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!

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The Fabulous Fling

With Gillian volunteering to marshal it was going to be very simple for Pauline and I, Gillian would pick us up, take us to Milngavie, head off to Rowardennen for her race day duties then afterwards she would have a wee scamper down the WHW from Crianlarich, then head into the finish to see us in then drive us home, a great plan that worked well for all of us to have a great day out.

On Friday, I got my drop bags ready and took a bit of time deliberating what to wear considering the wintery weather we’d had the week before, bottom half was always going to be long tights and kilt but the forecast was promising so I decided on two long sleeved tops instead of a Duffle coat under my vest!  2.30am the alarm went off, I’d gone to bed early but like a kid at Christmas I didn’t sleep much, had my usual breakfast even though it was the middle of the night, once I’m in race day mode the normal time of day doesn’t mean anything to me, it’s just been a wee while since I’d got up in the dark!

Gillian and Pauline were outside my door at 3.40am and we were in Milngavie within an hour, the road was lovely and quiet at that time of day. It was great to start the hug fest, register and hand over drop bags before rush hour,  we spent the rest of the time hugging and blethering until it was time to head into the party pen. 
photo from Graeme Hewitson Monument Photos 
Yeah, I suppose it is a race and the pointy end was going to be exciting and no doubt a lot of folk have set themselves target times but for me that’s just a technicality, as much as I don’t want to waste time and prolong it, the goal was to have a good strong enjoyable day out regardless of the time on my watch at the end, doubt it’s a spoiler to say that I finished just five minutes slower than last year. 

6.00am, after a countdown we were set off in waves, it wasn’t much of a delay before the party pen were off up the steps and along the High Street, there was a bit of a giggle as soon as we were on the path in Mugdock, some poor sod fell, but was back up and running quicker than he went down, probably more embarrassed than hurt, oh well, if you’re going to fall might as well get it over with at the start!  It wasn’t long before folks were stopping to remove layers, I was just pleased that my hands were starting to warm up, it was a bit nippy to start with, there were wee patches of light frost on the grass still in the shade but the sun was rising and the weather looked promising.

Great to see these guys were back this year

Along the path of a thousand gates even I started to feel the warmth of the sun but I was just enjoying it, I have a wee rule, nothing comes off until after Conic, well, it’s an early Spring morning in Scotland, if you’re too warm you’re going too fast! As we looked over to the hills, Conic was the only one without snow but I bet it was still going to be chilly, the sky was clear and the views were going to be stunning. On the climb up I was with Amy, she said last year Graeme took a brilliant photo of her jumping and would I jump with her this year?  Err, I’m just a shuffler and I doubted my feet would leave the ground but ok, let’s do it, I’m here for fun after all!
photo from Graeme Hewitson  Monument Photos
After a bit more practice we took these photos of each other, the views down the loch was stunning, no better place to pause for a bit of fun, 

then nice and steady down into Balmaha, I picked up my drop bag, ditched my rubbish and walked on drinking my milkshake, and managed to guzzle it in time to drop the empty bottle in the Fling bin before crossing the road and heading up road to the turn up to Craigie Fort, Robin looked very comfy sitting in his chair, polishing off a runner’s left-over crisps while directing folk up the hill. On the stomp up I finally took off my gloves and woolly hat, still keep the peaked Buff on though, it did come off later in the afternoon and I even pushed up the sleeves on both my long-sleeved tops, definitely a lovely warm and sunny day, we had just a wee shower after Rowardennan that I had to pull my sleeves back down for with no need for a jacket.

I love the path to Rowardennan, through the trees with bird song, some gentle climbs and descents and a couple of not so gentle climbs but a good excuse to take photos. A little further on we could hear a bell and drums and a cheering squad. Alan and Chuck doing fantastic support, Alan held out his whisky glass, a surprise to have a wee dram this early, I don’t usually break out the Malt until I’m with Dario but what a lovely wee boost and brought back memories of sharing my hip-flask with Alan at Dario’s post a couple of years ago. Slainte!  

A lot of the relay runners went past on the path to Rowardennan, I was wondering where I might see Jo, running with the Carnegie Ramblers, I heard a shout from behind, I hauled out the camera and she was happy to pause for a photo.

At the checkpoint, another wee hug fest with marshals, then my usual routine of ditch rubbish, pick up my drop-bag and get out of there without slowing down much, I never saw Gillian until she shouted, a quick wave and I was off at a good walking pace downing another milkshake. On the long climb out of Rowardennan Amy and I were together again, we ran a lot of miles together, sometimes she would go ahead then I’d breeze through a checkpoint where she took a little longer, then she’d catch up with me again, as we chatted she said, “I’ve been watching you and you run like a fairy.”  I laughed out loud, she quickly followed with, “I don’t mean any offence but you’re so light on your feet, I can’t hear you breathe and you move with ease!” I wasn’t offended, in fact I loved it, I’m all in favour of a good mental image, I’ll hang on to that one when I feel like a shuffling sack o’ tatties, I shall evoke a light, flitting fairy and try to move like one. Amy is such a wee bundle of enthusiasm and I’m sure put a smile on the face of anyone she was running with.

After the big slog of a climb the path narrows and descends, I smiled, I love this section,
it’s a gentle start to the technical terrain of the lochside, I go with the flow, running and walking  whatever the path dictates, not stressing the pace, you have to pay attention to where you’re placing your feet and your running legs get a rest. I was aware of folk behind me and a few times asked if anyone wanted by and was happy to pull over when they did, a few were happy to stay behind me and later said thanks for pulling them along to Inversnaid, the past couple of years I’ve had a wee train with me but nobody was shouting “Choo choo!” like Robin, a couple of years ago!

At Inversnaid it was a dinky can of coke I downed as I walked out the checkpoint, I’ll be buzzin’ for the hangy on bits and big leg stretches for short arses, again not stressing the time it takes to cover the few miles to the more runnable bits near the top of the loch. I got my legs back into a shuffle on the flat grassy bit then moved between running and walking on the pull up to where you can see  Dario’s post, there was quite a centipede of runners on their way up and it gladdened my heart to see them pause and look behind them down the loch. On the steep climb up to Dario’s post I was with Silke and Amy, I asked if they’d join me with my hip-flask, it was filled with Highland Park, Dario enjoyed a wee Malt and I never go by his post without sharing a wee dram.  I laughed at a small notice taped to the rock, Keith was making sure nobody missed the stunning view down the loch.  (On days out I’ve taken time here and sat awhile just enjoying my surroundings and the company of an Angel, I once spoke to a walker that was slogging up the hill, she totally blanked me, neither pausing to catch her breath or look behind, it saddened me that she never knew what she was missing.)  We took a couple of photos then my camera died, not surprising really the amount of photos I’d taken. (my photos)

 At Beinglas I had something new in my drop bag, yeah, I know that’s something you’re not meant to do but I don’t think I was running fast enough to get gut problems, a small can of Starbucks Double Espresso coffee, it was ok, more milky than I thought it would be and not the rocket fuel I was hoping but it went down alright.

My plan was the same as last year, get to Beinglas comfortably then give it a bit of welly to the finish, in the past I’ve carried a wee piece of paper with previous WHW race splits to check my progress for reassurance I’d make the checkpoint cut-offs but I knew that wouldn’t be a concern so never paid attention to it all day, I eventually gave it a glance, I was on a par with previous years.  (Apart from wee training runs I was wearing a Garmin for first time ever during a WHW race only because I’ve now got one that the battery will last the distance and I like looking at the wiggly lines on the laptop afterwards.)  I was working the hills towards Derrydarroch then decided my quads weren’t for pushing on.  Ok, fair enough, just a steady slog in then, I wasn’t going to flog myself to the finish and thinking back over what I’ve done the past few months it wasn’t surprising my quads were grumpy, this was my fourth ultra this year but the other three have been on flat tarmac, and just nearly three weeks ago I’d covered seventy miles doing Ally K’s support, that wasn’t flat but still on tarmac.  I’ve never been one to over race but these days I don’t take for granted my health and fitness, I’ll cram in what I can while I can without being too daft.

So just kept an equal effort, I was looking at my watch now, playing the “It’s only xyz miles to the finish” game but I know better than to equate WHW miles with normal miles, I smiled to myself thinking “Aye, you’re not fooling me, I know how far it is and miles don’t come into it!”  and plod on. On the rollercoaster a relay runner went by shouting “Well done!” I replied with “Well done you too!”  She next came back with “Wow, I can’t believe you’re still smiling!”  She was off before I could say it was just my face, my quads were not smiling at all! If they had a face they’d be wearing the bawl like a hungry baby expression for the descent down to the road. At the crossing I hoped there would be no traffic to hold me up, oh no, a car approached, I’ll have to wait, but it slowed and stopped, the window was wound down and I was cheered over by the driver, WOW! Thank you!  Right, now to keep it steady, no heroics, it’s a long long four miles, I kept working, although I wasn’t pushing I wasn’t letting go either, my mantra was “There’s beer at the finish, there’s beer at the finish!”  Where’s the piper? At last, I heard him, then saw him, a big thumbs up as I went by, round the corner, I could hear the Fling bells and the cheering, I tried to wave to everyone shouting for me, I was on the red carpet, a high five with Johnny Fling, my arms were above my head, a smile from ear to ear, then I let out a “Wooooohoooo!” before landing in the longest hug of all day, thank you Julie, you know how to hug a runner until their emotions are under control. Another beautiful run on the WHW.
photo from Graeme Hewitson Monument Photos 

Caught my breath and loads more hugs, found the beer, yaay! Sat in the marquee with soup in one hand, beer in the other, fantastic!  

Pauline and Gillian rounded me up, I had a quick change before walking to the car which was parked miles away! Or so it felt, I’m sure my legs would benefit from the walk.  Another Fling was flung and well done to Johnny and all his helpers, this is such a great event, it has grown over the years but hasn’t lost any of it’s charm with being so big, you just get to make more friends.  

Thank you all for a fabulous day. Let’s do it again. Same time next year?     

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Ally K Runs Skye to Maggie's

Wednesday 6th April, I lay in bed until 8.00am although I was awake, I was savouring being there since I wouldn’t get to go to bed again until Friday night, it wasn’t a daunting thought, I was looking forward to the adventure.

Pauline and I had an easy drive from Dunfermline and arrived at Ally’s around 4.00pm, I was glad to see he was sitting with his feet up, although I did threaten to duct tape him to his chair when he was faffing about. We had a huge plate of pasta before heading to Ally’s parents at around 7.00pm  to have a wee lie down and leave our stuff with them, we would be staying with Flora and Farquhar, for a couple of days afterwards.

At 11.00pm we were back at Ally’s before heading down to the Square to meet the rest of the team in the Lucky2BHere office where Douglas had a few words before we headed off. He had three rules, safety, safety and safety, being the responsible adult in charge he wasn’t going to have any of us end up roadkill.  
Photo - Hugh Campbell

The team - Graham - physio and nutrition, Clam - radio comms and driver, Neil - primary driver, Douglas - safety and logistics, Hugh - project manager and IT guru, Ally - the main man, Pauline - pacer, Me - pacer, Donna and Fiona did a fantastic job in charge of the chuck wagon, an army marches on it's stomach and so does a support crew, what a bonus knowing that as soon as I finished a shift there was hot food and drink waiting for me.

Thanks to Steve Millar pointing the camera ensuring Hugh made it into the team photo with the bonus of having it taken with a real celebrity, if you follow the facebook group Scotland by the Roadside you’ll know Blaze 

Just before midnight we down into the Square, the Pipe Band were playing and there were a lot of folks there to wish Ally well and send him on his way.

photos - Hugh Campbell

He looked a wee bit nervous and uttered those normal pre-big-scary-event words. “I feel sick!” I reassured him he was fine and bang on midnight he was off.  Escorted out of Portree by the blue flashing lights of the Police and if anyone was really observant following the tracker, you would’ve noticed he shot out of Portree at around 50 miles an hour, get about five miles away then turn and come back. I hope it didn’t cause any concern, the tracker was in the wrong van, it was with the girls and not the one that would tail Ally all the way.

The plan for Pauline and I was for both of us to start with Ally then swap over roughly every three hours all the way with both of us finish with him in Inverness and it was lovely for Vicki and Rachel to forgo a nights sleep and run with Ally to Sligachan.. It’s critical to have the pace at the start right, you’re fresh and raring to go but if you head off too fast you’ll crash and die a thousand deaths later, the reasoning behind having both Pauline and I at the beginning was to enforce a steady start, an hour or so into the run Ally kept looking at his watch, someone asked if he was ok, he answered yes and that we were going at five miles an hour. “Oofft! Of course we were! I could’ve told you that and I haven’t looked at my watch since I started it at Portree!” Was my fierce retort. Well, it was my job and besides I’ve been running in tune with my body for thirty years and wearing a Garmin for just a couple of years, no surprises what one I rely on! I didn’t doubt he trusted his team but there was no harm reinforcing his belief that we’d see him right.

There was a fairly heavy shower but it didn’t last too long and was on our backs, I hoped there would be no repeat of the horrendous weather that accompanied Ally’s last epic fundraising event, Ally K Runs Skye (my report from that here) we reached Sligachan, just over nine miles in just under two hours, a fine steady start for the first section with no major hills to contend with. Rachel and Vicki headed home, I took my first break and Pauline carried on with Ally for another hour before we swapped over, we weren’t too worried about hitting three hour shifts to start with, we’d just go with the flow of what felt natural until we’d settled into routine.  I joined Ally again around 3.00am for the run into Broadford, he was still a bit jittery, but not surprising really, the longer the run the longer it takes to settle down. We were all carrying radios but some of us have not been training in radio protocol, so I wasn’t sure about passing on the details of one concern but, hey ho, the crew need to know what’s happening.  Ally’s van - “How’s things? Over.” Me - “He’s frightened to fart!. In, over, through and off.”  But after a pit stop in a dark layby I believe he felt a wee bit more comfortable.

The dawn was approaching as we arrived in Broadford where the crew were given coffee and a bacon or an egg roll from the Waterfront Fish and Chip shop free of charge, their support was really appreciated, they had opened a wee bit earlier than normal just for us. Pauline and I swapped over and she was a little concerned about running after eating a bacon roll but she was fine.  Paul joined us, he didn’t know Ally but had seen his event on twitter or facebook and wanted to support him, he kept Ally company into the Kyle of Lochalsh.  

Although it was Pauline’s shift from Broadford I’ve never run over the Skye Bridge and I thought it would be lovely to do it,

so Donna and Fiona let me out the van at the roundabout and I ended up keeping Ally company for the next ten miles up the hefty hill on the A890 after turning up from Auchtertyre but well worth the stunning view, I’ve never been up this road before and I hoped Ally could take the same inspiration from the view I as I did.
photo - Hugh Campbell
He, at last, had settled down, around thirty miles in, one hell of a warm up, but now in his groove.  The team had settled into the routine too, Douglas and Clam in the safety car,  a warning for the traffic coming up behind us, then Graham and Neil in the tail van directly behind the runners, looking after Ally, then Donna and Fiona would go on ahead to boil the kettle and heat food for when we arrived with either me or Pauline cooried in a blanket wearing lots of clothes, resting.  Hugh, floated about in the vehicles,  camera in hand covering around thirty miles over all, running with Ally and throwing in a few speed sessions filming the runners going by then sprinting ahead to film again, (no wonder his calves were sore afterwards!)

Fraser had joined us at the Kyle, and stayed all day, covering over forty odd miles, until trying to find his car parked at a remote train station in the dark was a bit of a problem, a lovely guy with great blether who knows well the fantastic job that Maggie’s do.

There was a section on twisty single track, it was my turn in the van but I couldn’t rest, the manic  drivers around us wouldn’t let me!  The girls stayed just ahead to protect the runners, both vans were plastered in event logo, caution runner signs and flashing hazard lights but some drivers took no notice, the radios were vital here, warning of approaching traffic with the tail van and car controlling overtaking, we pulled over at every opportunity to allow traffic by but there were a few cringey moments with some drivers having no patience, but there were many that tooted support and slowed to hand over tenners and twenty pound notes.  
A woo-hoo in the tunnel and a toot-tool from the train

The road widened to single carriageway and Donna, Fiona and myself went on to the Strathcarron Hotel, chips were on order for the support crew and what a pleasure to use a proper toilet, bliss! I felt a wee bit guilty sinking into a sofa with a half pint beer shandy but any support crew worth their salt knows you have to look after yourself too,  the medicinal properties of a sparkling lemonade with the benefit of a splash of beer will do me the world of good, again it was lovely to see the support Ally was receiving, the hotel refused payment for the food.  Ally was using something called Huel, a complete food powder that was working well for him  along with other stuff but it was good to see Ally have a handful of chips,
maybe not what you’d call top nutrition but along with some homemade soup he managed stay on top of getting just enough calories in to keep him moving.

The sun shone, there were a couple of short showers, and even a rainbow, Ally’s brother Iain, arrived bringing their Dad, Eilidh and Lewis to give him a cheer, further on there were another couple of surprises for him, his younger brother Andrew was sat at the roadside with his friend to gave him a tune, next moment there was a deep rumble in the sky and we were treated to a low flypast by what looked like a Lancaster or a Wellington bomber or something like it!  Wow! Never did I think we’d see either of these things during the run.  

The road ribboned on or was a cruel straight with no end in sight, the sun sank below the hills. Ryan joined us at Achnasheen and great for Ally to have fresh conversation,  it was mostly one sided now, Ally was fairly quiet heading into his second night running with no sleep, his knees were now taped and being iced regularly, but he just relentlessly moved forward.

The sky was clear and the stars were out, yay, no rain, but that meant the temperature would drop, I layered up, three pairs of tights, two base layers, a fleece, a down jacket and my bright yellow jacket, I waited wearing a second down jacket over the top ready to take off before my next shift except I didn’t remove it when I started my turn, after a warning that I wasn’t very visible from the safety car, I faffed about swapping the bright jacket to the top, I didn’t attempt to zip it up, it probably wouldn’t, not over all my clothes but wearing a bottle belt help keep the edges together, I felt justified when you could see the grass sparkling with frost and the gritter went by!  One wee pitstop had a proper toilet, I was so glad to have the privacy of the ladies loo to get all my layers tucked in cosy, when I went back outside I didn’t realise I’d taking so long getting comfy but glad to see Ally and Ryan didn’t waste time waiting and had headed off without me, I couldn’t see how far up the road they’d gone and was ready to face a bit of speed work hoofing it back to them but Douglas was waiting, Hugh had had a pitstop too so we hopped in the car and Douglas drove us back to them, not sure whether to call it an oops or a bonus but I’ve now clocked a couple of PRs on Strava, an estimated 55secs for 400 meters and an estimated 2.56 for half a mile. Aye, the only way I’ll ever do a sub six minute mile is in a car! Go me!

In the wee hours  Ally’s answers to my questions were mumbled and vague, I radioed to get the coffee on, but not to worry, he just had the facial expression of the lights were on but nobody’s home!  After cutting out caffeine for a month it was bound to give him a kick and wake him up a bit, he still managed some nice wee hallucinations though, the rocks at the side of the road were full of babies faces and there were baskets sitting in the grass. This was my sixth run with Ally and my head wasn’t so clear and focused either, at around 4.00am, I could feel myself getting dozy, but there’s no way I could admit it to Ally, I’d only gone half the distance he had, although I don’t sleep well with my cheek pressed against a van’s side window I was rested!  Time to use every trick I know to stay awake, stretch my arms above my head, shake them out, take long walking strides swinging my arms, also my left hip was giving me a bit of grief, I think it was coming from my back, it’s been a bit grumpy for about a month, I had a sore, numb bit at the top of my left leg and when I prodded it, it gave me a fizzy in my hip, Sciatica? Trapped nerve?  Whatever!  Every time I poked it, it helped keep my eyes open. Bonus!

I was happy to crash across the length of the front seat of the van after that stint, Pauline and Ryan keeping Ally company until the sun rose, and with the sun rising so did my energy levels.  A pot of porridge, coffee and sunshine, I was a new woman and ready to do the last eleven miles with Ally. Quite a few folks had come to the lay-by to say hi, even local radio came for an interview, just after they left, a car pulled in, the guy got out saying he’d just be listening to the radio, he shook Ally’s hand, wished him well and handed over some money.  

The end is in sight but it’s still a very long way to go with a hundred and ten miles in the legs, this was where Ryan was absolutely brilliant, a fellow Fifer but he now lives in  Muir of Ord, and knew every step of the way into Inverness, he’d point ahead saying “Right, we’ll walk this little incline to the tree on the left, after that we’ll shuffle to the bend.” Picking the points for where to walk and when we’d run, the miles weren’t fast but they were getting done, the sun was getting higher and warmer, I no longer resembled the Michelin Man, I think everyone perked up as Inverness came closer.

Another wee pitstop in a lay-by, this one had a few well wishers in it too, great for Ally, not so for the crew who needed to pee, but the big white van was parked at an angle that gave a bit of coverage, I crouched close to the wheel by the open side door, no fuss, no big deal then popped in the van to organise my drink for the last bit, I stayed in the van facing away from the door as  Ally used the appropriate spot, Pauline was readying herself to run all the way in with Ally too, Ryan was standing by the van leaning in organising his stuff for the last haul, then Pauline announced she was going to pee, I raised my eyebrows as she hunkered down, ok, if she was cool to pee right beside Ryan, that’s fine, next, I stifled a giggle at her running commentary, “Oow, well, this is really worthwhile, didn’t realise I needed so much!”  Ryan was quite nonchalant as a tsunami of wee washed round his shoes, uttering  something along the lines of “I’m happy for you Pauline.”  Pauline’s jaw dropped, her eyes popped and she coughed and spluttered an apology, not so cool to pee beside a bloke after all, she thought Ryan was Donna!  

With five miles to go we pulled into a petrol station, Ally was to have his last wee break and headed to the van for Graham to give his legs a final going over and icing. He opened the door, the look of surprise on his face was priceless. “Goodness me! Mr. Wombill!”  (Polite translation)  

Robin had driven up from Perth in the wee hours parked his car at Raigmore and walked out the route until Donna and Fiona found him.  We now had quite a posse of outriders to escort Ally into and through the town, Ryan would continue with his guidance, both Pauline and I were now wear Maggie’s vests, Mark had joined us a bit earlier, Iain hadn’t run for years was now proudly going the last stretch with his brother, and Robin wasn’t coming all that way up not to run in with Ally!

As we approached the town centre, Pauline and I brought out our secret weapons, our Highland Fling cowbells to warn shoppers and folk about town that we were coming through, Ryan was carrying the collection bucket but I’m not sure if he managed to collect much, Ally had upped the pace and was flying through the town,
he paused for a hug with a group of Maggie’s supporters waiting for him. He flew up the steep hill on Castle Street, the rest of us struggling to keep up, or was it just me?  Robin handed him a large Rampant Lion flag with the words, “Today you are a rampant lion!” My emotion was stuck in my throat and was ready to bubble over with pride to see him run so well.  A young lad wearing shorts and a Skye Camanachd tracksuit top ran towards us, shook Ally’s hand and continued with us.  At road crossings we’d been sensible and waited for the green man but at the final roundabout the young lad stepped out and halted a big bus and the rest of the traffic so we could run through without breaking stride. (Afterwards he said that even though he wasn’t in uniform if you act with confidence folk tend to obey direction, yes the “boy” was a police officer. Hmmm, no comment on my age!)

Maggie’s Centre was in sight, Ally flew the Rampant Lion high above his head, his family were waiting for him, Eilidh and Lewis holding a finish line for him to run though. I couldn’t hear the support of the crowd, I was shrieking like a banshee. Throught the tape, he held Donna in his arms, I was bursting with pride watching him receive hugs and congratulations, he had done it, and I never doubted he would.

photos - Fiona Cruickshank

I was very impressed with the way he managed to speak coherently in interviews for the papers and telly, he looked a bit pale but didn’t succumb to the very common post big run faint, a major achievement in itself!  The run has been a huge success for Maggie’s, the funds raised have gone over his target and still coming in. Ally's just giving page Also the awareness he's raised that Maggie’s is there for anyone affected by cancer whether they, or a family member, or colleague has been diagnosed, just knowing that you can walk through Maggie’s doors and help is there for them, job done.

Now I know Ally won’t mind me saying this but he is not a natural athlete, he’s an ordinary guy with shed-load of determination and a heart to match, no matter how hard the challenge became he never lost sight of his goal,  but he would exasperate me at times, I had to physically bar him from walking back to the van to get a drink or whatever, telling him that if he wanted something that’s what we were there for. 120 miles was far enough without adding on because he didn’t want to be any trouble!  I’ll need to give him more lessons on being a diva! But I know where he get’s it from, Flora and  Farquhar couldn’t do enough for us once we were back in Portree, feeding us like we were at our Auntie’s, and wouldn’t even let us tidy the plates after we were finished. 

Ally, I'm so proud of you and what you've achieved,this was the toughest support both Pauline and I have done, with us overlapping at times we covered around seventy miles each over seven runs of various distances and it was a pleasure. I know it will be a while before Donna lets you loose with another big daft challenge but Ally, whatever it is, whenever it is, you're not doing it without me!
Ally K Runs Skye to Maggie's documentary