I had a few wee problems at the beginning of the year, nothing much but enough to curtail speed work, not that I’ve ever been accused of speed! I was managing long runs but they were even slow for me, not that that worried me; I was out and running on the most beautiful part of the world. I did quite a few training runs on the WHW on my own and thoroughly enjoyed the solitude and scenery all to myself.
This years race did seem to sneak up on me, I was focusing on doing Pauline’s support in the 24 hour World Championships in France at the beginning of May and then Sue’s in the Heart of Scotland 100 at the end of May. Then I thought “Jings, it’s my turn!” and got my head in focus, the body will just have to do. Pauline and I were both running again this year but not together this time.
On Friday did the hard bit of just lying around waiting for Val and Lesley to pick me up at 9.00pm, I was well impressed, it didn’t take them long to get my mountain of gear packed into Lesley’s wee car. We were soon in Milngavie, I registered, weighed in and just sat and waited until the start, it was lovely to catch up with old faces and meet new ones. Before the start there was a minute of respectful applause for those that we have lost then Gilian sent us on our way. A deep breath to clear the lump in my throat, the thought of finishing without a hug from Dario was hard to contemplate.
I set off nice and easy, I always feel a little uncomfortable at the beginning; it’s this tapering nonsense of loafing about for a week just stuffing my face that does it. But on Monday before the race I developed a sore throat, and over the next couple of days a tickly cough, I was checking my resting pulse every morning and it was 52 instead of its usual 48, not a lot of difference so I wasn’t too worried. Now that I was running my chest felt raw and sore, and the cold air was catching my breath, was it just because it was so cold or was I going to have problems? On the positive, this was the WHW and not the Tour of Fife, although breathing is useful, it’s not necessary to turn my lungs inside out breathing as hard as I can, just minimum effort required for a very long time! I considered taking some painkillers but if I did I wouldn’t be able to take any later so didn’t bother, also never told my support, well, would you? I didn’t think that mentioning I had chest pain or trying to mollify them by saying, it’s ok, nothing serious, just my breathing tubes would be greeted with “Och, you’ll be fine!” The rule for support of If you can’t say anything positive don’t say anything at all. also goes for runners too.
Dawn arrived early with it being a clear night and the views of the sun rising were stunning, tinges of pink promising a cracking day. At the top of Conic hill I had a shadow, I’ve never had one here during the race before! Coming down I was with Chris Moon, glad to see him back for a second goblet, but he’d taken a bad fall earlier and landed hard on his quad, sadly he had to call it a day.
On the descent, I phoned Val and Lesley, “Get the kettle on!” I was having my first cup of coffee in a month, I was looking forward to it, but when writing my race plan for this year I had considered leaving it until later but I’m a stickler for tradition, so much so I’ve used the same set of safety pins for my race numbers since my first marathon (Black Isle 1992) and I’ve started every WHW in the same long sleeve thermal top, and I’ve finished most of them still wearing it too! (Minger!)
I walked through Balmaha eating my rice pudding with Lesley beside me carrying my mug of coffee until I was ready for it. I didn’t rush it she was still with me as I climbed Fort hill, at the top there was Stan in an official capacity “What’s your number?” With a big cheery grin I replied “No 2” (Thanks). Then he proceeded to reprimand Lesley for being a pacer. “No, I’m just carrying this spoon and waiting for the mug!” She protested. I took a last big mouthful of coffee and handed it over then set off on to one of my favourite parts of the route, it had now warmed up, my chest had eased, and I had settled down, it’s a bit of a bugger when you need 20 miles to get into your stride!
At Rowardennan I changed from my road shoes to trail ones, another tradition for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the Loch Lomond side with its rough path, it’s all part of the adventure, it was a beautiful day, I had company from time to time, enjoying the blether but also the solitude when I was on my own. At the top of the wee climb at the end of loch where you get a cracking view I stopped and turned round for a few moments, I gave a great big two armed wave, this is an angel’s playground and that who I was waving too.
At Beinglas I had a wee deviation from tradition, see, I am open to change when it makes sense. I had phoned ahead and Val and Lesley were ready for me. I was going back to my road shoes, the path was so dry and hard with no give in it at all. Then off I tootled with happy feet towards Auchtertyre, I knew I was down on my time, even the slowest predicted time. When Gilian sent us on our way I started my watch then promptly turned it round to time of day and paid no attention to it at all, although I’d asked Val and Lesley if I was ahead or behind and I had no doubt on what day I’d finish! I had given support a time sheet with my splits from 2007 (PB) 2008 (a bit slower) 2009 (loads slower) and thought I’d be somewhere within the realms of all three, but that was not important, I was here and enjoying my day, and it was a cracker, the sunshine, the cooling breeze, the route, the views, the inspiration. I’m sure Dario has had a word with the high heid yin to give us such a perfect day. I never stop celebrating being alive and the WHW is my biggest party.
Keith gave me a wee panic when he asked if I thought we’d make the cut off at Auchtertyre. What!!! I hadn’t given it a thought and wasn’t worried about it but had to give it a big bit of concentration, me and sums are a bit useless but me, sums and running are mission impossible but looking at the time of day and knowing we had until 4.00pm to get there I could work out we’d be fine and told him so. Keith and George, two uber dudes who attempted running from Fort William to Mingavie then running back, the heat on Friday slowed them down and decided they wouldn’t have enough time to get to the start in time for a wee regroup, small rest and prepare for the start of the race so using common sense!!!! stopped at Rowardennan, they went on to finish the race in just over 31 hours.
At Auchtertyre there was a shift change for support, Sue, Gillian and Robin were taking over, Val and Lesley shot off to Fort William in time to see Richie finish. Sue has supported both Pauline and I loads of times and was generous with her expertise practising her needlework helping Keith deal with a blister. Robin the raw recruit this year held out my baked tattie on a plate with a fork, I just lifted the tattie carefully so as not to lose any cheese from it leaving Robin holding the accoutrements I only do table manners when I’ve got a table, (but that’s ok Robin, Gillian did the same thing last year in her first year of support). I thoroughly enjoyed my tattie and must say so the next time I’m in the Real Food Café.
At Tyndrum I was pleased that Gillian was able to join me, she’s been injured and was doubtful about being able to run, we trotted on blethering as much as we were running. This was the only section I felt it warm, although the wind was still fairly strong, I pushed my sleeves up and for a short time only wore one layer on my top half.
At Bridge of Orchy there had been a mishap with my hot chocolate, it was knocked over while they were waiting for me, “Aw! Ok, I’ll just have my rice pudding then!” Disappointed I walked up the hill with Sue, then Robin came sprinting up breathing hard with a fresh mug, he must’ve put in an effort equivalent of the Tour of Fife’s Up Hill Time Trial, wow, what brilliant support I’ve got! As Robin went to hand it over my wicked sense of humour kicked in, “Naw, it’s alright thanks I wasnae gonna bother wi’ hot chocolate now!” A millisecond later, “Just kiddin’!” In case he made me wear it.
Sue and I were reaching the end of the trees when her phone rang, Richie’s won! Brilliant news, just what we wanted to hear to put a spring in our step, the next thing to lift the spirits was a Magnificent Saltire at the top of the hill. A couple of photos and jelly babies from Murdo then we headed down the hill, it was great to have Sue’s company over Rannoch Moor, she too had been doubtful of being able to run and I’d mentally prepared only to have Robin run with me from Glencoe so it was a bonus having Gillian earlier and Sue with me on another of my favourite bits. Heading up to Peter Flemings Memorial it was time for a body check, starting at the bottom. Feet? A couple of hot spots but for around 70 miles that was ok. Legs? A bit sore but moving fluidly. Stomach? Fine, still managing to shovel grub in like the stoker of a steam engine. Chest? Ok as long as I didn’t breathe hard. Physically I was still good, but best of all, my head was in a happy place, and that can make all the difference, my body wasn’t trashed but even if it was my heart and mind are good I knew I’d be able to drag my carcass forever if necessary or for at least 35 hours. I know how lucky I am that I’m in a position to be here, doing a challenge of my own choice. Life can throw up challenges so much tougher so being here is a privilege.
At the Glencoe Ski Centre Robin was ready to go with me, I spent my longest stop here, 13 minutes, Sue moved seamlessly from support runner to foot doctor, helping me change socks. I put tights on over my Skins, and my blue fleece and Saltire buff, another tradition for the Devil’s Staircase since my PB in 2007, I ate some pasta, had coffee and swapped the sun glasses for the clear lenses to keep the wind out of my face then Robin and I were off into the magical light of the sun going down, casting hues of pink on the Bookle (Buachaille Etive Mor, but it ain’t Sunday yet!) We went past a guy leaning into and talking to the folks in a car on the road down from the Ski Centre, I didn’t realise it was my favourite pirate until we were passing him, but now with the motion control of the Titanic, I was impossible of change speed or direction I just had a hurried few words as I careered by. Had I known he was considering calling a halt to his WHW I would have given him an earful and if possible dragged him up the Devil, but everyone makes their own mind up and I doubt I would of made a difference but I still feel guilty for going straight by, we saw a yellow top following us after the Devil and I was falsely reassured it was Dave.
Robin was brilliant as running support, instinctively doing the right thing; I didn’t have to shout at him at all! It didn’t take too long until we were at the faff of the weigh in at Kinlochleven, I wasn’t too concerned about my weight, I don’t mean to be blasé about the scary stuff of hyponatraemia etc, I’m aware of the symptoms and my weight never varied more than a kilo. I drank my mug of Oxo and took my ham and cheese roll and a bottle of flat coke, my stomach was fine but now it was a bit tired too and I didn’t start eating my roll until Robin and I had got the monster climb out of Kinlochleven over with, I nibbled it slowly over the next couple of miles, in the past at this point I’ve eaten too fast and then felt sick. The tiredness was starting to show, “I’m fed up with all these stones!” although I still had a happy head, Lairig Mor in the dark doesn’t make me skip with joy!
It wasn’t dark for much longer; I watched the second dawn rise during my race. I wasn’t as talkative with Robin as I was with Gillian and Sue, but Robin’s a fine wee blether and his race tales was lovely, I didn’t hallucinate but I thought my ears were when he said something like it’s not far to wonderbra! He was actually calling Lundavra wonderbra, but I just thought ma lugs were tired too!
My chest was now a bit gunky, my voice was rough and croaky and when I coughed I sounded like I was on forty fags a day and I was coughing up a bit of phlegm and that was giving me the boak! Robin being a proper gent with a proper handkerchief would ask “Was that a hanky?” when I blew my nose. “Nah, just a snot rocket!” lucky for him I was following. If you want to be a real ultra runner you have to forget all the manners your mother taught you and go Neanderthal, eating with your bare hands, pooing in the woods and blowing your nose without the aid of a hanky.
Last year I had a sticky out bottom lip at Lundavra when I was given coffee instead of the hot chocolate I’d been looking forward to after asking for it at Kinlochleven, so this year I’d put on my diva demand list just to ask me at Kinlochleven what I’d like to drink, but when Sue asked I was in don’t know mode, so just said surprise me. What a genius that woman! At Lundavra I got a Mocha, the kick of coffee and the comfort of chocolate, perfect. I’ll remember that for future, if I can’t make my mind up just have both! (Wonder if it’ll work for when I’m shoe shopping.)
It was just a case of plod on now, Gillian and Sue were going to park the car at the Leisure Centre and then walk out to meet me, lovely, a full escort home. Robin and I negotiated the stiles, the steps and steep ups and downs of the woods, just before the last steep climb onto the wide forest track down to Fort William a cheery face appeared, Stevie, John K’s support, (but he was my support first, running a bit with me in 2006) it does give a boost when someone makes an effort just to see how you’re fairing. It didn’t feel too torturous coming down the wide descent, Sue and Gillian had found us and Stevie said cheerio, and headed back to the campsite. The last mile, normally I put in the effort of a sprint but why change the pace of the last 94 miles, so just ran it nice and steady, savouring success. 30 hours 45 minutes, slower than I had thought I’d be but do I care.
The prize giving was still special and I thought the new tradition of the first winner presenting the last winner with their goblet brought all the runners full circle and symbolic of a family hug.
A excerpt from my 2008 race tale - Hang on while I swap my race buff for the headscarf with the dangly coins and stare into my crystal ball I can sense this family getting bigger, I see another Carnegie Harrier sipping from a crystal goblet. Peter Humphreys this is your destiny.
Pete is sipping from a goblet, finishing in under 22 hours, excellent for his first time, why I bring this up is because he started his WHW life as support, and I can see more of my supporters sipping from fine crystal in the future, just a word of warning, 8 out of 10 support end up with their own goblets! Just saying thank you to Val, Lesley, Gillian, Sue and Robin just doesn’t seem adequate. You are a very special bunch that makes this adventure possible, are doing anything next June 18th?