIS gel and swore never to let it pass my lips.

20160220_114347I walked most of Stage 5. An absolutely relentless 2.6km, 185m ascent slog. The snow came back on. The higher I got the more the wind battered me downhill, assisting gravity in my downfall.

Dibbing the checkpoint at the end of Stage 5 pretty much ended the uphill stages. I just had to get back down to sea level.

Even on tired legs the descents were manageable and then a transition trudge through town for the last stage – The Sprinter. Just 800m along the front to go.

The marshall at the checkpoint welcomed me in.

“Well done, only 800metres to go. But you are about to have everything chucked at you”

And so it was.

Hail. Snow. Wind. My own snot and spit. Two haddock and killer whale expelled from the sea by the tornado. I can’t begin to explain the conditions, I have never run in anything quite like it. About half way across the front I had to stop, turn my back to the weather and clear my face as I couldn’t see the pavement in front of me. I had lost sensation in my face, which really was a blessing as when I warmed up it hurt.

And then, head to toe in waterproofs, there was a man with a dibber. And it was over. Like they say – they are No Fuss Events. There was no fuss; I loved the cut of their jib.

Like a limping fraudster I had soup and a roll with The Real Hill Runners. It was clear in my head that they are actually The Crazies, but I had so much fun that I wanted to be a Crazy too.

Even when I recovered the ability to walk again two days later.

I want to be a Crazy Hill Runner.

2016-02-29 22.21.27





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2 Responses to “Fort William Runduro”

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Well done Dougie, loved the description of the tectonic plate overtaking you.


Definitely a bit crazy 🙂


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