Commonwealth Championship Keswick
24 hour race
A year ago when I qualified to run for Scotland it seemed like a dream and as time and my training progressed the reality started to sink in and the month before I could think of nothing else. There were a few wee hic-cups, I was quite concerned about not getting any kit, I wasn’t looking for a pile of freebies just a vest that fitted, which after a wee alteration was fine, the race organisation had problems with accommodation and the Scottish team were only informed where they were staying just six days before the event, but Pauline and I had decided earlier to take up the offer to stay with Ray and Jorie, our family who live in the area. So with everything eventually organised all I had to do was relax and run.
Ray took us to Fitz Park in plenty time to pick up two race chips (one for each shoe) and get prepared for the start, a few final words with Ken who was doing my support, some team photos then I just sat and chilled until race start. I wasn’t nervous, I just don’t do nerves, running is something I love and I’m privileged to be able to do it. There was no doubt in my mind that whatever happened during this race it would be my best effort for Scotland.
12.00 noon. A wee lump in my throat, running for Scotland is now a reality. Pauline stayed with me for the first lap before settling into her own pace, I repeated to myself “relax and enjoy” as I settled into my race. My watch can hold 100 laps so I decided I’d log every second one, just counting all the even ones holding the lap I was on in my head just like I do when I’m counting swimming laps, Ken would also count my laps, there were official lap counters as well as the chips on my shoes, but mistakes do happen, but with belt, braces, and a couple of bits of string, I was confident I would have my laps counted accurately and at 1.005km a lap I was hoping to do quite a few!
The weather was good, half the lap in the warm sun, half in the cooler shade of the trees and breeze from the river. At round 50km I stopped briefly to loosen my shoe, it just didn’t feel right with the chip on it. A few more laps and my right quad felt a bit tight, I focussed on staying relaxed and easy, Richie went past me, “How ya doing?” I asked, “A’m f*cked!” was his answer, (You can take the laddie oot o’ Fife but…) I cringed; it was way too early to sound so bad. Mind you it wasn’t long after that I had my first wee struggle, my stomach was a bit queasy and my legs felt tight and sore.
The best thing about running a race round a park is that you can see and talk to all the rest of the runners whether they are fast, slow, having a good spell or struggling, Sharon Gaytor never lapped me without some lovely words of encouragement. One Aussie girl, when she realised who I was running for said “Ah! Scotland… home of the brave!” I made a mental note to self “Hold on to that thought!”
At around 9.30pm I decided to stop counting my laps, I never look at my watch when I’m racing anyway (I always run to my body and I can’t make out the wee numbers without glasses these days) Ken was giving me my splits and I was on schedule with my race plan. The painkillers had kicked in and I was managing to eat again, time to relax put my music on and cruise. For the next 3 hours I felt as if I was floating round knocking out laps of 7½ minutes or just under, I knew it wouldn’t last but I savoured every minute while it did. I crashed back to earth around 1.00am and spent the rest of the race maintaining forward motion while trying to balance food intake against throwing up, managing pain (counting the hours until I could take more paracetamol) drinking coke and coffee to ward off the side-ways stagger and head jerk of falling asleep on my feet! On one lap I smiled as I followed Lynne doing the stagger and nod off thing, I caught up with her and we chatted each other awake until the next caffeine hit. I started to get a bit stroppy, when Val was doing a brilliant job of encouraging not just me but the whole team; I ungraciously answered her stirring words with “I feel sick!” Ken had his job cut out for him when I wanted my jacket on, I wasn’t stopping, he had to walk behind me, taking the safety pins from my number attached to my fleece, I removed the number on my front, I did make it a bit easier for him and nipped into the loo so he could find time to pin the numbers onto the number belt. I was now wearing five layers on my body and two on my legs and eventually warmed up a bit. What did raise the spirit was seeing Ray, Jorie and Adam (English with a bit Welsh… or is it the other way round!) pop up around the course waving Saltires and Rampant Lions! The birds started their dawn chorus and the sky slowly lightened, we knew we were in bronze medal position but it we couldn’t let it go, New Zealand were still working hard too. My stomach was dodgy, my toes were blistered and the pain in my legs intense, but it was only 24 hours and for Scotland and for that reason alone it wasn’t hard, running is always a pleasure and a privilege. I wasn’t going very fast but there was no way I would ever stop.
Pauline and I were doing the Clash of the Ash shout and Sharon still waved as she went past working on her race winning PB. With 1½ hours still to go the blister on my right pinkie toe burst, I looked down at my foot and the blood oozing through the white mesh of my shoe wasn’t a pretty sight. I was working on a long walking stride, it was either that or a short mincing shuffle, but I felt the walk was more productive and with a longer stride my feet hit the ground less often or so I thought! I didn’t know what distance I’d done, I knew it wasn’t a PB but still the best I could do on the day. With ten minutes to go, I shouted to Ken “Gimmie ma flag and I’ll run!” I took the corners and tied it round my neck, my superman cape! Except I was Saltire powered, I left the pain and blisters behind and breathed and pushing hard, there was a thirty second count down. Aahh! I struggled to get the knot out of my flag, but I succeeded and finished with my arms raised above my head and my Saltire flying behind me. 172.820km or just over 107miles. Bronze Team Medal.
Ken stayed with one of my race number placed on the ground to mark my finishing distance and Val walked me back to our camp, I was relieved to sit down at last, Richie and Lynne beside me, I was informed Pauline was lying in a heap just up the path a bit. Simon with the cast iron guts took my shoes off for me and put on my sandals. I started to feel light headed so they got my lying down. Pauline was now brought back and she was lying down too. We were covered with warm clothes and our flags draped over us. Ken’s quip of “This is when they usually slip you over board!” brought laughter all around, there’s always a sense of humour with ultra no matter how bad you feel. Now every runner has had DOMS (delayed onset muscle stiffness) I now had instant onset muscle paralysis with light headedness thrown in for good measure. It took a great team effort and a chair lift to get me into the back of the car where I lay with a bucket at my head (thankfully I didn’t need it but I’m glad it was there), Pauline went home in Adam’s car. When we got in Adam and Ray made sure we were as comfortable as could be expected and left us to sleep for a bit. After the tender loving care of Jorie and her magic tomato soup we slowly re-entered the land of the living, enough to enjoy a glass of bubbly that Ray produced for medicinal purposes before bed time!
On Saturday, Ray, Pauline and I went out to the 100km route, it had stunning scenery but not very spectator friendly, there was a 2km walk from the car park to where the runners turned, it seem to take ages to walk along but I’m sure it did my legs some good. I wasn’t very spritely on my pins but there was nothing wrong with my voice and arms to cheer and applauded the runners through. We headed back to Fitz Park to see the finish, we missed the leaders, but was in time to celebrate Gail breaking nine hours and on her birthday too!
This has been a brilliant event for Scottish ultra, Bronze Medals for the men and ladies team in the 24 hour race. My Braveheart award goes to Richie for battling away with severe stomach problems and finishing on his feet, and in the 100km race, Bronze for the men and Silver for the ladies. Sandra gets my biggest Braveheart award, battling a severe ankle injury to finish. Although great achievements are justly applauded it’s the inner battles against adversity to finish no matter what is at the heart of ultra.
My apologies to the hill runners on Sunday, I never managed up the hill to cheer you on but made a decent effort from the grass in the park!
Standing on the podium to receive my Bronze medal will stay with me forever, I had a small emotional moment but I don’t think anyone noticed. Next time though I hope they’ll be playing my tune!