Sunday, 16 July 2017

Lucky 13 - West Highland Way Race 2017

Training for this year went very well, using a few “wee” ultras for my long runs and even a PB at the Fling, now for someone that isn’t motivated by time, that was a great wee bonus proving I was in great shape for this year’s race. My last long run was a “mere” 18 miles but cracking quality on the Trotternish Ridge with over 4000 feet of climbing after a weekend with very little sleep marshalling at the Skye Trail Ultra. My taper time passed in a flash, the weekends filled with two music festivals and a wee trot at the Skye Half Marathon, suddenly it was Monday before the race, I had a wee meeting with my support crew, it didn’t take long, between myself, Pauline, Ken, Sue and Gillian I believe we are the most experience team with either running or supporting have had a hand in earning around 50 Goblets. By Thursday all my stuff was sorted and I dropped it off with Ken on the Friday morning so he could play Tetris with all the gear, I spent the rest of the day chilling, doing my nails, having a wee snooze and waiting until Ken, Sue, and Pauline picked me up at 9.30pm. I’m not really superstitious, I like the number 13 and I love good vibes, the little guardian angel I’ve worn for every WHW race got a wee charm for extra luck.

Driving into the station car park at Milngavie never fails to make my nerve ends tingle, after about a hundred hugs I was registered and back in the car, curled up, snoozing on the back seat until race briefing time.

1.00am, Finally! We were off! Woohooo! Big cheesy grin, high fiving loads of folks along the length of the street, changed days from an eerily quiet high street dodging the odd drunk in my early WHW races years ago.

The weather was pretty benign to start with, perfect conditions  but this wasn’t going to last so I’ll enjoy it while it does.  Into Mugdock and going carefully, many a runner has gone over an ankle here and I’m not risking it. Side by side with Ally again and paying attention to the path instead of blethering we didn’t do any bonus bits this year, there’s no pressure for us to stay together but we’ve covered many miles at the same pace, I didn’t doubt we’d do the same this year. We kept it nice and steady along the path of a thousand gates then out onto the road to Gartness, I kept my eyes peeled for the bats, I was glad to see them flitting through the trees although it was still fairly dark, I said to Ally I was sure I had taken my head-torch off along here. Were we a bit quicker or was it just darker for longer?  No point looking at my Garmin, I was wearing it for the time of day, just for peace of mind of making the early cut-offs, the numbers are big enough that I don’t need my glasses on to read it. My crew have a detailed sheet of my splits, they’ll be able to tell me if I’m on a par with previous races, that’s their job, I just run.

A shame we weren’t going to be rewarded with a stunning sunrise on Conic it was too cloudy, at least it was dry, the wind was a bit cool too so I popped on my jacket and gloves just for the top,

I took the descent very gently, keeping my quads for later, heading down the steps I phoned my crew letting them know of my imminent arrival, my porridge and mug of tea will be ready and at the perfect temperature at Balmaha. Clocked my doofer with the timing guy, a big hug from Big Davie then through the car park without breaking stride, porridge pot in hand, banana stuffed in my bag for afters and Pauline walking beside me carrying my mug until I was ready for it, Formula 1 could take lessons from my team.

The beauty of the route between Balmaha and Rowardennan never fails to make my heart fly.
I wish Neil had said this was his 100th ultra, it would‘ve been lovely to celebrate with him, but I can understand he didn’t want the pressure, there are no guarantees with the WHW no matter how many times you’ve done it.   

Neil on his way to completing 13 WHW races and his 100th Ultra 

Again my crew were ready for me at Rowardennan, my feet were feeling great but to pre-empt any problems I was going to change socks, well, technically I didn’t do it, I was sat down with my feet up on a stool eating a rice pudding while Sue did the necessary ably assisted by Pauline.

photo from Lorna Sinclair 

I enjoy the low road, a short section re-established last year and I think more in keeping with the rest of the loch side and far prettier than the slog up the wide track. At Inversnaid I was handed my drop bag and keep moving then I heard my name shouted, “Sorry Ruth, I didn’t see you!” I turned around and walked back a couple of paces for my hug, it’s the rules.

I love the gnarly section out of Inversnaid and didn’t stress the pace, some folk don’t like it, I just embrace the breather my running legs get with scrambling the bouldery ups and downs.  I feel like I have the agility of a lumbering baby elephant but it doesn’t stop me having fun. I had a great blether with Lucy along here and we both said we’d love to see the fast guys doing this section!

Yay, the flat grassy bit and back to a bit of running, from here the thought of spending a few moments in the company of an Angel had me skipping along. Yes, I really felt that good!  Along by Doune Bothy and the climb up to Dario’s post was with a lovely wee group.  

In my hip-flask I had the Glenlivet which resides in my WHW decanter, it was gifted to me from Alan and Lesley at the January training run. Stan, paused with me for a wee toast to our absent friend.  

Into Beinglas I was having some leek and potato soup with a proper diva demand written on my race requirement sheet. Could you mash the lumps please. With the damage to my mouth, eating is always going to be a challenge, even more so during a race, everything has to be liquid or mushy, so far I’d had porridge, custard, rice pudding and Ensure milkshakes, I was looking forward to something hot and savoury, it went down a treat.

The weather had been fine, an occasional light shower but not enough to need a rain jacket and the shelter of the trees had kept the wind at bay but now into the open path towards Derrydarroch the wind was picking up, I was happy it was on my back and blowing me along, but it wasn’t long before I felt it chill my lower back and make it ache, I had a bit of a dip and slowed a little, just a wee yin to the yang I had heading towards Dario’s post and I didn’t doubt I’d bounce back, I put my jacket on, it didn’t stop my back aching but I didn’t get any colder. I smiled at the health and safety warnings, even laughing out loud at the bit of bubble wrap taped to the top of the entrance to the Crack Yer Heid tunnel, aye, back in the day you just took your chances! Coo poo alley was a bit squishy but not shin deep, I took it carefully, ever thoughtful for my crew, they’re the ones who touch my shoes! (I do tie my own laces though!) I was glad to reach the shelter of the rollercoaster and out of the wind. Apart from a big posse of walkers near the gate above Crianlarich I had the climbs and swoops to myself and timed it nicely crossing the road, there was no traffic. It’s great having company but I love having the route to myself too. I kept a good pace up to Kirkton Farm, there’s Dave and Lee! Hug time!  “Great Buff!” he says, I had to think a moment, oh yeah, I was wearing the limited edition, WHW pirate one inspired by himself.

I turned into the wind and headed to Auchtertyre, I could see a couple had walked up the path a wee bit to wait for their runner, they waved, I thought Aw, that’s nice, being really enthusiastic for all the runners!  Hang on! Wow! It’s Ray and Jorie! I ran on and into a huge hug from them both!

Oh, what a surprise!  My cousins have been holidaying up in Harris and driving back to Cumbria, they had hoped to see me around Bridge of Orchy or Tyndrum but made no promises as they had to be home Saturday night. Gillian had reported for duty but stayed in Tyndrum with Sue so there was room in the car for Ray and Jorie to come with Ken and Pauline into Auchtertyre and be part of my crew. Pauline did a sock change for me, slightly hampered by a heavy shower but Ray was holding the brolly, (a job he’s a wee bit overqualified for, just recently been elected president of Mountain Rescue for England and Wales, but that’s just shows the calibre of my crew) I polished off the last of soup that Jorie was in charge of heating up. Ken was finding my thicker thermal top and heavier rain jacket. What a team!

I was soon on my way but not without shouting at Ian Dorey for holding up the weigh in, he was having a wee faff taking off his backpack tangled with a charging cable to his Garmin while I was standing waiting behind him. I didn’t see his face so I hope he laughed with everyone else, I was just kidding!
"Hurry up Ian!" photo from Robert Snodgrass

I headed down the road towards Tyndrum with a huge grin and a spring in my step feeling blessed to have such a thoughtful crew managing to work out a way I could see Ray and Jorie without them having to extend their long day too much waiting to see me. What a great boost it was to see them and not just a quick wave as I went by!

At Tyndrum, Gillian was ready and waiting to keep me company to Bridge Of Orchy, Pauline walked up the hill with us as I had a mug with some cheesy pasta, she’d take the mug from me when I’d had enough. Sue had said to her “We’ll pick you up at the cemetery.”, after seeing the car go by up the road Pauline quipped, “Looks like I’m coming to Bridge of Orchy with you!” Sue was under the impression there was a way into the cemetery from the main road, not to worry, a wee bit of bog hopping, a climb over a fence Pauline and my mug were reunited with the rest of the crew!  That gave Gillian and I a wee giggle to watch.

The weather was really making its presence felt now, it was raining, a minute later it had stopped, my hood was up and down like a yo-yo, the wind was blowing us along then swirling round and in our faces stopping us in our tracks, quite a force on the high point before dropping down under the railway, Was the weather just mad or Scottish? Yep!
photo from Kirsty Archbold

Pauline had walked out and was waiting up on the path just before Bridge of Orchy to see if there were any changes to my Diva Demands, yes there was, I’d like the ziplock bag marked Glencoe now please, in it was my thick winter, windproof tights and my blue fleece I’ve worn every year over the Devil’s Staircase since my PB in 2007, Pauline was carrying a shortwave radio and called in my request… but shock horror...I was stepping away from tradition, in my kit bag was a thicker, newer, probably warmer fleece, could I have that instead. As she asked for my BaM fleece there was no reply, she tried again... still no reply... she called again. “Broadsword calling Danny Boy!”  Ha ha ha, gotta love my team having fun too!  

Into Bridge of Orchy after hugging Laura I sat under the gazebo so I could take my shoes off and get the winter tights on over the long Skins I had worn from the start, I was also going to add my cut-off waterproof breeks too, if the weather eases they’re easy slipped off.  Oh, and the moment I had waiting a month for, a mug of coffee.  Oooow, it was worth the wait!  Ken was coming with me for Rannoch Moor, he was geared up and ready to go, and again Pauline was my mug bearer as I walked up the hill.  I felt full after a tub of rice pudding but I wasn’t leaving any coffee, it wasn’t to be rushed either.

Great to see Murdo, what a shift he’s putting in with this weather and managing to keep the jelly babies dry too! Robin was doing a bit of reverse sweeping and lovely to see Dave again.

All cosied up, I was still moving well, Ken and I made good progress running down to Inveroran and along the road, there was a fine looking deer just beside Forest Lodge,

I didn’t run as much as I would’ve liked along Rannoch Moor, it felt quite greasy underfoot and the wind was taking me sideways, if I kept one foot grounded there was less chance of me blowing away and a good strong march was fairly energy efficient, At one point as the wind gusted I half joked, half seriously pointed over the moor saying “If I end up over there, you’ll come and get me?”  Ken grabbed the shoulder strap of my bag through the gust, I don’t think he fancied hoofing over rough bog either. Rannoch Moor was the first section I felt took ages, longer than I thought it should’ve although I never asked where I was time-wise after Beinglas or looked at my watch, I was just running on instinct and to the conditions, but the Moor is bloody long and mostly uphill and you can see it stretch out for miles until the ground meets the sky. Eventually we were past Flemings Cairn and over the top, heading down into Glencoe, Ken ran on ahead to rouse the troops.

Blowing a hoolie was putting it mildly when I arrived, I was to have my last sock change, my wee chair was set up at the side of Alan’s big red engine but he said “In you come.” What luxury to be out the wind although just briefly, you could feel it shaking the fire engine. Sue did my socks as I ate more pasta, Pauline was staying with me now until the end and was layered up and ready, I added another Buff round my neck and a wooly hat over my peaked Buff.

We walked down the hill so I could finish my pasta, last year my stomach started to rebel at this point, but so far so good this time, (no two years have ever been the same regards food) once round by Kingshouse the wind was blown straight into us for the only part of the route I feel is pointless, a rough, rocky, rubbly path that climbs up just to come back down which runs parallel to the road. I tucked in tight behind Pauline, close enough to clip her heels but we’ve worked together like this many times, Pauline picking a path through the terrain and me shouting either speed up or wait for me, I only wished she was build like a rugby player and made a better windbreak!  Ken, Sue and Gillian were at Altnafeadh just to pick up the empty mug and check we were fine for heading up the Devil’s Staircase.

My legs were still moving well but starting to feel the distance in them as we worked our way up, it was getting dark, we could see torches ahead on the high zig-zags and more behind moving pretty fast. I still didn’t feel the need to put my torch on, preferring natural light for as long as possible. As the guys went by I stood still with my hands over my eyes, saying “On you go, I’m not looking ‘cause I don’t want your torches to bugger up my night vision!”  After they were by Pauline gave me a row, “Well, that wasn’t very polite!” Oops, tolerance is the first casualty of tiredness, my apologies guys!  Heading down I gave in and put my torch on, the path was just a river and hard to pick a route of least resistance and keep my feet, if not dry, not so freezingly soaked, it is always a goal of mine to do this bit in daylight or at least dusk, I’ve only managed it a handful of times and is so much easier if you can see ahead a lot further than the confines of a torch. So resigned to having to slog it out I just got on with it and eventually we were heading down the wide steep track to Kinlochleven, having looked after my quads earlier I moved well and it didn’t take forever to get to the bottom.

Into the Community Centre, I was hugged and weighed by Julie, after the luxury of visit to a proper loo I did something I have never ever done at Kinlochleven before, I sat down for no other reason than to have a wee breather out of the wind. I used the time-out to eat a pot of porridge, I always just eat on the hoof but I think on this occasion taking a few minutes to gather myself before facing Lairig Mor seemed right. It was warm in the Community Centre and I had taken off my rain-jacket when I arrived but before putting it back on I added a down-jacket on top of the two long sleeved thermals, club vest and fleece, I know what Lairig Mor can throw at you, I was taking no chances going back out into this weather with eighty miles in my legs and heading into a second night with no sleep.

Having the luxury of such a great crew I was mob handed for the last section, Sue and Gillian joining Pauline to see me home.  I was roasty-toasty on the long climb out of Kinlochleven but I knew it wouldn’t be long until we were heading into the teeth of the gale, I didn’t take anything off, just unzipped a couple of layers. At the top I always like to pause and look back down over Kinlochleven and up the trail from where we had come, there were head torches just starting the descent, I wondered if it was Ally, I hadn’t seen him since the lochside but at the checkpoints I’d heard how he was doing, I waved and wished him well, wondering if they noticed our torches.

My hood was pulled down tight, with wooly hat and Peaked Buff as low down on my eyebrows as they could go and still manage to see about three feet in front.  It was great to pause and stand in the shelter of the Wilderness Support vehicle with some fizzy juice, a wee oasis of support created by Jeff and Patricia, even the hefty metal poles holding the flags had bent in the wind!   
photo from Jeff Smith 
At this point it doesn’t matter if training went well or if the race has gone according to plan (probably not), two things keep you going, heart and soul, time to slog it out.  As tough as it was, I was smiling on the inside, still a pleasure and a luxury to be here, I know I’m extremely lucky that I have the ability to complete this thirteen times.  Although I was happy it didn’t stop me having some petulant thoughts, being cocooned in all my layers with my head down against the wind and my vision blinkered by my peak made me a bit insular too.  At times the four of us were together, often I’d drop back a bit and have to work to keep up, I’d look up and they were “miles” away (probably no more than 50 yards) Pfft! They don’t care, look at them, just buggering off and leaving me!  Swiftly followed by a wry smile.  Aye, I’d leave me too, in this weather!   Rounding the bend heading towards Lundavra a fierce gust caught me and near took me down the slope, I over compensated leaning forward and ended up crouched forward with both hands gripping onto a big boulder in front of me, I looked up. The buggers haven’t noticed I nearly rolled down to the bottom of the hill!   But on the other hand when Pauline checked I was eating, after replying I was, she then asked “Are you sure?” I was stroppy enough to give her an earful finishing with “I know what I’m doing!” Post race debrief aka blether over a pint in the pub, I was told that they had noticed the wind nearly take me off and it was quipped “Oh, look, she’s saying a wee prayer!” I was also informed that if they did attempt the hand hold approach they could imagine the language, they really do know me!  

Daylight appeared for the second time during the race and we pulled into Lundavra, Ken was waiting with a mug of hot chocolate laced with coffee before we headed off onto the home straight, seven-ish miles of steep climbs and descents through the spooky woods… except it’s worse than that, there hasn’t been spooky woods for a few years now but with the recent tree harvesting you can see exactly where you’re heading, it wasn’t any easier before but at least you couldn’t see it!  At one point the path was strewn with a huge obstacle of felled trees and debris, I really loved how my crew let me lead the way over it, they were pushing from behind now, apparently!

Onto the long wide track down to Braveheart, I didn’t need any encouragement, I pushed on, Pauline thought I was getting competitive as we passed a few in the last three miles, nothing so heroic I’m afraid, with the shelter of the trees heading back down to sea level I was roasting and wanted to remove some of the layers and go to the loo, but with wearing all these layers that wasn’t going to happen without a palaver, I didn’t want to prolong it any longer than necessary and I doubted I’d be able to move so well if I stopped and broke my rhythm.  

Out of Braveheart, onto the pavement for the final mile, savouring the moment but wanting it over messed with my emotions, then seeing Jo and Martin, they deserve to be in bed but are waiting to see me finish messes with my breathing, I don’t let go, I’ll do them proud and finish strong. Round the car park and towards the arch and the guy with the timing doofer, I wave him out the way, up the steps and rest my hands and my forehead on the door...Breathe.
photo from Davie Hall
photo from Ken Walker
“Will you stop wasting time and register your finish!” Big Davie shouts at me,  I turn and rummage under a million sleeves to find my bracelet with the timing chip and officially finish. Davie hugs me and I’m ushered into the Leisure Centre to be weighed, I manage to remove two of my jackets before stepping on the scales finishing at exactly the same weight I started at, ok, I was still wearing two more tops and two more pair of breeks than I started with but my weight was fairly consistent throughout.

Now I was free to celebrate. Martin cracked open an appropriate bottle of Isle of Jura Superstition and poured family measures into very posh silver shot glasses, I reciprocated with the wee drop of Glenlivet left in my hip-flask.  It’s a wonderful heady mix trying to take in what I have just achieved with the love and support of those with me.
photo from Jo Murphy

The best team ever
So proud of these two

We managed to shower and get back outside in time to see Ally finish.  
Before the prizegiving we headed to Nevisport for our traditional breakfast, my legs were fine on the stairs, others not so much!  The prizegiving is a special event, a slick process these days with a greater amount of finishers than the days of old but no less emotive, every finisher has their moment of glory and the family comes full circle with the first finisher presenting the final finisher with their well deserved and hard earned Goblet.

I felt the weather this year was the toughest I’ve run the race with, I have entered every year since 2003. I have had to DNS twice, a brain hemorrhage in the April of 2005 put paid to that year, and being diagnosed with mouth cancer at the beginning of 2013, the following surgery and six weeks of chemo and radiotherapy curtailed my running for that year too. With the positive upward spiral from the first time of running of this wonderful event, and with the support of my WHW family I have had the strength to face some very scary times, I can now take strength from coming through those and whatever the race and weather conditions throw at me I know I can face them smiling.  What doesn’t kill you definitely makes you stronger!  But none of this was ever possible without the support of everyone willing to give up their time year after year, I know I could not have done what I have without you all. There are no words that can convey my gratitude, I thank you with all my heart.

I’ve never really been one to dwell on times but adding all my races together I’ve covered 1235 miles with 182,000 feet climbed in 16 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes and 34 seconds and I’m really going to have to get a bigger cabinet.


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

A Flingtastic day oot!

2.30am alarm, it must be Fling day! It was no hardship getting up, I’d prepared my drop bags and organised my clothes the day before, I even put my porridge in the bowl ready to go ping for breakfast before going to bed at about 8.30pm. Val picked up Pauline and I at mine at 3.45am and we were in Milngavie just before 5.00am. Plenty time to catch up with hugs, register and place our drop bags in the relevant cars.

The time passed quickly, it wasn’t long before John gave the briefing and we were in the starting pens, the race was started in three waves, two minute apart. The weather was fair and quite mild for this time of day, the forecast was for a few showers later on but nothing extreme, perfect conditions really, I wasn’t wearing gloves, that’s a first for a Fling start!  6.00am. The first wave were off, then the next, eventually those of us in the party pen were on our way, heading through the tunnel never fails to make my nerves tingle.
photo - Monument Photos 
Pauline and I were together for a while, great to see the fiddler again and lovely to high five Sandra at Beech Tree,

I let Pauline go on after that, I felt her pace was fine but a smidge too quick for me for the whole way. From the start my right shoe was a bit tight but I left it for a bit to see if it settled, it never did so I waited until Gartness, the wall just over the bridge is a perfect height to put my foot up and adjust the lace, after that I felt I was starting to settle into my groove now past the path of a thousand gates and on the wide road easier to be side by side and get a blether with folk around me.  

We had to pause a wee moment for traffic before crossing the road to the checkpoint at Drymen, no worries, always happy for a wee breather early on, there was water and toilets available but I didn’t stop for either, just went straight through trying to acknowledge all the shouts, the support throughout the race is fantastic.

Going up Garadhban I heard a cuckoo, laughed at the sign for the frog nursery and loved the first glimpse of Loch Lomond, I was with Lois for Conic hill, it was fine stomp up and Graeme and Josh were doing a grand job.  

Once over the top there were a bunch of guys on bikes and I thought This is going to be fun watching them go down!   When one bike’s brakes were howling out a long and a tortured squeal, I had a fair old giggle after a runner quipped “I think he’s trapped a runner in his wheel!”  

A few minutes later there was a warning call from behind, Lois replied “Is it ok if we stay on the right?” His reply had a hint of mild panic “Errr, no’ really and I can’t slow down!”  Just as well we were spritely as he zoomed by.  

I quite often just point my camera over my shoulder and it was only when going through my photos on Sunday did realise how close I’d come to being disqualified for cadging a lift sitting on this guy’s handlebars!

I was glad I didn’t see this until the day after! Another cyclist’s descent mantra was full of sweary words and comments about not knowing a box was an essential bit of protection for on a bike. A case of crushed nuts!  This was definitely the biggest giggle I’ve had coming down Conic and kept me chuckling for ages.  

Down into Balmaha, a big hug from big Davie, my drop bag was handed to me, I ditched my empty banana Yazoo and water bottles I was just using shop bought 330ml ones, I don’t faff with filling up, packed away a new water bottle and custard in a Fill N Squeeze pouch and walked on drinking my Weetabix milkshake, I timed it nicely, finishing it just as I crossed the road and Lorna was happy to take my empty, cheers for that, although it would’ve been no great hardship to stash an empty bottle in my bag.

Heading along to the climb up to Craigie Fort a young lad was playing Highland Cathedral on the pipes down at the shore. Wow, emotion filled my chest and made the hairs on the back of my neck raise, there isn’t a finer tune to hear running on the WHW, deep breath and head for another lovely hug, this one from Robin.

Not sure how many times I’ve said this but I’ll say it again, I love the section between Balmaha and Rowardennan, the meandering ups and downs through the trees, the bird song and the Bluebells, cue for another tune, this time just playing in my head, the Bluebell Polka on the accordion, aye, ya cannae beat a bit of Jimmy Shand for a good cadence!

On the steep steps there was sign saying kit check ahead, what a perfect place for it too, everyone was walking here anyway, so there was no time lost taking backpacks off and finding the two required items, a phone and foil blanket, I also have two more items as mandatory kit I’ll never run on the WHW without, hip-flask and camera.  Well done Stan taking on the task, a toughie having to disqualify anyone not having the stipulated stuff whether it was by accident or disregard for the rules.  

With good company and scenery Rowardennan soon appeared, again another quick ditch of my rubbish, replace my water bottle, drink a milkshake and move out. The Fling was using the high road, I think the low road is more in keeping with the rest of the lochside section but still fine to do the wide track, I’m happy whatever route we have to use but I was looking forward to when the path narrows and descends, it’s the start of the fun section, I love it, just letting the terrain take charge, run a bit, walk a bit, stepping over boulders or tree roots not trying to fight for a pace, just enjoying the natural beauty of being able to move forward on a stunning route.  In a nice little group I was asked “Inversnaid is 34 miles, isn’t it?”  I replied, “I dunno, I don’t do WHW by numbers but you’ll know when you’re getting there when you can see the big pipes coming down the hill on the other side of the loch, they’re opposite Inversnaid.”  At one point I mentioned there had been a bit of repair on the path and I think it was Billy that said “You must know every boulder and tree root!” It made me think how many times I’ve gone along the lochside, not counting the odd training run, this was my sixth Fling but my eighteenth race starting in Milngavie and finishing either in Tyndrum or Fort William, so I guess I kinda know the route well! Wow! That’s a bit mad! was my next thought!  
photo - Mark Dawson
At Inversnaid a quick hello to Helen, swap my water bottle, ditch the rubbish, take my custard and walk on drinking a dinky can of coke, no hanging about.

Again near the front of another wee group heading along the gnarly section, I’d call out occasional, “Just shout if you want by.” It was usually answered with “I’m good here, thanks.” We caught up with a group of four guys just happy to amble along blethering, there were a few gentle hints to let us past, they were unaware we were moving just a smidge faster, I don’t mind being stuck in the slow lane for a bit, there’s no point stressing it, and I think that it’s not time wasted but energy saved, I’ll be able to push on later. There was a shout from the back “Excuse us guys, but can we get by?” “Oh yeah, no bother!” Not being sexist or anything but it made me smile that it was a group of ladies that ploughed on past the blokes. It didn’t seem long until we were on the short flat grassy bit and that signals a return to more runnable terrain and the pull up to Dario’s post.

On the steep steps up I saw Jonathan taking time and a few photos at Dario’s post, I pulled out my hip-flask and hold it towards him, he’s happy to wait until I’m there to share a wee dram with an old friend, Mark joined us too.

I always keep it steady down into Beinglas, the path is easily runnable but there are quite a few tree roots or boulders ready to catch you unawares and I’d rather get there in one piece. Arriving into the last checkpoint, the support was still as noisy and as encouraging as the first. Same routine for me, swap my water bottle, dump my rubbish, walk on drinking a dinky can of coke and pack away a wee bottle of cafe latte.  I looked at my watch remembering I usually average around 10 hours for Beinglas, 9 hours 44 minutes.  All the way to Beinglas with a happy cruising pace and to be a wee bit ahead of my usual, oooww, bonus!

Once on the open path towards Derrydarroch there was a wee shower, not too bad but with a bit of a cool breeze, I put my arm warmers back on but didn’t feel I needed my jacket.  It was only now that I felt I had to put in a bit of effort, but after forty odd miles I didn’t really expect to do anything less, running all the flat and downs, keep shuffling the ups until I felt the effort wasn’t energy efficient then stride it out. Coo poo alley wasn’t too bad at all, just a wee bit of care near the muckiest bit, again I go cautiously along especially after so many miles, although my legs felt strong and nimble there are a few malicious stones that will jump up, catch your toe and try to make you eat poop. I thought I’d come through unscathed but when I looked up to wave to Katie and Graham with their cowbells and flags at the deer fence, I stubbed my toe, luckily I didn’t go down but enough of trip to make me squeak.

“Just” the rollercoaster, the road at Auchtertyre, and a wee meander through woods and the path lined with heather and shrubs to go. I think it was just last year or the year before someone said this was six miles, maybe so, but it’s no ordinary six miles, it feels more like a hard eight, I couldn’t remember how long this section usually takes me, I knew a PB was on the cards but I wasn’t going to run myself into the ground for it, just pushing a good controlled effort, working with the swoops and climbs of the roller-coaster and I was lucky enough to get straight over the road without breaking my rhythm, right, no walking on the tarmac, a good steady shuffle this is flat. Under the road and stride out up the wee hill over the cattle grids and onto the narrow path meandering through the heather and shrubs, (I remember when this was thick dark forest!) Through the big gate. Where is this Piper? At last I heard him, I gave him a big thumbs up and thanks as I went by. I could hear the cowbells and cheering of the finish, round the corner and onto the red carpet, big smile on my face, mixed emotions, glad to finish but sad that it’s over, I float down, high fiving folk on my left, sorry I couldn’t reach the folk on the right, sorry, I wasn’t for staggering over, Johnny Fling was running down the side shouted “Race ya!” I laughed and upped my pace a smidge, raising my arms over my head and letting out a huge “Whoooooohooooo!” before falling into Julie’s arms, she hugged me so tight my feet left the ground, I stayed safely surrounded by Julie’s hug until I’d caught my breath and emotion before she placed a medal around my neck.
photo - Stuart MacFarlane 
I picked up my hefty goody bag and went into the warmth of the marquee, soup in one hand and beer in the other, the best race recovery ever.  After refuelling I strolled over to baggage, I didn’t bother with the nicety of a shower, I can have a lovely long one when I get home and straight into my jammies so I just stood where my bag was and had a quick change. Val’s car was parked at the tourist info car park so a nice wee leg stretch before heading home.

I finished with a PB and I’m really pleased that it happened naturally without trying for it, running what was for me not a race but a training run with the ability to give it a wee bit of welly at the end. A thought that gave me a boost is that this wasn’t just the best time I’ve done post cancer treatment but my best Fling result ever, knocking 12 minutes off the time I did in 2012 where Pauline, Sue and I ran together! I may never speak or eat what is considered normal again and finding race food is a bit of a challenge but the trauma of treatment is well behind me. A fantastic sign that my training is going well and I am in great shape for my thirteenth WHW race.

From the impeccable organisation by John and team to the support of all the runners this is the biggest race with the warmth of a small family gathering. Thank you all for another fantastic day in what Lois calls my natural habitat, it doesn’t matter how many times I have had the pleasure and privilege of running on the WHW, that is not just down to the beauty of the route but company I keep, it never stops being special.

Monday, 24 April 2017

A newie and an oldie

My training is still going very well and I have had my last two long runs before the Fling, the John Muir Way Ultra 50km and revisiting an old classic which has sadly passed into the lore of ultra-running, The Two Bridges.

This was the second running of the John Muir Way Ultra and a new one for me on April 1st,  organised  by Fox Trail Winter Running Series and Foxlake Adventures, Dunbar, (I’ve never been before and it looks a great day out if you're looking for something different with the kids.) With around about an hour drive away from home, Pauline and I set off fairly early but not at too stupid a time, we registered, pinned our numbers on and then got on the bus to be taken to the start at Port Seton Esplanade for the run back. The race information was pretty comprehensive covering everything we needed to know but I just gave a cursory glance to the detailed route instructions, once I knew it was going to be well marked I didn’t want to spoil the surprise, and what a lovely route it was too with a wee bit of everything.

It was a bit chilly waiting around before the start but fine once we got going, I even warmed up enough to take off my gloves, arm-warmers and peaked Buff, and my long sleeves were pushed up past my elbows, it turned into a lovely warm day. There were regular, well stocked drink stations but I was quite self sufficient carrying a 500ml bottle of water, a couple of gels and a custard in a squeezy pouch, but I did enjoy a wee cup of coke at the last two and topped up my water bottle at the last one as well.

photo from Dave Lochhead

The route although varied was flat for the first half and I had clicked into my no walking groove and decided to apply my marathon rule of no walking if possible, Pauline and I use a term for a hill that is runnable - rolling slog -  if one of us says it the other one usually thinks. Bugger, no walking break then, or is that just me? I was with Rhona and Amanda for some of the time and yo-yoed a bit with them when it started to undulate, running the hills isn’t the best economy for an ultra but I was working on strengthening my legs regardless of the time it took or energy spent, (My plan is to run a bit more of Rannoch Moor this WHW, it’s all rolling slog and runnable on fresh legs but with 60 odd miles in them it’s a different story.) I was with Amanda when I looked up at what I think was around twenty five-ish miles in. (I don’t look at my watch much during a run.)  “Oh bugger, I think I might revise my no walking rule!” Amanda’s reply, “I think you have to run it!” A fairly long steep grassy incline that went on until the ground met the sky. I can’t not run it now! Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. Yay! I made it! Thanks Amanda, I think I would’ve walk if you weren’t there to encourage me to run it.

After upping the effort for the hill, I kept a let’s-get-this-done pace and worked a strong controlled effort, finally looking at my Garmin for a rough gauge of how much further to go, although never to be believed until you see the finish gantry.  Through woods opening into a tricky deep wee ditch...folk were watching... I didn’t fall back in, yay, and a scamper round the grass to the finish. A great run on a cracking route with lovely weather, a perfect wee ultra to use for training and one I’d recommend for anyone looking for a first race over marathon.  

A week later Pauline and I set off from the Glen gates (Pittencrieff Park for the non locals) in Dunfermline, the start of the Two Bridges Road Race which was first run in 1968 until 2005, I did it five times from 1999 until 2004, Pauline did it thirteen times from 1993 to 2005 and finished First Lady in 1996. (Some race history here)

A blast from the past 
Our route couldn’t be the old classic one, with the traffic of today it’s just too dangerous but by using cycle path and the John Muir Way we wouldn’t end up roadkill. We were able to stick to the classic route until after Torryburn where we joined cycle route 76, we followed it to the Kincardine Bridge and picked it up again after crossing the bridge.

We stayed with the cycle route until Grangemouth where we went back onto the old race route, it’s not the most scenic but good to recall race memories and to pause at the RAF Memorial which wasn’t there in the “olden days” The commemorative wall was unveiled in 2008 and the Spitfire was placed in 2013  

It was now very warm and sunny, my sleeves were pushed up and I even wished I wasn’t wearing full length tights. We weren’t sure how far the run would be compared to the race but taking the cycle route round Grangemouth would make it longer and with it just being the two of us there was no problem taking the direct route running a very short section without a pavement, there was a wide grass verge which was fine.

Just before Bo’ness we joined the John Muir Way and stayed with that all the way to the Forth Road Bridge,  we timed it perfectly for a wee breather to watch the steam train from the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway.

It’s a fairly flat route so there wasn’t much in the way of walking breaks or a change of stride and with the cumulative effect of last week as well, we were both starting to feel the miles but it’s good to practice running on tired legs.  
Those bridges are teeny weeny and far away!
We approached Blackness, my water was getting low, I was just carrying a 500 ml bottle and with it being quite roasting I didn’t think it would last all the way to Rosyth, I suggested having a shandy in the pub, Pauline liked the idea but the thought of getting going again after a stop would be hard, “luckily” there’s a drinking fountain in the public toilets, I could just top up my water bottle, oh joy, I’ll just have to enjoy a beer when I got home then! The path from Blackness is through the large established woods of Hopetoun House Estate, the race used this path under the name of the Two Bridges Challenge in 2004 and 2005 when major motorway construction at Kincardine Bridge prevented the original route to be used.  
Getting closer! 
It’s a lovely run through Hopetoun with some gentle climbs, neither of us called “rolling slog”, whoopee, we could walk and stretch the legs, the Bridges were getting closer and we slogging it out. Finally we were on the Forth Road Bridge and if you’ve never run over it you probably don’t know how much of a hill it is! But we were in the last hour, another twinny rule - you can always push the last hour, it’s also a flaming long climb up Ferrytoll Road and it gets ramped up again going up Castle Road to the Civil Service Club but this was the sprint finish, okay, we weren’t racing but reminiscing, we didn’t walk. We stopped with a wee cheer at the Civil Service Club both looking for an itchy wool blanket and a can of beer, sadly nobody was there to do the honours, happy memories!

Another blast from the past - First Lady 1996
Our run was just under 36 miles, pretty close to the old race distance, we went back the following weekend and did the cycle path route above Grangemouth, it has a few undulations, it’s far prettier with a quite a few points of interest. James Watt’s man cave for one!

Next time we do the run we’ll use the cycle path as it adds just over a mile and would make it a lovely 37 mile run from the Glen gates to the Civil Service Club using a safer route. Our Two Bridges run is just a reflection of an iconic race but it’s still a great route and one we’ll do again.