Friday, 13 July 2018

West Highland Way Race 2018

My running has gone well from January, when I start to look towards the race, I haven’t run to a training plan in years but have enjoyed using a few races for my long runs, the Falkirk 8 hour Ultra, Loch Katrine Marathon, Keilder 50km, the Highland Fling and six days after the Fling I covered over 50 miles with a weekend of no sleep supporting Alistair Macpherson doing his 10 Island Challenge on the Western Isles starting in Vattersay and finishing on Skye. Although there was no running involved in being part of the race team for the Skye Trail Ultra at the end of May, a 5.30am alarm on the Friday morning and no sleep until Sunday night coinciding with my first weekend without caffeine was excellent sleep deprivation training.   

I dropped my gear off with Ken on Thursday night so he could pack the car at his leisure. I spent Friday just quietly pottering and snoozing.  Ken, Sue and Pauline picked me up at 9.30pm and we made our way to Milngavie, driving over the Kincardine Bridge the sky was gorgeous and promised good weather over the weekend.

At registration, between a million hugs I picked up my wristband, goodies and got weighed. Back at the car I decided the timing chip was going to bug me, a big flat square thing on an elastic wrist band around the size of a coaster! Well, maybe a slight exaggeration but on my scrawny wrist if felt that big!  Luckily it had a hole in it and I had a cord to thread through it so I wore it round my neck tucked in my vest.

For the first time ever in the history of Sean’s safety briefing he said that there wasn’t going to be weather! Just before the start I had a wee panic, Wilson and I were going to run together to begin with but I’d lost him, I jumped up onto a bench scanning everyone moving forward into position, “Ah, there you are!” Relief, we moved into the throng, so many runners and so much excitement, I love this moment, there are no guarantees of reaching Fort William but we all have the privilege of starting no matter how the adventure will unfold.
Before the 1.00am start there was a minutes silence for Don Ritchie, I smiled cherishing a memory of spending an evening in a Dublin pub with him after an Anglo-Celtic Plate. The hooter sounded, I let out a “WOOHOO!” hugged Wilson and we were off.  “Wilson! Get back here!” He was on a mission but I wasn’t going to let his emotion jeopordise a sensible start. Up through Milngavie High Street lined with support, high fives, camera flashes, cheers and shouts feels so mad at 1.00am in the morning and I giggle along it! So different for my first race in 2003, eerily quiet with just around seventy runners and the “crowd” was a bemused half dozen of merry locals heading home from a night out.

Into Mugdock, head torch on and watch where I put my feet, a bit of subdued chatter as we attempt to settle in, a perfect night, the moon was out, a clear night and never completely dark. Loved to see the bats again along the road from Gartness, I feel it’s a good omen. Wilson and I parted company when I stopped for a pee just before the big gate in Garadhban, he was moving strongly and settled. I was watching for the sun rising as I climbed Conic but with light cloud the sun didn’t split the sky, it just gently got brighter.

On the wooden steps heading down to Balmaha I phoned my crew to get the kettle on.  A hug for big Davie once I’ve dibbed my dobber at the checkpoint Pauline led me to where they were parked, not without a bit of palaver for them, when they first arrived it was full and they couldn’t get parked, so they drove off towards Rowardennan to find a safe place to wait until the car park emptied a bit, it meant they didn’t get as long to rest before I arrived and even worse, they didn’t want to risk getting their bacon rolls from the Oak Tree until after I’d gone through! At least they didn’t have to wait too long for their breakfast since I don’t faff at checkpoints, I walked through with my pot of porridge, Pauline carrying my mug of tea until I was ready for it.
photo from Sue Walker

I always love the section up to Rowardennan, listening out for cuckoos in the woods, along wee bits of beach and up the short steep climbs in the woods, this year I had Norma and Stuart for company along a fair bit of it.

At Rowardennan, my feet were feeling fine but I had a pre-emptive sock change, Pauline and Sue are faster than Formula One with wet wipes, Body Glide and fresh socks as I sat and ate a rice pudding,
photo from Sue Walker
I changed my 200ml water bottle to a 300ml one, since I won’t see my crew again until Beinglas, picked up my sunglasses, a wee skoosh of Skin-so-soft, the midges were out but not the worst I’ve seen, and I was on my way. I love the low road, it’s a proper enchanted wood, one of the marker posts is so ancient it’s covered in lichen and there’s only a suggestion of a white thistle which leads you up towards the narrow path with a hint of the technical section to warm you up for the scrambly bits after Inversaid, I just ease myself along, gently on the swoops down to the edge of the loch, steady on the climbs, carefully over tree roots and boulders, not stressing the pace just going with the flow, the path was really dry and easy to skip along (in my mind not for real) I remember how different it was in 2012 where Sue, Jonathan and I stayed together to see each other safely over the torrents of water hurtling down off the hill. At Inversnaid I pick up my drop-bag, I stood briefly but only long enough to down a chocolate Yazoo, so I could bin the empty bottle, I didn’t have much room to carry it after I stashed away a custard and a wee bottle of flat coke into the front pocket of my bag.

Apart from seeing a couple of runners just after leaving Inversnaid I was on my own for the technical section, I revelled in it being all mine, taking my own easy pace, no pressure to keep up with someone or feel I had to move over if I was holding anyone back. I’m not really greedy or anti-social but it was a pleasure having it all to myself.

When the ladder first came into my view I could see a runner sitting at the top, as I approached it he was still there, I climbed and asked if he was okay, he answered he was fine, but I wasn’t just accepting his polite reply and cringed at myself as I asked “Are you sure?” like I was his Mum. He did convince me he was just having a wee breather and I was glad to see him catch me up a few minutes later.

I always have a wee cheer to myself when I hit the flat grassy bit and ease my running legs back into action after their breather on the clambering. I looked forward to pausing at Dario’s post, and that thought pulls me on, the path is fairly runnable with some steady climbs and I catch up with Dave, it’s the first time I’ve see him during the race, I was having a really good spell, Dave was moving fine but a wee bit slower so I went by but not without a wee cheeky parting shot. “Keep up, I’ve got a 15 year old Glenfiddich!”  Dave wasn’t far behind me reaching Dario’s post and my wee hip-flask was passed around, glad to see around half a dozen take a moment in such a beautiful spot, even if they didn’t know Dario.

It isn’t far to the checkpoint at Beinglas from Dario’s post, it’s level with the pylons but they seem to take a while before they get closer, down through the trees, wary of roots, one thing I’ve noticed this year, the foxgloves are in abundance and blooming all over.

Just as I reached Beinglas Farm Ellen shouts “You are looking fresh!”  I laughed, 42 miles in I’ll take that, whether it’s true or not. “You’re just having a great day out!” she continues,  I certainly was, smiling from ear to ear even, how could I not be, the sun was out and I running my favourite race in the company of my family. I dibbed my dobber in the timing doofer and carried on walking out the checkpoint with a big mug of leek and potato soup, Pauline came with me to take the mug when I finished and give me updates on how everyone else was doing. What stars my crew are, they even pandered to my diva demand of mashing the lumps to make it easier for me to eat. I fair enjoyed the savoury after the milkshakes, rice pudding and custards. It was just after midday, the warm sun on my back, the open path towards Derrydarroch in front, and with a happy tummy full of Mrs Baxter’s finest I wasn’t going to push it, just keep a comfortable easy pace tootling along while the sun was at its highest and my soup digested.  

I giggled at the health and safety with the bubble wrap on the entrance to the Crack yer heid tunnel, it’s not the on the way in it gets you, it’s the way out you’ve to watch, but lucky for me I’ve always managed not to dunt my bonce!

Climbing the steep path after going through the tunnel under the A82, all of a sudden I felt quite weary, my legs didn’t feel the strength in them that I thought they should, hands on thighs I made my way up, after such a good spell, it was only natural to have a dip and mid-race wobble, I’m not quite halfway yet, I cannae be so tired!  Not to worry, I’ll soon be pulling it in, and the swoops and climbs of the rollercoaster will take my mind off how I felt. I was not amused having to wait ages to cross the road over to Auchtertyre, there were some guys on bikes waiting on the other side to cross too, one shouted over “At least you’re getting a rest!” I was polite and smiled but I HATE standing still, I may never go fast but I never stop either! I was looking daggers at the cars and muttering under my breath.

Finally I crossed over and keep it going round to the checkpoint, I was weighed and dropped 0.8 of a kilo, that’s fine I didn’t expect to change much. My crew had my macaroni cheese ready and a beer shandy made with Belhaven Best, far better than any sports drink. Pauline walked with me with my grub and beer but I still felt a bit full from my soup and probably the heat so I just had half and handed it back, it isn’t far to Tyndrum I’ll finish it there.

Tyndrum is where I feel if I reach there then I’ve cracked it, it’s over half way and Sue and Gillian were joining me. I’m happy with my own company but it’s a boost to get a blether and I’ll have pals all the way to the finish from here.

It was the back of 6.00pm when I arrived in Bridge of Orchy, Sue had scampered off with a wee change from my Diva Demands sheet, on my plan I was just going to have paracetamol at Kinlochleven whether I needed it or not but I had a wee niggle in the top of my right foot, it had been hurting since Drymen (12 miles) and was now jarring every step, so along with my first coffee in a month a couple of paracetamol would help take the edge off. As I was having a sock change I decided to put my thick tights on over my Skins and another long-sleeved top, it was cooling down, Rannoch Moor is wide open and can be breezy, (last year the wind took me off my feet)  I’d rather not wait until I was cold before faffing with clothes, it also meant I could sit down for my rice pudding as my crew hauled my breeks up my legs and do my socks, (Yep, I do Diva to the max)

Pauline was coming with me to Glencoe, it’s been ages since she’d done Rannoch Moor or seen Murdo and Peter on Jelly Baby Hill, we were blethering for ages before Murdo said, “Off you go, you’ve a race to run!”

Rannoch Moor gently climbs for quite a bit, we just plodded on, run a bit, walk a bit, I was wearying but only to be expected for being nearly seventy miles in, “I’m fed up climbing can I go down now please? Where is this Fleming Cairn? Bugger! It’s a wee dot in the distance! At least I can see it now!” I was speaking in jest, but as the saying goes. Never a truer word…  Yay, finally level with the cairn, I could head downwards to Glencoe. Kingshouse used to be the checkpoint, I don’t really mind the wee detour to the big car-park at the Glencoe ski centre, it’s perfect for a checkpoint it’s just the half-arsed excuse of a path-not a path-just a pile of rubble leading you towards the Ski Centre that irritates me, that and the steep slope of the car park, I’m not climbing anything I don’t have to, I dib my dobber turn on my heels and headed down the road, Ken is ready to go with me with my chicken soup, I giggled a wee bit to myself when told a sprint was needed to bring me my Yazoo milkshake and blue fleece, I must be moving well then! I thought.

Heading towards Altnafeadh I took my time with my soup, it was in a thermal mug so no need to rush it, in previous years I’ve shovelled in pasta or mashed tatties a bit too quickly then felt queasy.  Looking up to the top of the Devil’s Staircase it was shrouded in a wee bit of mist, I’ll put on my jacket as well as my fleece (wearing the blue fleece over the Devil’s Staircase has been one of my traditions since 2007) It must’ve been the back of 11.00pm heading up and Sean was right, there was no weather, I was roasting, the jacket came off and I pushed my sleeves up!  At the top Ken and I needed our head torches, he also had a hand torch, it’s not easy to find the best line over the rough path in the dark and an extra torch helps.

We made steady progress down into Kinlochleven, I was hugged and weighed by Julie, I remained exactly the same weight as Auchtertyre, I decided to deviate from the plan and change into road shoes for a bit of cushioning on Lairig Mor, my feet were feeling the dry hard path, the left one especially, I was trying not to favour my sore right one but I think I was letting the left do all the work, I sat down for a pot of porridge and let Pauline and Sue do my feet, I asked if there was a blister on the ball of my left foot, it felt quite hot, Pauline dismissed my query “Pfft, there’s nothing there!” and flossed between my toes with a wet wipe. Squirm-shudder-squeal.  I hate when she does that, she knows it and does it some more! (She’s a good fibber too, admitting after the race that there was a blister and didn’t mind making me feel like a drama queen!) Ok then, I’ll just straighten my crown and leave with my entourage!

Pauline, Sue and Gillian and I climbed the long slog out of Kinlochleven, my road shoes felt a bit snug to start with but my feet soon settled down, at the top we pause to look back and see torches at the top on the other side start to head down, it’s a tough section down to and out of Kinlochleven, I wished them well.  

We moved on and could see the lights of Jeff’s wee oasis in the distance, by the time we got there is was getting light for the second time in the race, Jeff had quite a selection of fizzy juice and sweeties but then he produced a miniature of an 18 year old Glenfiddich, well, it would be rude not to, he poured us a teeny wee dram each, just a celebratory sip, enough to raise a smile as well as spirits. (No pun intended)
photo from Jeff Smith
Lairig Mor is never easy, I might not be covering it at a great rate of knots but running in celebration of being alive and healthy surpasses any fatigue, pain or discomfort I have and with great company we pull it in, Lundavra takes ages to come into view, my stomach is not so happy but I manage some Cup-a-Soup as I go through, Pauline asked why I didn’t stop at the photo booth, “Eh? What photo booth? I’m so sorry guys how did I miss that!”  My eyes must have just been focussed on the path and putting one foot in front of the other, my legs are moving well and Fort William gets closer every step.

I laughed when Val appeared “Where have you been? I’ve had to come all the way up the fire road, down that steep path and all the way up this hill!”  Brilliant! Nobody needs a pal that asks how you’re doing ninety miles in. Sorry Val, I’ll try and go a bit quicker next time!

Down the long road into Braveheart car park the girls are behind me and don’t see the emotion crumple my face, this is my fourteenth West Highland Way and it has never stopped being special, Ken is waiting in the car park until we’re through.

The final mile, my body is ready to stop, my heart and soul are soaring, an overwhelming combination to fuel me to the Leisure Centre. Into the car park, the race has evolved and the finish has changed, it's now a big inflatable arch, Adrian standing by holding up the timing doofer, but during my chemo and radiotherapy in 2013 the mental image of slapping my hands on Leisure Centre helped keep my head up, and for me, I can not register my finish until I have touched the door, up the steps and symbolically place my hands on the glass. Adrian has followed me up the steps, I hauled the timing chip from my vest and finally registered my finish in 31 hours, 20 odd minutes and something or other seconds.  

I love that running is so adaptable to each and everyone of us whether your goal is to push your body to destruction in pursuit of a best time and position possible or in memory and celebration of a loved one or just having the health to revel in the beauty of our surroundings. The West Highland Way Race is the most perfect and tough challenge you can choose to do all of these. The selfless support of the race family from Ian and race committee, marshals, support crews and checkpoint venues make magic happen, the prize giving is the pinnacle of all the hard work and those that go home with a goblet are privileged to have the chance to realise dreams.

Just saying thank you doesn’t cover it, but I hope you get the gist of my gratitude from this photo.
Ok. I'm showing off now but this lot with the support of my West Highland Way family has helped shape my character and give me strength to face stuff harder than any race, I'm so proud to be a part of this very special family.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Ally K's 10 Island Challenge

When Ally asked if I’d like to support him in another big running challenge, this time fundraising for Macmillan, I didn’t hesitate in saying yes. The date was set for Friday 4th May, and it saw Pauline and I leave Dunfermline after work Wednesday evening, spending the night with Donna in Inverness before heading to Portree to meet the rest of the support team at 12.00 noon Thursday, we loaded our stuff into the van and then travelled up to Uig for the ferry to Lochmaddy, it seemed a very long drive before we got another ferry to Barra and drive to Vatersay, Ally was going to be running back! A tough and long challenge with the logistics of having to catch ferries as well as having to cope with running 120 miles and whatever the weather threw at him as well.

Ally had a good team behind him, I was confident we’d do whatever was needed to get him back to Portree.

Douglas - the grown-up, responsible adult in charge, keeping us all safe with the ability to spot and prevent accidents or mishaps from happening.
Graham - Massage Therapist/Sports Nutritionist in charge of keeping Ally upright, breathing, fuelled and moving forward.
Hugh - Project Manager, in charge of media, photography, filming and all things geekery.
Iain - Driver of the pick-up, leading the way and helping Hugh with the filming being promoted to best boy, dolly grip or whatever you call the poor sod that holds up the big fluffy microphone until their arms ache.
Andy, Pauline and myself - the support runners, taking turns pacing Ally, in charge of nothing much but hopefully our banter would keep him going.

There were loads of folk in the Vatersay Hall to greet Ally when we arrived, he gave a wee talk about the run and presented medals to children for their achievements in recent races. We were generously given the use of the Hall for the night and after the meeting finished we were shown where the light switch was and told just to close the door on the way out when we left in the morning.  We scattered ourselves around finding a cosy wee corner to lay out camping mattresses and sleeping bags, I slept as well as could be expected the night before a big adventure, Hugh on the other hand hadn’t pick such a great spot to sleep, where he laid out his sleeping bag had a motion sensitive light switch so every time he turn over through the night the light came on!

6.30am Friday morning, we were off! It was dull, misty and a little drizzly but not cold, and we were to have a tail wind, not the worst weather for running, we decided that Andy, Pauline and myself would run the first section of around 13 miles from Vatersay to the ferry point at Ardmhor, Barra with Ally, it’s easy to set off too quickly at the start and heading off mob handed it would help keep the early pace nice and steady and lovely for a few of Barra’s runners to get up early and join us for the first section.
photo from Ally K's 10 Island Challenge

On the ferry the team took the chance for a coffee before arriving in Eriskay where we were met by more runners ready to join Ally.

The plan for Andy, Pauline and myself was to run in shifts of around two hours each, swapping over when Ally took a short break to refuel. The team settled into our specific tasks, Douglas driving the white van going on ahead with a “caution runners” fluorescent sign on the front and hazards flashing warning oncoming traffic and stopping every five or six miles to get a brew on or anything else the team needed with either myself or Pauline for company when not running, Iain driving the pick-up staying just ahead of Ally with Hugh hanging out the back, camera in hand. Graham driving the black van with all of Ally’s supplies following behind monitoring how he was moving, preparing Ally’s food and dealing with any of Ally’s problems or niggles with either Andy or Pauline sitting beside him when they weren’t running.

We settled into the routine as we steady made progress through the ten islands, Vatersay, Barra, Eriskay, South Uist, Benbecula, Grimsay, North Uist, Berneray, Harris and Skye. This was my first visit to the Western Isles and although I wasn’t in tourist mode and would have loved to see more, I still got to catch a glimpse of the wide open rugged beauty of the islands and beautiful beaches, even though the weather wasn’t the best, I loved the colour of the sea, a warm turquoise colour of old copper, quite different to the cold slate grey on a dreich day at home on the Fife coast.

As we worked our way up the islands it was lovely to see the community come out and support Ally, a highlight and a great boost for him, the children from Daliburgh Primary School left their classrooms to line the pavement and high five Ally and cheer him on as he went by. The Dark Island Hotel wouldn’t take any money from us when we stopped for a quick bite, cars would stop and donate money for the charity.

My next run with Ally of nearly twelve miles was from South Uist to Benbecula, we’d just shared a fish supper, it was lovely and tasty, I wondered if it would give me grief but it was fine, the pace was nice and steady, mixing up walking with running, Ally had been on the go for nearly ten hours now, he was still moving well but was starting to feel wee bits of tightness creeping in. Ian came over and introduced himself, he lives locally and he’d been following the tracker to find us and waited on the road for us to appear and came along for a few miles, it was great for Ally to get a new face to chat to.  

photo from Ally K's 10 Island Challenge 
I wasn’t quite sure of place names or where I was but Douglas kept me right driving over causeways, “That’s another island done!” we were soon counting them down and with recording my runs on Strava I’m glad I can go back and see the sections I covered with Ally and put into perspective the length of the challenge and the islands.
Vatersay and Barra
South Uist to Benbecula
Lochmaddy to Berneray
Uig to Portree
Early evening I was with Douglas in the van and we pulled into the carpark of a church, Donna had managed to get a lift from the ferry down to join us, when the rest of the team pulled in, Iain had a big tray of delicious hot macaroni cheese and box of sweets someone had given to them, the minister came out to talk to us and offered us the use of the facilities. It was so wonderful to have everyone we met so wholeheartedly support the challenge.

From late evening I suggested Andy, Pauline and I overlap our shifts so he had two of us with him from now on, hopefully the chat of two might help. Keeping going through the night when your body craves sleep is always the toughest part, in the dark, blowing a hoolie, rain coming and going and nothing to look at except the tail-lights of the pick-up and the circle of light from a head-torch. It was going to be a long night. (A tough shift for the drivers too!) I started my next run at 1.00am at Lochmaddy going to Berneray, after taking a break in the middle Ally seemed to lose momentum and struggled to get moving again, Andy and I kept pulling away, every time I looked over my shoulder Ally had dropped back a lot further than I’d expected. Donna came out the van and joined us, Ally had been using poles at times to help take the strain from his injured knee but now he was just holding them out in front and in my mind, they were of no use whatsoever.  Time for a bit of tough love, “Ally, you’re not moving efficiently, those poles aren’t helping, you’re just holding them, get rid of them for now, swing your arms, your legs will follow!” Donna took the poles and was laughing trying to coordinate her arms and legs with them. There wasn’t any real urgency to reach Berneray, the ferry to Leverburgh wasn’t until 7.15am but the sooner we got there the soon we could all have a wee rest and you can call me selfish if you like but after the break, even though I was wearing plenty layers and full body waterproofs, I was freezing cold, and I needed to pee, no way was I baring my bahooky at the side of the road with no shelter in this weather! I wasn’t for dawdling!

Roddy, Ally’s friend living in Berneray welcomed us into his home around 4.30am, Katie had a huge pot of homemade soup and oatcakes ready for us and big mugs of tea.  An accordion appeared and probably for the first and last time in my life would I sit in a kitchen at nearly 5.00am in the morning supping scotch broth while being entertained by a man who’s been on the hoof for nearly twenty-four hours!  
photo from ally K's 10 Island Challenge 
After our soup some of the guys went back to the vans to rest, I sat down in the living-room, the telly was quietly wittering away, I closed my eyes briefly and when I opened them I’d melted down the sofa like an old church candle. Was it time to go for the ferry already? Roddy and Katie waved away our thanks, “We were getting up for work anyway!” Their generosity was wonderful.

The ferry was busy, there was an athletics meeting and local clubs were competing, it was great to see so many kids would be participating and I smiled to see they wanted to be photographed with our local hero.

photos of North Uist AC and South Eriskay and Vatersay AC from Ally K's 10 Island Challenge 
Pauline was with Ally on the slog up to Tarbert, that was one long monster hill, Douglas had pulled in at the top, I decided I would jog down to meet them and ask what they needed. I could see that the hill had been hard work and tough going, Ally looked tired but, of course, I didn’t show concern. I just asked.  “You’re nearly at the top, are you wanting a coffee when you get there?” He was hurting and Pauline asked if he’d had any painkillers at all. He replied he hadn’t. Rightio, I legged it back to the van with an order for a coffee and a couple of paracetamol.

After they’d gone by Douglas and I went on into Tarbert and dropped a treadmill off at the Calmac office before getting the vehicles in the queue to board the final ferry. Andy got the job to carry it up the gangplank. There were two reasons for Ally to use the treadmill, it would raise awareness and funds for Macmillan and just keeping the legs moving helped prevent them seizing solid which at this late stage in the game is a possibility, I think he covered five miles just  keeping ticking over!

I got myself ready to run again, Andy and I were going all the way from Uig into Portree, Becki and Ryan had come up and were doing a relay with their son Orrin as the baton all the way in, Kay joined us for the run out of Uig.

Pipers were playing to greet Ally off the boat, there were hugs and handshakes waiting for him . Back on home soil, just the glory leg to do, the sun was shining, no more boats to catch, nothing could stop him now… woooof! He was off, flipping hell, I cannae keep up, this might be embarrassing, I had to work hard not to drop off the pace he was setting!  Once up the hill, he settled down and there was no point fighting the strong head wind we were facing, there was warmth in the sun and I had to take off two of the long sleeved tops I’d put on, I had prepared for a bit of a slog! Hugh had given me a hand-held camera to try and get some footage on the move, I’m just used to my own wee point, click and delete hundreds with a few odd lucky snaps, hopefully I managed to get something he could use.

Running into the wind was a hard battle, Ryan and I were pretty rubbish at being a windbreak, Andy was a bit better but Ally was still having to work against it. Lucky really that the strongest headwind we faced was on the final section. Pauline rejoined us and took charge of the pace, mixing walking with the running, working the efforts depending on the hills.

The clouds rolled in and with them rain, it was coming at us so hard I thought it might have had hail-stones in it too, it was stinging the side of my face. My rain jacket was in the van with Douglas and he’d gone on ahead, I was only wearing a light wind-proof, so it wasn’t long until I was soaked through and shivering. (I should’ve known better not to part with my rain jacket running with Ally on Skye but the sun had been shining when we left Uig!) There was a lot of support out on the road for Ally, Becki helped Ally on with his Macmillan vest as Portree came closer.

Despite the weather, Ally was moving well, he was ahead of schedule, Pauline was still a sergeant major with the pace but Ally was in great spirits and clear-minded, he knew how he wanted to finish and we went with his plan. Douglas was parked at the Cattle pens for the last stop, brilliant, I dived in the van and hauled off my sopping wet tops, grabbed a thick thermal and pulled it over my head, “Pauline help!” My hands were so cold and wet I couldn’t get them in the sleeves, she manhandled me into my dry top, I managed a fleece and my jacket myself, what a difference, within minutes I didn’t feel hypothermic. I jumped out the van, in my haste I nearly smashed my face on the wing mirror, lucky dodge around it and I was back in position as outrider. The vehicles had gone on into the Square, the plan was for Ally to finish on his own, Pauline was going to tail him from a distance just for peace of mind, so at the Co-op Andy and I pushed on and made our way into the Square I smiled when I saw the Police van sitting with blue lights ready to escort Ally into the finish, the Pipe Band were playing and the crowd were waiting.

Ally ran into the Square with his Lion Rampant flying above his head.  My hands stung from clapping, my throat sore from shouting and the lump of emotion and pride.  
photo from Ally K's 10 Island Challenge
I never doubted Ally would succeed.  Heading into this challenge he wasn’t in the best physical shape, under-trained nursing injury and the recent upheaval of moving the family home from Portree to Inverness was bound to curtail focus and training, minor details for someone who runs from the heart and soul in memory of loved ones. My inspiration.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Smokies 10

I’ve neglected my blog the past wee while but I fair enjoyed writing my race tale for the Fling so I thought I’ll try and write a bit more often. So here’s a wee blogette from this mornings Smokies 10.

I don’t run races for times just for the pleasure these days except for Smokies 10 and with this going to be my 25th running of it, I was aiming for a top five in my finishing times,  I first ran it in 1992, I’ve missed a couple of years, I was pregnant in 1995 and I missed it the year it was postponed with the foot and mouth outbreak.

So January and February, I worked hard at speed work, all was going to plan for the race at the beginning of March then it snowed! The race was cancelled and when a new date was announced I had a wee panic hoping it didn’t clash with anything else, a quick check, relief, it didn’t...but it was a fortnight after the Fling and a week after covering another 50 miles doing Ally K’s 10 Island Challenge support with a night with no sleep thrown in for good measure (I started writing an account of that last night so will get that posted soon) Oh well, no top five time then but I’ll see how I feel and run accordingly, this week I’ve felt really tired and my run on Thursday was as spritely as a sack o’ tatties on legs!

After yesterday’s weather being gorgeous I was hoping for more of the same but I knew the forecast, another soggy one then! Oh well, I suppose I’m used to it. Just before the start, there was a heavy shower and we stayed in the Leisure Centre until the last minute before heading out to the start.  Smokies 10 is a ladies only race and it’s lovely to run without the blokes, I had a wee giggle to myself at an overheard conversation as we were waiting to start. “I’m wearing a waterproof mascara today.” The reply “Me too, and a little eyeliner as well.” I just thought, I like to wear gloves, they’re the best for wiping the snotters and slavers off!

Luckily the rain eased and stopped just as we started, I kept a good steady, let’s see how this goes effort, mile markers were coming in, a bit of a novelty for me, most of my races don’t have them, I didn’t look at my watch, I’ve been running with my body for a lot longer than a Garmin, I was letting my perception of effort be my guide, I was working hard regardless of the pace, at least it wasn’t as windy as it has been in previous races heading up the hills and eventually on the way back my gloves came off and my sleeves pushed up, I was breathing deep and controlled, it’s quite different and not easier trying to run a short (for me) race at a quicker pace than my comfortable ultra shuffle but at least you don’t have to hang on for so long, I was pushing as hard as I could at the end and finished with 1.26.42 chip time and 3rd auld burd over 55, I was 8 minutes outside my Smokies PB set in 2013 but I’ll claim a top ten finish in my list, still really pleased with my performance, age and time irrelevant! Just glad I’m still here to give it welly!

Arbroath Footers, thank you all for another grand day out, a great medal, t-shirt and wine in the goody bag plus the usual quality post race buffet, see you all again next year, thank you!

P.S. Stopped at the fish shop at the harbour on the way home, Smokies for tea along with my wine, perfect!

Friday, 11 May 2018

Highland Fling 2018

A 2.30 am alarm, it must be Fling Day!

Lesley arrived and parked her car at mine, Gillian had picked up Pauline then Lesley and I, we set off at 3.45am, the beauty of cadging a lift with a race marshal is she was allowed to park at the station, Gillian’s tasks included taking the timing mats to Drymen, first-aider and working at the finish, she even managed to fit in a wee run too, thoroughly enjoying her long day before chauffeuring us home.

There were 11 Carnegie Harriers entered, I didn’t think we’d be able to get everyone for a team photo before the start but we managed this.

This was my 7th Fling and my 20th race of starting under the tunnel in Milngavie, the other 13 I’ve finished in Fort William, it will never be same old, same old, it will always be exciting and special, hugs and smiles all round. Pauline and I started in the party pen, the third wave of a staggered start set off 2 minutes apart. The weather looked perfect, a wee bit chilly to start but it was 6.00am, so it was bound to warm up.

Lovely to see the couple playing for us again and they have a new member in the band! Conic hill looked far away but lovely and clear, the views were going to be stunning from the top, along the path of a thousand gates past Glengoyne distillery a group of girls running together came past, one shouted “Coming through!” I stifled a guffaw and thought someone hasn’t read the race briefing!   

Jane was pointing us up to the kit check in the field at Drymen, a quick hug before getting out my phone and foil blanket for inspection. I was right about the view from Conic, we stopped for a few photos before gently heading down, I don’t bomb it, I like to save my legs for later.

A big hug with Big Davie and Donna at Balmaha before picking up my drop-bag, I don’t faff at checkpoints but I had to pause briefly at the Fling bin to polish off my milkshake and ditch the bottle, Gavin and Gordon were marshaling the road crossing, I laughed out loud at Gavin’s shout of encouragement, Pauline and I were still together, “Hey you pair o’ bawbags!”  Hugs all round, it’s a term of endearment! Robin was sitting in foldy chair, all comfy pointing the way up to Craigie Fort, he stood up for a hug, gotta love a Fling checkpoint!

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, I love the section up to Rowardennan through the woods, along the shore, the ups, downs, twists and turns.

Again no faffing with my drop-bag but pausing at the bin to ditch my empty milkshake bottle before heading up the high road. It’s a long plod up but soon narrows and becomes fun, Pauline and I were in the middle of a group of around half a dozen cruising along with Katy in front, at some of the trickier bits the lady behind Katy came to a complete halt, although an experience runner, living in Nottingham she doesn’t get this kind of terrain to train on, Katy took her hand and guided her down with the guy behind supporting too, behind me the bloke shouted “It’s ok, take your time.” I loved how no-one was stressing the pace and if anyone was chasing a time they were polite enough not to show impatience and wise enough to realise a wee breather in the middle of a race is no bad thing, they’d be able to push on stronger at the finish.   

At Inversnaid Pauline and I were in and out without breaking stride, I wasn’t pausing to knock back a milkshake here, I was taking with me a bottle of coke and a squeezy pouch of custard, I love the loch side, enjoying the concentration needed, forgetting how many miles you’ve covered already, stretching the legs out over big steps and hanging on to trees and boulders, giving your running legs a rest, I felt I could keep this up forever. Once you’ve reached the flat grassy bit that signals the end of the technical section, it's time to encourage your legs back into running, there’s now the gradual climb up to Doune Bothy and up to Dario’s post, I always smile at the thought of spending a moment with an old friend and it pulls me up the climbs.

Then nice and easy into Beinglas, it’s mostly downhill, care is still needed, for the unwary, tree roots could grab your toes and send you rolling down the side of the hill.
I don’t want to show favouritism to any Fling huggers but I’ve had more Fling finish hugs from Julie than anyone else and they are special, this year she was marshalling Beinglas and her hug here brought the emotion of how special finishing this race is, it didn't matter I still had another 13-ish miles to go.

Pauline and I were still together, there seemed to be less runners around us now as we kept a fine steady pace to Derrydarroch, under the crack yer heid tunnel and along Coo Poo Alley, it was a bit pooy but not the worst I’ve seen it. Lovely to see Katie, Graham and Gavin with their oasis decked out with flags before the rollercoaster. Through the big deer fence and up that wee beast of a climb, I could hear music, what a boost, for the first time ever I didn’t groan going up, thank you ladies!   

On the rollercoaster I was jealous of Libby’s lovely long legs, with nice easy loping strides, she seemed to me like a relaxed strolling greyhound compared to Pauline and I like Yorkshire Terriers, legs going nineteen to the dozen, after a bit of discussion we decided Libby has a lot more leg to hurt, ok, it evens out a bit then, my legs were hurting, I was glad there was less of them!

The weather had been pretty perfect, warm sunshine, a cool breeze and only an occasional spit of rain that never came to anything, I even pushed my long sleeves up past my elbows. Now just the flattish slog through Auchtertyre, Pauline has been resting on her laurels since doing her 100th ultra at Glen Ogle last year and hasn’t done much running, just the two club night and whatever we’ve done at the weekend but you cannae hide class, after Auchtertyre, she could smell the finish and started pushing it a bit, I was hanging on breathing pretty hard, eventually with around two miles to go I shouted “You can go on or slow down, I’m not finishing like a slavering idiot!” She huffed that there was no point going on now and slowed down, we hadn’t planned to run together, it just happened naturally.  

Finally, I could hear the piper, I let Pauline drag me in hanging onto her pace, left turn onto the red carpet, soak up the applause, high five all the hands held over the barrier, “Whoa!”, I must have shouted it out loud, Pauline turned round with a what now? look on her face, my squeezy Carnation Milk had fallen out one of my pockets, she paused while I turned, went back and picked it up. Right, back on track, milk the applause, high five everyone, but I’d picked up a bit of momentum catching up with Pauline...Will I?... Won’t I?...  Ha, ha, I went for it! I pipped Pauline over the line! I don’t think I’ll ever be allowed to get away with that again when we next run together.
photo - Stuart Macfarlane
photo - Stuart Macfarlane 
Medals, hugs, goody bags and hoots of laughter when folk  heard how we finished plus another Julie hug, she was now at the finish. Magic!

My bag was brought to me, beer was placed in my hand, I was shown where to get changed, once I was in warm clothes I was given a baked tattie, the Fling post race care is second to none. You can keep your big city marathons at this time of year, no other big race could match the magic of the first 53 miles of the West Highland Way with Johnny Fling and his magnificent team with their hard work, love, care and support throughout. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Can we do it all again next year.
My favourite photo from the day just says it all.
photo from Charles Brister