Friday, 11 October 2013

To Loch Ness and beyond...

I had a check up on Wednesday before the marathon, the consultant is pleased with my progress although I'm impatient that my mouth is still sensitive to a lot of foods, I was told that it is still early days  and I was reminded that I have had major surgery followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy and the fatigue from that can take up to a year to go away. Which funnily enough made me feel a bit better, lately I've felt guilty "wasting" the mornings, since I'm now getting up around eight thirty, an hour later than my old normal and by the time I've had my breakfast and footered aboot a bit it's nearly lunchtime!  Hopefully I'll get myself a bit more productive soon.

Back in 2011 there were ten of us who had done all ten Loch Ness Marathons and I'm not sure how many of us are still managing to keep the streak  going  but this is my favourite marathon and I'll continue to enjoy do it as long as I can put one foot in front of the other no matter how long it takes me.  
Pauline and I arrived at our B&B early Saturday afternoon, we stay with Amy and Ewan at Craigside Lodge every year, and they had a wee present for me.

The B&B is perfectly sited  just down from the Castle and less then a fifteen minute walk over the bouncy foot bridge to the race village, and after being in the car for a few hours it was good to stretch our legs on our walk down to Bught Park to pick up our numbers. We then strolled along and had a browse in the shops, stood and listened to the live music in the Square, a fund raising event for the STV Appeal until it was time for our meal, I booked our table for 5.30pm to give me plenty time to eat, I had checked the menu online to see if there was something I would manage, there was, pasta in a blue cheese sauce, and I managed it all except for a couple of forkfuls Pauline had, just to taste how delicious it was, and a pint of Guinness to round it off before heading  back for an early night.

Breakfast for the runners was at 6.00am and there was six of us up for it, I had a huge bowl of porridge with banana and honey followed by a couple of poached eggs.  (Amy was running the 10km, I'm sure she had plenty time to clear up before heading off for her race.) This was the first time Pauline and I were staying on Sunday night so it was nice just to walk down to the busses rather than have to take the car and join the queue to park the car.  Pauline and I didn't get to sit together on the bus but I had a lovely wee blether with Ross, Pauline was dozing until I prodded her to look out the window, the bus was going round by Fort Augustus, the mist was lifting and the view down the loch was stunning.  Not sure she appreciated it though.

After getting off the bus we used the forest facilities or what was left of the trees, kinda handy wearing a wee kilt.  Then we managed to say hi to quite a few friends before putting our belongings on the baggage lorry then headed down to the start, we stood in the middle trying to do the penguin huddle thing, the sun was out but the wind was cold, I was frozen, it made my back ache and I felt brittle. I was wearing long tights, my kilt, short-sleeved top, vest and arm warmers, I wished I'd brought a Buff, I was chittering and was dying to get going and hopefully warm up.

Eventually we were off, I ran with Pauline for the first mile or so before letting her go on, even though she wasn't going to run hard, her training has been minimal this year with family stuff taking priority and she still felt the British Ultra Fest in her legs.  The first few miles were fairly fast but I didn't worry,  it was just gravity doing it's job since it's all down hill for around five-ish miles.  Then on the first short sharp up hill I had to tell myself to stop being a daft bugger and walk, stupid pride/tradition getting in the way,  I don't walk in marathons, it's speed work! A standing joke amongst ultra runners.  But this year hasn't been my traditional preparation so if I wanted to survive I had to change my tactics, and once I broke the tradition and did that first wee walk I would let the gradient dictate my mode of movement, I did have a wee problem when I walked, down my right hamstring and behind my knee was tight and sore and it was hard to stride out when I walked, I wondered if it was because I'd been so cold and tight at the start .  This wasn't going to be easy and I didn't expect it to be, running a marathon never is but I have had practice at running this race tired.  For the previous five years of running Loch Ness I've done a 24 hour race about a fortnight beforehand  and my energy levels have been low but this year my energy was nonexistent.  I've lurched from the British Ultra Fest to my emotional fun run at Glenmore24 and now to a marathon in the space of just over six weeks, and  I'm not quite four months post treatment!  In between these events I'd rested rather than trained, thinking gathering my strength more important than tiring myself trying to train. The muscles in my legs are empty, my quads have softened and atrophied but no matter how tired I felt it was far better than being in hospital!  

I have honed my energy management skills to perfection, no pushing, just moving forward as fast as I can with the minimum effort required, following the racing line, walking the inclines, running the flats and down hills. At thirteen miles I was going to pick up a gel at the feed station but there was none left, not to worry, I'd had a good breakfast and I had drank an Ensure milkshake on the bus so I was well fuelled for my sedate pace, I'll just get one later. 

The crowds at Dores were as loud as ever, I was wearing my vest with my name printed on the front and what a boost having people shout my name with their encouragement.  I high-fived the kids, as knackered as I was it was still fun, I walked most of the hill looking over my left shoulder at the stunning view down the loch. 

Eventually I got a gel at around 20 miles but I knew it wasn't going to work any miracles and I now had to put in wee walks on the flat, but I was strict with myself and only took short walks picking the distance between the bollards marking the course, I didn't want to prolong it any more than I had to. Pauline was standing at the bouncy foot bridge, she'd finished ages ago and was pleased to see me within my predicted finishing time of between five and six hours. My final wee walk was in the last mile on the hump of the bridge although earlier I had told myself to run all of the last two miles, my legs weren't playing so after giving them a last wee breather I used every ounce of determination and ran all the way in. I could see the finish and focused on it,  to my right I could hear and see Sandra above everyone else cheering,  she was standing on the barrier waving like mad, seeing her made me emotional I wanted to stop and hug her but if I did I wouldn't get going again, a wee wave was all I managed, then I was over the finish line in 5 hours 6 minutes. I managed to keep control of my emotions, there were children watching, I wanted to hug the wee girl that gave me my medal but that would've invaded her space and scared her so I just thanked her and moved on to collect my t-shirt and goody bag. I was met by Pauline, John and Isobel and stood a bit dazed, John let me finish his can of Sprite before I managed collect my bag and we headed for the post race meal, although I wasn't sure if I would managed what was offered I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't eat it, the veg in my soup was raw and stovies were just inedible, not to worry, we headed back to the B&B.

It was lovely not having to drive home, after a wee rest we met John and hit the town looking for somewhere to eat, but everywhere we fancied was busy so we ended up buying some ready meals and a few bottles of beer at Tesco and we spent the evening in the conservatory at the B&B and the brilliant thing about that was when we were tired and ready for bed, there was no weary walk home from the pub, just a plod up the stairs.

After our large breakfast on Monday morning our parting words with Amy and Ewan were "See you next year." We had a wee detour before heading home, stopping at Dores, which brought back childhood memories, we 'd spent many hours skimming stones, Pauline hasn't lost the knack.

Then an ooyah ooyah walk down the hundreds of steps to the waterfall at Foyers, our quads weren't liking it much but I'm sure it would help. We were still in tourist mode going down the A9, I don't know how many times I've looked over to Ruthven Barracks and said we'll need to stop there one day, so we did.

I didn't run again for a week and I'm now on a "sensible" mission, rebuilding my puny quads.  I don't think I'll do any long runs for a while, but work on short sharp efforts and hills. I've been back to the club this week and did the speed work, with the word speed being used loosely, but my bahooky muscles know they've been doing something.  I'll leave doing hills for another week, and the hill I've chosen is the one that goes up passed Culross Abbey, if you don't know it, it's a cracker but I'll start gently with just two reps.  Pauline did suggest I start with something smaller but I'm not that sensible! I have a lot of work to do!
I have a date with my tenth crystal Goblet in June!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Glenmore 24 - not just any 24 hour race.

At the beginning of my radiotherapy Bill offered me a place in the Glenmore24 as a goal to help me get through my treatment either in the 24 hour, the 12 or just for me a 6 hour. At the time I didn't want to commit to anything, not knowing how I'd cope but in June I accepted the offer of a wee fun run.  Pauline was happy for me to do it even though I'd leave her to look after Vicky and Fiona on her own for a bit and just a few days before the race I saw on facebook Colin would be unsupported so we offered to look after him as well.

Pauline and I went up on Friday afternoon, it took ages to get set up, mattress inflated, bed made, kitchen set up, tarpaulin over the front of the tent giving us a veranda, extra tarpaulin on the floor in the kitchen/livingroom, ever since my tent was ruined at the Perth 24 hour race in 2008 by clerty Carnegie Harriers, I blame the relay team, in and oot, in and oot, we'd rather spend a few quid on a "carpet" than replace a whole tent.  It was a real home from home once Pauline decorated it with Tibetan prayer flags, wind chimes and fairy lights.

Friday night was quite a giggle, wind and rain didn't put a halt to the showing of the latest Anton Krupicka  film. We were tucked into open fronted race HQ marquee out of the weather, but with smoke in the eyes from the fire pit, Granny blanket round our knees, a bottle of beer and great company. Luckily, the film was more scenery and close ups of the scantily clad Anton skipping over mental terrain with his peaked Buff at a jaunty angle, there was too much hilarity to follow a film with plot points! 
Photo from Glenmore 24 Trail Race
We didn't sleep much, the wind and rain battered the tent a bit through the night but we were pleased to see our camp still intact in the morning apart from the windbreak needing a bit of adjusting there was no damage.  More folk arrived and got their tents up, a lot of the tents were empty over night since quite a few pitched them on Friday then buggered off to B&Bs, you wussy lot missed all the fun!

As the morning progressed the wind blew the rain away and the sun came out, it was going to be a great day for the race. We went over Fiona, Vicky and Colin's race plans then wandered over to race HQ for the briefing and the start at noon. 

It was great to watch people settle into their race, a shame for Kevin going over on his ankle early on, even running a lap with an ice pack gaffer taped to his ankle wasn't going to work a miracle, he stopped after three laps, but a wee bonus for Mel and Morna, they now had extra pair of hands in support. Our runners had settled down nicely and were easy to look after, knocking out consistent laps and eating well,  Fiona had brought plenty food,  I think she'd bought half a supermarket going by the all the carrier bags taking over the tent, and she was ready for a tuna sandwich, okay doky, I found the rolls, the butter and the tins of tuna... hmm, I bet there isn't a tin opener in all this lot. Not a problem, I'm sure someone will have one, sure enough, just a wee wander round other supports and I got one from Julie. I didn't bring one since the tins of soup I'd brought had ring pulls, I'll remember one for next time whether I need it or not, someone else might!

I kept an eye on the time and got myself ready for my run, I was starting at 6.00pm and finishing at midnight with the 12 hour race.  I felt a bit tired with not much sleep, being on my feet all day and I still had a bit of the British Ultra Fest in me, I didn't run for a fortnight afterwards it and just had a couple of three mile runs just to check the legs are ok, yep, they go left, right, left, right. That'll do, I wasn't worried, I was running  just for the joy.

A few minutes to six Pauline and I walked over to the start, hang on, here's Fiona coming, Pauline scooted off to see to her and was back in time to see me be set off with precision timing from Ada.  While I was waiting to start I turned my peaked Buff up like that Anton bloke, but Pauline thought I was more like Norman Wisdom!

It's a beautiful four mile loop,  in 2011 I labelled the miles according to the terrain, first one was called lumpy bumpy, a narrow twisty path with boulders and tree roots, second mile I named the long run, a wide forest track of gentle undulations which in both previous years I ran all of it, third mile, the up hill, fourth mile, the down hill, a rather simplistic description of the stunning route but that's how I broke up the loop, I clicked straight into the routine of where I walked and where I ran.  "It's great to see you back."   were the words I heard more than once on the loop. You know the saying  If I had a penny for every time...  well, I don't need to be a millionaire, the support you guys have given me this year has been priceless.  

I reached the clearing and looked down over Loch Morlich in the early evening light.  The sky, pale blue, the clouds tinged with peach were reflected in the loch.  A line from a song popped in my head. The colours of Scotland leave you young inside. Now Runrig's Hearts of Olden Glory make me emotional at any time, but being here, being back where I belong ... I let the tears stream down my face and kept the song in my head for the rest of the loop. Next lap I picked up my iPod, but only stuck it in one lug'ole, as much as wanted my music I wasn't anti-social. It was sheer pleasure running and it felt easy, must have been that  urban myth  - the runners high, I knew it wouldn't last but I got three laps before I crashed.  

I made it back to base camp just as the last of the light faded and I picked up my head-torch on the start of my fourth lap.  After the "lumpy bumpy" mile and a slow "long run" those hills jumped up and bit my bum, I expected them to get me at some time, and it wasn't just my glutes, my hamstrings and quads too, what little running I've done has been on easy flat routes, the last time I ran hills was February!  The muscles in my legs had the strength of watery jelly,  one good thing from walking loads of miles at the British Ultra Fest is that my walking technique has been perfected, it felt smooth and productive, my running slowed but I still moved well.   

I'd just left base camp on my fifth lap when it started raining, it got really heavy and freezing, I moved as fast as I could, expending energy I didn't have to waste, since my treatment I really feel the cold, it makes me feel fragile, brittle and my muscles don't work.  I got back before hypothermia set in, I pulled on a fleece, my rain jacket, gloves and my cut off waterproof breeks, Pauline calls them my Ray McCurdys, (that's fine, I keep them in a wee zip lock bag and I'm going to change the label on it in homage to the legend.)

On my sixth and final lap, I walked parts of the "long run" for the first time, counting the previous two years, this was the first time I walked parts of this section in sixty laps! I wasn't disappointed, I was moving forward to the best of my ability with the body that I had on the day, I wasn't in a race looking for a PB or a race position I was there purely for the pleasure but this is a philosophy I use even when racing and in all the years I've been running I have not always reached my target but I've never been disappointed with my performance, you can't ever ask for more than your best effort whatever the circumstances.

Once back to base camp and on the wee loops, I went into proper race mode and pushed as hard as I could, every step counting towards my distance.  I needed to lean my hands on my thighs to get up the wee hill, I don't know how many times round I went but each one I hoped was the last, eventually the count down, it was midnight, and I stopped near the top of the hill. I bent forward with my hands on my knees and let out sobs of achievement.  Mike R asked if I was ok, I was, just a bit emotional, I'd ran 25 miles, confirmation I'm alive and kicking. I walked round to our tent, Pauline took a celebratory photo and gave me a mug of hot chocolate and a cup of cider, I couldn't decide what one I wanted so I had both!  

I took them over to race HQ and stood melting my breeks at the fire pit waiting for Vicky Shanks to come into base camp, now that it was after midnight she could celebrate turning forty, she stopped  long enough to be serenaded with Happy Birthday and have a piece of cake then carried on to cover 100 miles, a brilliant way to mark a special birthday.  I was loathed to leave the fire, but eventually I forced myself, I had to get changed into warm, dry clothes, have a wee sleep and get back on duty.

Running for 24 hours isn't just about how fast you can run, it's also about how you adapt when problems arise, our three runners coped very well with theirs.  Vicky's feet and shins were in excruciating pain from early on and she stoically stuck it out to 88 miles, an achievement  in self determination.  Fiona was eating well to start with but struggled later on and was low on energy, Pauline let her have a 20 minute nap, afterwards she was shaking like an old washing  machine but once we piled loads of clothes on her and I gave her one of my Ensure milkshakes, as used by the old, infirm, elite athletes, me and now wee Fee MacDee, she was soon warmed up and knocked out a 50 minute lap and cracked on to 95 miles, an outstanding distance for her first 24 hour race.  Colin never stopped at all, bar a wee visit to the physio, no sleeping at all this year, he wouldn't dare with Ada armed with a cattle prod and Pauline with a baseball bat! With a few hours to go he said he'd be happy just to do another lap but we had other ideas, he did have time for two laps if he pulled his finger out,  Pauline went with him for a lap saying "I'll work on his head." When they came in to base camp with just over an hour to go he said he was going for an other lap. Brilliant, but we also neglected to tell him that if he didn't get back to base camp before noon this lap wouldn't count.  No worries, he was back with just over ten minutes left. Pauline's final instruction, "Run like a demented hamster!"  and he churned out enough wee laps to reach a PB of 89.73 miles.

At the end of final hour with all the runners on the wee lap, the crowd in base camp shouted and screamed encouragement, it was emotional watching everyone pushing their bodies long passed their capabilities with hearts and souls leading the charge, forcing every step forward to break records, personal bests and have dreams realised, the countdown then it was finally over, sighs of relief, smiles and hugs of congratulations.  The finish is exceptional and not just for the runners, everyone involved is caught in the emotion.

I enjoyed watching the prize giving, everyone in both races individually awarded their medal and bottle of beer and often with personal comments from Bill or Ada.  Rab and Mark's amazing achievement, setting a new Guinness record  for the three legged race, 68.2 miles, I loved the way Ada in her inimitable style summed up their efforts, introducing them as the two tits. I thought Bill seemed a bit lost for words in winding up the prize giving, then I realised he wasn't finished, (I'm struggling here to find my words so I'll leave out my emotions) Bill and Mike presented me with a beautiful crystal decanter.

It is at home amongst my other wee bits of crystal and holds some fine malt, also a gift from a friend that has given me outstanding support this year.

If I'd known I was going to have my photo taken standing in front of everyone I would've done something with my hair!  Sorry, I'm just trying to use a bit of humour  to stop my crying.  I'm finding it hard to put into words my gratitude for all your support, and saying thank you doesn't cover it,  it has taken me a while to write this, every time I think of the weekend I get a lump in my throat. The Glenmore 24 is a very special weekend if you were there you'll understand the magic, if you weren't, sorry, I can't explain...  

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

British Ultra Fest - Forty-eight hours of fun

I had entered this event last year and I wasn't going to miss it, I could do as much or as little as I liked, my plan was to run the first half an hour and the last half an hour and just go with the flow for the other forty-seven hours. My training was minimal to say the least, treading a fine line between recovering from the effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy and actually doing some running, from the beginning of July until the first week of August I had eighteen runs of between three and five miles and one run of ten miles, I thought it more important to gather my strength than to use it up.  I had a check up at Edinburgh's Western General the day before heading down to Oxford, they are pleased I've put on a smidgen of weight since having the feeding tube removed, (I didn't mention that the last time I was weight was a roasting day and I was wearing shorts and t-shirt, it was cooler now  and I was wearing jeans and a heavier top) my mouth is still sensitive to fruit and textured food, I'm still very restricted on what I can eat but was told this is normal only ten weeks post treatment and will improve with time.

Pauline and I had enlisted Ken, Sue and Gillian for support and after a lot of deliberation of whether to hire a campervan or a people carrier for event, we went for a nine-seater minibus and it was just right for the five of us and all the gear we had.  We packed the bus on Tuesday night so we could head off on Wednesday morning at a civilised hour, the drive down to Oxford was uneventful and didn't take as long as we'd thought it might.

We arriving at Radley College and greeted Lorna, John, William and Richard with a cheery hello, they were doing the six day race and had started at noon on Sunday 11th, we'll get to know the other runners soon.  We picked our spot for the big tent and put it up, also Ken and Sue's wee tent, inflated the mattresses but left sorting the rest of the stuff until later since it was pouring a drizzle and went to Tesco for our adventure supplies and then to a pub for something to eat. I managed all my fish but it was a shame I had to pick the lovely crispy batter off, it was too abrasive,  I managed some of my chips and mushy peas, and a nice pint of local beer, clearing just over half my plate was an achievement as the last time I had fish n' chips was before the surgery.

Then back to Radley College for an early-ish night but I don't think I slept too well with the tent  being next to the track, I could hear the runners timing chips beep all night as they went over the mats and one runner was singing at the top of his voice,  "Turn yer iPod down ya numpty!" 

Rabbit the Bruce and Rampers check out the track.
Before the start
In the morning it took me a bit time trying to remember my routine for a big race, it's been nearly a year since my last one at Glenmore24! But I wasn't nervous, I haven't done race nerves since my first WHW race in 2003, I run and race for fun and it didn't matter that I haven't had the conventional build up to a big race, I've made it to the start line, every lap will be a bonus.

10.00am Thursday 15th August.  Fourteen of us joined in the fun on the track that was the British Ultra Fest  48 hour race.  

Pauline and I ran a few laps together then  I let her go on, this was not the pace I was planning and after a couple of hours I had gone around ten miles, the farthest I have gone since February, I had already had had a few walking laps and now decided that walking was the most energy efficient mode of moving forward and wouldn't run again until tomorrow.  I took my camera round for a lap or two,
Just another forty-five and a half  hours to go!
The reassuring beep of the timing mat 

Where's my runners?
I just observed the world from a 400 metre running track, a Red Kite soared above, we went round and round,  Sue strolled to the shop for a newspaper and ice lollies, we went round and round, support sat and ate ice lollies reading the paper, we went round and round, Sue went off for a wee run amongst pretty thatched cottages, we went round and round, Gillian went off for a run, we went... you get the picture! It didn't faze me even though this was my first race on a track, once I've chosen a challenge I just get on with it and enjoy it, plus having the IQ of a hamster probably helps.

I'm easily amused and when Pauline lapped me I thought her hair reminded me of someone, I had to tell her, she laughed, but I knew she'd bide her time and come back with something at some point during the race...
Pauline and Rampers matching hair-dos

It got dark and there were frequent rain showers, it wasn't cold though.  I had my baseball cap pulled well down and the hood on my rain jacket went up or down depending on how heavy the rain.  I didn't need a head torch, we were going clockwise so I just kept my left foot on or near the white line of lane one, it was easy to see. I was listening to my iPod, I had Runrig on shuffle reliving the brilliant night we had on Saturday, we had been up at the Black Isle for the Party on the Moor, Runrig's 40th anniversary celebration. I was singing along hopefully not as loud as the guy last night but I was enjoying myself. 

10.00pm, I'd been on the go for twelve hours and covered over forty odd miles, my legs were sore and I could feel a couple of blisters on the balls of my feet, probably with walking rather than running, I was placing and picking up my feet differently, and with the lack of training my feet were probably soft but I loved it! I revelled in the discomfort, this is the pain that the fit and healthy have.  Also knowing that my friends and family were checking my progress on the live results,  I could see your smiling faces at what I've achieved so far, that made me emotional knowing I have a lot of love willing me on.  Sue has an awfy clever phone and kept us up to date with facebook messages, they meant a lot, thank you.

By 11.00pm I was tired and ready for a break but I would wait until after midnight when we changed direction, it made it easier being on the track at a change of direction, it wouldn't confuse me when I got going again. It was a long hour until the change but just before midnight Sue said that if I did another half a dozen laps I'd have 50 miles, and that's a nice number to stop for a sleep at, so I continued on for another twenty minutes or so before dropping onto my mattress and into my sleeping bag for a couple of hours.  I don't think I slept much but it was lovely to rest.  Sue told me it was time to get up, I unzipped my sleeping bag, rolled off my mattress and crawled out of the inner tent into the "living-room", I tucked my toes under, lifted my knees off the ground and with my bum in the air walked my hands towards my feet until I could stand, Sue's comment "I'd help you up but it's more fun watching!" I've never taken a break before during a race, so I took my time gathering myself, I put on another pair of tights so I'd stay nice and warm and had some coffee to revive me and some paracetamol to ease my legs, hopefully they would soon loosen as I started moving again. One wee problem, my iPod was dead.  Ken offered me his phone with his music on it if I wanted, not to worry, I would be fine without, but it was nice to know I could have some tunes if I felt I needed them.

My legs loosened and it got light, I took off some of the extra layers I'd put on during the night. At 11.00am the sprinters joined in the fun, AKA the 24hour race, the pace they zoomed round at seemed very fast, too fast in this heat, there were going to be casualties.  It got really hot in the afternoon but that's how I like it, my black compression tights soaked up the sun's energy like solar panels, my quads have no strength with the combination of no training and mouth cancer treatment but the warmth of the sun was the elixir of life.  William asked if we had ice, "Brrr, no thanks.",  just the thought gave me shiver, I wasn't even using a wet sponge, but I did get quite warm and Sue asked if I wanted a break as I looked a bit wabbit.  So I found a chair, sat down, put my feet up and started drinking one of the low alcohol beers Pauline had bought, that made me laugh, what a bizarre thing to do in a race!  It was still too warm just to sit, so Ken put my beer into my drinks bottle and I strolled round at ice-cream pace, you know how slow you walk eating ice-cream, that was my race pace! Another first, I've never drank beer from a bottle with a sports top before!  A wee while later Pam (race director) made an announcement, asking us to respect the college's strict no alcohol rule, I thought I was discreet, but it wasn't just me, that's ultra runners for you!  But Ray McCurdy didn't break the no smoking rule, he probably could've added another mile or so to his distance since he did leave the college grounds for his fag breaks!

I was still quite warm and tired after my "sports drink" so I decided to have a wee lie down but the tent would've still been too warm so I took my blanket to the shaded side of the tent and lay on the grass for about an hour and a half. I felt quite refreshed afterwards and found the light breeze chilly so put a fleece on to go back on the track. I was never fast but my laps were consistent and I churned them out, my stomach was fine too, no problems at all, with my mouth still being sore and sensitive I kept all my food liquid.  I was confident in using my Ensure milkshakes as I know a lot of elite athletes use them, lucky me, I get them free on prescription and stock-piled plenty of them, I also had soup, custard and porridge, I couldn't drink my usual diluted ginger beer ,it was still a bit nippy for me but I managed some coke and I just had plain water, since the radiotherapy has damaged my saliva glands I don't produce any, not a single spit, so after a couple of breaths my mouth is uncomfortably dry so I just carried my water in a bottle belt, easy to get a mouthful one or twice a lap.

It got dark again, the sky was clear and I felt it colder than the previous night, I made sure I stayed warm though, t-shirt, vest, arm warmers, two fleeces, two pairs of tights, two Buff scarves. I planned to stop for another break after midnight again, but I was moving well so I kept going for a wee bit longer clocking over 101 miles before getting back into my sleeping bag for a couple of hours.  I slept well this time, I'd only put my head down then Ken woke me up! Again I took my time to gather myself and get back on track, I took a couple of easy laps to wake me up and loosen me off.  It was just after 3.30am, I'd covered over 164kms/102miles, I had just less than six and a half hours to go, could I get 200km? I did some sums, I'll have to pick up the pace but I've got to try.  Next time round I told Ken I was on a mission, and since I'm rubbish with numbers especially when running I put him in charge of checking my pace and if it was fast enough, he was excellent telling what I was doing and how much I had to pick it up by and maintain.

At 5.00am Sue asked if I'd like a wee 5.00am special, and showed me a bottle of Brewdog 5.00am Saint, now that's a proper beer! I laughed out loud and had a wee tincture.
Enough clothes for two runners
The sun rise was a pretty pink one and as it warmed up I gradually peeled my layers off, then there was a short, heavy shower, I felt it cold on my quads, time to pull on my cut-offs, an old pair of waterproof breeks I'd chopped below the knee, so easy to slip on and off without having to mess with my shoes.  Payback time in the comparison game for Pauline... I looked like Ray McCurdy, yeah, I'll take that. Sorry, no photographic evidence, the shower passed quickly and they were soon removed.

With three hours to go I was maintaining my pace and should reach 200km but I wanted to make sure and get the best  distance I could,  so I started running the straight over the timing mats. It didn't feel too bad at all, the blisters on the balls of my feet felt easier when I was running but my quads had no strength and couldn't maintain running for long, I gradually stretched the running  each lap picking points to start and stop until I was running half of every lap. The transition from walking to running was fine but going back to a walk was a painful judder to my legs and set the blisters on fire but I didn't  feel as if I had the strength to keep running... not yet.  

Ken kept me informed of my pace and laps, Sue and Gillian passed me my milkshake, I was just having a mouthful every few of laps. Time moved on and I reeled in the distance, 9.00am Kilts On! The last hour, the Highland Charge, no need to conserve my energy and strength any longer, I increased the distance I ran every lap until there was no walking,  Matt Moroz was at the timing mat holding up his fingers for how many laps I had to do to get 200km.  I got it with 35miuntes to spare. 
I wasn't stopping, how much more could I get?  I pushed on, Pauline lapped me and shouted at the top of her voice "COME ON!" I answered just as loud "ALRIGHT!"  A twinnie tradition since the 24 hour race at Perth 2008. Alan was handing out wee bean bags with our name and race number on them to be dropped when the final hooter sounded, a whistle signalled the last minute. Pushed hard and fast for every step, Sue pointed and shouted "Get the white line!" I did.  511(and a bit) laps, 204.6km 127miles. 
I can stop now.

I hugged Sue and Gillian until I got my sobbing under control, an unbelievable achievement  after the past five months, but I did it! 
Lorna stopped her race to hug me.

We strolled round the grass, keeping my blood circulating until we were reunited with Pauline and Ken, more hugs.

The pleasure of a hot shower and clean clothes , bliss. Then back over to the tent for a seat and some soup and to cheer in the other runners. The 24 hour race finished at 11.00am, and the six day race finished at noon,  most of them proudly carried their national flag for the finish. It was a privilege to stand and applaud such great achievements.
Pauline was 1st Lady and I was 2nd.
Apart from the blisters on the balls of my feet and pudgy feet and feeling tired for a bit I don't think I've knocked back my recovery, my weight has remained stable, not sure what the consultant will say when I see him in a few weeks though.

Now I don't usually compare my results with other runners but I was a bit astounded when I saw the 2013 World rankings for 48 hours. I'm ranked 43 out of 125 women.  Pauline wasn't so chuffed, her 252.8km/157miles got her a ranked 13, not her favourite number, she should've ran faster then!

Pam is hoping to stage the British Ultra Fest again next year, I hope so too, I'd like to see what I could do fully recovered, strong, fit and with a bit of training! 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Looking Forward

Thought I'd do a wee update since I'm sitting doing nothing, having a quiet few days.  On Friday morning at the Queen Margaret hospital I had the feeding tube removed.  I've been looking forward to this for weeks,  having the tube was necessary but still a pain.  Having an open wound with a plastic tube hanging out my tummy has hindered my movement from the day it was put in (March 7th) stretching and bending have been restricted and I don't mean any super duper yoga stuff, just reaching a kitchen cupboard or picking up something from the floor, and I'm not going to mention coughing or sneezing!  I don't know if being  bit more active these last few weeks has irritated it but it's been very tender lately.  I'm told the wound will heal quickly but I've to be careful for a few days, I'm looking forward to being able to move freely, it is another step in my recovery.

My energy level is increasing and I've been running,  it has felt very hard though, my legs feel very heavy and don't have any strength.  I have a lot of faith in muscle memory but my quads have a touch of  Alzheimer's, and with some gentle encouragement they will soon remember what they're supposed to do.  I hope they get the hang of it soon I've got a 48 hour race at the British Ultra Fest  in four weeks!

I had a great six mile walk on Friday 12th, it was the fourth anniversary of Dario leaving us, so there was only one place to go, the Angels Playground on the West Highland Way, and on impulse just before I left home I grabbed a Goblet,  wrapped it in three Buffs and a long sleeved top and placed it in my backpack, I never go by Dario's post without my hipflask  but I thought on this day I wanted to make  a special gesture. I wore running shoes in case I felt like a wee scamper, it was a roasting hot day and I loved it, I was a bit over dressed in long tights but I had good reason for wearing them,  the bracken would be thick and tall and it's tick season.  I did stick in a few wee jogs but the feeding tube jarred every step so I practiced my "walk with purpose" technique, I think I'll be doing more walking than running at the 48 hour so it was worth doing.

My recovery is a lot slower than I'd hoped, my mouth is still very sensitive and tender and the food I'm managing is still soft.  I have lost a little more weight but it's not too much.  My Macmillan nurse did stress to me on Friday that I'm still burning extra calories recovering and repairing and doesn't want me to lose any more, especially as I'm getting more active, me neither really, I don't mind burning fat but I don't want to burn muscle so I've promised her I'll add drinking a pint and a half of full fat milk every day to keep my weight stable.  A couple of weeks ago I had a strange feeling in my stomach, it took a bit of time for it to dawn on me what it was.  Hunger.  My appetite has returned, which is great but also a bit frustrating, I see and smell food I want to eat but can't manage, fruit is still very nippy, anything with texture is abrasive,  but I'm enjoying trying different things even though it irritates my mouth.  I've had an appointment at the clinic in the Western and they are happy with my progress.  I also found out why it takes a long time to recover, the radiation stays in my body for around twelve weeks and it's effects hang around until it's gone.  But every week I'm feeling a gradual  improvement and that's me seven weeks post treatment so I'm over the worst of it.

Looking forward to August, it's going to be a busy month, on the 3rd is the Devil O' the Highland, this year Pauline and I are not supporting anyone but we'll be oot  n' aboot, probably up the Devil's Staircase to shout abuse.  Then my next race, the Graham Clark Memorial Race at Knockhill on the 6th, the club has organised this race in memory of Graham, since 2004, I have always helped  but this year I have decided to run it for the first time, and in memory of Catherine Wilson, a very inspirational friend and Carnegie Harrier, she fought her cancer for eleven years, never giving in, and lived her life to the full right to the end, she ran London Marathon last year.  Our last run together was a girly group 10 miler in February.  All the proceeds from this years race is going to Ovacome so if you fancy a birl round Knockhill you can enter here, mind it's Shanks Pony and no fast cars!

Next is a fun weekend in the Black Isle for Runrig's Party On The Moor, I'll try not to jump about too much since I'll have the 48 hour race five days later! My plan for the 48 hour is to run the first half hour and the last half hour, I'll pace the other 47 hours according to how I feel.  At the beginning of June I set myself a big goal of 200km optimistically thinking my recovery would be faster, I'm still holding onto that goal although it is probably beyond me just now and I'm not going to damage myself trying to reach it.  I've been running consistently for nearly three weeks now, around three times a week of a distance of three and a half miles, and I increased it to five miles on Thursday knowing I'd be having a quiet weekend.  My running has been quite slow, but that's how I run in an ultra! The way I'm looking at it is it will feel like I'll be starting the race as if I've already done around fifteen hours, because that's when the pain and tiredness usually plateaus out and I've certainly honed my management skills in the pain and tiredness departments lately, so run, walk, stroll and a few rests I'll just do what I can, it will be a learning experience and set a bench mark for the next time.  I'm also hoping running with the remnants of radiotherapy still in my system won't get me banned, I don't think it's on the prohibited list as I doubt it's performance enhancing!

In September I'm looking forward to the Glenmore 24, Pauline and I are supporting Vicky O'Reilly and Fiona Macdonald. I'm also looking forward to  running a very special and exclusive event with the entry limited to one!  The Glenmore 6 (why does that sound like a band of outlaws?) Bill and Mike have generously offered me my own wee fun run, I'll start at 6.00pm and finish with the 12 hour race. I'm targeting marathon distance, whether I reach that goal or not doesn't really matter, supporting and having a run at Glenmore is like having my cake and eating it. (Vicky, Fiona don't worry when I swan off for a toddle, Pauline is an expert at support, I trained her myself, that was my job before I ever ran any big daft stuff!)

Next week I'm looking forward to going back to work, (yeah, I know that sounds mad) I'm only going in for one wee shift and see how I feel,  I'm sure I'll be fine.  Work has been so supportive, "Take as long as you need."

I have many goals to aim for and look forward to, from eating Stornoway Black Pudding in a roll at the Real Food Cafe to smashing the Leisure Centre's doors off and picking up my tenth Goblet.  
I have the patience of a puppy waiting for the garden gate to be opened but  I'll just have to try and be sensible (bloody hell, I've just used the S word!) and go with the flow and not push too hard, apart from running the 48 hour race that is, but I'm a Fifer and I've paid the entry fee.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Groupies on tour

The last time I just watched the race was in 1997, it was Pauline's first time and Mum, Tim, Erin, (a teeny toddler at the time,  she's just had her High School Prom and looked stunning - proud Mum moment) and I went up to Fort William to see her finish.  I supported Pauline in 1998, she then had 1999 and 2000 off, since then I have supported Pauline three times and ran nine times. I didn't want to commit to supporting or marshaling this year in case I wasn't up to it but there was no way I could miss it even though it didn't feel right not having a proper role for the race. Adrian did make me feel a bit better saying it was ok to have a year off.  So the plan was for Val and Gillian, (they have both supported us over many years) Pauline and myself to go to Milngavie for the start and follow the race up to Fort William.

When I was told I was to have chemo and radiotherapy I knew I wouldn't be running this year, it took a good few weeks to get my head round that fact and even longer until I could face withdrawing.  Ian had said he wouldn't issue number two but I had a plan. Dave Waterman has given me immense support through my surgery and treatment topping it off with a fighting mantra to get me through. Hands Up, Chin Down.  I asked Dave if he would wear my number for me and it made my day when he said yes. Wearing number two has a few traditions, since 2007 I have always changed into the same blue fleece and Saltire Buff scarf for going up the Devil's Staircase, that might be pushing tradition a bit far so I let Dave wear his own clothes but there is another tradition that had to be observed.  I gave Dave my racing hip flask (it's just a wee dinky one) filled with Glengoyne to share with Dario.

On the Friday morning while everyone else put the final ticks in their long lists of preparation I was at the clinic, I have lost a little weight, but they were impressed that I managed the half marathon and I'm doing remarkably well even though  I'm a bit impatient that my mouth is still very sore and I'm only managing to eat soft food but I was told that most patients don't eat at all until around seven weeks after the radiotherapy has finished, I was only three weeks and the radiotherapy is still working on me and I'm burning around 400 extra  calories a day because of it, that will by why I've lost weight then!

We got to Milngavie for the back of midnight since Gillian had ran the Black Rock race earlier in the evening  and needed a wee bit of time to get ready, I was able to give my best wishes to a few but not everyone I was looking for.  I felt ok being there knowing the there was no way I could have run,  but emotion did get me at the end of Ian's briefing when he read out the words of encouragement I'd written on the race facebook page.  Right, get a grip woman!  

Val was assisting with the start, Pauline, Gillian and I wandered up the High Street and stood on a bench ready to cheer everyone on in their adventure.

Then Milngavie resembled the old classic Le Mans race start, support rushed to their vehicles and zoomed off into the night.  We set off at a more leisurely pace after handing over Ken and Sue's gazebo to Neal and Caroline, they were using it at Lundavra.  We got to the Beech Tree in plenty time to see folks coming through, it was hard to recognise everyone with their glaring head torches until they were up close, and looking down the path in the dark and rain, the stream of torches looked like a motorway during rush hour on a winter's evening. 

We went on to Balmaha and had a couple of hours dozing in the car before opening our eyes and realising we'd missed the leaders going through.  It was quite an eye-opener just observing the support crews with varying degrees of efficiency, from Formula One style to a guy doing a lot of faffing, putting stuff in his backpack, changing his mind, taking it out, picking something else putting his backpack on then taking it off and changing his mind again with his support just looking on! Then there was the jaw dropping incompetent.  One poor soul was hopping from one bare foot to the other changing his socks and shoes standing on the cold wet tarmac as his three supporters just stood, arms folded and watched him, I hope they managed to do more for him as the race progressed!  Or am I just a Diva?  This is how I do a shoe change.
Rowardennan 2012
We went on to Tyndrum, leaving Rowardennan, Beinglas and Auchtertyre for the real support and went into The Real Food Cafe for breakfast, Pauline, Val and Gillian tucked into delicious rolls filled with Stornoway Black Pudding and bacon, the Cafe were kind enough to provide hot water for my pot of instant porridge "Yummy!" I said sarcastically, and make a note to come back when my mouth wasn't so painful.  

We walked down the road and along past the By The Way to watch the runners, Paul cruised past with the quiet stealth of a Ninja! I didn't even have time to get my camera out my pocket!  Murdo was there and offered us a jelly baby each before he left to plant his Saltire on his hill with a huge supply of jelly babies.  We walked down the track and waited... and waited... it was around 37 minutes before Marco and Richie went past.

We strolled on to stand at Brodie's store for quite a long time, it was great to see the majority of runners coming through in great spirits, I felt frustrated for those having to wait to cross the busy road but I'm in awe of Lorna just putting her hand up, stopping the traffic  and crossing with no delay. 

We were watching the time, there were loads of runners I wanted to see through but if we were calling in on the Lord and Lady of the Bridge aka Tim and Muriel and their lovely assistant, Jane at Bridge of Orchy and then get up to Fort William in time for the finish we'd better move up the road, I'm sorry I missed you, blame Paul Giblin, it's his fault! I was spoiled by Tim, he had promised me ice-cream but with the weather being cold and wet I didn't fancy it so I got to sit in the campervan with a mug of coffee and a heater blasting my legs.  I wasn't freezing but I've been feeling the cold lately, not sure if it's down to my inactivity, my treatment or my tiredness but I always need loads of layers.

We stopped briefly in Glencoe, Rabbit the Bruce, an experienced and well seasoned supporter pointed out the route and scenery to Rampers, a newbie, then we were off into Fort William. 
Look over there Rampers, that's where the runners go.

We didn't have long to wait until Paul arrived knocking a huge lump off the record finishing in 15 hours and 7 minutes.  The emotion of his achievement was contagious and a privilege to witness. WOW! was the inadequate word on everyone's lips.  

Remembering when Jez Bragg smashed the record Dario put on the race website  a "Where were you when Jez finished?"  graph showing where us mortals were on the route.   Thinking about where I would be in 15 hours, even in my PB year I still would've been trundling along somewhere between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy when Paul finished!  WOW!

It was good to watch the fast guys finish and see that they are human after all when they stopped, a fair few were a bit staggery, and needed a seat or a wee lie down on the comfy concrete.  
By the time I usually see them they've had their tea, gone to the pub, gone to bed, had a lie in, had their breakfast and look well rested and the only evidence that  they've ran is they still do the keeky breeks walk!  

We stayed at the finish for quite a while, Aunty Val brought me a chair and kept making me sit down but every time somebody finished I'd jump up and cheer them in. We left the Leisure Centre and went for something to eat with Ken and Sue, they had been supporting Richie for the second half, I managed some chicken broth after mashing the lumps into submission with a fork.  After eating we went back to the finish.  What a pleasure it was to witness the tears of joy, relief it's over and the realisation of an achievement  that has been the focus for months and years, these emotions probably took a bit of time to sink in but they were plain to see.  

Just before 10.00pm Val said it was time for us to head off to our hotel and it would be nice to make last orders, we were staying about 10 miles outside of Fort William, it didn't take long to get there, check in, dump our bags and go into the bar, every head turned, the young lad playing the banjo in the corner stopped!  (Just kidding about the banjo player, but  it was check out the tourists!) We got our drinks and took them into the residents lounge with the tartan carpet, big deep leather chairs and the ambience of a light-bulb with yellow and orange bits of floaty fabric flickering around it in the fireplace!  But it was inside, warm, dry and comfy, we didn't sit for too long, we were tired and headed for bed.  I felt guilty pulling the cosy duvet over my head with thoughts that most of the family were still out there and hauling in a second night, I wished them well before falling asleep. 

In the morning, Val checked her clever phone to see who finished through the night and who was still running,  Dave had gone through Kinlochleven so we got ourselves back along to the finish where we spoke to Darrel.  Dave had pulled out after climbing out of Kinlochleven,  and then had to turn back, I was devastated for him,  he had major problems which is his race tale to tell if he wants to, but he pushed on further than he should have.  Mr Waterman, you did me proud.

The prize giving was another traditional affair, not enough seats!  This family's getting bigger every year and no less special, it's just harder to get round everyone! Every finisher received their goblet to heartfelt congratulations, the family circle was complete with Paul, the first finisher presenting Peter, the last finisher with his Goblet. 
Photo stolen from Davie Hall
There was a special presentation to Tony, John and Alyson for completing ten races, next year there are four of us that WILL* reach this achievement.  
Photo stolen from Davie Hall
It doesn't matter that I didn't do it this year, this race has taught me a lot over the years,  especially how to cope when things get tough and don't go the way you'd like.  Life is a bit like running the West Highland Way, it's not just about how well you do when all goes according to plan but more importantly how well you adapt and get on with it when the challenge is the toughest you've ever had to deal with.  Head up and do your best, whether you reach your goal or not, as long as you've given your all, never be disappointed.

* I originally used the word may, but I stand corrected, Keith Hughes you're right, no doubt, we WILL do it!