Facing the third & final leg of the Triple Crown
Having completed the West Highland Way Race just 7 weeks ahead of this final feat, I knew I had the endurance and necessary mileage to go into the Devil O’ The Highlands Footrace in good form. My focus now was on speed endurance training in order to bag the Triple Crown in the time and form I wanted.
Aware that I’d be tackling the final leg of the Triple Crown with a 95-mile race not far in my rear view, I adapted my training regime to accommodate these testing conditions. I decided to follow a half-marathon distance training plan in the lead up to the West Highland Way Race , incorporating threshold training and intervals.
My recovery rate from the West Highland Way Race surprised me: I was almost back to normal after just a couple of days.
No Pain. No Gain.
Sadly, the fairytale recovery period didn’t last long! About 2 weeks after the West Highland Way Race I started feeling sharp pain in my lower back, which extended all the way down my right leg and ended up with me not being able to bear weight on my right foot.
In retrospect, I realise I could have avoided some of this by engaging in a strict pre and post training stretching routine and using my foam roller (religiously… no exceptions)! I didn’t and as a result, I had no choice but to start a frantic series of physio sessions in attempt to keep the Triple Crown dream alive.
With credit to my miracle-worker of a physio and regular physio ‘homework’… I was transformed from being barely able to walk to being back in ultra-form just days before the Devil O’ The Highlands.
The Devil O’ The Highlands: Race Day
Lining up at the start of the Devil O’ The Highlands in the early morning at Tyndrum I was struck by the incredible experiences I’d had in the lead up to that moment. There had been times I thought the Triple Crown was out of my reach, times I had truly considered that my body couldn’t go one more mile, but with determination (and more than a hint of stubbornness) I was there and ready to set off on the final leg of the Triple Crown!
The weather had proven the forecast wrong and the conditions were near perfect for the race. My plan for this race was not to put myself under pressure, to go out and just soak up the trails, the views and the experience: but the little competitive devil on my shoulder really wanted a PB to complete the Triple Crown on a high.
As a result I flew into the first checkpoint 20 minutes faster than my 2015 time.
Over the next 10 miles I kept reminding myself that although this race was shorter than the West Highland Way Race, it was still an incredibly testing 43-mile ultra, and pacing myself remained a priority.
I still came through the Glencoe checkpoint ahead of schedule and was keen to press on up the Devil’s Staircase and down the long descent into Kinlochleven. This descent was where my knees started to ache. After a quick hydrate and feed at Kinlochleven, my crew hustled me out to complete the remaining 15 miles of my Triple Crown challenge.
Passing over Lairig Mor brought back painful memories of 7 weeks previously dragging my aching body across the last stretch of the West Highland Way Race. At least this time I got to appreciate the incredible views across Lairig in the daylight.
The Finish Line
Starting the descent into Fort WIlliam and the finish line, I knew I was onto a PB. However, unlike the West Highland Way Race, which is a flat finish into the Fort, the Devil O’ The Highlands delivers a final sting in its tail: up and over Cow Hill to the finish line.
My adrenaline and excitement drove me over this last hill to the finish line like a man possessed, and I crossed the finish line 41 minutes ahead of my previous year’s finish in a time of 8 hours, 20 minutes and 47 seconds. I completed the infamous Triple Crown on an incredible high!
Reflections on the Challenge of a Lifetime
Achieving the Triple Crown physically and mentally took me on the most incredible journey of endurance, self-discovery and outright stubbornness of my life as a trail runner.
My advice to anyone considering undertaking this challenge would be not to do so lightly, it is not a challenge to be underestimated. However, it has also been filled with joy, new friendships and a continued sense of awe at the untamed beauty of our wee country!
THANKS for reading my Triple Crown series. I’ll be back soon with more on trail running and my adventures. Stay tuned!