Sunday, 17 July 2011

A waterfall, a hill and an Angel

Last weekend Pauline and I had a lovely few days chillin’ with no running whatsoever but still getting oot n’ aboot. We were camping in Fort William but there was no “roughing it” involved, a big tent, airbeds, table, chairs and lots of cosy layers and a good measure of wine and a little malt.

By a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon our camp was set up with a cracking view of the Ben, the evening was spent watching caterpillars of walkers coming off the hill. Ben Nevis was on our plan, it’s been a few years since we were last there but we decided to wait until Monday when the weather forecast was better and the weekend walkers had gone home, I’m not anti-social but I like a bit of elbow room.

So Sunday was gonna be a bit wet with low cloud so decided to head up the Kyle of Lochalsh road to the Falls of Glomach, reputedly one of the biggest waterfall in Britain. It was a smashing walk, we kinda underestimate how long it would take, a runner’s view of ten miles is a bit different to a walker and with lots of steep ups and downs, open moor, stops for photies and sandwiches, our rough estimate of four hours was closer to six hours but there was no time constraint and the waterfall was well worth it. I’ve never really been affected by vertigo but the sheer drop, narrow scrambley path to the viewpoint with the rush of the water just sucked you down. I could only look over the edge lying on the wet rock. I laughed at Pauline’s wide eyed exclamation; she’s never been keen on high paths, “Scary biscuits!”

Monday was fair but the Ben was cloudy on the summit, no different to most days, it only averages one day in ten of being clear. We went up the “tourist” path, that was fine by me, I had my camera and I don’t live there, tourist and proud! We kept looking down to the camp site and a wee blue speck that was our tent, I waved down to it, I’ll catch that later when sitting with my wine looking up.

                                                     I cin see ma tent frae here!

Nearing the top, the cloud was thick, still no wind which was unusual, I was only wearing a thermal long sleeved top and a t-shirt, a gentle breeze made me consider putting on my fleece, I looked up, second thoughts, I’ll no bother we’re at the top. A few photies, a clunk of hipflasks, my first effort of a plank, dunno if I got the fine points of technique right but at least it was with altitude!

I loved the blether and nods with everyone else on the hill although there were a couple of miserable buggers that just ignored us. The diversity of the folk on the hill made me smile from the “serious” walkers kitted out in hundreds of pounds worth of gear and rucksacks the size of a small shed to the old bloke in a nylon poncho carrying a Morrison’s carrier bag, the young lads with just rain jackets tied round their waists. The ten year old boy that asked us on the high zig-zags how far was the top, his parents were on the way up too but he had scampered off. I was chuffed for the older bloke from Birmingham, we’d caught him up on the upper zig-zags, he’d was pleased he’d got this far and was going all the way, we spoke to him again when we were heading down he would definitely make it. A few folk looked like they were struggling and hating every step, I felt for them, I’m sure they’d be pleased with their achievement when they got back down but for me it seems strange not to enjoy being in stunning scenery and if it’s hard work it only adds to experience. I think the couple that asked how far it was to the top thought I was only kidding when I said “You’re not far when you get to the snowman!” Sod’s law though, when we were back down did the summit no clear! Oh well, that’s fine I’ll never get fed up going up and down the Ben, maybe next time I’ll get the view!

Tuesday was a fine day but we were both working Wednesday so we slowly packed up camp after a leisurely breakfast in the sun. We broke up the journey home with a stop at Bein Glas Farm, it was the 12th July, two years to the day since Dario left us, so the opportunity of a wee walk in the Angel’s playground couldn’t be missed. We set off at ice-lolly pace, it was still bright and buying a Solero at the shop didn’t make us feel guilty about using their car park.

We stopped at Dario’s post for a bit, I always have a wee wobble to myself, survivor’s guilt, why was I so lucky when other’s who deserve luck were not. We went on passed Doune bothy to Dario’s memorial book, this was no moment of reverence or quiet contemplation but an evil version of the children’s party game of pass the parcel, I had retrieved the black bag parcel from its hiding place, knocked off the big black slugs with a stick, Pauline wussed out, she paced up and down shouting “Hurry up!” as I unwrapped the ice-cream box of its many many layers and zip-lock bag with midges crawling in my ears, nose and in my eyes, I could hear no music just the chortling of an Angel. We wrote a few words then Pauline left me to play the evil pass the parcel game in reverse and I placed the bomb proof parcel back in its hiding place.

We headed back to Bein Glas for some chips and beer before heading home, four days of not conforming to a timepiece but to what seems natural. We promised each other not to leave it so long until our next chill out. all my photies

Monday, 4 July 2011

West Highland Way 2011

My training for this year had been pretty minimal, the only running on the WHW I’ve had was the Fling and a couple of 13 milers, everything else was on road, a 22 miler and a handful of 15/16 milers and that was it. I wasn’t too worried, I wasn’t chasing a PB, just being there to celebrate having my health and being alive was enough for me and at least it was more than the Pirate!

Just before the start Pauline and I were shouting at each other, don’t worry it was no twinny tiff, just a twinny tradition since Perth 24 hour 2008 COME ON! ALRIGHT! COME ON! ALRIGHT!

A countdown to the hooter at 1.00am and we’re off, and what a send off, I’ve never seen Milngavie High Street lined with applauding supporters all the way to the turn,

photo - Colin Knox
Pauline and I were amazed. We were together for a short time before she trotted off, I run no ones pace but my own. It was busy with lots of blethering and light hearted whinging about getting splashed from the muddy puddles. It wasn’t long before my nice white new shoes were spattered in mud, well, nearly new shoes, I’d worn them for the Skye half marathon the week before. I wasn’t sure if the mud was extra slimy and slippery or my lack of trail running made the going awfy slow, (I have it on good authority that the rain washes the oil out of the peat and that’s what makes the path slippy) I wasn’t risking battering along and becoming a cropper. I did have one “Eeek” moment at Beech Tree and there was no mud involved! I’d just passed their huge floodlight still dazzled and blind, I caught my toe on the pavement and nearly went all my length, that wasn’t the scary bit, (I’m a short arse with not far to go!) A campervan was haring down the road, I was seconds away from being roadkill, not what I wanted a few miles in! I was going slow as it was, that really would’ve held me back a bit!

Along the path of a thousand gates, I was mostly with Susan and Rob and another couple, I did have a cunning plan for this section, I don’t know why but in the past I always seemed to find myself in the front. That was fine when the gates were of the wee cute kissing variety but these big hefters! After a wee turn at the front, I paused a bit then tucked in at the back, my puny upper body wasnae getting the chance of a work out!

On the tarmac road heading to Drymen, I took off my head torch, it wasn’t quite dawn but light enough to see the nightlife, bats still flitting about and a huge hedgehog trundle across the road. At Drymen it was just a straight swap of backpacks, I was working with two, no faffing with refilling the bladder, Val and Allan had time to refuel the ditched one before I swapped again at Rowardennan. I was with Caroline heading toward Conic hill and enjoyed her company until I stopped for a pee before leaving the trees and heading into the open ground. On the descent, for the first time, I stuck to the stupid stone path, I’ve always came down the grass but this time it just seemed too slimy, I’ve done this descent in all seasons and weathers but this time my gut instinct was on the extremely cautious side and I wasn’t arguing with that.

At Balmaha (20 miles) I had a change from tradition, I’ve abstained from caffeine for a month as usual, and I’ve always had a mug of coffee here but I’d decided to have tea instead and save my big caffeine hit for Bridge of Orchy. Val walked with me as I ate my rice pudding carrying my mug, we reached the top of Fort hill before I’d finished my tea and took a few photos. I still loved it along the ups and downs towards Rowardennan, I always wondered if I loved this bit so much because of the coffee hit but I was glad to see it was still special without the caffeine enhancement.

At Rowardennan I changed my socks, my feet didn’t feel too bad at all but loads of Body Glide and dry socks were pre-emptive. I also learnt that I was half an hour down on last year. Yikes! That is slow. I don’t run to my watch, just my body. My support had a sheet of my previous splits for the past three years and last year I was quite slow because I ran with a wee chest infection. I also found out that Pauline was half an hour down too but she’d gone over on her ankle twice, besides still having the Comrades Marathon in her legs she was hoping for around 22 to 24 hours (she’s a tough ol’ burd I wasn’t worried, I knew she’d finish whatever the time. She finished 28hrs 20mins)

Heading towards Inversnaid I had a helluva faffin’ with my rain jacket, first it was on, then it was off, then it was tied round my waist, then it was rolled and tied, (I hate stuff flapping round my bahooky) then it was back on. This time I just put my jacket on over my backpack, I might look like a ninja turtle but a lot easier than putting in on and off under my backpack. Karin caught up with me here, she must’ve been watching, I bet she was laughing at my anorak antics. We were together for a fair bit along the loch, Karin, thank you for that smashing compliment, it buoyed me up no end.

At Inversnaid I picked up my drop/party bag, I was ready to go before Karin and HBT Jamie. I felt a bit of a wrench leaving before them, same as when I stopped for a pee when I was with Caroline, but you’ve got to run your own race, I didn’t doubt I’d see them both again throughout the race.

My right knee was complaining a bit along the rough path along the loch shore but once I hit the flat grassy bit I found a surge, my best and strongest section until Bein Glas, I don’t call this bit the Angel’s Playground for nothing I wasn’t just having a “good” section I was carried by an Angel, I stopped for a few moments at Dario’s post sharing the Talisker I got in last weeks goody bag.

At Bein Glas (40 miles) I picked up my second party bag, it was lovely to see Mags here, last year we were running together for a bit around Bein Glas. I ditched the half full 500ml bottle of juice (flat diluted Ginger Beer with a few grains of salt. I don’t do high tech, high price, blind ya wi’ science drinks) I had carried from Inversnaid and took the 250 ml bottle and walked up the hill eating my tub of custard.

After my high along the Angel’s playground the only way was down, my legs were sore, my knees were no liking the bendy thing, and I was a tad tired. I thought about taking some paracetamol but didn’t, I was saving it for later. Also I was with a couple of guys that were really struggling, one of them was for stopping at Auchtertyre, they’d ran out of drinks, so I gave them some of mine, I tried to persuaded him to carry on until Bridge of Orchy then make his decision, but he came back with “I became a Granddad five weeks ago, I’m not built for this, I don’t want to have a heart attack!” Whoa! This was serious negativity, what could I say. I’m not medically trained, so I hoped I wasn’t lying. I replied “We’re not moving fast, breathing hard or have a high heart rate, we’re only tired. Tiredness doesn’t put you in the “at risk” category.” if he felt this bad I wouldn’t try to persuade him to keep going any more. I rarely feel anti-social but I felt I needed to be on my own, selfish, maybe, but I was struggling too!

The rollercoaster was no fun at the fair, I was glad to cross the road and hit the tarmac where I could run without my knees screaming, I got to Auchtertrye at 3.48pm. Robin has now arrived for his stint of support. I had another change of socks, wolfed my baked tattie and watched race checkpoint pack up camp. 4.00pm was the cut off, I was relieved to see Karin come in just behind me, where was Jon? I felt quite rattled leaving Auchtertyre, I was close to being timed out. I’ll never disrespect a race marshal or volunteer, but no way was I stopping for something as trivial as time, at no point during the race did I ever think I would fail. I mean no criticism of the race rules, I do suppose that generally anyone who doesn’t get to Auchtertyre by 4.00pm Saturday isn’t going to get to Fort William by 12noon Sunday but whoever invented them didn’t bank on me being in the equation. The lack of speed will never equal the lack of ability, not in my book! I had some ugly “what if” scenarios playing round my head but by the time I got to Tyndrum I’d stopped rattling the bars of my cage, it didn’t happen, I wasn’t timed out, dragged off the route for disobedience and banned from future races so I can cancel the panic.

I eventually calmed down after Tyndrum,53 miles done, 42 to go, although my pace was slow I could maintain it forever. I had a mug of tea and some shortbread, and the easier going section got me back into my groove, it was raining really heavy and my quads and knees were feeling cold. I was having a rethink of what was planned for Bridge of Orchy and was about to get the phone out when I saw a bright yellow jacket with bare legs hanging out the bottom coming towards me. I thought “Nutter!” Then I recognised Lesley, she had just arrived with Gillian, it must’ve been better weather at home then. I had pinched Lesley from Pauline’s support. The original support plan was for Pauline to have Sue and Mel with Lesley arriving to lighten the load on the latter half, I was to have Val and Allan supporting until Auchtertyre then Robin and Gillian taking over for the second half but Gillian had been ill at the beginning of the week and wasn’t sure if she was even going to make it at all never mind any running but thankfully by Friday night she had recovered enough to come.

After a bit of discussion I asked Lesley to get the poly bag marked Glencoe from my big holdall, it contained tights, my favourite blue fleece (I’ve worn it for the Devil’s staircase every year since 2007) and the waterproof breeks, then she scampered off to get the team ready also if I was going to have to take my wet shoes off I might as well change my socks and shoes, my nice not so new and shiny white shoes had done 60 miles, time for a fresh pair. Now here is where support prove they’re worth their weight in gold, silver, platinum and all things priceless. Val and Allan were meant to go home after Auchtertyre, they couldn’t stay as they had family stuff on Sunday but with Gillian being doubtful Val said she would stay to go over Rannoch Moor with me then go home. We were both geared up for the slog to Glencoe. I headed for the hill then I saw the Pirate sitting in a campervan looking all cosy and comfy. (He’d probably disagree about the comfy part but from where I was standing he was at least dry and sitting down), his legs were giving him major grief, not surprising, after 60 hard miles with bugger all training, he was stopping here. He got no sympathy from me just an earful of abuse… then a hug.

It was lovely to see Murdo on the hill, I didn’t expect him to still be here in these conditions he must’ve had a long day, hanging around is so much harder than moving forward. Thanks Murdo for the jelly babies they were very much appreciated.

Rannoch Moor was long but my legs were moving in the right direction and my bag of wee boiled tatties tossed in butter, salt, pepper and mint from my garden, went down well. As we were heading up the hill we saw a couple of walkers come over the top, Val and I both thought it was a bit late in the day for traipse over moor then realised it was Sean, not just Lord of the Bridge but multi-tasking as shepherd.

I went straight through the Glencoe checkpoint just picking up my mug filled with hot pasta and Lesley now wearing waterproof breeks too, and headed down the road. Aagghh! I stopped dead! Oh no! I’d forgotten that Val and Allan were heading home and I wouldn’t see them again. I uttered not one word of thanks or even cheerio! I hoped I would be forgiven for my lapse in manners.

At Altnafeadh I had my fifth and last sock change. Although I was told there was nothing to see, I knew the ball of my left foot was developing a blister, and the right one had a hot spot too. I wasn’t too worried though getting this far without any real damage to my feet, besides a touch of trench foot, was good going. I wouldn’t go so far as saying I like blisters but heading into the second night with no sleep a bit of hot, sharp, jaggy, superficial pain certainly helps to stop you falling asleep in the vertical position!

I enjoyed the stomp up the Devil’s Staircase, with the zigzags the head torches ahead and behind looked closer than they were. Over the top my legs were still quite supple as I hopped across the boulders in the dark, I was complimented on my balance from a bloke behind me, I put it down to my arm waving technique. Lesley was great company and often made me laugh, more than once she said, “Don’t follow me, I’m ankle deep!” The quad killing descent to Kinlochleven didn’t seem to take as long as I remembered and it wasn’t long until we were in the bright lights of the Community Centre, it was a novelty using a proper lavvy, Julie weighed me and my crew got my stuff ready, then someone else’s support asked me if I would like some chicken noodle soup. “Thanks, yes, that would be lovely.” He handed me a big pot and a spoon. I was fine with that, ultra runners don’t have table manners, a table, or a bowl either. The only problem I did have was I thought it would be awfully rude to run away with his pot and spoon, my support know I don’t do stand still but he didn’t.
A quote from my instruction sheet - At all checkpoints I will always either walk or run through, I won’t stand and wait for anything, hopefully I won’t change my mind from my what I have on my requirement sheet but if I have you can catch me up. (Stop time is dead time and I don’t do dead!)
So I stood and shovelled in the braw soup while swivelling my hips bending my knees and prancing about as if I was burstin’ fur a pee. Also I was in the Race Doc’s house, standing still causes the blood to pool in your legs, I waznae risking the fainty thing!

It wasn’t long before I headed back out with Robin and Gillian for company, we ditched the head torches, bloody hell, don’t think I’ve headed up towards the Lairig Mor with the promise of daylight before. Not to worry, a finish is a finish.

Up the hill I had several flashbacks, from more traumatic years and also from supporting Pauline too, I knew there was no doubt I’d get to Fort William, even at Mingavie. I have a Magnus Magnusson philosophy,” I’ve started so I’ll finish.” Am I tough/stupid/pig-headed/lucky? Yes, definitely!

Lairig Mor was another slog, but with Robin and Gillian’s company I was pulling it in, I had a roll with ham and cheese, it was going stale in my hand, I took wee bites, it was rolling around in my mouth, I needed to eat, I was trying to force it in, it wasn’t what I wanted. Robin gave me his cereal bar, I managed half of it but it was like eating cardboard. I needed fuel but what? (With hindsight, I’m taking a Slimfast shake for next year)

The Wilderness Response Teams were brilliant, they offered loads of practical support but more importantly, peace of mind, I thought I’d be ok but it was very reassuring they were there.

At Lundvara I got a Mocha-coffee and some shortbread. That gave me the boost I needed, and I storming up the hill from Lundavara waiting for my support to catch me up, a wee touch of déjà vu. Without checking my old stories, I haven’t a Scooby if it was Pauline or Val that was chasing me with my mug of coffee a few years ago but it gave me a giggle that it was happening again. Lundavara although around 6 miles of fiendish up and downs was the finish straight. I could smell the malt in the Quaich!

The sun was up and shining brightly, I lost the rain jacket and my sleeves were pushed up, I couldn’t be bothered taking off the waterproof breeks although my legs were roasting. We were heading up through the woods, I looked up and saw a wood nymph flitting through the trees at an absurd pace, she came closer, I wasn’t hallucinating, wood nymphs don’t wear Scotland shorts and crop tops or give me the biggest, cheeriest, enthusiastic congratulatory hug I’ve ever had. Robin was jealous, it was Lucy, fresh from a night sleep after supporting Richie. (Patience Robin, next year!!!)

Gillian had the get out clause at Lundavara but what a trooper, she stayed with me all the way to the end. On the wide forest track, we saw someone coming towards us wearing a Carnegie top, was it Sue or Julie? Julie, thank you, a very welcome friendly face, your words brought my emotions to the fore, I tried to stifle the lump in my throat and my tears, I’m not afraid to show emotion but it gets in the way of breathing. The Glory Mile was approaching, it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve done this or the time it takes, PB or PW it’s still an achievement. I will never ever forget how lucky I am. I am proud of what I have achieved. 32 hours 17 minutes. I finished.

I have a fine crystal goblet that is no less special than any of the others. I will never do the “what went wrong analysis”. I was there, upright, outside and running, I never believe things go wrong anyway, they may not have gone according to the original plan but I am in a privileged position, I have my health and can put one foot in front of the other. A bonus only a few can savour.

Gillian supervised my shower then it was straight to breakfast, sitting still, tucking into bacon and eggs I finally had the decency to look tired,

I felt as if my body was still going at ninety miles an hour, I looked at my hands expecting them to be shaking but they weren’t, I felt I might’ve fainted but I didn’t . After loads of big sighs I began to feel a bit more like myself.

The prizegiving is a wonderful event in itself, every ones race is captured and condensed in that slow shuffling moment of glory collecting their Goblet.

My eighth and slowest WHW race, I’m not disappointed, it was tough but not traumatic, I didn’t feel the need to push hard for the sake of finishing slightly faster. If there is a pattern to my finishing times I’ve been progressively faster for my first four WHW’s then progressively slower for the next four, all I can say is for the next four years I’ll be getting faster again, so in 2015 Kate, Sharon and Debs should watch their backs! Yeah, I’m laughing too. I might just make the cut-offs by the skin of my teeth but as long as I’m upright and moving forward I’ll be there. I have a lot to celebrate.

None of this is possible without a brilliant support crew, I apologise for my inadequacy to put into words my gratitude. You are all very special, I get the glory and the goblet, you get a Buff scarf and bags under your eyes!
Mel's photos
My support's photos
This was Mel’s first year supporting and she’s now hooked, her diary is marked for the weekend 23rd June next year. We did warn her that doing support is the slippery slope to running the race, she made huge protests. Aye, right we believe you, I said the same myself about ten years and eight goblets ago! As the way of great support next year Sue and Robin are planning to run so Pauline and I have lost support again and Sue and Robin will be looking for support too so we are recruiting now. Form an orderly queue, all applicants should have a sense of humour, a strong stomach and believe that sleep is superfluous!