Monday, 16 September 2019

Glenmore 24 2019

After a good West Highland Way Race I just had a nice easy tick over, no races, no big miles just rest and recovery so I was raring to go for Glenmore. These days I set no goals for my races other than to have fun, PB’s are so last decade and as long as I can remain upright, outside and moving forward, that’s all I want from a race… except Glenmore! 100 miles is a big goal and I was aiming for 25 laps. Nothing is guaranteed but with previous experience I’ve learnt what works for me and how to nip things in the bud if problems arise so I was hoping. 

This year Pauline and I had Ken and Gillian for support and around a week before the race we had a wee race planning run and were discussing race logistics and the theme for the fancy dress, with it being Scotland, I had decided on a pair of black dungarees, a metal bucket and some wax in my hair, Oor Wullie wouldn’t be too hard to do, it was suggested that Pauline and I should be Fran and Anna but I’d ordered the dungarees by then, the idea wasn’t lost, Ken was up for borrowing my wee kilt, and with a little supervision of putting on his lipstick and fishnets Fran and Anna looked wonderful (I think Pauline was a bit put out that Ken’s legs in fishnets got more compliments that hers!) Gillian was happy to stuff a cushion up her jumper and with shorts and cap she was Wullie’s best pal Fat Boab.

I left the party around 11.00pm, I was happy lying all cosy, tucked up in my sleeping bag and blankets listening to Fat Boab, Fran and Anna with a few others party on for a while longer, smiling at the sing-a-long to some of Scotland’s finest tunes! I slept ok for the night before a big race, not as deep as usual but that’s normal. I was a tad intolerant on hearing folk chatting loudly at the back of 7.00am, didn’t they realise tents aren’t soundproof! 

I don’t think I’m a morning person, so much for a lie-in! Never mind, it was a nice gentle morning anyway, with plenty of time before the 12 noon start to have two breakfasts and go over my race plan with Ken and Gillian, lay out all my food and clothes for them, so it was easy to lay a hand to when I shouted for whatever I wanted. I also promised not to be too much of a diva and laughingly said “Please, please, please, please!” loads since I won’t be wasting time with niceties during the race. Ok, maybe a wee bit of a diva! 

Bill did the briefing at 11.30am, then time for a team photo and we were ready to go.

12 noon we were off. Wow! How many runners are there this year? I hope everyone comes to love this race as much as I do, it has certainly grown from the 27 of us on the start line of the first year in 2011.
photo from Robert Hill 
Pauline and I ran together as per usual for the first lap, it felt fast but that’s usual too. On the second lap she said that she had expected me to scamper off by now, I replied that I kinda felt that she was pulling me along! She was a bit surprised as she has only had two 15 mile runs since May after being injured and missing the races she’d planned, her Glenmore race plan was just to stay on her feet for the full 12 hours, I was really pleased that she went on to finish with 57.33 miles. Pauline was happy with her result too, hopefully her injuries are behind her now. 

Each of the four miles on the loop is different, in 2011, I named them, the lumpy bumpy mile, the long run, (a wide track that I made a point of running every step) the up-hill and the down-hill.  It always takes a few laps to settle down, this year was no different, I had to adjust my number belt, at first it was loose and burling round then too tight and on the 6th lap (24 miles) I had to loosen one of my shoe-laces but after that I was in my groove, comfortable and cruising, revelling in my surroundings, having a wee blether when side by side another runner. 

The weather was perfect, sunny but not too hot, as the day progressed I watched the sun move across the sky and start to dip, there was a wee coolness in the air, it was going to be a clear night, remembering how stunning the night was in 2011 I knew the stars would be magnificent. I didn’t take my camera round for a lap this year but Gillian did, running the route in reverse taking a few photos,

photos from Gillian 
and Mairi captured the setting sun reflected on Loch Morlich perfectly, always a special Glenmore moment for me, one that makes my heart soar, singing the lyrics of Runrigs Hearts of Olden Glory in my head I am thankful for my good fortune of being alive, healthy and being able to do what I’m doing.
photo from Mairi Fox

The colours of Scotland leave you young inside
There must be a place under the sun where hearts of olden glory grow young
Ken and Gillian were doing a brilliant job, every lap I ate a little something, choosing from milkshakes, custard, rice pudding, soup, pasta, and when I wasn’t sure of what I wanted next time they have done my support in big races often enough to know what I needed whether I did or not. The support around race HQ was fantastic, the boys on the wee kick of a hill just before entering the Hayfield, I could hear them shouting “Well done!” every lap and waved back when I eventually spotted them playing in the bushes, or high up a tree and everyone I went by offered encouragement,  I felt a bit guilty not being able to say thank you as I made my way round the field with a mouthful of grub, I hoped a wave of my spoon would do. 

As the evening wore on I pulled on my arm-warmers, peaked Buff and gloves, next lap my head torch, when it was dark, I picked up my iPod, it just goes in one ear so I’m not anti-social, each lap seemed to get colder and I’d add another top, it eventually it took six layers and a wooly hat over my peaked Buff, two Buffs round my neck with one pulled up over my face before I felt I was retaining my body heat. I even asked that all my food and drink be warmed, placing my tubs of custard and rice pudding into a pot of boiling water to take the chill off them. The 12 hour race had finished and Pauline took over support for a bit allowing Gillian and Ken to get a bit of a break before she went for a sleep. The stars were stunning, I’d pause briefly to look upward, the frost was also sparkling, that’s a first for Glenmore, it has been bitterly cold in the past with hailstones and fierce winds but never -5 degrees! No wonder I needed millions of layers and I’m glad my sunglasses are light reactive so I was able to keep them on and protect my face and stop my eyeballs freezing! I was a bit concerned that the batteries in my head-torch, although new, might die in the freezing air, so for peace of mind I carried a spare torch but I’m glad I didn’t need it. 

Pauline and I have been shouting the lyrics of Runrig’s Clash of the Ash at each other since the 24 hour race round the Inches at Perth in 2008 and at Ally when we’ve supported him in his big charity runs, one lap through the night, I came up behind him as he walked with his drink and shouted “COME ON!” Poor bugger, I gave him the fright of his life, he jumped out of his skin and nearly dropped his bottle but he should know by now the correct response is “ALRIGHT!” and not “Ya wee shite!”  

The earlier hours of the morning are the hardest, your body is at it’s lowest ebb but I had a goal to keep my chin up, at the back of 3.00am I went through my 17th lap which also brought my total of Glenmore laps to 200 since the race started and that made me smile, I was with Jenni for bit, she wasn’t going to stop for a sleep this year so we hugged our congratulations on reaching goals.

My 18th lap was my slowest, I did expect to have a dip after the high of the previous lap, although I still ran every step of “the long run” I was walking more, sipping Horlicks from a thermal mug. I yawned and that, for me, triggers the dry boak, so to keep that at bay I was going to have an easier lap and hoped it would pass. 

I was watching the sky for the first signs of dawn, as it lightened, the view of the loch was again fuel for the soul,
photo from Vicki Clark 
the rising sun forgot to bring it’s warmth but my lap times picked up and I was managing to keep my stomach on a fairly even keel. Checking my watch, as long as I just kept moving, staying steady, the 100 miles was on, no heroics needed.  

For the last four hours I couldn’t face any proper food, I had some of Pauline’s ginger beer which burnt the mouth off me but helped my stomach, and flat coke. Eventually I warmed up and peeled off some layers counting down to my final lap. Glad to get it done, but sad that I won’t see the beautiful loop again until next year. 

Into Hayfield and dib my dobber for the 25th time! Yay! 100 miles accomplished!  

Now for a sneaky wee bonus goal, can I get further than the last two years? I’d reached 102 miles in 2017 and 2018 can I squeeze in three miles on the wee laps this year? There was about forty minutes left to go so I had to try. There was no way I could run up that wee basturt hill but I could let gravity work it’s magic on the down, I tried to stomp up the hill, shout my number to Matt and Bill then just let my legs go, arms flapping and concentrate on not crashing into anyone taking the down hill a bit easier, hit the bottom, work my elbows and try to maintain momentum until the far end of the wee lap, catch my breath before the start of the hill , stomp up again… after a few laps I asked Bill “How much longer?” I pushed another wee lap, and another, and another, I asked Bill “How much longer?” Time seemed to have slowed down, I’m sure I can push another lap… it must be about time up!
photo Robert Hill 

Pauline shouted at me to stop! I was just past Noanie’s party tent and hadn’t heard the count down or the hooter! Yay! I leaned forward and poke my marker peg into the ground for my final distance to be measured! 103.36 miles, bonus mission accomplished! 

Pauline walked me back to our tent, happily I managed to stave off the post race spew and faint. I had my camping mattress laid on the grass and for the first time in 24 hours I could stop moving and lie down! I didn’t move for what felt like ages.
photo Donald Macleod
Eventually I dragged myself up to sit, freshened up with a wet wipe round my face, a clean top on and I was a new woman… slight exaggeration, maybe just managing to function, we took our chairs over for the prize-giving, it was wonderful to see so many tired but content faces. Glenmore 24 is such a special event, we are so lucky to have a fantastic bunch of people give up their time so we can run to our hearts content. Thank you all for making this weekend phenomenal.  Magic happens at Glenmore. 

When I add up all my Glenmore races it sounds a bit mad, eight 24 hours races and a very special six hour in 2013, totalling 208 big laps, adding the wee laps I’ve covered  849.64 miles, that means I’ve done 17.64 miles in Benny Hill mode...that really is quite mad! 

Sunday, 21 July 2019

West Highland Way Race 2019

This year my training has ticked over nicely, no illness or injury, just consistently plodding along with a few races for my long runs, a flat tarmac 50km in Perth, a lumpy trail 50km in Kielder and the Fling, (I won’t mention the weather!) Sleep deprivation training in marshal mode at the Skye Trail Ultra (with lots more weather) which was followed by three weeks caffeine free, that signals the countdown is on, it’s tough giving up coffee but I think helps me focus and prepare for the race, a test of my determination and what lengths I’m willing to go to for success, then a week before the race I had a meeting with my crew and we were good to go.

9.30pm, Friday evening Ken, Sue and Pauline picked me up, I’d dropped off all my gear with Ken on Thursday so there was no faffing loading the car when they arrived. Heading over the Kincardine Bridge the sun was dipping behind the hills, the sky was a clear rosy-gold, the shepherds were delighted, me too, the weather was promising to be good. 
photo from Sue
We parked at Tesco, it’s the first time we’ve never got into the station car park, I’m not complaining, it just shows how much the race has grown since I first ran in 2003 when registration was inside the ticket office.  I tried to register in the shortest time possible but with loads of hugs and wee catch ups, I knew it would take it longer than planned but I was soon back to the car making last minute decisions on what to carry and what to wear. 

12.30am We are all gathered for the race briefing from Ian, then Sean’s “There will be weather” and medical information and just before the start there were poignant words from Adrain and a moments silence for the family we’ve lost this year, Tony Thistlewaite was sorely missed, he should've been standing here, aiming for his sixteenth goblet.

1.00am WOOOOHOOOO! We are on our way! (I don’t plan to write a then and now report but there may be a few reminiscences) another contrast from my early years. The support along the length of the street this year is fantastic! I had a big daft excited grin on my face when folk shouted my name, managing a few high fives until we turned down towards Mugdock, years ago support crews huddled round the steps just after the tunnel, then it was eerily quiet along the front of the shops occasionally encountering a few bemused locals heading home after a night out.  Jennifer and I stayed together for the first few miles, all uneventful until nearing the end of the path of a thousand gates, I managed to catch my toe and down I went, we were in a bit of a bunch and I was relieved that I wasn’t trampled, folk stopped and helped me up, I was fine, just a bit stoory and in need of a wee dust down, I’d adopted the starfish technique for breaking a fall, just a wee dunt evenly spread out between both knees, stomach and the heels of my hands on landing... being caught having a wee lie down was probably more embarrassing!  

My crew were in Drymen, I just picked up some custard and a fresh water bottle and plodded on, I switched my head torch off not long after, the sky was brightening with a few light clouds and the weather was promising to be kind.  I may have had a hand in making sure the weather was going to be lovely, on the Tuesday before the race I re-proofed my big, sturdy “see-me-through-a-tsunami/bomb-proof/serious weather” jacket and carried it from start to finish. 

I kept the pace fine and steady up Conic taking a few photos, and even steadier on the way down, saving my legs for later, just before the steps I phoned my crew, “Get the kettle on!” The reply, “It already is!”. 

Down into Balmaha, and I hauled out the timing chip to dib in, I’m not too keen on these huge flat ones that resemble a coaster, they’re too big for my wrist so I’d clipped it onto my stretchy waistband that held my phone and reading glasses. A hug from Davie and my crew walked me through the checkpoint with a pot of porridge and a mug of tea.
photo from Sue
Heading towards Rowardennan, I usually feel like I’ve settled down, and it was no different this year, that’s the first night done, I’ve had my breakfast and relaxed into the adventure, it’s now time to revel in my surroundings and enjoy one of my favourite sections, the ups and downs in the meandering ancient woodland and the morning birdsong. One runner did have his music on loudspeaker, I was surprised at my tolerance of his air pollution, laughed and suggested he should have Jimmy Shand for good cadence, he joked and said he was saving that for later.  The sun was breaking through the clouds, the glimpses of the loch through the trees were stunning, when the views opened up the loch was calm and still with the hills and sky reflected in a mirror image. Most of the conversations I had were with first timers, I hoped they will come to love this race as much as I do. 

Into Rowardennan, I dibbed my coaster and hugged Gavin, my crew were ready and waiting for me with a chair for my first sock change, I sat down and spooned in a rice pudding while Sue and Pauline wiped down my feet and apply lots of Body Glide, it’s pre-emptive, I have no problems and I'd like to keep it that way. I’d decided the shoes I’m wearing are fine, they have good grip and perfect for the loch side, I wore them for the Fling but looking ahead I feel they are a wee bit firm on my toes and may cause problems later on so I say to Ken, Sue and Pauline that I’ll change my shoes at Auchtertyre. 
photo from Sue
So with fresh happy feet I skip off towards the loch side… it was just metaphorical skipping, no real waste of energy just my mental image heading to my next favourite section, I haven’t done the low road since last year’s West Highland Way Race, I love the natural flow of run a bit, walk a bit and ooshah, how steep are those steps bit!  Just letting the terrain dictate the pace, I was moving well, chatting when I had company and savouring the beauty of the route when I had it all to myself. Note to self - look where I’m putting my feet! I fell again! I was about a mile away from Inversnaid, and this time the technique I used for breaking my fall was a hundredweight sack o’ tatties and I don’t recommend it much, it hurts, especially down the left side which took the full of wallop of the roaster!  The girls behind me sprinted to me and pulled me up, “I’m fine, it’s ok, I’m fine!” I say before I really know if I am or not, but I’m up and moving forward. I let the girls pull away while I take stock. My left palm is bleeding again, I rub my left quad, it’s bound to have some lovely colours and a few scuffs too but I wasn’t pulling my tights down to check just yet, at least there were no holes in them, my knee had another wee dunt but didn’t feel too bad, my ribs feel tender where they landed on my water bottle, I give them a good prodding, nothing broken, I think, just another bruise. I use a little of my water to rinse the blood off my hands since I’m not far from Inversnaid and will be filling my bottle up soon and decide I was lucky not to have done major damage, I reprimand myself for being such a muppet and to pick my feet up.  

At Inversnaid it’s lovely to see friends manning the checkpoint, John is wearing a life jacket and having a great day monitoring the race from a  boat. I quickly ditch my rubbish, pick up my drop bag and stuff a squeezy sachet of baby mac ‘n’ cheese and wee bottle of flat coke in a pouch and leave, no hanging around. A minute or two later I realise I’d forgotten to top up my water bottle, I check it and realise I have around 150mls maybe 200mls left, I consider turning back but decide it will be ok, although it’s not that far to Beinglas, it does take twice as long as it looks on paper, I won’t be breaking sweat along the most technical part, it’s slow going for a short arse with stecky legs, I also have the 250 ml bottle of coke to see me through to Beinglas, I’ll be fine. 

I enjoy the scrambly bits not worrying about the time it takes, I feel it gives your running legs a rest and a good stretch for the muscles. It doesn’t take too long before I spy the flat grassy bit and ease back into running. I steadily climb up to Dario’s post, I pass on a kiss for Lee and share a wee dram with Dario, Martyn joins me in a toast to our absent friend, is it really ten years since you left us? 

Martyn and I stay together until Beinglas where Wilson filled my water bottle, I chat to Ada, and I inhale the aroma of proper coffee but I resist the offer of a cup, one of my traditions is that I’m caffeine free until Bridge of Orchy, I’ll save the hit for Rannoch Moor. When I found out crews wouldn’t be able to get in, my first thought was “ Aw naw, I usually enjoy soup there!” but having a drop bag at Beinglas was fine, as much as I like my wee traditions being able to accept and adapt to changes is the key to having a successful race. 

It was now around noon, the sky clear, the sun shining, the path ahead open with no shade, my full length black tights were absorbing the sun’s warmth like solar panels, I love running warm but even for me it was getting a bit roasty toasty, so I slowed right down and would save myself for when it cooled, knowing I’d be going through a second night, I feel it would be detrimental to my race to push on in the heat, it’s maybe worth the risk at the pointy end finishing in under 20 hours or thereabouts (part-timers) but for those of us finishing closer to the full time allowed, we need to play the long game and pace it accordingly, I have a wee saying for running in the heat. “If you’re too hot, you going too fast!” 

I had a nice tootle along past Derrydarroch and Not Coo Poo Alley, a path upgrade I’m quite happy with, there will be no nostalgia about being shin deep in shit from me.  Val and Gillian were driving up today and joining the crew, a wee bonus for me, they walked up the hill from Crianlarich to meet me with a tub of mashed potato/sweet-potato//cheese, I’d made it quite sloppy so it would be easy for me to eat but I was disappointed to see it had firmed up over night, they walked with me up the wee steep hill from the big gate to the trees while I forced in a few spoonfuls, I couldn’t not eat some after they’d made the effort to bring it to me! Besides, it was brilliant to see their fresh cheery faces, they waved cheerio, “See you in Tyndrum!”  as I headed onto the roller-coaster.   

I had to wait ages to cross the road after the funfair, I stood with my hands on my hips, elbows out, giving the traffic my best scowl. “I do not stand still! GET OUT MY WAY!” Harumph! Finally I crossed over and made steady progress towards Auchtertyre, looking forward to my soup and a shoe change. After being weighed by Tim and Murial, Pauline led me to where the car was parked, I was handed my mug and was expected to leave… “Err… my shoe change?” A look of surprise all round! “What shoe change? That’s not on the list!” I let out a big dramatic sigh, “Was nobody listening to me at Rowardennan?  What a rubbish bunch of support! Yer all sacked!” Within seconds I’m sat in my chair with my feet up, Ken is doing my feet and I’m enjoying my cream of chicken soup, receiving the same level of cheek back, it’s all in fun and those within earshot laughed at our antics. 
photo from Sue 
Although I really enjoyed my soup I think I rattled it in a bit quick, it was sitting heavy in my stomach so again I kept the pace easy towards Tyndrum as I let my tummy settle. Pauline joined me at Tyndrum and we heading towards Bridge of Orchy I said out loud that my left shoulder was awfy sore, did it take a dunt when I fell or was it more from my posture? I think I might be rounding my shoulders trying to keep my ribs from being held tight to my water bottle, I loosened the straps of my race vest a wee bit, stretched my arms above my head, rolled my shoulders, lifted my head and let my shoulder blades slide down my back, relaxing and restoring my posture. I smiled thinking about having my first coffee in weeks and let that thought pull me on, Pauline faffs about with my camera, pointing it at me and making me run bits that I would’ve walked, a cunning ploy! 

A lovely surprise as soon as I came out of the tunnel under the railway in Bridge of Orchy, my team were waiting there with my coffee, I was going to savour this, Ken swapped places with Pauline and we walked down through the checkpoint pausing only to dib in before heading up to Jelly Baby Hill. We spent a bit of time with Murdo, thank you, you’ve done a grand job over the years. 

On Rannoch Moor we were striding out a good walk on the long inclines and running some bits, always looking around, today with the good weather it’s vastness was benign and easy going, the last time Ken was with me on this section we were in full waterproofs battling with the weather and occasionally Ken was grabbing my backpack to stop me blowing away! It was still a long haul picking the smoothest path over the cobbles and stones looking up towards Fleming’s Memorial, it takes ages to come into view and even longer to reach it. Ken sent a text to say where we were and we be heading down the rough bouldery path soon. 

Arriving in Glencoe at 9.30pm it was cooling down so I put on the thick thermal I had tied round my waist at Bridge of Orchy, I still didn’t feel the need to gear up but I’ll now carry the cut-off waterproof breeks, more as a windproof if I got cold, I’ll also carry the blue fleece, another tradition, I rarely wear it these days, keeping it special, I had it on going over the Devil’s Staircase in 2007, the year of my PB and it’s full of good vibes!  Sue was joining me now and staying with me to finish, the setting sun cast beautiful rosy-golden hues around the hills, these views fuelled my heart and soul, far more potent than the macaroni cheese I’d just fuelled my body with. 
photo from Sue

At Altnafeadh fairy-lights adorned the crash-barrier, of course it was Sarah! What a boost to see you and have a hug to send me on my way.  It was time to put on the head-torches, I prefer to be over the Devil’s Staircase and heading down and round towards Kinlochleven in daylight or at least light enough not to need a torch, it’s easier to pick a path with a bit more vision than just a circle of light a few metres ahead, it hasn’t happened for a few years now but never mind, it’s not as if I don’t know where I’m going! 

I was pleased with how well my legs were coping with the miles and miles of downhill to Kinlochleven, it didn’t take several lifetimes as it has before, I was pleasantly surprised on how quickly it seemed to pass. After being hugged and weighed by Julie, I was sat eating porridge, Pauline flossing between my toes with a wet-wipe, she knows it makes me squirm, this was an extra sock change, I felt there was something in my sock jagging my foot, slight problem,  Pauline had put the offending socks back on, Val had tidied them onto a pair so they looked like fresh ones, lucky Pauline noticed the real fresh ones before I put my shoes back on! Gillian joined us now, it’s great having more than one keeping me company since my conversation is usually rubbish by this time so at least Sue and Gillian can chat away and I can listen. It was slow and steady on the steep climb out, at the clearing at the top we pause and look back down over the lights of Kinlochleven,we could see head-torches at the top of the descent heading into the town, I lifted and dropped my head hoping they could see my torch flash across to them and catch the good vibes I was sending.

I was still feeling good, I felt it was me setting the pace and I was joining in with conversation too, previously my crew on Lairig Mor tend to pull away and I follow muttering under my breath about being left behind. Having a really easy spell in the heat of the day seems to have paid off. We blether along to Jeff and his wee oasis and pause for a wee juice. 
photo from Sue
Heading towards Lundavra I don’t really fancy the hot chocolate/coffee combo on my list but I can’t think of what else I would manage, I ask Sue and Gillian for suggestions and I’m told if you don’t fancy anything in particular just stick with what’s on the plan. Good call, I am tired and maybe not as clear-headed as I think. I have a couple of wee blisters, a few scuffs and bruises but nothing to diminish the joy of being here, this was the best I have ever felt, although my legs were weary they moved well. I never had any real dips, of course I felt uncomfortable at times, covering 95 miles in one go is never going to be easy! My main goal was to finish smiling, in fact it was to smile all the way, I was in a very privileged position, I don’t take for granted I’ll be alive, fit and healthy next year, if this was my final time I was enjoying every precious moment. 

Pauline joined the ranks again and we headed up the hill for the final six-ish miles, it does have some lovely swoops and climbs but with near 90 miles in the legs it’s tough going and I did prefer when the trees were there to hide the steep climb up to the fire road.
photo from Sue
photo from Mairi Fox
I don’t need any encouragement to move, just letting my body and terrain dictate the pace between running, walking and shuffling down to Braveheart and along the road, my crew makes me cross over long before the Leisure Centre, I am happy to embrace the new finish but they take no chances I might deviate to slap my hands on the Leisure Centre doors. Ken had parked at the Nevis Centre and ran out to meet us and lead us through the jinks to the new finish, into the side door, there’s the arch! I’m finished! 
photos from Alan Young
I have done something that I find hard to take in, I am the first woman to complete the race fifteen times. Neil finishes for the fifteen time this year too, making five of us amongst the 1429 finishers to have done this!  
photo from Ken 

None of this would be possible without the unwavering support I’ve had, not just from my wonderful crew, also my West Highland Way family and not just during the race but through the health problems I’ve had in previous years, I could not have coped so well without you and will never forget that. I thank you all for being there and making me the person I am today. 

Nobody’s tomorrow is guaranteed and I hope my West Highland Way Race story has not reached the end. To be continued...

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

The Highland Fling 2019 (The soggy one)

A 2.30am alarm means only one thing! It’s Fling Day!

Pauline arrived at mine and Mags picked us both up at 3.45am then we met Iona in Kincardine and we arrived in Milngavie just before the first bus from Tyndrum arrived, nicely timed to get registered, hand in drop bags and a visit to the loo before the queues began. Now just to decide what jacket to carry, I’d brought two, the big bomb-proof one that has seen me through Tsunami conditions or the lighter one which doesn’t have a hood, the forecast I’d seen was for showers and it was mild, with no mention of weather with a girls name! I was dressed warmly, two long-sleeved tops under my club vest, long tights and my kilt, I wasn’t even wearing gloves, if anything I felt slightly overdressed so I opted for the light one. (No plot spoiler but the weather didn’t do what the BBC or XCWeather predicted and with hind-sight I wished I’d chosen my big coat!) While faffing with my bag, I checked my phone and foil blanket for the umpteenth time, I even made Mags and Iona check I had them, how embarrassing would it be if I was disqualified for being an eejit. I handed my kit-bag into the baggage lorry then just hugged loads of friends until it was time to head into the starting pens just after John’s breifing for the 6.00am start.

For the last few years there’s been one mass start in three waves, two minutes apart, awfy fast folk in the first wave, fairly fast folk in the second wave and rest of us waited in the party pen for the final wave.
photo from Richard Newall
The excitement in Milngavie is almost tangible, it never stops being special, even though this is my eighth Fling and my twenty-second race starting under the tunnel and hoofing north on the West Highland Way!  

Woohoo! At last we’re underway, under the tunnel, up the stairs and through the cheering supporters lining the street,

photo from Monument Photos 
I scuffed my foot along the pavement and gave a wee squeak, Pauline shouted “Don’t fall yet!” I laughed and replied that I didn’t really plan to fall at all! That set the precedence for any time either of us stubbed a toe or bobbled on a boulder we’d shout at each other “Don’t fall yet!”

It was nice steady running to Gartness where walking up the hill I had my second breakfast, a Weetabix milkshake, my first one was ages ago at around 3.00am! Then swiftly through the kit check on the grassy hill at Drymen with no worries.

Conic hill loomed, so did the dark clouds, the wind picked up and I put my gloves on, Pauline put on her jacket, I stubbornly held off, I was wearing cosy layers and I was sure that as soon as we’d be heading down into Balmaha I’d be taking it off again... Aw stuff it!  This is daft, no point getting soaked and freezing, I got my jacket on!

Well Done Graeme! I wasn’t sure if you’d be at the top of Conic to take photos in this weather, lovely to see you!
photo from Monument Photos 

photo from Kay Roxby 

Balmaha and a big hug from Big Davie, you’re are looking well and great to see you, I paused briefly to down another milkshake so I could bin the empty rather than have to carry it to Rowardennan.  

I love the ups, downs and steep wee climbs through the trees of this section, yes, the jacket did come off...for a wee while! The bluebells were showing promise of the lilac carpet they will be in a couple of weeks, we scampered along and Rowardennan was soon in sight, the support was great and I again paused at the bin as I polished off another milkshake and picked up a squeezy sachet of custard.  

Heading towards Inversnaid  we could feel the chilly wind bite and the rain was persistent, the jacket was back on. At Inversnaid we hung around just long enough to drink my bottle of coke and to blether to Egle and Graeme. Pauline has been recovering from a duff achilles and not done a lot of running recently so she felt a bit out of practice along the technical loch side, but with it being so wet and having had a horde of runners tramping along before us the boulders and tree roots were slick with mud, care was needed so we took it easy. One of our group bashed their head on a low branch while concentrating on their footing, we all waited, feeling pretty helpless, while she held her hands on her forehead until she gathered herself together and managed to get going again. We made it to the end without losing anyone into the loch.

Once we reached the flat grassy bit we paused briefly, Pauline sorted her shoe, I faffed with my jacket and zipped it up to my neck, I was wearing my peaked Buff and I added another normal Buff over it to keep my head cosy, the cold was giving me a mild headache, I wished I’d brought another pair of gloves, the ones I was wearing were soaked through from hanging on to soggy trees and boulders. I wasn’t hypothermic but chilled through and cold enough to make me feel miserable... if I chose to be!  This is the West Highland Way, I could never be miserable running here no matter the conditions! My freezing fingers, still worked but only just, it took an effort to move them but I managed to unscrew the lid on my hip-flask when we paused with Dario.

With so much rain the waterfall at Inversnaid was quite impressive and wee burns appeared where usually there’s none and at the burn just before Beinglas there was no point trying to use the steppy stones, it was just a wade across, “Oh well, that’ll get the mud out my toenails!” Even the primroses, usually little rays of sunshine, had their heads bowed and looked weather weary.

Into Beinglas and into Julie’s arms, she hugged me so tight, my feet left the ground, I closed my eyes and drew in her warmth, I stayed there as long as possible feeling like that moment when you’re cosy in bed on a winter's morning and you know you have to get up and you don’t want to.

We stood and chatted with Julie and Neil, Julie was surprised I was standing still, not a normal occurrence for me on the West Highland Way but since this was the Fling I don’t have a support crew to pander to my needs and walk me through checkpoints to take my empties, I was willing to hang around for as long as it took me to drink my wee can of coffee.

There’s a fair bit of climbing from Beinglas some you just have to walk, others were “sloggable” we used Pauline’s technique of run 100 paces then decide whether to walk it or shuffle on, we made steady progress along hoping to warm up a smidge with the effort. Through the crack yer heid tunnel then under the road and up that nasty climb to coo poo alley... nae coos... nae poo and the upgraded path a veritable carpet! Wonderful! Then the wee colourful oasis of Bogle Glen with Katie and Graham and onto the rollercoaster, we kept a steady effort on the ups and came down hill in  “I’m saving my quads for later” mode for no real reason other than I haven’t pushed hard all day so no point starting now.

Pauline and I put no pressure on each other to stay together but we do run well side by side I wouldn’t say I waited for her along the loch but I felt it easy, I wasn’t for rushing anyway, besides Pauline has form for pushing the pace after crossing the road towards Auchtertyre I thought she was bound to drag me from there.  There was a car approaching as we stood waiting to get over but it stopped for us and shouted encouragement as we crossed, it must been runners, they've finished and on their way home, lovely of them to let us over.

Pauline looked at her watch and said that if we wanted to be under 14 hours we’d have to push on, I replied that I was happy to maintain but wasn’t for busting a gut, this was going to be the slowest Fling for both of us and I was quite relieved when Pauline confirmed that she was happy to trundle in without puffing and blowing, Pauline’s then said “Well, if we didn’t stop to hug marshals, pose for photos and spend time with Dario we would’ve been under the 14 hours.” But it wouldn’t be the Fling is I didn’t get to do all that! Despite the weather we were having a brilliant day out and time wasn’t on the agenda, more important for us to have a grand day without any problems, building up for our big races. From Auchtertyre it was a bit of a slog into the wind and our shout changed from “Don’t fall yet!” to “Don’t fall now!” mainly because we didn’t want to lose our rhythm or if one of us went down it would’ve been a huge effort to get back up again!

Yay! The piper, a big smile and a thumbs up in thanks, and onto the red carpet.

As soon as we rounded the bend, Pauline took off and stole two or three yards, I chased her down matching her pace, she wasn’t getting it without a fight and she knew I wouldn’t just give her the win, she pushed on, so did I, but I couldn’t make up the head start she had, as hard as I tried!  
photo from Graham Milne 
I should’ve expected it really, after my shenanigans on the red carpet last year, I dropped my Squeezy Carnation Milk, Pauline waited for me while I went back to pick it up but once I’d picked up momentum to catch her up I kept it going and pipped her on the line!

But it’s all in fun, there were hugs all round, I received my medal from Mags, Sue took my dobber and brought back my slip with my splits and finish time, a pose at the finish line for the giggles, another mugshot at the finishers backdrop, a can of beer from Ken, a hefty goodie bag and another special hug from Julie, then a cup of tea. Phew, a moment to catch my breath with more congratulatory hugs in the tea tent before a shower and food.
photo from Graham Milne
Pauline finished her soup and baked tattie before me and got up from the bench and tried to squeeze past me, she placed her hand on the wall to get by, but it’s not a wall it’s a big tent so the “wall” moved, Pauline lost her balance but my hood made a great safety grab and she soon regained her balance, luckily I was only mildly throttled and recovered to finish my grub!

Mags was off duty now after her long day and it was time to head home but there was no nodding off in the car as Mags recounted loads of finish line stories, from the do or die PB’s to a marriage proposal and dreams realised. I hope everyone has taken away a memory to cherish.   

Thank you Johnny for another fantastic day, you and your team produced another brilliant race in challenging conditions, which would’ve been pretty tough for you guys, hanging around in checkpoints getting chilled to the bone but still smiling. Outstanding effort just so a bunch of folk could scamper up a beautiful trail.  Us runners had the easy job!

Sooooo, if all goes well next year and Pauline and I run together again, I’ll be ready for the best of three, it’ll be gloves off and elbows out as soon as we hit the red carpet!