Monday, 21 April 2014

Ally K Runs Skye

I can’t remember when I first heard that Ally was planning to run round Skye but Pauline and I had decided that it would be lovely to go up and do a bit of running with him, especially through the night, that’s a tough time, you’re at your lowest ebb and it’s good to have company and we thought he probably wouldn’t have many others daft enough to volunteer for the graveyard shift.  After speaking to Ally at the WHW training weekend at the beginning of February he was happy for us join his support crew, so we arranged to have Friday off work and we would head up in the morning.

9.00am, we left Dunfermline in bright blue skies, as we drove up the road the clouds were slowly building and there were a few showers, Ally was starting in Armadale at 10.00am, hopefully his weather would hold for a bit longer, rain was forecast for the evening but it looked like it was arriving earlier. 
from Ally K Runs Skye facebook page
Checking Ally’s schedule we would find him somewhere between Broadford and Sligachan, sure enough just before Luib, there was no missing him, with two support vans with hazard lights flashing and “caution runner” signs plastered over them, they had planned a quick stop at Luib so we drove on and pulled over until they arrived, as we sat waiting in the car there was a young lad loitering, he was wearing shorts and a rain jacket,  Pauline went over to ask if he was waiting for Ally and would he like to come and sit in our car?  Probably against all the words of warning from his mother about getting into a car with strangers he was persuaded to join us while he waited, he was going to run a long stint and better to keep out of the rain for as long as possible.  It wasn’t long until Ally arrived.   In the lead van, the support crew was Hugh, Thomas and Neil. Andy and Karen were in the tail van, we also met Donna (Mrs Ally) and we were hugged by Ally’s Mum; she gave us her address where we were staying on Saturday night. 

So after a quick pit stop Ally was on his way and we drove on up to his parent’s house in Portree where we left the car, got changed into running/supporting clothes and had a large pot of tea and a fair go at the spread Ally’s Mum had laid out for us then Ally’s dad took us to Sligachan to join the support. There was a fair crowd, and a piper playing, Pauline joined in the running here, I did the easy job of sitting in a warm dry van taking the odd photo through the windscreen.  I didn’t feel guilty; I was saving myself for the night shift!
Hugh (young lad we enticed into the car), Ally and Pauline 
The rain was constant and heavy with no promise of it stopping any time soon, but it didn’t dampen the amazing support Ally received, there were banners tied to fences, draped over cars, people waiting in the rain to cheer him on and to donate a few pounds, a car pulled up beside us, the lady wound down her window and said “I’ve donated online but here’s another tenner.” 

Ally reached Dunvegan around 10.30pm, having covered over fifty miles maintaining a good steady pace despite the atrocious weather.  After being checked over by the doctor, had something to eat and his feet sorted he was good to go. Pauline and I swapped over, I was keeping him company now until morning but he also had a great bunch of runners for company too, Andy had ran a few miles with him at the beginning  and was doing some more now as well, it wasn’t going to be a lonely night. 

In all my years of running and supporting ultra I’m struggling to remember conditions as tough as this night. In 1998, going over the Devil’s Staircase during the night, supporting Pauline in the West Highland Way race was as wet but the thunder and forked lighting was a bit scary, in 2010, going through the night over bog and heather with Sue during her Heart of Scotland 100 was torrential too, running the West Highland Way race in 2012 was another soggy one but none of these events had the fierce gale-force wind that knocked you off your feet and blasted the rain sideways, stinging any exposed skin like bullets! 
Pauline sticking the camera out of the window
photo from Anne Morrison Beaton
At one point in the wee small hours when there was no other traffic on the road and the weather was blasting us from the right Karen drove the van on the wrong side of the road while we ran alongside, it was a brief respite from the wind for a short time, Ally was concerned for our welfare in this weather, I wanted to shout “For God sake, be a Diva! Don’t waste your energy on us! We can have a break whenever we want!”  I’ve seen quite a few and thrown the odd diva strop myself but I don’t think it’s in Ally’s nature to do the selfish thing, so I just told him firmly "Don't worry, we're fine!"

It must have been psychologically tough for Ally coming into Portree for the first time at around 5.00am, practically running by his front door and still having a long way to go. We had a wee stop in the Square.  I enjoyed the warmth from hugging a paper cup of coffee in the luxury of the bus shelter.  

We were soon back out and heading up to Staffin, at least the wind was on our backs now and was blowing us up the hill, the road was just a river, I scrunched my toes to wring some water from my squidgy socks and shoes. I felt freezing cold after the wee stop and my right jaw aches in the cold, I tried to keep it loose and not to clench it.  I think I was a proper surrogate Mum asking Ally, “Are you warm enough? Do you want another top on? Don’t let yourself get cold!”  

The dawn was slow in coming but the sky slowly lightened, Alistair arrived with hot bacon rolls, I did manage to eat nearly half of one before I broke it up and fed it to the birds. I was a bit concerned that I hadn’t eaten enough but I’d be stopping soon and I could refuel then, I had covered 34 miles through the night and it was time for a wee rest.  Pauline had been back in the group for a while so I was happy to have a break. 

The clouds were breaking up and there were wee patches of blue in the sky, the rain had finally stopped after falling constantly for around seventeen hours, the wind never dropped but at times wasn’t so fierce.  

Pauline stuck her head into the van and said to get the bells out Ally was just about to go through 100 miles, a major mile stone, he had never ran further than 84 miles before. I’d had a rest and my porridge so re-joined the group of support runners, it was brilliant that folk had managed to come along and do a bit of running, some went away only to come back and do some more, one lady I spoke to was doing her own challenge of running 5x50 which is 5km a day for 50 days in a row and she felt it a privilege to be able to do her 5km supporting Ally.

I had a bit of a giggle to myself at Staffin when Eilidh was filming a close up of Thomas giving Ally’s legs a going over, actually I think I pointed, laughed out loud and took a photo  myself, the cruel soul that I am, I’m sure the torture would’ve refreshed his legs for a bit!  

Ally is doing this Cancer Research and there isn’t anyone who hasn’t been affected by cancer, it was this time last year I was a couple of weeks post-surgery and just starting chemo and radiotherapy, some side effects are permanent but I can LIVE with them, my speech is far from perfect but I’m generally understood, and I'm still re-building my strength.  If it wasn’t for the funds raised for research, and progress in cancer treatment I don’t like to think where I might be.

The wind was even stronger as we headed north and round the top of the island, it was hard work trying to stop myself being blowing into the ditch when it gusted, I wasn’t much of a wind break but at least I could set the pace and I knew Ally was following my feet.   Every time I turned and looked over my shoulder the emotion rose into my throat, he was in a lot of pain but he was still smiling, I felt his effort personally, Ally was doing this for me and I would work my socks off doing anything I could to help, it took all my strength and every ounce of my seven stone ten to stomp up the hill keeping the steady pace into the gale, I fought back the tears and managed to put a wicked grin on when I turned and shouted “Come on, keep up!”  After working so hard on my second shift of only just over 12 miles, going from a mile or so out of Staffin to a mile or so before Uig, but I was done in and couldn’t keep the pace any longer, it was time to swap with Pauline again, where she keep him company all the way to the end, it was a nice thought that between us we’d manage to cover the whole way from Sligachan,our support was only a small cog in Team Ally  

The overwhelming support of the Skye community fuelled him throughout, from the pipers, banners on fences and cheers from folk coming out of their houses, parked in lay-bys, even a jar of coins left of a fence post, and the donations dropped into buckets on the day/s reached over £4500, Hugh was checking updates on his Just Giving page, and kept Ally informed it was over double the target!

Watching the final miles from the van I could see the effort show in Ally’s shoulders, his comfort zone was left many miles and hours ago, but he was still moving well. The support group grew, Donna was at his side, the Boot Camp girls joined him, they sang and cheered, I laughed later when Pauline said that the smell of freshly washed hair and cleanliness was strong, although I doubt the troops that had been there from the start and overnight would've be too whiffy after all that rain!

As we approached Portree the tail van was no longer needed for his safety, Ally’s Guard of Honour had swelled to around forty, so Andy, Karen and I drove on to the Square.  My mouth hung open, the Pipe Band was playing and I think there were nearly a thousand people lining the streets waiting for Ally.  I left my cowbell in the van; it wouldn’t have been heard and I can scream louder. 

Gordon Willoughby Photography
Despite his pain and fatigue Ally sprinted into the Square to the finishing tape held by his children, and into the arms of his proud parents. 
Gordon Willoughby Photography

Gordon Willoughby Photography

Gordon Willoughby Photography

The funds raised for Cancer Research will help carry on the work that has made a difference to my life and many others.  Ally’s Just Giving page is sitting at £29,780 as I write, well over three times his initial target, it also proves how well thought of he is.

It was pleasure and a privilege to be there, there were a lot of laughs and a fair bit of ribbing, but what happens on Skye stays on Skye!  I shall always cherish my memories of an amazing weekend.