Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Dunoon "Wee Eck" Ultra

It was ages ago when Pauline and I entered this, stuck it in my calendar never gave it another thought, then just went from big race to recovery sliding seamlessly into taper then race, recovery, taper, race recovery, taper, just gently ticking over in between West Highland Way, Fort William Marathon, Glenmore 24, then a wee special mention at Loch Ness Marathon, there were five of us that have completed all fifteen marathons,

we were give a commemorative t-shirt and a hamper full of Baxter’s stuff, I won’t have to buy soup, jam or chutney for ages! Then all of a sudden it was a week before the Dunoon Ultra, better read the bumf then! Yikes, we should’ve booked the bus to the start at least a couple of weeks ago, but a fast reply from Colin to my email allayed my concerns.

We’ve only been to Dunoon once before, many years ago for Graham Clark’s funeral, a fellow Carnegie Harrier, he died suddenly at a race, a great coach and Scottish International runner, we still do some of his sessions, the 700 metre loop in the Industrial Estate and my favourite, the winter hill sesh in the Public Park, I still miss him popping up on the route. On that day I didn’t pay attention to how we got there so Google and the AA route finder was my friend, coming from Dunfermline it would be a quite a trek with the choice of a long drive round or a car ferry or a passenger ferry, we opted for the passenger ferry as it was right at hub of the race.

Pauline picked me up at 5.00am and the drive to Gourock was quicker than we expected, we were on the first ferry at 6.45am, so had plenty time to register,
With George and Ross - photo from Ken Clark Photography

take advantage of the free coffee and pastry at Coast Coffee, the cafe at the pier before getting ready to be bussed to the start, just a 15 minute journey to the Benmore Botanical Gardens, even more free coffee, tea and pastries were available for the runners.

Photo from Ken Clark Photography
We were sitting with Mike and Kathy, he’d done the loop from the Gardens in training and thought the race would probably be longer than 33 miles, glad to be forewarned but I wasn’t too concerned, trail race mileage is usually a bit of an estimate. Silke was describing the route too, she’d used it in training for one of the UTMB races and we would be doing a Munro’s worth of climbing.  Ok, time to revise my predicted finishing time, I thought I’d be roughly around the same as Glen Ogle 33 but now I was glad a head torch was a part of compulsory kit, I might need it!

The Dunoon Ultra isn’t just a race organised by runners for runners, the local community were behind it too, tragically five weeks ago a local lad, Olly, lost his life in an accident, he was twelve years old and an avid sports fan, Liverpool football club was his favourite, it was an honour and fitting for all involved in the race to wear a red ribbon in support of his family.  

The start was in the shelter of magnificent Giant Redwoods, Pauline walked round one counting her arms width around it. It would need seven Paulines holding hands to encircle the massive trunk!

Photo from Ken Clark Photography

10.00 am, we were off with a race start like no other I’ve done before, there was no countdown, Pipers played the intro for a stand of wee cannons, we were warned they’d be loud but I still leapt at least a foot in the air when they went off.
photo from Ken Clark Photography

A gentle trot over a narrow bridge, along a little lane and into Pucks Glen, a magical, dark,enclosed wood with rocky, twisty paths, waterfalls, wee bridges, and shady mossy nooks and crannies you’d expect to find fairies and elves hiding.

The path opened onto a wide forest track and we started to climb, with some quite steep zig zags I kept it at nice easy walk/run there was some easier gradient but still always up, Audrey and I were running together, Andy was with us for a bit too, we paused a few moments at the radio masts for a few photos looking down over Loch Eck, stunning!

I do understand the concept of a race. but the time on my watch has no relevance when I have views like this!  After such a long climb there was a long descent, Audrey and I parted company when I nipped into the bushes for a pee.

I didn’t have a drop bag for the first checkpoint and caught up with Audrey as she was sorting through hers, we were running evenly paced and great to blether the miles away, she was there to help me up after my muppet fall, I was fine, no damage, just the heel of my left hand was bleeding, pfft! The bit that’s just healed from the fall at Glenmore 24, she offered me an antiseptic wipe, but I just wipe the blood off on my kilt, (it’s not just a fashion accessory, it’s main use, a token of modesty when I crouch at the side of the trail for a pee)  

Once on the flatter side of Loch Eck we could hear cheering from the opposite side, and looking across we could see a wedding, what a beautiful place for your special day, I wished them well, pity my running camera has a rubbish zoom!  

I clicked into my cruise pace and kept it going on the gentle tarmac ups, Audrey was having a small dip and told me to go on, I think we covered nearly twenty miles side by side, there was no pressure for us to stay together but it didn’t feel quite right to separate but everyone has to run with their own highs and lows.
I was happy to carry my custard in a Fill n Squeeze pouch, a couple of gels and a Flump but a wee can of coke is better if it isn’t shoogled for fourteen miles first, so I put that into a drop bag for the middle checkpoint, and what a helpful bunch of marshals, my water bottle was filled as I drank my coke, they took my rubbish and asked if there was there anything else I needed. Approaching Benmore Gardens and the last checkpoint I just cruised through without stopping, shouting that I didn’t have a drop bag as I arrived, but again I was offered water, a wee cup of coke, I felt rude refusing, what a fantastic bunch of helpers!

I was in a great wee groove along the flat section so much so I didn’t bother eating or drinking, I didn’t want to break my rhythm, I knew there was another monster hill to come, I’d wait until then, sure enough we started to climb, it was a wide forest track, I finished my Flump and drank some water and climbed some more, the forest track opened up, the trees had been harvested and you could see for miles, and we climbed some more, the path wound on and we climbed some more, walking mostly but sticking in the odd wee shuffle... we climbed some more!  

Looking ahead I could see a bright yellow marker with a big number 5, ok that’ll be five miles to go then, still a fair bit but I’m in the last hour, both Pauline and I have a rule, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been out or how many miles you’ve done you can always push the last hour. I swapped my I’m-just-out-for-a cracking-day-on-a-beautiful-route head  for my race head and I could just about taste the beer at the finish, (there’s nothing like the thought of a pint to pull you in, that’s not just me, is it?) Another big yellow mile marker. Brilliant!  We were being counted down each mile to the finish, I trusted they were accurate and pushed on.  Finally the route plateaued and even started to go down, I could see Dunoon,

it didn’t look too far away and I could see a path that looked as if heading straight down to it… Bugger! There’s red and white tape across it barring the way and a yellow arrow pointing towards the path that went up!  The route had been well marked, there was never any doubt of going wrong, even our Ray McCurdy would be challenged to go wayward on this course, so I humphed upwards. But it wasn’t long before it descended fairly steeply, a wide forest stoney path reminiscent of the path down to the Braveheart car park in the final miles of the West Highland Way, I felt strong and battered downwards, maybe because I was comparing this to heading into Fort William, my legs were supple and still had bounce in them in comparison. I was working my arms and breathing deep, keeping the momentum that gravity gave me, onto the Esplanade and the final mile pushing all the way, a tight right turn and into the finish on the pier.  Fantastic!
photo from Ken Clark Photography

(Not going to bore you to death with the splits but those last two miles were my fastest and the last one was the only one under ten minutes, paced to perfection if I do say so myself, my Garmin gave me 34 miles and 3,648ft of ascent but we all know how random that can be)
race profile

I just loved the whole race and it wasn’t hard to finish on a high. I was handed a t-shirt, a goody bag containing wine and a specially made cup-cake, I was also handed an opened bottle of water and  bottle of beer, I didn’t have enough hands! Inside there was hot food, tea, coffee and even more cakes and biscuits. I was blown away by the race memento, a unique plaque made from reclaimed wood from the restoration of the Victorian pier with a Giant Redwood tree at the race start cut into the design.  I feel I have brought home a little piece of the heart of Dunoon.

Pauline was also surprised coming home with a posh plate for First Female Vet 50.
photo from Ken Clark Photography

For an inaugural race there is always a possibility of some wee teething problems but if there were any I was not aware of them, a class event from start to finish, complimentary breakfast at both registration and race start, enthusiastic friendly helpers and marshals throughout, a stunningly beautiful well marked route, great reception at the finish, pity I didn’t feel like dancing but I think the ceilidh band were quite understanding.  Would I change anything? Yes, I think staying in Dunoon for Friday and Saturday will be far better than driving at daft o’clock in the morning and heading straight home afterwards, hope to have a bit more time for beer next year. When do entries open? I’ve got another ever present to maintain.   

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Glenmore 24 - 2016

After last year’s race I realised it might be possible to make this year’s a wee bit more extra special than normal, I’d be completing my 100th race of marathon and ultra, and it would be the icing on the cake to do it at Glenmore targeting 100 miles, celebrating with a mile for every race would round it off nicely, an excellent goal to aim for!  Of all the races I’ve done there are two that hold my heart, West Highland Way Race and Glenmore 24, you can’t do 100 miles at the WHW unless you get lost but we’ll just gloss over that! I only had to find one more race in my plan and a wee low key ultra in Newcastle in January filled the bill, followed by the Deeside 33, Perth 100km, Highland Fling, West Highland Way, and Fort William Marathon with no problems other than a whinging right Achilles, I don’t do fast anyway and just maintaining a nice steady pace kept it manageable.

Pauline and I are lucky to have Ken and Sue doing our support, both very experienced, (Sue has her own WHW goblet), they have both looked after Pauline, myself and several others during our WHW’s and 24 hour races. Luckily Ken has a fairly big car that we managed to squeeze all the gear into and we were in the Hayfield by Friday afternoon. Club tent and flag and small sleeping tents erected with time for a tea-break before heading into Aviemore for something to eat. Patricia spotted the club flag and came over to say hello, as she would be unsupported we adopted her, three runners supported by two works perfectly and reassuring for Patricia's to have such experienced support for her first 24 hour race.

We headed to Aviemore and had a mooch in the all the outdoor shops, a couple of last minute purchases in Tesco and eating to the point of bursting at the Italian then back to Hayfield for the party with a Princess and Superhero theme, it’s the first time I’ve ever been to a party where the blokes in frocks outnumber the ladies!

I had a warm comfortable night, I don’t think I slept as much as I would’ve liked but it was probably more than it felt, it didn’t worry me, I was still well rested, the bonus of staying in the Hayfield is you can have a leisurely morning, plenty time to get ready, have two breakfasts and go over race plans with Ken and Sue, we packed away the wee tents, we don’t do sleeping, it’s only 24 hours!

I was looking forward to having a fantastic day out wearing number 100, I had a lovely surprise from Sarah Self, she wasn’t going to be at this year’s race as she was on holiday but a few days beforehand she’d sent me a card wishing me all the best, I had it with me it was hanging up in the tent with my two boys, Rabbit the Bruce and Rampers.

Bill did the race briefing at 11.30am and at 12.00noon we were off, a burl round the wee loop at base camp and onto the beautiful four mile lap, over the previous G24’s and my special 6 hour run in 2013 I’ve  covered 108 laps, it was easy to slip into the routine of where to walk and where to run, happy memories flooding back from previous years, I’ve had a few tough laps too, but they’re lost in the mists of my memory.
photo from Zander Beggs

I’d just completed two laps and not long out on my third lap thinking that’s me settled into routine when I caught my right big toe and did the fastest four yards of the whole race, I was lucky, my feet caught up with my face and I didn’t go down.  “Pay attention!” I gave myself a talking to, this was far too early in the race to hinder myself with sore and bleeding bits, it brought back memories of 2011, I fell on my second lap, Pauline was great support that year, she just handed me a stingy antiseptic wipe for my scuffed bits and gave me a row for lying down and having a rest.

Another lap, it was a lovely warm afternoon, you could tell because most others were in shorts and vest, I’d removed my Buff scarf, pushed my long sleeves up and I wasn’t wearing gloves! Actually, I felt a bit wabbit and was a wee bit sweaty, not a normal occurrence for me, I requested a wee sprinkle of salt in my mashed tatties at tea time, not something I’d normally do but I just felt intuitively I’d need a wee extra, I don’t run with science, heart rate monitors or Garmins, just with what feels right for me, I haven’t always got it right but I’ve had plenty practice and I trust my own instinct.

The midges haven’t been too bad at all but as it cooled and was calm they came out in force, I put my peaked Buff on to help keep them out my eyes wishing I’d remembered my clear glasses, we’ve still got some old Skin So Soft that works, so that went on too, my only problem was my new full length Skins have small mesh panels running down the back, the little feckers were feasting on my calves through my tights!

Another lap and the sun was setting, the colours reflecting in Loch Morlich, another memory, one of intense emotion came flooding back, my six hour run BaM allowed me in 2013, I was twelve weeks post cancer treatment, back where I belonged in the bosom of my ultra family for the first time, the sunset was stunning that year and prompted Runrig’s Hearts of Olden Glory to play in my head, again I was singing to myself, the lyrics will always grab my heart, I’m lucky to have the luxury of being outside with the rich colours in front of me feeding my soul.

The colours of Scotland
Leave you young inside
There must be a place
Under the sun
Where hearts of olden glory
Grow young

photo from Patricia Carvalho
My singing is not for others to hear but I sang out loud when I thought I was alone, I picked up my head torch and after another lap my iPod, in the darkness I had a party in my right ear, leaving my left one out so I could still talk to folk and hear what’s going on around me. Now this was the part I was really looking forward to, cruising round lap after lap, steadily clocking up the miles, I was on a high, Ken and Sue doing a fantastic job, feeding me every lap, I had no diva strops and load of fun, in the evening as Bill was doing one of the shift swap with the team half way round the lap with the wee buggy thing,

(dunno what it’s called, but it looked like a golf cart but more macho) I stuck my thumb out for a lift, I didn’t quite catch what he said as he zoomed by but the last word was “off!” I giggled, I didn’t expected anything less. I didn’t know how long I would feel this good so I just revelled in the moment and held on until I crashed…

My stomach was starting to go a bit queasy but we managed to keep it under control, Ken handing me a mug of Hot Chocolate I hadn’t asked for it and it helped. I had a huge struggle on my 18th lap, it was around 4.00am, I could “see” someone just on the edge of my peripheral vision to my right, they were very quiet, wearing black clothes and walking beside me, should I be freaked or reassured? I smiled thinking of my Mum, but she never wore black, I knew it was just weary eyeballs, a tired head and the edge of light from my headtorch, I was falling asleep on my feet, I shook my arms out, gave my cheeks a gentle slap, the heather looked so comfy, I could just have a wee five minute nap but I knew lying down would be game over, Bill came round with another shift change in the buggy thing, I moved left to give him plenty room but staggered into the heather, he was shouting at me again but I think this time it was “Steady on!” I made it back round to base camp without too much sideways extra mileage, I needed caffeine and fast, I have difficulty swallowing tablets but two teeny Pro-plus with the aid of a mug of chicken soup did the trick, next lap my eyes stayed open and I could move in a straight-ish line. The 18th,19th and 20th laps were my slowest throughout the race between (64 and 65 minutes) but I didn’t stress it, early morning is the time of day when your body’s at a natural low and I was still safely within schedule of hitting the 100 miles, I knew when the sky lightened and the birds started singing I would pick up.

Sure enough by morning light I was back clocking under an hour for my laps, for a brief moment I considered slowing down a bit because I was looking at doing about half an hour on the wee laps, (the final hour of G24, you can either go out for another 4 mile lap if you feel you have time to complete it, if you’re not back within the finish time it won’t count, or stay on the Hayfield for the hilly small laps, (358 metres) the thought of doing mega hill reps in the last hour with 100 miles in the legs didn’t instill me with joy but I couldn’t deliberately slow down to make it easier.

With my experience I never doubted my ability to hit the 100 miles but that holds no sway if a major problem arises, the weather had been perfect, so far my stomach was behaving fairly well if a bit queasy and my legs were moving fine, quite sore but you can’t expect anything else. I was nearly half way round lap 24, about 94 miles in, on the easy going wide forest track. Splat! Why was my nose an inch from the ground? Ian Dorey was beside me and helped me up, the heels of both hands were bleeding, I was covered in grit and stoor, I stood still a second or two, a bit dazed, dusted myself down just with my fingers not wanting to smear blood down my vest and tights, no holes in the knees, bonus, trying to suss if any real damage was done, only way to find out was to run… I’d lost my rhythm a bit but everything moved, a sigh of relief, “What a muppet!” I shouted at myself, so near my goal but could easily have been the end, to come this far and ruin it with a stupid fall, I gave myself another talking to! I’ll take nothing for granted until Ada gave me the horn.  

The camaraderie at Glenmore is second to none, no one goes by without a word, my last full lap I was walking up the hill with a young guy who was in the relay, Him- “Well done!”, Me - “Well done you too!” Him - “No, no, I’m only doing the relay!” Me - “That’s not an easy option, run like the clappers for 4 miles, have a wee breather while your three other team mates do the same, and keep it up for 24 hours, all this stop/start stuff gives you no rhythm or decent sleep!” He didn’t argue, and admitted he was really pleased how well it’s gone, he’d never done more than a 10km before and he has now completed over 30 miles in the event.  Fantastic achievement, he started running before we reached the top of the hill, I wished him well and to enjoy his last lap.

Every lap round it was protocol to shout your race number to Ada, this time it wasn’t just my number but my mileage too! I yelled “Onnnehuuuundered! Woooohoooo!”, Ada gave me the horn, I soaked up the applause.

Mission accomplished with 45 minutes to spare, “Oooffft!” I only intended spending half an hour on the short laps, I must’ve speeded up! My very first lap over 23 hours ago was 45 minutes but I wasn’t chancing doing another big one with just that time left, but it was no hardship staying in base camp, just hands on thighs, stomp up the hill shout “100” to Helen and Julie counting the wee laps, fly down the hill, keep the momentum for as long as possible then repeat, the support in the Hayfield in the last hour is phenomenal, everyone shouting your name, ringing cowbells, a few runners were back in fancy dress, a random passer-by may have thought it was a carnival on amphetamines but no artificial stimulants could replicate this atmosphere like the love and support from the Glenmore family.

Somebody said  Pauline was brave heading out for another full lap, nah, I didn’t doubt she’d make it back in time, she’d had a wee bit of tummy trouble but battled through it, she’d been ahead of me the whole time but never lapped me, she would achieve her goal too, she was targeting 26 laps with 104 miles to give her a lifetime mileage of 50,000, she came charging into Hayfield with time to spare,

we were laughing, pushing on for quite a few wee laps before the countdown, 10, 9, 8...I was at the bottom of the hill, right, I’ll try and get to the top before the horn and ran it as hard as I could, 7,6,5,4...

3,2,1. Finally, I could stop, and push my peg in the ground so my total distance could be measured. The bonus of finishing on the hill, I could lie down with my feet pointing upwards and my head down the way, it’s not running for 24 hours that puts your body into shock but the sudden halt at the end!  Anything that helps stave off the post race faint or puke is worth doing. (I have experience of both) Sue threw a blanket over me, at least she left my head out, I didn’t look a total corpse! After a few minutes to catch my breath and kind of gather myself, we managed a slow walk back to our tent. Again I lay down with my feet up for a bit, not too sure what to do with myself, Ken and Sue did a great job of packing up all our stuff, I managed a token gesture before we went over to the prize giving. A fantastic finish to a great weekend, everyone awarded their medal individually and often with a few “congratulatory” words from Ada and Bill. Pauline was 3rd lady with 106.21 miles, 10th overall,

I was 4th lady with 103.26 miles 14th overall from 89 runners. Also Patricia, our honorary Carnegie Harrier covered 98.58 miles, a fantastic distance for her first 24 hour race.

Where do I start, I’m not naming names, if you are part of the Glenmore 24 weekend, you are the reason magic happens, saying thank you is too teeny weeny to cover how I feel for the efforts given at Glenmore, my cherished memories grow every year and being able to run 100 miles in my 100th race of marathon and beyond is only one facet to what is a very special race for me, I’m a bit sad we have to wait a whole year to do it again but counting the days until we can. Thank you all for making it what it is.   

It’s taken me 24 years to reach this milestone and I’m not usually a stats geek, it’s just nice to look back on my running journey, a wee bit of trivia, the safety pins I use have fastened on every race number I’ve had since my very first marathon at the Black Isle in 1992.

Here’s how I made it to the 100,
41 marathons,
32 “wee” ultras with fond memories of races gone by, The Two Bridges, Glenrothes 50km, Draycote Water 35, loving the new ones like Deeside 33 and Glenogle 33
5 Highland Flings
1 100 km
21 big ultras with one 48 hour race, eight 24 hour races, two representing Scotland and achieving a Commonwealth Team Bronze Medal and my one and only race win at Glenmore 24 in 2012 and the race that stole my heart many years ago, it’s a pure pleasure celebrating life and health running twelve West Highland Way Races.

I don’t think I’d be the person I am today without running, the strength I’ve drawn from what I’ve achieved and from my running family has kept me focused through some very tough and scary times, I couldn’t have done it without you… and a set of very good safety pins!  

Thursday, 30 June 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016

Training had ticked over nicely this year, four ultras done, three on flat tarmac (but that’s fine,I’m quite ambidextrous with my running) and seventy miles covered doing Ally Macpherson’s support during his Skye to Maggie’s run, then the Fling, in May I was doing short quality off road hill work and practiced the whole weekend with no sleep marshalling at the Skye Trail Ultra.

I had most of my gear sorted before the meeting with my crew on Tuesday, so I was able to leave it at Ken and Sue’s.  We went over the final details, at the end I said “I don’t think there is another team with the depth of experience we have between us!” Still there are no guarantees or room for complacency, the West Highland Way is an adventure where anything can happen and nothing should be taken for granted. So I just had to fine tune a few bits and bobs on the Wednesday, a wee shift at work Thursday then Friday was spent just resting, doing my nails and having a wee kip late afternoon, enjoyed a lovely long shower knowing the next one won’t be until Sunday morning.

9.30pm Ken, Sue and Pauline were at my door and we were off, the sky looked stunning driving over the Kincardine Bridge, the weather looked promising for a settled and dry night and the forecast was good for the whole weekend, but again this can change in an instant and I was prepared. We arrived at the car park at Milngavie Station and my tummy was as excited as a box of frogs (or whatever the analogy is) and there was a big daft grin on my face.  Hug Fest!  Sue accompanied me into the hall, I was tagged and weighed with loads more hugs then back to the car to sit and chill until race briefing time. Tick….tock…..tick.….tock…. Aw, come on clock is it adventure time yet?  

One small minor panic, we had paper race numbers!!!!  We never have paper numbers!!! I didn’t bring my lucky pins!!! (I’ve used them to pin on every race number since my first marathon in 1992) but then it dawned on me, the Adventure Show filmed the race in 2009 and we had numbers then, but within a heartbeat I smiled at the memory of Dario chuckling at my panic the last time, shaking his head with the words “You don’t need lucky pins!” Yep, he was right then and still is.
photo from Chuck Gordon

12.30am, the race briefing, hugs, smiles, photos, standing in front of the tunnel ready to go

then suddenly it was 1.00am.  WOOOHOOO! We’re off, loving the run up the steps, through the High Street, big huge daft smile, I hear my name, I can’t see who’s shouting, it’s so busy, I wave anyway.  Do I cry or laugh, maybe a bit of both, here we go again with the promise of the unknown, it never ceases bring the emotion to the surface.

Into Mugdock and switch the head torch on, it’s very busy, I concentrate on looking where I place my feet, many a runner has ruined their race here, there’s lots of excited banter. Ally and I are side by side there is no plan to stick together but we run a very similar pace, I was looking forward to covering a fair few miles with him.  After around 50 minutes, I had the feeling that this wasn’t right, we should’ve headed left down a lumpy wee track but we were moving round to the right still on a wide path, the head torches not picking up any detail other than the few yards in front, there were a few runners ahead around a dozen behind, no one else seemed concerned, I said to Ally that it wasn’t right but gave it the benefit of the doubt until we reach a big gate, the guys in the front were already over it, I shouted that we were on the wrong road, there was a bit of discussion that this was a shiney new gate and that it must’ve been put in place recently. Yeah that’s true, but we’re still going the wrong way, so an about turn and we all headed back, sure enough, there was the path we should’ve took.  Not to worry, barely a mile added and around ten minutes, it did gave me a bit of a giggle, last time I added a bonus mile was in 2004 and I was in great company, Jim Robetson going for his twelfth WHW! Now while you’re all giving it big hee haws I wasn’t the only one in the wayward group to have a goblet or two so I’m no’ taking all the blame!

Heading up Conic the sun was rising, it was going to be a cracker, I kept looking behind so I wouldn’t miss it peeking up over the hill. It was a “had to be there moment” and I was!

I phoned Pauline when I was on the wooden steps heading down to Balmaha, she said Sue would be walking towards me with my porridge. Coming into Balmaha there was Ada with cheeky grin and cheery greeting “Whit a fanny!”  Eh? Me?  Oh aye, the news of my bonus bit travels faster than I do!  

Now how do you find your crew in a busy car park where everyone is wearing midge nets? Well, I cannae miss this lot!

I went straight through Balmaha shoveling in porridge, I tucked away a banana for afters and Pauline walked with me carrying my mug of tea until I finished the porridge, I can’t rush food but I don’t stand still to have it either, it was at Craigie Fort where I handed Pauline back an almost finished mug and trotted off.

It had been very cold through the night and now the sun was up I was warming up nicely, the gloves came off, sleeves pushed up and peaked Buff pushed back from my face and was I happy to enjoy the solitude of the Balmaha to Rowardennan section, I only saw three other runners here and none of them were moving at my pace, I love the beauty of this part, a meandering path with quite a few wee climbs and descents in dappled sunlight through the forest, but I wasn’t alone, I had the company of a million wee feckers! In all my years of being part of the West Highland Way Race (watching Pauline finish in 1997 was my first) I have never experienced midges like this. I pulled my sleeves down over my hands, my peaked Buff was pulled down to my eyebrows and the one round my neck was pulled up, I kept my head down, all I could see was a few feet in front of me, I mourned the scenery I was missing but I couldn’t look up, every time I did I got a blizzard of midges nipping my eyes and choking my throat!  Eating my banana… well, I’m glad I’m not vegetarian!

On my diva demands I had a sock and shoe change planned for Rowardennen, Pauline, had walked back the road a bit to meet me as I approached, and asked was I sure I wanted to stop long enough to do this as the midges would eat my feet off. My feet were in fine fettle with the path being dry but I wanted to keep them that way and my team can do feet within five minutes so I answered yes, but I’ll stay with the same shoes, I picked up my clear lens glasses and was out of Rowardennen within six minutes, that extra minute was used putting on loads of Skin So Soft!

I was back with company along to Inversnaid, Sarah, Ally and myself had a nice wee pace along the newly restored low road, it’s so much more in keeping with the trail along the loch side than the trudge up the wide forest track. There was a bit of discussion on the race facebook page whether it would be longer than the previous race route, well, fantastic if it is, more WHW, what’s not to love about that!

At Inversnaid the Trossachs Search and Rescue team had a huge fan blowing a midge free zone, it looked inviting but I don’t hang about in checkpoints, picked up my drop bag and I just stood long enough to down a dinky 150ml can of coke, then I was off, Ally faffed about a wee bit filling bottles but I knew he’d catch me up, I was planning a quick pee stop, (pee stops were always as quick as possible, I hate when midges bite ma bahooky!)

I love the technical path after Inversnaid, concentrating on footing, big steps, wee steps, hang on and big humphs up for short legs but it all helps keep the legs supple, not stressing the time, it just takes what it takes, I felt a bit more confident placing my feet on dry rocks and what a difference to 2012 where Jonathan, Sue and I helped each other of the torrent of waterfalls, this year there was barely a trickle of water to step over at all. Lovely to meet Lillian and we blethered our way along, pausing briefly with Martin and an old goat that that has succumbed to the midges.

Once the terrain eased I always look forward to reaching Dario’s post, it’s still a fair way off but the thought of spending a bit of time remembering and celebrating pulls me on. At Dario’s post there was quite a party, I wasn’t sure my wee race hip flask would last, but it is just a celebratory sip, John, Adrian’s support, waiting for him, Angie, Ally, Martin and myself shared a few moments with Dario and a little Laphroiag Quarter Cask

Just before Beinglas I thought I saw a race official but the bright fluorescence was just Pauline’s tutu blowing in the gentle breeze, she was lying on her tummy taking photos!
Beinglas seemed awfy noisy after the peace and beauty of the loch side and Angel’s Playground but I wasn’t complaining, great to see all the enthusiastic crews shouting support, I had rice pudding and a mug of tea walking out of the checkpoint, with hindsight I should’ve drank more of the tea but I can’t rush drinking, I just end up choking, so after about half of it I passed it back to Ken, and happily trotted off. I’d swapped the clear glasses for the sunglasses, the path is wide open and the sun was shining, I was loving it, my long black tights sooking in the sun’s energy like solar panels, yeah, I know I’m Scottish but I like it warm, my long sleeves got pushed up and the midges didn’t seem so bad but eventually I started to feel it getting toasty, I dipped my Buff in a burn and had a refreshing sponge down. After Derrydaroch and along to Coo Poo Alley I was getting a bit wabbit, if I was feeling it a bit warm it probably meant that others were struggling with the heat, I hoped they would manage to deal with it, I took it easy, no point working hard, I’ll save it for when it cools down. I was just carrying a 330ml water bottle and it was getting low, there was no way I’d top it up from areas with livestock, maybe I should’ve had more of that tea!
photo - Donald Sanderman
I looked forward to the rollercoaster with the trees to provide a bit of shade, once in the trees there’s not much running happening, slogging the ups and saving my quads for later on the downs, it takes longer than you hope but eventually I’m on the flat just before crossing the road, I’m concentrating on my phone, trying to see if I had a signal to phone ahead an addition to my Diva Demands, I was craving a pint beer shandy, there might be a small chance of one from the wee shop at Auchtertyre, if not there the pub would be open in Tyndrum.  “Yeaaaaaahh!” I jumped out my skin, Yan spoke to me, he was right in front of me in stealth mode! He apologised for scaring me, I giggled, not his fault, I should be paying more attention to my surroundings.

When I weighed in at Auchtertyre, I thought I’d be down a bit, I was actually 0.1 kilo below my designated 4% weight variation, but when you’re fighting weight is in the fairy category and the top and bottom of my 4% weight difference is around that of a bag of sugar, I wasn’t worried. Being outside the 4% alone would never have you pulled from the race, it’s there to aid the medical team help treat you correctly if you have other problems. Besides I was still bright eyed and bushy tailed, I assured Eddie I’d be back on track after a tub of mashed tatties and a pint shandy. The shop only had a wee bottle of lemon shandy, that’ll keep me going until I get a proper one,
I took off my long sleeved top to run with just a vest for only the third time this year. Pauline walked with me carrying the wee bottle of shandy as I shovelled in my cheesy mashed tatties.  Ooft! I felt full, but still needed to get more in before Pauline headed back to the checkpoint with my empties, I wasn’t planning company from here although it was allowed, so as I could take my time finishing my grub and shandy Pauline phoned back to the crew, she’ll stay with me until Tyndrum as I didn’t have enough hands to manage the bottle, a tub of tatties and a spoon! Pauline took the empty bottle and tub from me when I’d finished, but the dozy bugger caught her toe and took a header, I cringed as I watched her adopt the Eddie the Eagle position, but well impressed that after around four yards her feet caught up with her face and she didn’t have to use her chin as a brake!  She was fairly relieved too, holding a glass bottle, she didn’t want to put her hands out!

After crossing the road I was handed a thermal mug, Sue had been in the pub “Can I have a half pint beer shandy and put it in this please!”  A slightly raised eyebrow from the barman but he obliged. A nicely chilled Caledonian 80/- with lemonade, perfect! You can keep your high tech, blind you with science sports drinks, this hit the spot!

A beautiful afternoon for a trot to Bridge of Orchy with Ken for company, refuelled and over half way, still moving well, there was nowhere else I’d rather be.

Bridge of Ochy aka hug city

Gillian had joined the crew at Tyndrum, always a bonus having a fresh face join the team and she was ready to run with me from Bridge of Orchy,  I sat down for the second time during the race for another change of socks, I’d decided to stay with the same shoes, Pauline and Sue set about my feet as I took time to savour my first mug of coffee in a month! It was worth the abstinence just for that moment! Then we were off up the hill, lovely to spend a few minutes with Murdo and Peter, it was a pleasure to see them,and I was glad to see Murdo’s toorie bunnet went well with his breeks, and the flags were blowing beautifully for the photos.  

We made fine progress along Rannoch Moor, it’s a long haul up but we stuck in loads of running stretches, picking points where to walk and where to run. It was starting to cool down as we headed up so I put on a fresh long sleeved top and added my arm warmers at the top before heading into Glencoe, it was around 10.00pm and I was roughly an hour slower than my 2012 splits we were using as a guide but that’s a minor detail, I was in fine fettle and moving well.  Gillian and I were criticising the path that takes you to the Ski Centre, it isn’t actually a path just a pile of rubble, Gillian is an expert, she volunteers with the National Trust and was path repairing on Ben Nevis recently so she knows, and it made us feel better giving it a good slagging!

I had a ziplock bag marked Glencoe, it contained an extra pair of tights and my blue fleece, I’ve worn the fleece over the Devil’s Staircase since my PB in 2007, it’s maybe not the best cosy top I have these days but it’s tradition so on it went, I didn’t bother with a second pair of tights but I’ll now carry my “Ray McCurdys” named in honour of the legend, a pair of old blue waterproof breeks that I’ve cut off just below the knee and re-proofed several time, small, light and easy carried and even easier to slip on and off without having to faff with shoes and regardless of appearance they keep my quads warm and dry.

Pauline was coming with me now and staying to the finish, Ken walked down the hill with us to collect the mug after I finished my Mugshot cheesy pasta, I handed it over just before crossing the road, ooft, my tummy felt as though it had a brick in it, I’m sure it’ll easy as I digested the pasta.  As we made our way up the rough path that climbs pointlessly just to come back down, the wind was blowing in our faces and pretty cold, I put on the Ray McCurdys and jacket to keep me warm and the wind out, the team were meeting us at Altnafeadh so I’ll pick up a woolly hat to stick on top of my peaked Buff and another pair of gloves. We stomped up the Devil at a good pace, Pauline was singing again, last year’s irritating song was 1000 green bottles hanging on the wall, this one was a slight improvement, “I’ve just came doon fae the Isle O’ Skye, I’m no’ very big and I’m awfy shy and the lassies shout when I go by, Donald where’s yer troosers!” (Sorry, bet that’s stuck in your head now!) I was singing in my head trying to drown her out, Skipinnish Walking On the Waves was my tune of choice. I don’t do iPods or Garmins on the WHW, it is too beautiful to have distractions even when it’s getting tough, every moment is a privilege to be savoured. As we neared the top we had to put the head torches on and we could see a few more twinkling below us. My stomach never eased, I was feeling quite queasy but I still had small sips of my Ensure milkshake, but I was getting fed up with it.

It’s hard to pick the best line along the bouldery path in the dark but we were pulling it in and eventually heading down the steep track to Kinlochleven, I’ve done this often enough that I know it takes forever, so just got on with it, when I thought we were getting close to the end I started counting my paces on my left leg, Ok, one hundred paces and we’ll be crossing the pipes!. I thought, I did that three times and then thought my left leg was rubbish, I’ll count a hundred paces with my right leg, that was just as rubbish, I gave up counting and eventually we were in the street lights of Kinlochleven and into the Community Centre, dibbing my dobber before hugging Julie and Sarah, (I forgot last year).  I do not sit down in checkpoints except to change socks or shoes, my feet had a few wee nippy bits but nothing to hold me back, there was no point doing anything to them at this point anyway, the whole way in the same shoes with only two sock changes, this was a first and testament on how dry the path had been.

My crew had my chicken soup ready so we all walked out the community centre together,  I was having all the girlies in support for the last section, Sue, Gillian and Pauline keeping me company all the way to Fort William. I handed Ken my almost empty mug just before  we turned up into the woods, pleased I didn’t get a row for leaving some, I must have had most of it, my stomach really wasn’t wanting it but I know I have to keep eating.

It’s “only” fourteen miles to the finish but they are no ordinary miles, it’s a long steep slog of a climb up onto Lairig Mhor, at least with a walk up, it gave the soup time to settle down, or so I tried to convince myself. At the top we paused to look back and down to Kinlochleven, I’m always glad to get that bit done, in previous years we’ve looked back in the dark and seen torches heading down the long descent into the town, with it getting light and no longer needed our torches I couldn’t see if anyone was heading towards Kinlochleven but I wished them well if there were.  

It was great have all the girls, they chatted away, I was listening, although not adding much to the conversation apart from an occasional “Oww!” when I stubbed my toe or bobbled over a boulder and quite a few “Aye, I’m remembering to eat!” I wasn’t fibbing but I wasn’t having as much as I should’ve, After being treated for mouth cancer in 2013 my eating if quite restricted, even more so during a race, I can’t do anything that needs saliva or chewing, and I just couldn’t face anymore cold and wet stuff, no matter what flavour my milkshake or custard. It was a bit frustrating that my legs felt strong and moving well but just had no energy.

About halfway along Pauline jumped, her phone was ringing, a signal, that was a surprise, she and Sue stopped so as not to lose it, Gillian and I continued, they filled us in when they caught up, it was Martin, we’d had updates all day on how well he and Jo were doing, he’d finished hours and hours ago but was waiting for me to finish, they told him to go and get some sleep I’ll be a while yet, it was so lovely to hear he didn’t want to miss me although he well deserved a good rest!

One thought made me smile to myself, a bit Phil Liggett commentary on the Tour De France when a cyclist was looking for more effort. “Bridge to engine room - More power please!” the reply my Bridge got was “Bugger off the stoker’s on a tea-break!” My head stayed happy, at least I could laugh at my own daft thoughts! And the girls were great singing old classics, Lairig Mor did take forever but it was still fun.  When we eventually saw Jeff and Patricia it was a lovely surprise, with them not being at the usual spot I thought they maybe hadn’t managed to get up or had left with an injured runner. It was just with the path being in such a bad state they couldn’t drive up any further. I wasn’t really wanting fizzy juice but managed a little Vimto to keep the troops happy, I was then rewarded with a wee 18 year old Highland Park from Jeff, now that warmed my heart.

I wasn’t moving very fast but I was still getting there and there was a mug of hot chocolate and coffee waiting for me at Lundavra, they even sneaked in some honey for extras, there was no hanging about, again Ken walked with us while I had my hot drink, as much as I wasn’t chasing a time I wasn’t prolonging it either, the sooner I got to the finish the sooner I could lie down. The home straight starts at Lundavra but it isn’t very straight, lots of ups, downs and stairs but my legs moved over them well just not very fast. Finally we were looking up at that last big climb we used to call the spooky woods, it was definitely better before the trees were cut down and you couldn’t see how steep it was! The bonus was there was a runner coming towards us, it was Steven, one of Martin’s crew, after a wee blether he shot off to rouse the troops. I was jealous of the way he loped down the fire track and disappeared from sight, around three and a half miles to go, as much as I was moving fluidly it wasn’t easy going but I managed to run most of it. As we approached Braveheart car park I took off the jacket and fleece, and handed them to Pauline to chuck in the car, I would finish in my club vest, once in the car park I dropped the Ray McCurdys but not quick enough, Ken had taken a photo!
I was off, the last mile! The girls took a moment to get the tutus on, they would soon catch me up, this was going to be quite a spectacular finish!  Past the roundabout at the Woolly Mill and what a welcome, Martin and crew along with Mel, she had been helping with the chip timing.  What an escort!
They fell in behind me and then I could see the Leisure Centre, I upped the pace, finally the legs were responding but I wasn’t running, I was floating!  Someone forgot to tell the bloke with the timing doofer, the finish isn’t the arch but the doors, I’ve been slapping my hands on them since they used to be wooden! Finished!

I did register my chip eventually, then I was ushered into the centre to be weighed before I could hug and thank everyone. Apart from the wee dip at Auchtertyre, my weight was pretty consistent!  Right, time for a celebratory dram, there was a smidge left in my hip flask for Sean, I savoured a wee Isle of Jura from his, Sean’s flask was a gift from Dario, making it all the more special. Then back outside, hugs of celebration and thanks, more Jura, Martin had a whole bottle!

Back inside for a quick shower, bliss! Just had time to get dressed, abandoning my stuff lying in a heap in the ladies showers to be back outside in time to see Ally finish, smiling as usual.  After tidying me gear there was no time for a lie down, just straight to Nevisport for breakfast, afterwards there was a lot of laughter watching Martin go down the stairs. Then it was my turn, with the words “This is how a pro does it!” I sailed down the stairs no problem. Shh, don’t tell anyone I just hadn’t been stopped long enough for my legs to seize up. I wouldn’t have managed that so easily later on.

The prize-giving, 159 finishers from 199 starters another record for the race, every winner having their moment of glory, every goblet is hard fought for and deserves a moment of proud celebration, but none of this could happen without the race committee and hordes of helpers and support crews, my thanks to everyone of you for your willingness to let me celebrate being alive in the best way possible.

The two presentations that made my eyes leak were Norma and Adrian, Norma has had a few tough years fighting injury getting to the start line and now witnessing her receive her goblet, you could see what it meant for her and Adrian, seeing him hug his fifteenth goblet after a very tough race just shows it never stops being special.

The date for next year is the 24th June, I hope to be there, my cabinet might start to struggle but I’ll risk it!

Did anyone else notice the words on the back of Adrian’s t-shirt at the prize giving.  Never Give Up.  Exactly!