Devil O’ the Highlands 2009
When Sue had entered the Devil O’ Pauline and I said “Can we come!” So on Friday night Ken and Sue picked us up and we were off to the Bridge of Orchy bunkhouse, but being civilised we headed in to the pub before going to bed. We were pleasantly surprised to see Scott Bradley and John, his dad sitting there. “Oh, you are running tomorrow then!” I asked, he was doubtful of running after a bad fall off his bike. “No!” he said, they had just happened to be camping here. Don’t know how they managed that after he decided not to come anywhere near the route!
After a long lie, we got up at 4.00am and headed to the Green Welly for registration and the best bacon and egg roll I’ve had since last year’s breakfast there. Sue didn’t seem nervous at all at the prospect of her first ultra race, just an air of calm excitement about her. Also Pete and Helena two more Carnegie Harriers running their first ultra race were there too, all of them were well prepared having run the clubs three day adventure over the WHW in May. It was nice to see some familiar faces and wish them well for the race, one wee smiley face was sorely missed but Dario’s number will be carried by Alan Kay, although plagued with injury these past couple of years there was no doubt in my mind that Alan would finish.
6.00am. Cheerio! See you at Bridge of Orchy.
At Bridge of Orchy Scott and John were soon crawling from their tents with car doors banging an early morning wake up call. They were fairly quick getting the coffee on the go and proper stuff too, none of that instant rubbish! The lead runners came flying through and were shortly followed by the rest of the field, Sue just needed some Vaseline, a change of juice bottle and a doughnut then happily set off up the hill. We went round to Inveroran just to cheer and take a few photos.
Ken dropped me off at Altnafeadh before he and Pauline went back to the Ski Centre. I was planning to be at the top for a few hours so I was warmly dressed and it was a novelty to walk up at a easy pace, I kept looking round and was glad to see I would make the top well before the lead runners, only spoke to Scott who was having a wee consolatory trot over the Devil. I’d recently got an iPod and I’d loaded it with a bunch of cds I’ve had for ages but not listened to much a “Best Scottish stuff” type thing but on the iPod I could delete the Jimmy Shands and Andy Stewarts etc. and keep all the tunes I liked. KT Tunstall, Proclaimers, Simple Minds and the like, also some classic pipe stuff. Highland Cathedral was there and I felt it appropriate to stick it on repeat with the speakers blaring. I had a little hip flask filled with the malt Dave the Pirate bought for Dario at his funeral which would traditionally have stayed on the bar, I had promised to pour it into loch but Pauline thought that today the cairn on the Devil’s Staircase would be a fitting place to put it. The wind whipped away the fine fumes and my words but the spirit will always stay there. I took a deep breathe and surveyed the majestic mountains in the ever changing soft light with gentle sun beams. Stunning views all around and the perfect place for a small tribute.
The lead runners looked easy as they went past (they may not agree me on that though), in fact, not a single runner that went by had that tortured “why am I doing this, it’s horrible!” expression that’s fairly common in a marathon. It was soon quite busy on the top, I was smiling at the antics of group of walkers who were put through their paces and poses by a photographer with a huge camera on a sturdy looking tripod and a lackey to lug all his gear. Another bloke came and spoke to me, he said they were doing a promotional photo shoot for a fantastic event called the Caledonian Challenge and had I heard of it. I tactfully replied yes, I had heard of it, it is a brilliant event but I’m glad it’s no longer held the same weekend of another great event that I’m involved in. He then politely asked me if I’d move out of the way for a few minutes and take my bag with me that was sitting by the edge of the cairn I was spoiling his photies! While watching the poors sods being made to walk up a bit, down a bit, run a bit. Once more with feeling! A wee song came to mind, The Grand old Duke of York, he had da da da da da… and when they were only half way up they were Cally Chally posers!
Next came the bus trip, and hats off to them too, they’ve come to Scotland to spend their hard earned Euros and they have had the inclination and fortitude to climb the Devil’s Staircase and walk over to Kinlochleven albeit with white shoes (sturdy ones mind) plastic ponchos and brollies!
Sue arrived at the top all smiles, although she’s had some cramp, something she’s never had before while running but she was still moving well. It took me a fair bit of effort to catch her up once I’d packed away the iPod and some of the clothes I was wearing. We approached the horde of bus trippers, I went first and shouted a polite “Excuse us please!” They were lovely, moving over into single file off the path and applauded as we went past. Sue wondered what they thought of some scantly clad runners after they were presumably told to respect the Scottish weather and rough conditions of the path and dress appropriately! Sue kicked a stone and I hope she didn’t see the look on my face as I watched her left calf muscle go into spasm and as hard as a house brick. But what an attitude that girl’s got, no swearys, not out loud anyway, she just calmly said, “Ow, I don’t want to do that again!” and got back into her stride. We’d just come down the wide track, crossed the bridge over the waterfall when my phone rang, it was Ken wondering how far away we were, I was able to tell him that Karen’s support Jayne had some Succeed tablets and Sue was welcome to try them to see if that could help her cramp.
At Kinlochleven Pauline took over as running companion and Ken and I drove round to Fort William to catch a few finishers before heading up to Lundavra. We were lucky to get a parking spot well up the track so we didn’t have too far to walk with Sue requests plus loads of alternatives in case she changed her mind. The weather up to now had been pretty good for running and not bad for support but it was now fairly heavy rain, we were standing under brollies watching runners come through, Silke looked great coming in, you could tell she was buzzing and having a brilliant time. I decided to walk up the path to see if they were coming and if there were any changes to requests since there’s no phone signal here. I felt for a drookit walker as she’d heard the cheers from support crews, she asked “Was this Fort William?” I was sorry to have to tell her she had another six miles to go.
Soon saw Pauline and Sue, I gave a big cheery wave and asked if there were any changes in what Sue fancied, yeah, she’d rather have a doughnut than the shortbread that was on the list, so I scooted back, poured the coffee and found the doughnuts. Once Pauline and Sue were on their way on the final section, Ken and I both agreed that wearing a waterproof jacket without waterproof trousers isn’t good, we both had soggy legs, never mind, my were tracksters and would soon dry. Ken and I went back to Fort William and along to the Braveheart car park, we walked up the wide track for a bit, it helped dry out our breeks and warm us up while playing the waiting game. One runner asked how far away was the finish, about 15 minutes I said, and quickly added just 10 minutes if you push it, he laughed, I wasn’t too sure if he liked my humour or was just being polite. Ken’s phone rang, it was Pauline, they were on the motorway down to Braveheart and the instructions were when they got there, Sue would ditch her bumbag and Pauline would jump in the car. We would leave Sue to enjoy her moment of glory with a full cheering squad at the finish. In just under nine and a half hours Sue finished with a grin as big as the one she’s been wearing all day, or maybe slightly bigger, Pauline said that when they were on their way down to Fort William Sue said she couldn’t wait to do it again, I was impressed, most folk at least wait a day before they say that! At the finish a runner thanked me for having such a cheery face that popped up all over the place giving encouragement, she asked if I’d run the race I replied that I’d only supported it, she forcibly told me that I have to run it. I think she could be right, I have over the years supported Lynne, Val, Gail, Richie and now Sue whether I am a runner or a Devil groupie August 7th 2010 is in my diary.
After the prize giving I asked Garry how Alan was doing, he wasn’t sure where he was but after taking a tumble on Lairig Mor and bashing his head, he’d had it treated and was on the move again. Luckily you don’t need brains for running. We went round to the finish to see him in. I had a wee panic when Steve the sweeper came in. Where was Alan? A quick check with the time keeper, we’d missed Alan, he finished in around ten and a half hours. I have never been so glad to have missed someone finish! It just goes to prove you don’t need a fit body and good legs to run, just a strong will and the heart never to give up. Thank you Alan, you are all the inspiration I need to take into my next race.