Scotland – Whisky Tour (Part 2)

Our whisky tour – continued! (If you missed part 1, it can be found here.)

Just to give you an idea of where the distilleries are located in this part two of our whisky tour, here is an interactive map of the distilleries listed in this post:

All of these distilleries were part of the fantastic Rabbie’s Islay and the Whisky Coast Tour. While the first distillery tours/visits on our own were really fun, the Islay ones were even better. We got even more in-depth distillery tours (that I’m sure had to do with us being a part of the Rabbie’s tour group), and it was fantastic!

So, to continue…


Kilchoman Distillery – Islay region

This was probably my favorite distillery. It was also the youngest by far – the first distillery to be built on Islay in 124 years. Unlike every other distillery on Islay, they are on a farm and completely landlocked. All of the other distilleries are located on the coast. Kilchoman is unique because they grow some of the barley themselves (for an expression called 100% Islay). It’s important to note that Islay does not have the most ideal conditions for growing barley – most distilleries bring it in from mainland Scotland or England. Additionally, they malt some of their barley (the rest arrives already malted), so it was our first time seeing a malting floor, kiln, and hearing about the process in person. This was the first distillery that offered us some of the wash to taste (fermented wort, like a cloudy beer of around 7-9% ABV). We also got to try some new make spirit, straight from the still (it was still warm), at around 70% ABV. It was wonderful – fragrant, light, fruity and sweet.

Our tour guide next to the spirit safe, explaining their still design.

Kilchoman is also notable because they do all of their bottling at the distillery, and by hand. It was incredible to see, and makes you appreciate the finished product even more!

Here we sampled three of their expressions, and fell in love with their Madeira Cask Matured whisky and bought it on the spot. Currently, it’s only available at the distillery, so we were lucky to get a bottle.

What difference did I notice in Kilchoman’s process? So many things! Growing and malting their own barley is rather unique. Also, they ferment for 95 hours (on the longer end of the common range of fermentation), and their stills were specially designed to create a lighter, more delicate spirit. This delicate spirit was designed as such so it wouldn’t have to mature as long, and be ready for sale sooner than most (which is likely why there are no age statements on their bottles.) However, please note that in Scotland, the spirit must be matured for at least three years before it can be called whisky. Something to consider – if Kilchoman’s whisky is this good now, how good will it be with 10+ years of maturation?

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Bruichladdich Distillery – Islay region

We only had a tasting here, but it was still fun to visit. They call themselves “Progressive Hebridean Distillers,” and I wouldn’t argue that fact. It seems like they have a new expression at every turn, and they aren’t afraid to play around and try new flavors. A nice contrast to the focus on tradition at many distilleries.


Here we tried three of their expressions – one from each of their lines: Bruichladdich (unpeated), Port Charlotte (heavily peated), and Octomore (super heavily peated). Their latest Octomore expression (7.2), was made with the most heavily peated barley in the world. This expression’s phenol level was at 208 ppm (parts per million) which is well beyond the level of most whiskies. For a contrast, Ardbeg is generally between 55 and 65 ppm, and Lagavulin and Laphroaig between 40 and 50 ppm. I expected the Octomore to taste like licking a campfire, but it didn’t! It was surprisingly smooth and pleasant, but still smoky. Our entire group was surprised at how drinkable it was, so we asked the staff about it. Here’s the difference – they use peat from Inverness (on the mainland) instead of from Islay to impart the flavor. It’s milder, so it won’t have the strong Islay taste (but evidently can still jack up the ppm without making it undrinkable.) An interesting experiment (marketing ploy?), in my opinion.

What difference did I notice in Bruichladdich’s process? Since we didn’t go on a tour and see their stills or process, I’ll say their constant experimentation with expressions!

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Bowmore Distillery – Islay region

This was another great tour that showed us a malting floor in use. I even got a chance to turn some of the barley with their special rake. Bowmore malts about 40% of the barley it uses to make whisky. Something to note as well – their peat is cut by machine. That may seem like an odd comment to make, but that varies by distillery (that does their own malting).

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What struck us as odd was that we were allowed to walk on the barley on the malting floor. No shoe covers, nothing. The tour guide even invited us to make “barley-angels.”  However, this grain is later heated, yeast is added and it’s boiled. No room for bacteria to move in, but it still was a bit shocking to us Americans who are used to a much more sterilized environment for consumable products. No judgement on my part, and it just adds to the character, I’m sure. πŸ˜‰

We tried three of their expressions – all ones we hadn’t had before (many were duty-free exclusives). We also saw a very expensive bottle on display – a 54 year old whisky! There were 12 bottles from this cask, and one was sold for roughly $155,000. Wow.

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Not one of the bottles we brought back home πŸ˜‰

What difference did I notice in Bowmore’s process? Malting their own barley is somewhat unique, of course. They ferment for two days (on the shorter end), and their stills were huge.

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Ardbeg Distillery – Islay region

The first of the three peat monsters! This was another really great tour. No maltings here, but we did get to taste their peated barley. It tasted just like you’d expect – very smoky. We also got to try the wash from a washback, as well as new make spirit straight from the still. Quite a contrast to Kilchoman’s, I must say. Kilchoman’s new make had a lighter, more fruity flavor while the Ardbeg had a smokier and mustier flavor.

Something unique that we saw at Ardbeg was the disgorging (emptying) of casks. They had some 10-year old that was ready to be taken out of the casks and bottled. They take out the bungs, roll the casks over and the whisky pours into a trough in the floor, and off to a tank. One of the distillery workers pulled some of the whisky straight from a cask, and let us try it. 10 year old whisky that no one had yet sampled! There were still flecks of the barrel char in it. A cool (and tasty) experience, for sure.

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Here we sampled five of their expressions in increasing ABV strength (and I’m so glad Adam and I shared or I would have been completely smashed before lunchtime.) The tasting was held in a cozy, dark room that was like a whisky vault.

What difference did I notice in Ardbeg’s processThey have a purifier on their still to increase reflux for a lighter spirit.

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Lagavulin Distillery – Islay region

Just a tasting with paired chocolate at this distillery! It was unfortunate that they don’t allow visitors to walk their grounds (unless you’re on a tour) and enjoy the coastline. It was all gated, which was quite different from the other distilleries we’d visited thus far. Their shop is small (they only have a few expressions), but their little tasting room was a decent size and very quaint.

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The chocolate that they paired with the three expressions were delicious and handmade in Edinburgh, I believe. I’m afraid I don’t remember the exact pairing (blame the Ardbeg tasting), but it included one that was cinnamon, one that was mocha, and the last was just dark chocolate. It all tasted delightful together with the smoky, rich whisky.

What difference did I notice in Lagavulin’s processNo time for a tour, but I do know they have a descending lyne arm on their still, which means less reflux and therefore a heavier spirit.

Laphroaig Distillery – Islay region

Our final distillery visit/tour! One thing that really struck me when we arrived at the distillery was this wall along the sidewalk that had quotes on tiles from fans of Laphroaig, shared on Twitter with the #opinionswelcome. The quotes were hilarious, and I got a kick out of the fact that Laphroaig is thriving on these blunt and funny comments on their unique (and sometimes challenging) flavor. My favorite? “The salty kiss of a drunken sea captain, followed by a right hook full of burnt dirt, washed off with antiseptic liquid.” Accurate, in my opinion…and awesome.

This tour really just focused on what makes a Laphroaig a Laphroaig – the peat. We saw their malting floor, their kiln, and we were allowed to toss some peat in the kiln and stick our hands inside (just barely warm inside actually). Like the other distilleries with a malting floor, they only malt part of the barley they use (~25%), the rest they receive malted from Port Ellen Maltings – just down the road. Our guide also had us try some germinated (but unmalted) barley, which tasted just like green bananas. Then we tried the malted barley, which knocked your socks off with the peatiness.

We drove by the peat bogs that Laphroaig uses on our way to the distilleries. They hand-cut their peat, which is different than Bowmore. Does it make a difference? I’m sure some would say it does. πŸ™‚

Beautiful view from the distillery grounds

What difference did I notice in Laphroaig’s processTheir malting process is a bit different and definitely infuses a unique flavor into the barley. The lyne arms on their stills are ascending, so remarkably, it creates a lighter, less heavy spirit.

The other fun yet rather touristy thing we did here was sign up to be a Friend of Laphroaig. You get a lifetime lease on a square foot of land (and get to plant your country’s flag in in the ground). Whenever you do come back to the distillery, once a year they’ll give you a mini bottle to take home with you. One of the many things to look forward to whenever we go back!

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The location of our square foot (plot #787064), in relation to the distillery!

So, what was my overall takeaway from all of these distillery visits?

I can’t stress this enough – all of this was incredibly fascinating to me. The overall whisky-making process is basically the same at each distillery, however, each tour offered a remarkable glimpse into what they do differently from each other. Collectively, this really gave us insight into what affects the character of the spirit and how they achieve their particular flavors.

It was interesting how most of the distilleries had some special aspect of their still to increase reflux to create a lighter spirit. However, of the stills we saw, none had the same adaptation to achieve this. Of course, if a spirit is too “clean” it wouldn’t have many interesting flavors at all. So like people, it’s the quirks that make us special, right? πŸ˜‰

I also noticed that on most of our tours, they heavily emphasized tradition. “We’ve always done it this way,” or “some distilleries do xyz, but we still follow the old way of doing things.” That tradition has created the flavor profile that is their identity, so they can’t fiddle around with it too much, but I still found it interesting how much they highlighted that fact.

While it may be a very American attitude, I find a distillery far more intriguing if they try new things, play around with flavors and have a variety of expressions. Some only have two or three expressions, which is fine, but really, where’s the fun in that? (Yes, I realize that they are businesses and it’s not for “fun”, but still.) Maybe it’s because I live in Seattle, but I believe innovation is important. It demonstrates flexibility and adaptability, which is important for long-term sustainability. It doesn’t necessarily mean you ditch the classics that are your bread and butter, but just that you keep an open mind and be willing to try different things. For example, many distilleries are trying new cask finishes. It may have stemmed from the lack of sherry (or any) casks available in the industry, but need begets creativity, and it’s creating some wonderfully tasty results. Experiments like that are certainly a way to keep customers, like myself, interested and coming back for more.

Lastly, now that we’ve seen the distilleries, the land, the climate, and met the people, I believe that the terroir of the place very much impacts the flavor of the whisky. This opinion is a bit controversial in the world of distilled spirits, but after our experiences in Scotland, I think it’s one more important factor in whisky making.

All in all, seeing the whisky-making process up close was incredible. It is art and science all rolled up in one, and I have an even greater appreciation for a dram after seeing the whisky being made. While I know much more than I did before we went, this trip has only intensified my desire to learn more details about whisky-making, and increased my interest in exploring other distilleries.

So…10 distilleries visited, and only 100+ in Scotland to go. Best get to it! πŸ™‚

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Scotland – Whisky Tour (Part 1)

After our successful Highland Fling race, our Scottish holiday continued with sightseeing in the Highlands and Islands, and exploring different whisky regions. I knew it would be fun, obviously, but after visiting ten distilleries (and a cooperage), I was pleasantly surprised at how fascinating it was and how much I learned! Eight distillery tours and two distillery tastings (without tours) within a few days was great because it really highlighted the differences between the distilleries, and thoroughly impressed the process in our heads. “To make whisky you need three ingredients: water, barley, and yeast…” πŸ™‚

However, for all of your sakes, I’ll skip the tour guide monologue. In case you’re unfamiliar or just a bit fuzzy on the process, here’s a fun, animated explanation (from Kilchoman Distillery) of how to make whisky.

Unfortunately, many of the distilleries did not allow photos within their buildings, for various reasons. I understand their reasons, but stills are generally beautiful to look at, and each is very different. Without the option of photography, I tried to take mental notes on the varying still shapes as it is one of the many factors that affects the character (flavor) of the spirit, in addition to the length of their fermentation and many other unique factors within their whisky production.

Just to give you an idea of where the distilleries are located in this part one of our whisky tour, here is an interactive map of the distilleries listed in this post:

Without further ado, the distilleries!


Talisker Distillery – Island region

We started with this classic distillery on the beautiful Isle of Skye. Talisker is located on the water in Carbost, a tiny town at the end of a single track road. Their tour availability was limited, so we ended up on their morning tour. The weather that day was horrendous (sideways rain and crazy wind gusts), so we were grateful to start our day inside a warm distillery with tasty drams awaiting us. (No worries, we still braved the weather for the Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock, and the Quiriang.)

Our tour guide was excellent and very procedural with her explanations of the distillation process. She explained everything very clearly and was obviously very knowledgable on the topic. It was a great tour for us to really get our heads around the finer points of whisky-making. We sampled four of their whiskies and splurged on a bottle of their Friends of the Classic Malts Bottling.

What difference did I notice in Talisker’s process? They have a U-shaped lyne arm (piping that runs from the top of the still to the condenser) to increase reflux to create a lighter spirit.

In case you don’t know what reflux is… “Reflux refers to the amount of vapor that condenses and falls back into the still before ‘escaping’ to the condensers. The more that happens – that is, the more ‘reflux’ there is – the more the spirit gets cleaned up before it is passed on to the next stage.” – Lew Bryson “Tasting Whiskey.” Essentially, distillers are aiming for more reflux in order to obtain the purest (and best-tasting) alcohol possible.

Cragganmore Distillery – Speyside region

I’ll be honest, this wouldn’t be my first choice as a representative of the Speyside region. However, once we actually got to the area it was very busy with tourists, and some of the other distilleries I really like had no room on tours (Aberlour and Balvenie). I was trying to figure out where to try next, but we were running out of time that day so I just selected one that was near us. I hadn’t tried a Cragganmore before, so here was our opportunity.

The buildings weren’t flashy, and there weren’t a lot of other folks around. Our tour guide was young, and it was rather clear that she had just memorized a script and her heart wasn’t in it. She was nice enough, but she certainly didn’t have a passion for the product or the company. I wasn’t overly impressed with the whisky either. However, this was the only “dud” tour we went on, so I can’t really complain!

What difference did I notice in Cragganmore’s process? Their stills have a flat top that I haven’t seen before. It’s supposed to increase reflux to make a lighter-bodied spirit.

Benromach Distillery – Speyside region

After our lackluster experience at Cragganmore, I was determined not to leave Speyside without a redeeming distillery experience. Over 50% of all Scottish single malt distilleries are in this region, so surely we could find one that was more engaging! We settled on Benromach because they’re known to have a good tour and they’re not owned by the giant Diageo (like Talisker and Cragganmore.) They’re a bit north of the main hub of Speyside distilleries, but have a nice location and beautiful grounds.

Our tour guide here was excellent! He was a natural storyteller and you could tell that he loved his job. After a short video explaining Benromach’s history, we got a tour of the distillery. We also got to see their warehouse, a dunnage style, and a cask signed by Prince Charles himself. We also sampled their flagship whisky.


What difference did I notice in Benromach’s process? Their lyne arm is horizontal, but longer than normal, to again, create a lighter spirit.

Oban Distillery – Highland region

At this point in our holiday, we had started our Rabbie’s Islay and the Whisky Coast Tour. (It was a fantastic tour, for future reference.) Our first stop, before heading south to catch a ferry to Islay, was the Oban Distillery. It was right in the middle of town, which is slightly unusual, but we were told the town ended up building up around the distillery as it grew in size.

Our tour guide here was also great and very personable. The extra special part of their tour was at the end. In a warehouse room they have a cask that’s full of 13 year old whisky. (The 14 year old is their flagship.) He drew whisky directly from the cask and we got to taste it. It was fun to try a whisky that won’t ever be for sale!

What difference did I notice in Oban’s process? Their fermentation process is quite long – 4 days. Not by design, but because they only have one wash still and one spirit still (and six washbacks).

Speyside Coopers, hard at work


Bonus: The Speyside Cooperage

While not a distillery, it is without question that cask(s) play a massive role in developing the flavor of a maturing whisky. We were lucky enough to go to the Speyside Cooperage for a tour (before the Cragganmore Distillery), and it was incredible to see these coopers work. There was a short smell-o-vision video at the beginning of the tour to give us a background about where barrels come from (with occasional blasts of scents like wood, charring, etc to “enhance” the experience.) Then we went to a viewing platform of sorts where we were able to look out at the workshop and the coopers hard at work.

The coopers are apprenticed for four years, and it’s a highly sought after opportunity. They are paid per barrel (and it must be up to spec), so being fast as well as highly skilled is an advantage but it is a mystery what they make per barrel. We were told they average around 25 barrels a day, while “Crazy Pete” usually does 26 or 27. There are different sizes of barrels as well, but I won’t go into those details in order to avoid boring you!

At the very end of the tour there is a small area in which you may try your hand at assembling a small barrel with loose staves and hoops. I gave it a try… and the guide cheerfully told me, “yer doin’ it wrong.” Yup, absolutely, but since I haven’t been apprenticed for four years at a cooperage, I don’t feel too bad about my lack of coopering skills. πŸ™‚


This was just part 1 of our amazing trip to Scotland! The next blog post will focus on the distilleries we visited on Islay…

 

Hoka Highland Fling Race Report (53 miles)

Firstly, apologies on the delayed race report – even though the race was just over 2 weeks ago. Post race we were thoroughly enjoying our vacation around Scotland (with plenty of whisky for, ah, recovery purposes), so we didn’t have the time to write it up (or the ability to get the photos from the camera).

Our whole trip was really exciting, but of course, the catalyst for it all was signing up for this race – the Highland Fling! After planning and training for seven months, it was finally time to run it!

After a few days in Edinburgh, enjoying the sights (and desperately trying to overcome jet lag), we made it to Milngavie (pronounced ‘mill-GUY’…yeah, I don’t know either) early afternoon. We got settled in, went out for dinner, picked up our race packets, and then really dug into our race prep.

A notable difference between this race and others I’ve done is the aid stations just have water and any drop bags that you bring for yourself (containing food and anything else you’d need). This works out fine for me as I usually only eat the things I bring anyway. The catch is that you don’t get your drop bags back at the end, so no changing out shoes or clothing unless you don’t want them back (or if you have crew around). Something cool with this system is that anything you don’t eat from your drop bag you can add to the “buffet table” for anyone after you who might want it. At each station the tables were chock-full of options. We didn’t partake (nothing new on race day!), but I think it’s a neat way to try and avoid waste. The only other things besides food that we added to our drop bags were fun/silly notes to each other, sealed until we reached the aid station. I got this idea from a friend whose daughter left her notes in her drop bags for her first 50 miler. Such a great idea for when you need that little pick-me-up!

Packing up our drop bags… please note the awesome Star Wars tape on the bags. For…inspiration. πŸ™‚


Race day

After an early morning wake up and small breakfast, we walked to the race start (about a mile). We had lots of time to drop off our, er, drop bags for the checkpoints, and then we just milled about, trying not to be nervous. We got incredibly lucky with the weather, and I’m so grateful. It had been nasty the few days before (cold, drizzle and snow), but our race day dawned cool, but dry.

Us, available for a good day!


Waiting to start…

I’ve never run an ultra with that many people! It was odd to see over 700 racers milling about waiting to head out on this crazy adventure (versus the 200 I’m used to). Before too long, we got a race briefing (the briefest of briefs, truly, that basically consisted of, “Right, you all have the race number in your mobile? Everyone have a foil blanket? Okay, have fun!”), and we started out in three waves. Onto the West Highland Way we went!

Thanks to Monument Photography

Start to Dryman – Cumulative 12.7 miles (2:12:19 chip time)

Looking back over the course in its entirety, this was the most runnable section, and very enjoyable. Up to this point, we hadn’t really had any scenery yet, but at one point we came over little hill and we started to see hills and glens laid out before us. It was a great view, but you could tell who the locals were as they didn’t bat an eye. The rest of us foreigners/newbies all paused for a look and/or a picture. One local joked as he ran by, “This is a race, not sight-seeing!” Well, a big reason I do this is for the scenery, and if one can’t spare 10 seconds in a 50 miler to enjoy it… where’s the fun in that? (and those folks are probably winning anyway.) It was pretty and worth a pause!

A few other amusing memories – for a very short time we were on a road, and there were some great Fling volunteers making sure we went the correct way. My favorite was a gentleman that opened a gate for us and said solemnly, “Frontrunners are just up ahead now.” Everyone laughed! (Spoiler alert – they weren’t just up ahead.)

There also was a couple playing some music as we ran by – a drum and fiddle. Like a Rock n’ Roll Marathon…but more awesome. πŸ™‚

As we ran into Dryman, we were feeling pretty good. There were no drop bags at this point, and we didn’t need a water fill up, so we went right on through the checkpoint.

Dryman to Balmaha – Cumulative 19.3 miles

Again, still very runnable at this point. The end of this section contains the famous Conic Hill. As we ran closer, I thought, “oh, that is a bit high, hm…”

Approaching Conic Hill…


Thanks to Monument Photography

Turns out you only run on the shoulder of it, though, and don’t actually summit, so it’s not quite as intimidating as at your first glance. You do get an AMAZING view of Loch Lomond, though. One of those that makes you pause for a moment and say, “This is why we run these crazy distances.”

Gorgeous view from the top! (Photo doesn’t do it justice, of course.)

The descent down Conic Hill was steep, and we made a point to take it carefully, in deference to our quads (and Adam’s temperamental knee.) Once we reached Balmaha we opened up our drop bags, and while I knew we hadn’t quite eaten enough to warrant needing more, we still grabbed some of our extra food in order to have options out on the trail.

Balmaha to Rowerdennan – Cumulative 27.3 miles (5:57:19 chip time)

I’ll admit that this section is a bit fuzzy for me, and I don’t have much to say about this section, other than it was fairly runnable. The only thing that really sticks out in my mind is when we ran lochside, on a rocky beach. I found it a bit odd since there didn’t appear to be a well-marked trail anywhere, but nobody seemed to be bothered by the lack.

Literally running lochside

As you might imagine, this is when we started to feel some fatigue and niggles settling in, just a bit. Totally expected after this distance. πŸ™‚

At Rowardennan

As we ran into the Rowardennan checkpoint, some runners behind us were belting out some Bon Jovi: “Woahhhhhh-OH, we’re half way THERE, Woahhhhhh-OH, livin’ on a pray-ER!” Amusingly, no one appeared to remember any other part of the song, so they sounded like a stuck record with those very aptly chosen lyrics. πŸ™‚

We weren’t quick getting through the Rowardennan checkpoint. Eating some food, Adam enjoying his first tiny Coke of the day and some toilet stops slowed us down. Oops.

Rowerdennan-Inversnaid – Cumulative 34.6 miles

We chatted with some other racers coming out of Rowerdennan and they all agreed that this section was fun, but technical bits cropped up. They also said the upcoming section was their least favorite. Noted.

The first bit was a like Cleater Road at the Chuckanut 50K, so I was grateful for our familiarity with a long, oddly pitched hill. The weather was being rather schizophrenic at this point, threatening rain, and then sunny, and then back to threatening again. Ah well, it kept us on our toes.

There were some technical bits, but it wasn’t horrendous. That was yet to come…

Sitting down while Adam used the facilities – felt AMAZING

Again, we spent too much time at this checkpoint. I laid down in the parking lot to stretch out my complaining back while Adam went and found a toilet in the hotel. When he came back out, he looked a bit defeated. “There were old people in there, sitting by a fireplace, knitting, and drinking coffee. I want to do that, even though I don’t know how to knit!”

I had no inspirational quip to offer as a counter to this statement, so, um… let’s go then?? After our long break here, re-starting running was particularly difficult. It felt like we were doing our best Tinman impression with groans about our stiff joints instead of missing a heart.

Inversnaid-Beinglas – Cumulative 41.4 miles (11:07:52 chip time)

Ugh. This was my toughest section, physically and mentally. Physically, it was the most technical section, and while I’m improving on that terrain thanks to my coach, this was tough. Speed-hiking as much as possible, and with more scrambling than I expected. Little to no runnable bits. The little cliffside sections with a sheer drop-off on one side definitely kept our minds on the task at hand.

It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but we were playing yo-yo with some day hikers during this bit. Oi. Luckily they were friendly, and not at all annoyed at our apparent slowness. They also offered some welcome insight as to what was coming up next on the course, and it was most helpful!

This sign at the top of a long climb…


Ah yes. Worth it!

Mentally, I hit my low spot right before the Beinglas checkpoint came into view. I knew I needed calories, but what I wanted was in our drop bag, and I knew we were close, so I didn’t want to stop yet. I felt drunk, but without the happy buzz. I also had reached a familiar point where I felt near tears from exhaustion, soreness, hunger, and the desire just to lay down and be done. Adam kept us going nicely, and for the umpteenth time that day, I was ever so glad he was racing with me.

Thanks to Patricia Carvalho Photoraphy

Finally, though, we ran into Beinglas! Here we spent way too much talking to the volunteers, but it definitely helped me mentally. Evidently I looked pretty terrible as everyone kept asking me, “are you continuing on, then?” Hell, yes! Too close (relatively) to the finish to not continue! Here we also encountered a friendly gentleman with whom we had a lovely chat while we got our bags sorted, although he was the first Glaswegian I found extremely difficult to understand. He was intent on asking about Frasier, and other US-based TV shows, but we were at a point in the race where our brains were only haphazardly firing neurons. Hopefully he didn’t notice our lack of mental acuity at that moment.

Beinglas-Finish  – Cumulative 53 miles (14:32:44 chip time)

We were told at Beinglas that in this next section we’d be able to motor right along. It wasn’t entirely true as it was hilly, but they were littl(er) rollers and no big monsters. Very different, thank goodness, from the previous section. Relentless forward progress was the name of the game, and our chorus of grunts and moans when we restarted running after walking was quite entertaining.

This also was the section with the dreaded “Cow Poo Alley.” From all of the descriptions, I was expecting a torrent of cow crap flowing over hidden rocks lying in wait for poor, exhausted runners. However, that never seemed to materialize, despite seeing many cows about. Granted, there was a really muddy (crappy?) area, but you could still navigate around the horrid-looking bits, so I couldn’t be sure if that was the spot or not. Maybe all the frontrunners took all the cow poo with them on their shoes? πŸ˜‰

As we went along, I kept checking my watch with more and more anxiety. Were we going to make the cutoff at 50 miles, with just 3 more to go after that? Doing any math during this point in a race is a real feat, but it seemed it would be really close… I kept saying in my head, “I did NOT travel thousands of miles to fail – move it!” With this push at 48 miles, we ended up passing quite a few exhausted runners.

We reached the A82 road crossing with a few minutes to spare, and as we rushed down the guy at the crossing said, “you’ve got it, you’re fine.” YES! We treated ourselves to a snack (and Adam had a Pepsi) now that the finish was so comparatively near at hand. Mother Nature wanted to give us one last kick in the pants, so we got a 15 minute downpour – the only rain of the day!

Despite how long we’d been running, we still had some gas in the tank now that the end was near. The last few miles were VERY runnable, and we were able to pick it up a bit. As we turned a corner, I heard the skirl of the bagpipes that meant the end was truly near and I started to tear up. They roll out the red carpet here, and it was fantastic to still have everyone there and cheering for us as we crossed the finish line holding hands. FINISHED!

Finishing! Thanks to Monument Photography


To the victor (or just finisher) goes the spoils. Best swag bag ever: Bag, t-shirt, medal, buff, and prosecco!

Some quick numbers:

Finishing time: 14:32:44

Elevation gain: ~7,500 feet

Calories consumed: ~1,800 (6 Glutino Oreos, 3 small tortillas with a slice of ham and shredded cheese, bite of potato, 1.5 satsumas, 3/4 Chuao Chocolate Oh My S’mores)

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t underestimate the course. Seriously. Even though I’ve done 50 milers before, none of them are the same and it’s always a humbling experience.
  2. In relation to #1… Learn how to run on technical courses.
  3. Work on being consistent with nutrition timing to avoid horrible drunken feeling/bonking
  4. Don’t dawdle at aid stations! Those cutoffs will creep up on you.
  5. Ask folks to write little notes for your drop bags. They. Are. Awesome.
  6. Always, always, ALWAYS bring Dramamine if there’s a post-race bus ride. (I get motion-sick, but haven’t thrown up from it…until now. My body was completely over the strain of the day and gave a big NOPE to the whole situation. Luckily I had a Ziploc bag with me, AND no one batted an eye on the bus as I’m sure it wasn’t the grossest thing those ultrarunners saw all day. Apologies to those on the bus with me!)

Interestingly, most of these are newbie mistakes, and I still made them, even though this was my fourth race at the 50 mile(ish) distance. Oops. Always learning. πŸ™‚

All in all, an excellent race, and I’m so pleased that we got to do it together and see some amazing scenery along the way. So lucky, and I hope to do it again someday!