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!