Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Glen Ogle 33

Alarm set for 4.15 am, must be a race day! Porridge, banana and honey with a big mug of coffee enjoyed, I started the car about ten minutes before I left so it warmed up and I didn’t have to scrape the ice of the windscreen. Pauline and Morna were picked on time and we were on our way to Strathyre.  We weren’t liking the lumpy rain we saw in the headlights or being cleared away by the wipers.  Luckily it had stopped by the time we got to registration with a cheery Julie on duty. We picked up our numbers, lurked in the toilets for a bit of a heat then moved the car round to the finish (shorter walk to the pub from there).  Then we got ourselves ready for the walk back to the start.

Brrrrrr! I couldn’t look at Morna without shuddering, although she was wearing Buff, hat, gloves and kilt she had bare legs and just her vest!  I was wearing a long-sleeved thermal, t-shirt, vest, long tights, kilt, Buff, peaked Buff pulled down as far as it could go and still just about see where I was going. My only attempt at being a tough runner was fingerless gloves (so much easier to open a funsize packet of Maltesers)

A  wee race briefing from Mike, then a walk over the road to the start which was a bit different to last year adding on a bit more, by this time my shoulders were up to my ears,  my jaw was aching holding it tight so it didn’t chitter, I felt a brief warmth brush my calf, Mason dog! Hi Lee, hi Dave, how are…  No preamble (if there was one I missed it) we’re off.

I lower my shoulders, loosened my jaw and hope to warm up some time soon.  It was a long up hill at the start and I chose to run it, even though I wasn’t going much faster than those walking, I decided I’d run all the way until the hairpin hill with the view of Loch Earn then after that I’d see how I felt whether to walk or run the hills. 

I took my camera and whipped it out quite a few times as I trotted along but always looped the strap round a finger in case my clumsy frozen paws dropped it.  photos

In the loop of the forest I did a bit of walking and running on the hills, I felt my left hip and hamstrings tight when I walked and more comfortable when I ran but I wanted to stretch out the legs.  I was enjoying the chat with old friends and new, there were quite a few running their first ultra and what a cracker to pick for a first. 

After coming down out of the forest and before crossing the road again there was a troop of Scouts coming towards us, big cheers and high fives from them, a couple of walkers were just behind them, I wasn’t sure if they were with the Scouts or not but I high fived them anyway.  

On the way back along the old railway line with around twenty miles down and roughly thirteen miles to go I did a body check, everything felt fine, legs supple and strong with plenty life left, compared to last year, I remembered my legs being tight and sore.  In my reflection I smiled to myself, this year has been a good injury and illness free one and I felt quite bouncy with the bonus of that thought.  The weather had improved although still cold there were patches of blue sky, and when the sun shone on me I soaked up the warmth.  Folk were well spread out now and I didn’t see so many runners, so it was lovely to see some of my club friends appear just to offer some support Fabienne’s cheery face near the viaduct and Ken and Bill a few miles from the end. 

I didn’t feel the need to push hard but worked on maintaining my pace, but once off the cycle path and on the road it was time to haul into the finish, that’s where the beer and soup would be, also looking at the time if I didn’t slow down I’d finish within six hours.  I was wearing a Garmin, so had a bit of a clue how much further I had to go, I could vaguely remember where I was from last year, this year’s route was further than last year but I still wasn’t sure of the finish until I saw the marshal just before the shoogly bridge, I love how it jumps up and surprises you into the giggles! Round the tight bend and the finish!  Yaay, 5.46.19hrs, well under the six hours, last year I finished in 6.11hrs and it was a mile longer this year!  Although my Garmin showed the distance as 31.65 miles, still a wee bit short of thirty-three but no matter, it was quality not quantity. 
                           (photo from Glen Ogle facebook page)

A quick change of clothes and the luxury of a wet wipe round my face standing at the back of the car, then over to the pub for some well-deserved soup, beer and a blether.  The GO33 is a lovely race winding up the ultra-season for the year, a Bill and Mike Production, directed by Ada with a cast of brilliant marshals and helpers.  Thank you all for make this a day of happy running memories. 

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Glenmore 24 Trail Race 2012

Last year’s race was so perfect, everything just clicked, although my training was a bit minimal with a duff Achilles, the weather was great, nice and warm during the day, chilly at night but nothing a lightweight fleece couldn’t handle.  I had no problems with my stomach, my legs cruised round until 7.00am then it dawned on me that I was running well, I was told that I was knocking out the fastest laps, that really gave me a boost, I was buzzing and my last six laps averaged around 50 minutes to finish with 108 miles and 2nd Female.  What a bonus since after seeing the hills on the first lap I doubted I would’ve reached 100 miles.

This year, my training has been better but what were the chances of replicating last year’s fortunes?  I wasn’t going to bet on it, but I knew that whatever happens I am forever an optimist and aimed high.  It was going to be the same friendly, well organised affair as last year with one wee change, instead of finishing with whole laps and stopping either just before or after the 12 or 24 hours, this year for the last hour of each race runners moved onto a small loop of just over 300 metres round base camp to finish exactly on 12 or 24 hours.   Last year I stopped at 23.46.49 so that will give me an extra 13 minutes to fit in one more mile and hopefully I could squeeze in one more for luck, the reasoning behind my goal of 110 miles. 

Here’s what I wrote on my race plan. 

Make sure there is something ready every lap as I won’t stop or wait for it, catch me up if necessary. 

 If all goes well I aim to get further than last year’s 108 miles. A PB would be 117 miles, I’m not ruling it out but 110 miles is my goal. 

If I have gut problems I’ll just go slower for a bit and hopefully be able to pick it up again with 100 miles being the minimum I hope to achieve. 

We might get weather and it may turn into a battle for survival rather than big miles. 

I will be flexible except for one thing.  I will not stop, it’s only 24 hours! 

Also this year Pauline was running and not supporting so time for a little twinny competition, when I said my goal was 110 miles Pauline instantly replied her goal was 111 miles!  Pauline has had a rather relaxed year training wise and has only averaged a weekly mileage of around 26 mile with a handful of big runs thrown in, she does have a bit of speed and experience in her corner, she completed ten West Highland Way races this year and sticking with the same theme this will be her tenth 24 hour race.

We had enlisted Mel and Kevin for support, they did a brilliant job supporting me for this year’s WHW and Morna was coming along for a few hours to help for the evening until after midnight and Robin would be on hand if needed after Anne had finished the 12 hour race. 

Mel and Kevin had gone up to Aviemore on Friday afternoon for a relaxed evening and to pitch the club tent, there were quite a few tents up already, folk this year are very well organised.  Pauline and I decided to stay at home and come up in the morning since it’s only around a two hour drive. 

After registering, loads of hellos, a short briefing from Bill, along the lines of “You guys have set your goals, it’s our job to help you reach them, look after each other and enjoy!”  After a bit of a pose on the start line it was 12 noon and we were off on the undulating four mile lap for as many as we could manage in the space of 24 hours.
Mel's photos
Pauline and I ran the first lap together then I let her go on, it was far too quick for what I wanted my average lap to be but with fresh legs it didn’t feel  fast and I knew I’d settle down and only expected to see her again when she lapped me later. 

I was relieved to complete the second lap without falling over, yaaay, time to relax, find my groove, enjoy the beauty of the forest, the ancient trees and vibrant purple heather, the views of the loch and hills and settle into consistent laps, watching my footing on the lumpy bumpy first mile, checking my posture on the “long run”, that’s what I called the second mile on the wide forest track with a few gentle inclines, because I ran it all every lap last year and that was the plan for this year too.  After turning left up the steep hill, I picked trees or boulders as markers for where to walk and eat, and where to stick in some runs.  Then I took it gently on the steep downhill, before the wee kick of a hill, left turn down five steps and back to base camp. 
photo from Glenmore24 Trail Race
The weather wasn’t as bad as had been forecast, it stayed dry but there was quite a fierce blustery wind, it took me sideways on the open path of the “long run” and I think it killed a couple of the tents at base camp!  I didn’t want to waste energy fighting it so just eased along when the wind was in my face, I never noticed it on my back though, we must have had the shelter of the trees for when it was behind us!  I did moan about it a bit to Minty and Rab the Kilt, they never really noticed its strength, fair enough, I’m a fairy light-weight compared to the two stappin’ lads!

After the third lap (12 miles) I had to stop and slap some more Body Glide on my right pinkie toe, that was a surprise and far too early for any foot problems, these are the shoes I changed into at Rowardennan and kept them on until Fort William, about 70 miles, during the WHW without any pinkie toe problems, not to worry I can do blisters, and it did settle down to just a wee nip for the rest of the race.

After the eighth lap (32 miles) I wasn’t very comfortable, I had to have a faff with my shoe laces, they were now feeling a bit tight, my stomach was sore, I’d only been running for just over six hours, again far too early to encounter gut problems, I had flash backs of Perth 2010, I didn’t want a repeat of that, my toughest 24 hours race.  Lap nine, I had some soup and hoped that that would help settle my guts, and the following lap Morna came round with me, it lovely to have her company.  I couldn’t face any food but had a wee can of fizzy coke, after quite a few burps and farts my guts eased a bit. (Running ultra is definitely not lady like!)

Lap eleven was revenge time for Mel, (I made her eat some rice pudding at Lundavra during the Devil O’ the Highlands). After I’d had a couple of spoonfuls, she looked at what was left in the tub and wasn’t impressed and wouldn’t take it back until I’d shovelled in some more.  Now it was dark, although I had my head torch I decided to walk the short, narrow lumpy bumpy bit just out of base camp, not worth risking a fall. 

Lap twelve, just before 10.00pm I picked up my ipod, a seven hour playlist of lively foot stompers set on shuffle, I never normally run a race with it, I think they are just anti-social but I need all the help I can get during 24 hours but I always disengaged one lug ‘ole when someone went by me, no one went past without a word of encouragement.  Through the night it remained cloudy but the moon was full and was making guest appearances, for one moment I thought a car was behind me but headlights don’t surround your shadow with silver, I could’ve switched off my head torch but I just put my hand over it for a few moments to savour the magic of the moonlight.  

One lap through the night I saw a body on the bench on the “long run” I started to move towards it to check they were ok, but before I got there I recognised those baggy shorts over the blue tracksters, I’ll leave him in peace, Ray-the Legend-McCurdy was partial to a bench during 24hour races, I remember being jealous of him sitting on a bench enjoying the warming pink glow of the rising sun as I shuffled by during Perth 2010!

Occasionally I’d ask through the day how Pauline faring, I liked it when I heard she was doing fine, later on I’d heard she was battling with “tummy trouble”  one lap through base camp Mel pointed to someone on the grass  in front.  Aw naw!, it didn’t mean I was running well, it meant Pauline was having a struggle, I caught up and we ran the lap together, we were both fightin’ but Pauline was having more of a challenge, her guts were worse than mine and had to have a few stops, eventually for the first time I can remember in over twenty years of running I went ahead, I wouldn’t hold back or wait Pauline, wouldn’t want me too either.

Last year Pauline kept a detailed lap sheet of my splits and nutrition Mel had it to hand and kept me informed where I was compared to last year, I had a cushion of around 15 minutes from early on but with the blustery wind and my guts giving me grief I was working hard just to maintain that lead, Mel was concerned I wasn’t eating or drinking enough, I was swapping a 250ml bottle most laps and I rarely handed back an empty one and it took three laps to eat a wee bag of Mini Cheddars but with her encouragement I was managing half a finger of shortbread or some milkshake, just the bare minimum to keep me going.  Mel was doing an outstanding job; she has a broken bone in her foot and really shouldn’t be escorting me out of base camp most laps never mind being on her feet!

 I did get my knickers in a twist a couple of times, I was wearing my old faithful Timex Ironman watch that can hold 100 laps,(I still have last year’s splits on it), but I had messed it up and must have advertently pressed stop.  My only concession to age is that my eyesight is rubbish without reading glasses and in the dark I was really struggling to make it out but I could see my watch was wrong, I had to pull in to base camp to sort my shoe again, my right foot developed a bruise where the tongue of my shoe sat, while faffing with my lace again, I was frustrated that I couldn’t do something simple like read my watch, I asked Kevin what it said, I gave up trying to fathom it out  I just put it round to time of day, I started at noon, I’ll finish at noon. 

During the wee small hours, when the body is at its lowest ebb, I expected to have a few slower laps, this year I only had one lap of 59 minutes at 4.30am thanks to Lee and Geraldine, they were stars at lifting the spirits on the graveyard shift at the halfway checkpoint, a handful of glow sticks and they surpassed the spectacle that was the Edinburgh Festival’s Speed of Light, it was a phenomenal event but not a patch on the dynamic duo writing runners names on the ground and doing a fine rendition D.I.S.C.O in the dark!

Pink! At last a glimmer of colour in the sky, dawn was approaching, time to try and pick it up, but I was breathing hard just to keep a consistent lap pace, there was no way I could pick it up like last year, maintaining took all my effort, those 15 minutes I had in the bank were going to get spent.

The next fankle I let myself get wound up with was what lap I was on, I was just running not thinking about where I was, as I was being expertly counted by Ada and Mel but on the lap I thought I’d get the horn I didn’t, (Ada was giving a blast on the air horn when folk were going through 100 miles) fair enough, wishful thinking on my part, next lap I still didn’t get the horn… mild panic! Where the feck am I?  Apparently in the small hours when I’d gone through, Ada had asked was it me, someone said no, it was Pauline, actually it was both of us… seconds apart, sorry guys, next time I’ll pay more attention to where I am and Ada, we’ll get our names printed on our vests!
photo from Julie Clarke
It was at 10.00am two hours to go, it was confirmed I went through lap 25, 100 miles, a brilliant achievement, I know, but I was confused, my reaction and words were definitely not lady like, I let cracks appear in my armour.  I wasn’t letting go, but I said “I don’t think I can do two more laps!” Kevin then said the perfect thing, “You‘ve only got one lap to go, ‘cause you don’t count the one you’re on!”  Light-bulb moment!  Damn right, how could I forget, those are the very words I used on myself when running laps for the first time during Glenrothes 50k eleven years ago!  He also said I was in second place and Pauline was in third. 

I gave myself a talking to, I’d been listening to my head, a bad move and never to be done during a race, because your head always give you duff information, like stop it hurts or you don’t have to work so hard.   Time to tell it to shut the fuck up!  The only limits are the ones we oppose on ourselves and time to give full rein to my heart and soul, I have two hours left to equal last year, it was going to be hard but I’m going for it.  My breathing was loud, a proper drama queen donkey bray, the back of my throat was swollen and raw, and if my body was a car the petrol light was flashing red, motoring on fumes.  But my determination was the only fuel I needed now,  I felt a little light headed going up the hill and tried to control my breathing without making such a racket, I caught up with Stan, he was going to make the 100 miles this lap, I told him what I was attempting, he didn’t bullshit me, it was going to be close and his parting words as I pulled away “You’ve done really well anyway.” brought my emotion into my throat, my reply “Yeah, I know but I want to try.”

It must have been just before 11.00am, I charged into base camp and shouted to Ada “Do I have time for one more lap?”

Ok, last lap, COME ON! Kevin gave me a couple of bits of tablet, which was all I could face.  I pushed as hard as I could. Again I felt a wee bit light headed on the hill, the emotion of the effort was rising from my chest and threatened to hamper my breathing even more, I wasn’t distressed, this was my choice to work so hard, I could faint at the finish, just the thought of lying on the grass… but I couldn’t let go, not yet.  I shouted out loud “I DO NOT GIVE UP!”

I caught up with Rab just before reaching base camp; we must have been the last two to come in from the four mile lap and on to the small loop.  
photo from Glenmore24 Trail Race
I was relieved I’d made it back before the end of the race and get the 108 miles.  I hit the grass like a boxer going for a last minute knock-out, seconds out, final round, ding ding! I had worked so hard for the last few hours I wasn’t letting go for the last ten minute, 

I flew round the grass and ran up the hill, down the other side and looked at the clock, I flew round another lap, this clock's stopped! Pauline was with me and we ran together, she shouted “Get your head up!” Yeah, good point, I’d let go of my form, running like a mad, slavering hound breathing like a barking rabid dog.
photo from Julie Clarke
I was so glad that everyone was cheering so loudly they wouldn’t hear me breathe.  Eventually I could hear folk count down 10, 9, 8… 3, 2, 1! Air horn!  Aaahhh, a final sigh of relief, we’ve finished; Pauline and I gave each other a quick pat on the back. Gimme that grass! We had stopped on the hill so I took advantage of the gradient and placed my head at the bottom and my feet at the top, I even held them up for a few moments to stave off the post-race faint.  The race Doc walked round checking everyone, “Yep, you're alive, you're alive, you're alive” Ok, I’ll believe you! We’d been given a tent peg with our race number on it to stick in the ground when we finished, it wasn’t necessary in my case my carcass was still on the ground when Bill and Mike measured our final distances.  103 miles for Pauline and 109 for me, it was hard fought for and I’m thrilled I managed to surpass last year and run the second furthest distance I’ve ever gone.
photo from Mel
I eventually managed to get up and shuffle back to our tent; it took a bit of time. I put on enough layers that if I stood next to the Michelin man he would've looked svelte, at the end of previous 24 hour races I’ve had uncontrollable chitters and felt so cold.

Next task was to shuffle over for the prize giving, I took my chair. 
photo from Julie Clarke
"Ok Pauline, you pretend you're sorting your shoe, I'll hang onto the back of this chair and no one will know we're unconscious!" 
Glenmore24 Trail Race
Everyone was awarded their medal and bottle of beer individually then 1st, 2nd and 3rd Male and Female for the 12 hour race, then the 24 hour runners got their bottle of beer and medals followed with the first three finishers.  Bill gave Pauline her prize for third, I was readying myself to stand then Bill said “In second place, Wendy MacKinnon”  Eh… there’s been a mistake….  “In first place, Fiona Rennie” REALLY???  I think I kept the emotion from crumpling my face and I looked happy!  I have achieved my first race win!

Last year the Glenmore 24 showed promise of being a top event in Scottish Ultra and now in its second year it has established itself as a top event in Scottish Ultra, thanks to the hard work of Mike Bill, Ada and all their helpers.  An outstandingly well organised, friendly event, in stunning scenery with a special bunch of people, I can see the internet crashing when entries open for next year.
One more first, I never thought I’d ever emulate the Tennent’s Lager Burds!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Angels, Devils and sleeping with celebrities!

Last year when I found out that the Devil O’ The Highlands was going to be on my fiftieth birthday I thought I should celebrate with running it but by then I had already promised Mel I’d do her support, my next thought  was why change the habit, I’ve supported every year since the race started, stick with tradition.

Early Friday afternoon I picked up Morna, also running the Devil O’ for the first time, we headed to Pauline’s where she and Mel were waiting; Ken and Sue were following up after work, Mel had booked the By the Way for us, a twin room for herself and Morna, and for the minions/support, we’d be sharing a room with two others.   Kirsty showed us to our room and told us who else we were sharing with.  Andy (dog bite at Cateran) and…  I sent a quick text to Sue.  Guess who we’re sleeping with tonight? After a few wrong guesses, I had to give her a clue, he’s quite a celebrity!  Within a nano second she replied correctly, Ray McCurdy!  Kirsty had put post-it notes on the beds giving Ray the first bottom bunk as you entered the room, hopefully he’ll not get lost in the night!

Mel and Morna went for an early night, Pauline and I went for a pint or three in Paddy’s Bar, Ken and Sue soon joined us, it was very quiet, Ian and Sandra joined us briefly but most of the runners must’ve been arriving in the morning or taking the race seriously!   We tip-toed back into the By the Way trying not to wake the sleeping runners, I grabbed my jammies and toothbrush and nipped to the loo and got changed.  I think I was last back into the room, as soon as I closed the door it was pitch dark,  I made it to my bed without disturbing anyone, pulled back the sheet and climbed in, but in the dark I didn’t realise the pillowcase and sheet were all-in-one, I was fighting my pillow to get it underneath me, in my mind I had an image of Johnny Weissmuller fighting a crocodile, I successfully stifled a giggle as I wrestled my pillow into submission and if I was making too much noise everyone else politely pretended to be asleep.

Someone’s alarm went off around 4.00am, and we were all up shortly after that.  A mug of coffee and I was ready for support duty, Mel seemed calm and was ready to go for the goal she’d set herself.  Loved the pre-race buzz in the Green Welly, Garry gave his race briefing, a quick scrambled egg roll for us support and then it was time for the off.  Kevin had arrived, I think the original plan was for him to appear later, but it was lovely he was here to see Mel off at 6.00am.

Pauline I and went round to Bridge of Orchy which was quite a midge fest, Mel was on schedule and Pauline walked up the hill a bit with her, she’s settled into her race nicely.  Kevin went round to Inveroran so we went straight to Glencoe, 

and had another cup of coffee, it was now around 8.00am and I think I started to wake up properly after that.  We walked down to the checkpoint with Mel’s requests, Pauline hasn’t had much running this week and took the opportunity for a wee run and ran out to meet her, Mel wasn’t looking for running support but I think she was happy to have a bit of company, it was coming up for 9.00am, the sun was shining and it was promising to be a hot day.  I trotted down the road with them for a bit while Mel had her food, she struggled to get it in but managed to have some, she wanted some coke, so I said I’d meet her at Kingshouse with it.  It was quite a jog back up the hill to the car parked at the Ski Centre so I didn’t hang about setting off for Kingshouse but as I drove down the track Ken waved me down as I went by, Morna was needing Compeed and they’d left theirs in the car at the Ski Centre,  I gave them mine and was back on my way, I wasn’t sure I’d make it to Kingshouse before Mel and Pauline so I went passed the entrance and drove into the single track road that they’d come along before heading through the gate and up the hill, glad my car is a wee one, a three point turn wasn’t any bother and Mel got her Coke, and  Kirsty was pleased to get a bottle of iced water here, glad I was in a position to help. 

Next stop was Altnafeadh, I was wearing my wee kilt and had pinched Erin’s trident from her Halloween stuff and a fleece hat with red horns and tail, I was aiming to emulate the race logo and set off up the Devil’s Staircase with a box of jelly babies. 

I’d missed the super-fast folk but met Marco coming down with a spray bottle, I was granted a skoosh in the moosh too, it was roasting and I was over dressed, fleecy hat, long sleeved top under my t-shirt and thick tights under my kilt!  I also carried a rain jacket, Buff and gloves! I was prepared for the weather forecast, rain and thunder, although you could now see that wasn’t going to happen any time soon, it could still be cold at the top and I planned to stay there until Mel had come past. 

The views from the top were stunning.  I believe these places of outstanding natural beauty are where Angels hang out, I waved to a couple; I smiled at the thought that the perfect spectator weather was a birthday present arranged by one very special Angel, my first birthday without Mum but she’ll never be far away.

The looks I got from a few walkers suggested their thoughts were I wonder if her carers know where she is? I did explain my getup to a German tourist; she nodded, smiled and took my photo!  I think all the runners appreciated my gesture to give them a smile, most looked hot, some knackered and all covered in midges, I think Paul summed it up for quite a few when he uttered  “I’m f*ckin’ burst!”  I hope my face kept a look of caring concern, I didn’t laugh out loud, that really would’ve been devilish… but I thought it! 

Mel arrived at the top with Kevin and Pauline; she was hot but still going strong.  We left her with the words “See you at Kinlochleven!”  

We trotted back down to Altnafeadh, Kevin pulled away from us as I was stopping to offer jelly babies to everyone coming up, one runner didn’t look hot and bothered, Vicky Hart, I know you didn’t believe me when I said you looked fresh as a daisy but you did! 

Pauline was getting concerned with the time we were taking, I was concerned with not putting my eye out waving my trident about as we belted back to the car.  I would never drive dangerously but I was going as fast as my wee Fiat would allow with total disregard for fuel consumption (not my normal with the price of petrol these days) Pauline was feeling a little queasy, and we were about 15 minutes away when Sue phoned.  “Mel’s just gone through; she’s taken some water and carried on.” Mega fail in the support department!  We drove on through Kinlochleven and were slightly relieved to see Kevin’s car parked opposite where the route goes up the hill, he would manage to catch her.  In previous years, I’ve been dropped off at Altnafeadh and ran over to Kinlochleven, I hadn’t realised how long it would take to get back down and drive round.  I won’t make that mistake next year!

We went on to Lundavra, Pauline loaded up her backpack and set out to meet Mel.  I opened a pot of rice pudding and dolloped on a big spoonful of jam, it wasn’t long before she arrived, still going strong, even better it didn’t mess with her head that we missed her, she was fine, Kevin did catch her and she’d had some Irn Bru from Jeff at his Wilderness Response post.  We walked up the hill with her, I handed Mel the pot of rice, she didn’t want any but I told her I wasn’t taking it back until she’d ate the jam, she made a face, stuck her tongue out but the jam went in and so did some more coke.  Satisfied she’d fuelled up enough for the finish we left her to push on to the end.

We didn’t go straight to the finish but to Braveheart to give her a final cheer, Kevin was here too, we walked up the hill for bit with a bottle of water, in case she needed it.  Mel pushed straight through but shouted for Pauline to come with her, I doubt I could’ve kept up with her so drove along to the finish and was lucky to get a parking space.  I was jumping up and down watching the time, it was close to her goal, would she make it?  WOOHOO!  Here she comes with Pauline and Kevin in her wake. 7hrs 57mins 34secs. Mission accomplished, sub 8 hours!  Huge congratulations and hugs, brilliant running, dealing with the hot conditions and duff support! 

It was time to relax, have our lunch at last and catch up on how others had got on and get updates on how those that were still out there were faring.  

Morna finished strongly in 8 hrs 57mins pleased with her race in these conditions.  

There was a bonus for Mel at the prize giving, First Female Vet, a very successful first ultra!  

Pete, Erin and Tim have arrived and it was time to get ready for our night out,

a table for fourteen had been booked a week or so ago in the Nevis Bank Hotel for a joint celebration with our birthday and race successes, Anne Wombill also completed her first ultra, she had taken quite a sore tumble but unlike Robin in his first DOTH didn’t go for the sympathy vote and finish with a bandage round her bonce and she only winced when hugged! Apart from that Pete, Erin, Pauline, Tim, Mel, Kevin, Morna, Ken, Sue, Anne, Robin, Fiona, Iain and I had a lovely evening.

I couldn’t have wished for a better 50th birthday, I got to spend it in my favourite place with some very special friends and family.  Now that I’ve reach a significant mile stone in my life should my behaviour be more fitting for a lady of my mature years?  

Hell no! Age is just a number and I’m no lady! 

Monday, 9 July 2012

West Highland Way Race 2012 – “It’s a bit damp!”

Training has gone very well this year, without a single cough, sneeze or niggle covering around 50 to 60 miles most weeks.  The Skye Half Marathon on the 9th June was a breeze and the following fortnight of taper was fine without too many symptoms of the dreaded taperitis.   I was in great shape and decided to just give my support the splits from my PB year to work from (26.14.48hrs in 2007) although I included last year’s sheet (32.17.11hrs, my slowest year) for reference.  I always move forward at the best of my ability and these splits were for guidance only, not goals, there are too many variables on the WHW to plan precise timings and you’ve just got to go with the flow.  

I had a nice chilled Friday, having bagged and labelled all my gear on Thursday, just resting, cooking some potatoes for my adventure supplies, doing my race manicure, (Carnegie colours) and going to bed for a few hours in the afternoon, I managed to doze off for a while and then just lay listening to gentle music until 5.30pm. I had a lovely long shower, savouring the warm water knowing the next time I’ll be clean will be Sunday morning. 

9.00pm Mel, Kevin and Adam arrived and within half an hour the roof box was on the car and my mountain of gear was added, luckily Kevin does have quite a big car but I think it was groaning all the way to Milngavie.  The weather had been fair in Fife and we tried to bring it with us but failed, at Milngavie the rain was stotting down, Mel wouldn’t let me out the car until I’d donned a big ghost of a poncho, she volunteers at the Moon Walk every year and “borrowed” a handful.  I registered and was weighed then went back to the car, it wasn’t long before the rest of the Carnegie gang arrived and we had a bit of birthday bash. The WHW was Sue’s way of celebrating her 50th birthday and doing my support was a rather unique way for Adam to celebrate turning 18! A rendition of Happy Birthday and a couple of bits of birthday cakes at midnight was a splendid way to while away the countdown to the start.

After Sean’s race briefing it was time to attempt a team photo, there’s always someone missing, this time it was Richie. 

Then over to the start, the air was crackling with excitement, Pauline and I were shouting our Clash of the Ash. COME ON! ALRIGHT! COME ON! ALRIGHT!  Some hugs and best wishes then at 1.00am we were off, 172 runners with hope in our hearts.  
(photo from Pauline's support Jim Garvie)
Milngavie High Street was lined with cheering supporters, last year it took me by surprise but this time I was grinning from ear to ear as we were cheered all the way to the turn, I switched on my head torch and with so many runners the path was brightly lit, as we strung out in the dark, I wondered what we would look like if seen from above, probably a gigantic, magical, sparkly caterpillar.  There was a fair bit of banter and chatter as folk were skirting round puddles trying to keep feet dry for as long as possible along the lumpy bumpy path, I heard a loud shout of sweary words from behind, Fiona MacD had just gone over on her ankle, I shouted to keep moving, walk it out, but I saw the pain on her face, it was a sair yin, Vicky O’R was with her but I felt guilty moving on, and it wasn’t until I spoke to Fiona in Fort William I found out that that was the end of her race… until next year!

Along the old railway line by Glengolye Distillery aka the path of a thousand gates (and this year the path of a thousand puddles) it was along here I finally gave up trying to keep my feet dry, it was impossible and a waste of energy going around and up the banking of the path.   I was with David Ross, he said he had the honour of being the heftiest in the race weighing in at 115kilos, which was more than two of me!  I was in awe of what he was doing; if pound for pound the effort was equal did it mean I would have to get to Fort William then turn round and go back to Milngavie? That will never happen!

I was a bit confused when we hit the tarmac road at Gartness, someone said “If you’re lost, heaven help the rest of us!” In my defence it was still pitch dark; I’ve often switched off my head torch once I’ve got here!  The rain was still bouncing off the tarmac and the road was just a river, I was now blethering with Gary, doing his first WHW heading towards Drymen.  After turning right into the field I phoned Mel to say I was about five minutes away, it was here I had my first wee problem with my shoes, heading up hill the right insole started to rumple up and crease under my heel, I think with it being so wet it was just floating about, I‘ve worn this make and model of shoe for years and never encountered this before. When I met my team I stopped to flatten out the insole and swapped my backpack, (I use two, so I don’t have to wait on it being refuelled) heading up the path my insole rumpled again, it was quite uncomfortable with a big fold under my heel and my toes hanging over the front of it, but on the flattish bits and downhill it would sort itself out, I’ve had blisters the size of golf balls on my heels during my first WHW and I didn’t want to repeat that experience if necessary.  I had planned to keep these shoes on until Bridge of Orchy but I’ll change them at Rowardennan.  I eventually took off my head torch at the Garadhban stumps, and heading up Conic hill, this is the first time I’ve walked up a waterfall, the water on the path was shin deep, I’ve never seen it like this before, and this is my ninth WHW, I supported Pauline in 2002, which was a wet year too, I’ll ask her later if it compares.   Heading down I was with Sue, Silke and Robin, I walked down cautiously on the wet slippy ground, it’s just not worth the risk of gaining a few seconds here, there are no goblets awarded for getting to Balmaha fast!  

I went straight through, shovelling in my rice pudding with honey, Mel carried my mug of tea and Kevin and Adam shoved a banana and some Maltesers into my backpack.  As usual, I enjoyed the section to Rowardennan, the night is over, Conic hill done, relax and enjoy the privilege of being here.

I had a wee problem with my left foot, the bones were now jarring with every footfall, I went through the possible causes, between a stress fracture and just having my lace a bit tight, no matter, only half my footsteps to Fort William would hurt and as the race continued, no doubt, other pains will shout louder.

At Rowardennan my team were brilliant, getting my socks and shoes changed; I was soon on my way now wearing my wrap around clear lens glasses to keep the midges out my eyes.
Towards Inversnaid  it was lovely to have Sue’s company and Jonathan’s too, we looked out for each other crossing  all the fast flowing water, one wrong step or slip and it’s an ouchy flume into Loch Lomond.  As we approached Inversaid the waterfall was thunderous, I regretted not carrying my camera. I was rendered almost speechless; “WOW!” was all I could muster.  As we approached the checkpoint, two folk came towards us, heavily disguised in waterproofs, we got closer, Karin pushed back her hood.  Huge emotional hugs!   Thank you for being there with Brenda, in such miserable conditions, just to raise the spirits of all the runners coming through, the memories of running with you last year came flooding back. 

I was buzzing after Inversaid, really enjoying the challenge, the rain was still bouncing off my hood, my fingers-tips were wrinkled hanging on to the soggy moss covered rocks and trees.  The scrambly path is only scary if you were trying to go faster than your capability; I stayed well within my comfort zone.
(photo from the Hoka Highland Fling 28/4/2012)

At Dario’s post, Sue and Jonathan were already there looking down the loch, I unfastened my racing hip flask from the chest strap of my backpack, I poured Dario’s share on his post, raised the flask and said “You’re just havin’ a laugh… but so are we!”   I shared the rest of the Talisker with Sue and Jonathan, minutes later Sue missed her footing and took a gracefully roll down the side of path claiming she’s not a whisky drinker and it was only a token gesture touch to her lips.  I tried not to laugh too much… but fail!

I was having another problem with my shoes, both Sorbothane heel pads (which are made of a sticky silicone type stuff) that normally stays put, were floating forward under my arches, I stopped a couple of times to sort them but eventually gave up, deciding that as they moved about it was just like a foot massage although not a very comfy or relaxing one! 

One bonus of the dreich conditions is that the foxgloves are beautiful; they stood out bright and tall, their deep majestic purply pinks rich and vibrant. I think they are always at their best on race day. (I have a couple of my own)

After Beinglas, the path isn’t so sheltered and with the wind behind us I started to feel the cold penetrate my hamstrings and shoulders.  On the track heading to coo poo corner, the water we were wading through seemed colder than before and was giving me an ice-cream headache in my feet, but it dulled the pain in my left foot and hopefully would reduce any inflammation. 

Sue and I were still together and were discussing our plans for Auchtertyre, she was going to have a complete change of clothes, that’s something I’ve never done before but I’ve also never been so wet before!  I don’t mind being wet really, it’s being cold that causes problems so I decided to have the luxury of a full change too.  The Bogle Glen rollercoaster whooshed along uneventfully and after crossing the road heading towards Achtertyre a runner was heading towards us fully kitted out in waterproofs and it wasn’t until she was quite close we recognised Morna, Sue’s support, she took our requests and shot off back to the checkpoint. 

Auchtertyre marks 50 miles and over half way, I arrived at 2.55pm, with over an hour to go until the cut-off at 4.00pm, no panic like last year where I just made it with 10 minutes to spare.  I was weighed and Mel pointed me towards one of the toilets with its huge cubicle, where she helped me strip, what a struggle it was getting a fresh pair of Skins on damp cold legs! Swapped the Sorbothane from my other shoes and layering up with the clothes I’d bagged and marked Glencoe.  Three quarter length Skins, tights and waterproof breeks on my legs, long-sleeved thermal, fleece, lightweight jacket and big rain-jacket on my top half, no wonder it took 18 minutes, my longest stop!  I walked out shovelling in a tub of custard, and started running as soon as I finished it, I could feel my body start to build up some heat, lovely.  Heading past the By The Way Hostel Ken told me that the runners were now being advised to go round by the road instead of crossing the river as it’s in spate.  Ok, no problem, there’s not a lot of difference in the diversion except you’re on tarmac.  I met my team again after crossing the road, heading up past Brodies Store I had a lovely mug of Mel’s homemade soup, and Sod’s flaming Law! The rain had eased and briefly I had a smidgen of a shadow! (If you blinked you would have missed it) I decided to take off the waterproof breeks, I was roasting now, Mel and Kevin hauled them off for me as I leaned on them.  Adam was running with me now and it was lovely having his company along to Bridge of Orchy.

Bridge of Orchy (60 miles) no stopping here, just a wave to the Lord of the Bridge as I went through, I didn’t even break stride, my team were ready with my mug (my first coffee in a month, aaahhh!) and my rice pudding.  Kevin was now coming over Rannoch Moor with me.  We headed up the hill towards Murdo’s Mount and we spend a few minutes with him and his Saltire, he said that the race was won and Jez’s record had been broken!  I think my reply was a bit confused, I couldn’t comprehend that that was possible in these conditions.   Sue with Morna keeping her company arrived and we struck a pose trying to replicate 2010, the only thing that was the same were the smiles! 

Rannoch Moor can be a long slog if you’re struggling but my legs were feeling strong and supple, I love the wide openness and that the landscape hasn’t changed much since the ice-age with only a handful of manmade intrusions. The weather stayed fair, I even take off my peaked Buff and rain jacket for a short spell only putting them back on as we headed up and into the cold wind towards Peter Flemings Monument. 

At Glencoe gave a wave to Karen and George doing the checkpoint and headed over to the car. With the path being a lot drier I decided to change my socks for the first time since Rowardennan, I could feel a few hot spots but there was nothing more than three wee blisters which I was rather pleased with I expected them to be a bit more mushed after all the water, it took Mel a bit of scrubbing with wet wipes trying to remove the silt and grit ingrained in my skin and slap loads of Body Glide on. I was happy just sitting eating my cheesy pasta Mug Shot, this stop took 13 minutes but well worth it, my feet were warm and comfy, the hot spots soothed in to submission.  Mel was keeping my company now for the last 25 miles, we walked down the tarmac as I finished off my pasta and my legs got back into moving smoothly.  I added my florescent yellow woolly hat to my peaked Buff to keep in the heat, looking like a proper Smurf, that’s fine, they had brilliant adventures too!

We passed Alyson just after Kingshouse, her legs looked sore and seized,  it was going to be a long slog but there was no doubt she’d get her ninth Goblet.  Silke and I were together again for a wee while. I worked well getting up the Devil’s Staircase, time was marching on, it was after 10.00pm and my goal was to get past the long boulder strewn path before needing the head torch back on. Mel led and I followed, we did manage a fair way before giving into the fading flat light, I’d started to kick, stotter and squeal across the stones, Mel would jump round with lightening reflexes to catch me in case I fell, but there was no real panic in my antics I was just fairying, I told her not to waste her energy and only turn round if she heard a clump!  I took my first couple of paracetamol, I wanted them to kick in before heading down the long, long stony track into Kinlochleven, the descent always hurts, my knees weren’t too happy and taking the edge off helps to stay relaxed and moving, we didn’t run it, just speed marched a good long stride, on this terrain, for me, it was the fastest way to travel with minimum effort and damage to quads.

Kinlochleven Checkpoint, 80 miles. 00.59hours-In.  Went for a pee, Julie weighed me.  01.01hours-Out.

Walked up the road with another lovely mug of Mel’s soup then slogged up the hill which has more climbing than the Devil’s Staircase, it just doesn’t look so impressive on the race profile since it starts from sea level.  Once up we pause and look back over Kinlochleven to the top of track and see twinkly head torches just starting their descent to the checkpoint, I wished them well.  Lairig Mor was another speed march with not a lot of running, I’m a shuffler and don’t pick my feet enough to make running an energy efficient technique.  We stop briefly for a wee blether with Jeff Smith from the Wilderness Response Team, the path winds on, the sky lightens and we take off the head torches, the path winds on, I take another couple of paracetamol with a Slimfast, the path winds on.  I do a wee stock take; my body is sore and tired but my heart is strong, my head is up, my mind is clear, there will be no hallucinations for me again.  My thoughts turn to my Mum, its six months since she lost her battle with cancer, no matter how tired or sore I feel from running, it will never touch the level I witnessed my Mum endure with dignity and stoicism.  It is a luxury having the health to push my body to this extent and for fun! 

The cold was starting to penetrate again, Mel was great at making sure I was taking on food and drink, I was carrying a wee can of coke but she just kept handing me her big bottle.  I was longing for Lundavra and the elixir what was waiting for me there, a big mug of hot chocolate with added coffee and a finger of shortbread. We eventually reached it and the boost is instant, I warmed up, the path is less stony and more runnable although it has huge undulations.  We passed more runners but not in a competitive way, I’m just moving well, the big steps down, the steep climb up through the tree stumps previously known as the spooky woods to the wide track, for the first time in all my WHW’s I run every step, that never ending quad jarring descent with a few sneaky inclines near the end (maybe they don’t incline much but after ninety odd miles and lack of sleep they are tough!)  

Mel asks if I want her company for the glory mile. I want her to share it with me but know when I hit the pavement after the Braveheart car park I’m very insular and selfishly savour my achievement.  Kevin is at Braveheart, and I asked for my Carnegie vest not realising he’d parked at the Leisure Centre and ran out to meet us, if I’d known I wouldn’t have asked for it but after the request he bolted off back but didn’t hear Mel shout it didn’t matter, it would’ve been nice to finish in my vest but this race surpasses club allegiance we’re all family. 

At the corner of Braveheart, I turn my watch round to race time for the first time since leaving Milngavie, 28hours 51minutes. Can I run a sub 9 minute final mile? COME ON, go for it! I revel in what I’m about to attempt, no matter the time; this just makes it even more fun! Halfway along I say to Mel to go on I wasn’t going to let it go.  Although I’m working at “sprint” pace Mel moves off like a floored Ferrari to get a prime spot for a photo, Kevin is sprinting back to me with my vest, a humungous thank you but I’m in my stride and not stopping now.  I see the sign for the Leisure Centre, the car park is chock-a-block with vehicles, I try to go “racing line” luckily no car loses a wing mirror as juke my way though, I bang both hands on the glass door with a bit more force than I intended , I startled the folk inside.  The door is opened and Ian says “Fiona, I’ve got you at 28.59.59!”  I laugh and think sub 29 hours, bonus!  Mel hugs me tight until my breathing and emotion is under control. 
                               I've done it!
Mel takes me for a walk round the car park then I sit and have a mug of tea and a slice of toast and I gather myself and my thoughts together, that was tough but not traumatic…but that was a thought too soon!  Mel and I head to the showers; I get my clothes off Mel squeals “A tick!”  I squeal louder “Gerr it off, gerr it off!”  I twist round to see the wee beastie on my bum!  Mel threw my towel over my shoulders and shot off to get help. I stand there starkers, all of a dither, but I put my big running knickers back on at half mast, just in time for Sean to enter the ladies changing room, my knight in surgical gloves, and what a pro, he doesn’t flinch at all at the proximity of a minging white butt cheek and removes the blood sucking b*stard.  I take a deep breath, trauma over, a shower, and sleeping bag in a tent behind the Leisure Centre, what luxury!

 We head to Nevisport and catch up with most of the Carnegie clan also there for breakfast. All faring well, we had eight starts and sadly Richie was the only one not to finish.  My legs weren’t too bad on the stairs either, it’s traditional for support to mock their runners here but I didn’t give them much to laugh at.   I also catch Mel while she’s still a bit dazed and tired and ask her if she’ll do my support next year, I think she thought I was asking is she was enjoying her fry up and she said “Yes!” I’ll hold her to it though!

The prize giving is an exceptional event where every finisher, all 119 of us is awarded our goblets individually, the conditions took their toll, 53 didn’t make it. Some walk fairly normally for their moment of well-deserved heart-warming applause, some hobble, Tim shows off with a sprint! (He couldnae of ran hard enough, the slacker!) Ada receives her Goblet sitting in a wheel-chair, Lesley’s is pick up by Morna on her behalf as she’s still in A&E.  Whether you finish first or last, everyone is a winner.  Pauline is awarded a special memento for joining a rather exclusive bunch, The 10 Club, one of only five and the first woman to have completed 10 WHW races, next year Alyson and Tony will hopefully join the exclusive club and I hope they don’t mind if I make it a little less prestigious and they let me join too!

But just because I’ve completed nine WHW’s before there is no guarantee I’ll do it again. I’m not much of a gambler but the more often you chance fate it’s bound to slap you in the gub eventually, I do feel a bit invincible having dodged the bullet in 2005 but how much longer will my luck hold?  FOREVER if I’ve got anything to do with it!

But without the dedication of the race officials and supporters no Goblet will ever grace the mantelpiece of those privileged enough to make it to the finish.  Sean must also be mentioned in dispatches for going beyond the call of duty.

Before and after with my team.

Mel, Kevin and Adam I could not have done it without you. THANK YOU SO MUCH

It is an honour being part of the West Highland Way Family and the next clan gathering will be on the 22nd June 2013, see you all there if not before!