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!