Devil O’ The Highlands Footrace
12 August 2023
The Devil O’ The Highlands (aka The Devil) is a 42 mile ultra which starts in Tyndrum and follows the West Highland Way with over 6000ft of elevation to Fort William. The race is organised by John Duncan and his merry band of volunteers.
Since this is a point to point ultra, there were logistical decisions to be made. Kev & I decided that the lesser of two evils would be to stay in Tyndrum the night before to make it easier to be at the start line for 6.00am instead of staying in Fort William and having to catch the 3.45am bus to Tyndrum. We would worry about how to get back after the race! This allowed us to go along on Friday night to the Tyndrum Inn to register, get our numbers and timing chip (otherwise known as a “dobber”) and drop off our foodbank donations. Then it was back to the hotel, via the chippy, for an early night.
After a 4.20am wake up call, we climbed out of bed to try and psych ourselves up for a 42 mile run. We got ready and headed along to the Green Welly for the race start where we bumped into fellow Harriers and friends who were also running. After a final toilet stop and race briefing, we headed to the start line just as the rain was starting then we were off. There are 4 checkpoints with the first one at Bridge of Orchy (7 miles). When we got to the first checkpoint, we had to “get our dobbers out” to check in.
After the checkpoint, we were off climbing up what is known as Jelly Baby Hill, watching our footing since the majority of the route is trail with large and loose stones which are perfect tripping hazards! This meant for most of the race I was focused on my feet and the path ahead to try to make sure I didn’t have any falls. Soon after this we found ourselves on Rannoch Moor which I found brutal. It was an open area, straight route on a hard, cobbled and slippy surface. The rain then started here too so the waterproof was on and off a few times, I couldn’t wait to get off this stretch. Finally, there was a descent into Checkpoint 2 at Glencoe (17 miles), where we would collect our first drop bags. I was trying to teach Kev the art of grabbing and going… however this was a work in progress.
Once I finally dragged Kev away from the checkpoint, we headed down to Kingshouse where the midges were waiting to welcome us. I have never experienced anything like it, trying to keep my head down to avoid them, while wiping them off my arms and legs constantly. Battling through the midges, we were then out of the worst of it when we spotted fellow Harrier Heather Patterson who was up supporting her husband Niall. It is always a great boost to see a familiar, friendly face! This was good timing as we soon hit the Devil’s Staircase where we knew we would have more fellow Harriers, Fiona Rennie & Pauline Walker, to greet us up the top which is more than 800ft elevation in just 1 mile. Coming off the Devil’s Staircase was when my knee issue appeared in which it protested on only steep downhills and would continue to protest for the continuation of the race.
Soon we found ourselves at Checkpoint 3 at Kinlochleven (27 miles) where we saw Heather again and Sue & Ken Walker volunteering. Again, I tried to teach Kev the art to grab and go which still needs further practice. After grabbing our drop bags, spilling tailwind on Sue and leaving her with my wet and midge covered Harriers buff, we were on the go again. There was a climb out of Kinlochleven which had stunning views and the sun had finally came out for a bit. After enjoying the climb and the nicer weather, we then had to contend with the rain returning with a vengeance and a flooded route. The waterproof was back on and we tried to keep pushing through going through water running down the path and soaking feet. Again, I couldn’t wait to get off this stretch of the route.
Soon we reached the fourth and final Checkpoint at Lundavra (35 miles) and had 7 miles left to get to the finish. This is where Kev was on a mission, and we kept pushing through with our heads down and focusing on getting to the end. Surprisingly, we kept steady on the final miles gaining on and passing other runners and kept running when we could and walking the inclines. We were feeling the pain even though there was about 2 miles downhill, it still wasn’t enjoyable. Just when you think you were near the end, there was a surprise for the runners, a cheeky climb up Cow Hill Trail right before the finish. This felt never ending, the continual climb up wondering when we would finally descend into the finish. You could hear the music and cheers from the finish line but you couldn’t see it. Finally… there it was, the descent into the finish. What a relief!
After crossing the finish line, our timing chips were recorded for the last time, we were awarded our medals, checkpoint time printout and goodie bags. We were then able to take a seat, have some water and have a look through our goodie bags which contained a t shirt, buff, sticker and a token to get a shower (which was a warm welcome to get all the midges off!) We headed to the baggage tent to see yet again fellow Harrier Donald who found our bags for us and congratulated us. We were off for our shower then enjoyed some beef stew and coke at the end before getting the bus back to Tyndrum. We then rewarded ourselves with a chippy and prosecco in bed, and an early night!
First Harrier home was Paul Foster and special shout out to Nils Krichel who had an amazing result for his first ultra and Jane Macleod who was 1st V70.