Monday, 24 May 2010

A tough 24 hours

World and European 24 hour Championships 2010

After getting back from France last Saturday evening I’ve been meaning to write a wee bit about the World Champs all week, but I’ve been knackered, mentally as well as physically, ma heid’s been all over the place and a bit more forgetfully than usual. Also I planned some big miles running every day this week knowing I’d be tired, my longest on Monday was 21 miles and boy, it was an exercise in remembering how to run tired, I covered 58 miles in the seven days and every mile came under the heading of flogging a dead horse but compared to what I witnessed at the World Champs it was nothing, the determination and fight shown by all the athletes was inspiring.

There was 229 competitors from 32 nations and we had a strong men’s team Chris Carver, Chris Finill, Stephen Mason, John Pares, Richard Quinnall, and Jim Rogers. They did very well, winning bronze in the European Championship. We didn’t have a ladies team, Sharon Gaytor was injured so Pauline and Marie Doke would be running for personal bests.

Now the atmosphere at these events is totally different from a family day oot aka The West Highland Way Race where competition is still fierce at the front end and between siblings, the Family always lookout for each other. This was the best on the planet running for national pride and gold medals and pressure to do well came not from team management but from the athletes themselves. There was the camaraderie that’s always present at ultras but it was still pretty much every country for themselves, there were a few wee bits of friction between some nations and for me I felt it was a bit like the petty shenanigans that go on in that disreputable game called football! Official complaints were flying around, ok; everyone wants a level playing field. I fell foul of the referee myself, on one lap I knew Pauline was approaching but the there were a horde of French hanging out of the tent next to us, Pauline came down the middle, I stepped forward to hand her drink bottle over as she went past, next thing the official was eyeballing me, speaking French, pointing to the painted line. I stopped short of tugging my forelock but nodding my head in acknowledgement of my misdemeanour, next lap I told Pauline she has to come right in to me ‘cause I got a row for stepping over the line. Now let me explain the rules for support at this championship, we were only allowed to use the length of our tent, three metres and one metre out (check the orange paint) anything out with this would incur disqualification for the runner.
I have never supported Pauline under such restrictions before (this was Pauline’s four British vest and I’ve been there for her in all the others), I usually cover about a marathon in the feed zone, but unless I’m handing over food or drink, I walk or run behind her, (don’t want to be accused of being a pacer), passing on information or kick ass encouragement. This felt like I was supporting with both hand tied behind my back! Right, enough of my frustrations.

This was a good team, support crew gelled together well, although we hadn’t all met before, there were a lot of laughs and we looking after each other, I was also helping Graham, Marie’s husband support Marie, he’d had quite an accident earlier and wasn’t firing on all cylinders and went off to rest occasionally, on one time where I was looking after Marie I missed Pauline, on her next lap round she shouted “Message from Alan Sugar!” She was long gone by the time I realised I was sacked!

We managed the three metre rule regards feeding, Pauline either took her juice bottle or mug round a whole lap or dumped it on the official drinks table where I’d walk over and pick it up. Communication was the hardest, but I have a good set of lungs and vocal chords set at max, when there was a text message of support I’d either edit it if it was a long one or just bellow as Pauline went by. (Thanks guys for sending them, they were appreciated and I read them all in full to Pauline afterwards.)

The support crew all worked together, when Chris Finill came in for a change of shoes, I did say out loud “How many crew does it take to change a pair of shoes?” Well, it was three, with the physio supervising! I was swapping Chris’s orthotics from one pair of shoes to the other, “Concentrate Fiona, there’s a left and right here, swap them over correctly!” Next lap round Chris came in to say they were in the wrong way round. Bugger! I’ve never been stumped to find a positive in any situation; I apologised and told him “Look at it like it was a reflexology massage!” Chris has proved that he is a consistent runner having run all thirty London Marathons and all under three hours, I took my hat off to him, I also lent him my favourite pink gloves when his were wet and cold, it was the least I could do after messing up his shoe change.

Pauline wasn’t having the best of runs, her shin was hurting, you could see it swelling and bruising as time progressed, she managed to maintain a pace that would at least give her 200km but as the night drew in it became freezing, I was wearing a t-shirt, a fleece, my inspirational t-shirt, a thick sweatshirt and a jacket, a pair of three quarter length breeks with thick cosy joggy bottoms over them, two hats (until I gave one to Chris) and I was freezing! Pauline was so cold she was rattling like an old washing machine on fast spin! Got lots of clothes on her and even made her do a spell wrapped in a blanket, she wasn’t the only one suffering from the penetrating cold, there were a few more similarly dressed in blankets.

Incidentally my inspirational t-shirt wasn’t necessary Pauline was working as hard as possible at all times and never gave up no matter how tough it became, I did give it a flash in the wee hours since I had it on. I also gave Pauline the Runrig “COME ON!” at my loudest possible, that stunned the Americans opposite into silent momentarily, well, there was a bonus!

After running for so many hours with a gammy leg Pauline’s gait was affected and she developed other sair and tight bits and had quite a pronounced limp at one point. Dave, the physio knocked some of the kinks out of her but that looked just as painful!

Time moved on and just after nineteen hours I bellowed some inspirationals recalling my run last Saturday on the WHW, Pauline drove from point to point enjoying the chill out and scenery “Less than five hoors tae go, jist imagine Bridge o’ Orchy tae Kinlochleven in the sunshine!” I laughed when Dawn (Richard’s support) said “err… that was too Scottish for me, can you translate?”

The end was in sight, Pauline had said she didn’t want her flag for the finish, she didn’t feel she deserved it. Pah! Not in my eyes. The distance she covered didn’t show the fight she put up and she definitely deserved the honour of finishing flying the Union Flag. I tied it round her shoulders, gave her a hug and sent her off, that was when my bottom lip gave a big wobble, I’d stayed a tough taskmaster up until then.

Marie didn’t have a flag to finish with, her first GB vest and a PB too, I had a bit of a dilemma, there was no way I was going to ask Pauline to give up her flag but then I saw my Saltire fastened onto the railings. Now there’s a flag Pauline will be proud to finish with! With total disregard for the restrictive rules I took my Saltire to where the route went round the back of the tents, as Pauline went by I told her that Marie didn’t have a flag. Pauline’s look of concern said it all followed with “Give Marie this!” I gave Pauline my Saltire and dashed back with the Union Flag for Marie. There were only a few minutes to go, I grabbed my camera, sod these effin rules, I’m off! I went through a gap in the railings and charged round the inside of the lap screaming at Pauline “Fly your Saltire, show them how a Rampant Lion finishes!”
The signal for the end of the race sounded. Pauline was shifting at the end, I had to climb the barrier to get to her, she was still standing but leaning her head on the barrier, and could still make me laugh, in true Diva style said “No photographs!”

It took a bit of time to get everyone back to the hotel, Pauline just crashed out and didn’t move for ages, it took me a good deal of effort to get her to eat and finally have a shower. Then I fell asleep!

Pauline’s distance of 107 miles was a disappointment for her but there was no disgrace in her performance, I have never seen anyone work so hard for so long with the problems that she had and I’ve witnessed quite a few tough races!

I’m not finished with doing support yet, next weekend I get to do the let’s not bother with any sleep thing again. Pauline and I along with Ken will be looking after Sue in the Heart of Scotland 100, it won’t be so intense and l’ll get to run a bit too! I might even take my t-shirt but only for the laughs!

Monday, 10 May 2010

World and European 24 hour Championships, Brive, France

I’m flying to Brive, France soon (volcano permitting!) to do Pauline’s support in the 24 hour World and European Championships. Running for Great Britain is an immense privilege and Pauline has been focussing on this for a while and needs someone doing support she can depend on totally, that will be me then! This is Pauline’s fourth British vest and I’ve been there for her during all her other races. I pride myself that when Pauline is running I will have everything under control and Pauline knows it, so she can concentrate purely on running, she has no doubt that I’ll be able to deal with whatever problems arise. It is a double edge sword pushing and supporting someone you love when they’re doing something emotionally, mentally and physically tough but I think twins do have an advantage over other siblings, spouses or friends; we’ve been poking each other in the eye since before we were born and she’ll be getting no sympathy from me! I will do my utmost to get the best from her.

I have the inspiration sorted, there has been many a truly inspiring word spoken by the WHW family and there’s a couple in particular that work for me, one from my favourite pirate to his lady love during a pep talk while she was doing her leg of the Fling relay and the other from my favourite Aussie. Dress code for Team GB is standard tracksuit etc. and I was given a warm sweatshirt last year for Bergamo, Italy and I’ll be wearing it in the wee sma’ hours to keep me cosy but with a wee personal touch, well, I don’t want my neck to get cold now do I. Also I’ll slip into this cheeky wee number at some point during the proceedings.
If you’re interested here a couple of websites that should be doing updates during the race.

The race starts 9.00am UK time on Thursday, if you would like me to pass on a message to Pauline and the rest of the team during the race, here’s my mobile No. 07510270113. Please don’t be offended when I don’t reply, I’ll be a tad busy since I’ll be supporting Stephen Mason as well but he’s easy to look after, he doesn’t do diva demands. Pauline does admit that it’s just me that gets both barrels when she’s not a happy bunny, she’s loads more polite when others are doing her support but she knows I won’t take the huff and if it helps her release anxieties and relax I’m doing my job! Besides I get to shout back… but I don’t have to, I’ll just make her read my t-shirt!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

A stunning day oot!

I really enjoyed today’s run, a wee change to the original plan, Glenrothes 50km on the Sunday, it was cancelled due to a lack of entrants. I was quite disappointed, especially when five folk I know said “Bummer, I was gonna do that!” Well, why didn’t you commit earlier! Probably still not enough entrants but it might have helped! I use the 50km as a good test of fitness and I do enjoy it. I find it puzzling that an ultra is cancelled due to lack of interest when ever other one is over subscribed!

Ok, new plan, big run on the WHW. The club has a big outing to the Cateran Trail, the wee 23 miler and relay! I was asked would I do it? “No” was my reply, I wanted a big run, but when the comments changed to “You should do the Cateran!” I dug in my contrary heels, and would not succumb to the bullying, but I did concede that I would benefit from a fast “shorter” run and changed my plan from running from Bridge of Orchy to Fort William to just stopping at Kinlochleven. There is no doubt that the Cateran trail is a good run and I may do it some day but I’m no trail trollop, my heart belongs to the WHW so that’s where I was heading.

Pauline was going to drive and have a chill out day, just what she needed after a stressful week at work and trying to focus on her race next week. She flung me out at Bridge of Orchy and said “Bugger Off!” I stood at the start of the hill in racing pose, said “Ready, steady, go!” and set off at a stroll, well, I’d just got out the car, my Achilles tendons felt tight, and I’ve just had a heavy mileage week running my seventh day in a row. Once I loosened off I ran the whole way, a novelty running all of Rannoch Moor even up the steep bit to whatisname memorial cairn although I did have a few photo stops and at one point I stopped just turn a full circle to take in the vastness of my view and all I could hear were the birds, the breeze and my own breath.

I phoned Pauline to say I can see Kingshouse, I just put my phone away, och, there she is, she’d walked up the hill to meet me. We went along the path to the Ski Centre, the new checkpoint for the WHW race, and not much of an add-on really, and when you consider the route improvements, it’ll be Even Stevens’!
I walked most of the Devil’s Staircase and stopped to let four guys go past on bikes, one stopped for a wee blether, they’d started in Inverness, came along the Great Glen Way and now heading down the WHW, he knew me from last years Glenrothes 50km, he was a colleague of Bob Allison! I bounded and skipped the rough rocky path down to the steep track that heads into Kinlochleven, I came down that at a fair pace but not hard enough to trash my quads. Pauline came up to bridge at the end of the pipes and finished the run with me. Just as we were going through the wood we met Peter Duggan.

I was pleased to have run it all apart from the climb out of Bridge of Orchy and the Devil, and I felt good and strong the whole way and was a bit disappointed when I stopped, I was itching to carry on over Lairig Mor, but I’ll save that for another day. I’ve covered all of the WHW to Kinlochleven during this years training and if I don’t manage to get the last miles in I’d like to say I could probably do that last bit in my sleep, highly unlikely, even though I’ll be heading into the second night with no sleep I’m sure the blisters round my tootsies and screaming quads won’t let me nod off! Come race day/days what will be, will be and I will manage to run from the Braveheart car park. It’s tradition!