Race Report: DNF at DOTH

Shortly after my watch beeped to let me know we’d run a whole two miles, I glanced down to check the pace as it felt a little hot. 5:24 min/mile. Two miles into a 43 mile mountain race and we were knocking out 5:24s. This wasn’t part of the plan.

My prep had been good, My crew were all present and correct, I felt relaxed and ready to race. But minutes before toeing the start line of the Devil of the Highlands foot race in Tyndrum at 6am I had trotted round to the van to pick up a bag and my (troublesome) hamstring was noticeably tight. A wee bit sore even. I mentioned this to Nic. She rubbed my leg and I stretched it out. Sure it was just a bit of pre-race tension, I lined up to start.

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The start in Tyndrum, leading out the group in the grey on the left

And so I found myself, a couple of miles in to the race, barrelling along way faster than I had planned. And I had really planned. I had this thing nailed in my head and I was running it for the win. Only problem was my plan had gone out of the window with my very first step and I was a full minute and a half per mile under pace and running way too fast at that point. Scared to slow down too much and lose touch with the other four guys at the front, but knowing I should really get back on schedule, I pulled it back to 6:15 – 6:20s through to Bridge of Orchy (CP1). It was still not enough, I should have been running 7:20s, although I was feeling great in myself. Positive, full of energy, up for the fight. I saw Uncle Chris on the approach and made some sweary comment about the ridiculous pace, and he told me to get my head down and get on with it.

Sitting in fifth place, in touch with the leaders
Sitting in fifth place, in touch with the leaders. Note the hamstring taping. It’ll be important later 😉
Arriving just above Bridge of Orchy and CP1
Arriving just above Bridge of Orchy and CP1. Doing the face.

CP1 was great. Dennis, Josie & Nic were all on hand and it was a smooth transition. I complained to Nic that I was too far ahead of schedule, she agreed, told me by a full FOURTEEN minutes, and that I needed to pull back and run my own race, to stick to the plan.

The next section went well, I battered up the climb with little effort and loved the subsequent descent. I felt smooth and comfortable and more like I was running the race I’d planned right through to Victoria Bridge where the crew popped up again. I knew the next section over Rannoch Moor would be a slog so I asked for my ipod, swapped a bottle and headed on.

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Tunes on the go, I dropped down the gears and set about putting in a shift. Paul had mentioned to me that it can be a hard pull across Rannoch, and I got his point. That path seems endless. And it’s tricky underfoot. Not technical at all, but almost cobbled. And slippy. Quite slippy…

All at once my left leg slipped on a stone, extended out in front of me, and I felt a *bang* in the back of my leg. The dreaded hamstring. Here’s a brief review of the next four miles to save you the extended agony of the day.

Stop, pause, no pain. OK. Keep going. I run twenty metres. Except I’m not running, I realise I’m shuffling. My leg isn’t lifting up properly. Another twenty metres, and the fire starts down the back of my leg. Stop. Feel it. Carry on. More shuffling, more pain, the fire is spreading. Stop. Check behind. No one in sight. Come on Simon get it together. More shuffling. I can’t lift up my leg. Check the watch. I’m running how slow? Seriously? Check behind. Is that a vest? Shit. Right. Come on. You can do this. Just lift the leg up and get running. OK. Good. Here we go. Stop. Fire in the leg. Check behind. Check the watch. Check behind. Fuck. They’ve made about ten minutes on me. More shufflling. I’m fucked.

And so on and so on.

So yeah. I tore my hamstring around about mile 15.

Every person that passed me as I made my painful journey up the climb asked me how I was, was there anything they could do, did I want a message passing on to my crew waiting in Glencoe, how sorry they were for me. The Scots man, you can’t beat them. Their warmth and generosity of spirit was quite humbling for this lonely dispirited Yorkshireman in the middle of nowhere, one good leg, resigned to defeat and just trying to get to his wife.

I saw Uncle Chris again as I stumbled my way down the gradual descent into Glencoe. I think I swore at him for the second time that day. He was very encouraging but as I looked on past the checkpoint ahead and over towards the mountains I knew deep down my day was done. I shuffled towards the checkpoint, arms coated in midgies, and as Nicola started to run towards me I couldn’t help but shed a wee tear. Gutted. Chris had phoned ahead and told them I was done. She threw her arms around me, whispered ‘come on baby’, and we walked in the final quarter mile or so together, where I threw in the towel and DNF’d for the first time ever. Blown hamstring. Shattered pride.

We left Glencoe pretty sharpish, and stopped off at Nic’s parents’ caravan in Arrochar where I promptly went to bed for a few hours and felt sorry for myself. Four days have now passed and despite a lovely time with my family North of the wall I’m still pretty gutted.

Let’s be honest, I went out far too hard. Even with a blown hamstring I still felt perfectly fresh and good to go, it was just my leg wouldn’t move properly once the damage had been done. I put too much strain in an already dodgy leg too early on by running those silly times in the first few miles. I honestly feel had I run the race and splits I had planned then I would have got round fine. And it is bittersweet to note that had I been able to maintain my planned splits (and I was and remain 100% I would have) then my finish time would have been enough to score second place in the race on the day.

But plan all you like. If you run like a pillock then you’ll get what’s coming. This DNF is wholly my own fault. I lacked discipline, confidence in my plan and conviction. So now it’s back to the drawing board. And in all honesty I don’t have a clue what I’m going to do.

Before I wrap this up I cannot leave out the absolutely brilliant run by Casey Morgan to win the thing. He went out hard, maintained, and shattered Jez Bragg’s course record in the process with a 5:13. Well done mate, it was hard earned and great to see (for a bit). And well done to all who rocked up at Tyndrum at 6am and got round. The mountains are unforgiving, but they are ours to be embraced within. And that connects us all out there in one way or another, whether five hours or five days to get round.

Finally, thanks to my brilliant crew. You were absolutely wonderful and I wouldn’t have even got to the start line without you. Mama and Papa G, Uncle Chris, and my beautiful wife Nicola. I know you don’t want me to say sorry, but I am sorry anyway. Next time I promise I’ll do you all justice. x

All photographs in this post are courtesy of Thomas Loehndorf.

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