Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Supporting Pauline - 2002

It's not my turn to run the WHW until next year so I don't know why I was so nervous the week before the race and especially Friday afternoon at work. Once I got home and started getting my gear sorted my nerves settled as I began to focus on my job of looking after Pauline. Earlier in the week I spent time planning the route through to Milngavie and marking it on the map so we wouldn't get lost before the race had even started (like last year). Russell took one look and said "We'll go the M8." So ok, he's the driver, (we got there no bother). We arrived in plenty time, Pauline now wide-eyed and tight-jawed joined the queue to pick up her number and goody bag. After some fiddling with head-torches, bum bag etc. both she and Lynne (supported by Simon and Sarah), were ready to go.
2:00am. 72 runners girded their loins (or whatever!) and set off for Fort William. We lesser mortals set off too, we stopped at the point where the Way crosses the road at about four miles just to say hello. It was hard to make out the runners as their torches bobbed along in the dark, but we had no problem recognising Lynne and Pauline as their voices were heard long before we saw them. Next stop the checkpoint at Drymen (12 miles), it was now light enough to see how muddy and wet the runners legs were, Pauline and Lynne were still on schedule though. Got to Balmaha at about 5:00am, we support crew got to close our eyes for an hour before they came in with demands for coffee and a change of shoes. Rowerdennan (26 miles) came and went with no problems, (for the support anyway!)
The drive to Inverarnan (40 miles) was where it began to get "interesting" for us, it reminded me of an episode of the old cartoon "The Wacky Races". We were using Pauline's new car with barely 1000 miles on the clock and my nerves were a bit on edge as we cringed passed tour buses and caravans on the very narrow, twisty road. One poor foreigner spoiled his holiday when he ran into the back of a land rover and due to the "highland hospitality" of the two establishments on the A82 we were not allowed to use the safety of their car parks to service our runners so after driving up and down for a bit (plus a U-turn!) we managed to park safely. Not so good for a couple of other supports, their vehicles were damaged when a caravan swung out into them. Simon's van lost a wing mirror. We put Pauline's change of clothes and food into a rucksack and walked the half mile to the midge-infested checkpoint where Pauline and Lynne had their longest stop so far (14 minutes) to eat, change and for Lynne to have her feet treated as the wet conditions were now causing problems. We didn't tell Pauline about the manic motorists and didn't want her worrying about the car needlessly as we could do that for her anyway! Russell and I went back to the car (which was thankfully still in one piece) we asked the girl who was standing next to the wrecked car if we could help, her runners still had no idea of their predicament. Russell and I drove to where the Way went under the road near Crianlarich, met the two guys and offered to support them until they got something sorted with their car, but they wanted to go back to Inverarnan so Russell ran them back and sadly we never saw them again. What a shitty way to have to pull out of the race. I was left on my own with a rucksack of goodies and the big umbrella, luckily Pauline never noticed Russell and the car were AWOL and thankfully she or Lynne didn't want anything from the car. I breathed a sigh of relief when Russell returned and we went on to the checkpoint at Tyndrum (53 miles).
Val and Allan arrived at the checkpoint bright and chirpy after the luxury of a whole night asleep and probably a lie in! I got changed to run the next section with Pauline and Lynne, I was looking forward to this as I knew from past experience the run would wake me up, also the conversation would improve to more than just "Here's your stuff, now get going." The weather was now either warm and sunny or heavy showers, my rain jacket took on the life of a reincarnated yo-yo. I took my camera and scampered about taking photos thoroughly enjoying myself knowing I just had to run, eat jelly babies and blether. We came into Bridge of Orchy (60 miles) at 6:00pm Pauline and Lynne were still moving well. Allan now accompanied them over Rannoch Moor, his job was to shove all those walkers on the Caledonian Challenge out of their way. I stood behind the car in another midge fest, managing a complete change of clothes in record time before I was reduced to skeletal proportions.
We drove on to Kingshouse (72 miles) were I ate vast quantities of pasta and other goodies while watching the weather deteriorate, huge clouds full of rain kept obscuring the top of Buachaille Etive Mor and emptying their load on the cold and tired runners. It was now approaching 9:00pm when our bedraggled runners came in. Poor Allan, obviously not running his hardest with bare legs just a rain jacket and no gloves looked hypothermic as he chittered off to change. Pauline changed into full battle dress (thermal, fleece, tracksters, full waterproofs and boots) while eating her pasta as I taped up her feet. I then checked on Lynne in the van with Simon and Sarah, she wasn't ready and would be a wee while yet, when I told Pauline this the dilemma was written plainly on her face, she was standing chittering and needed to get moving but didn't want to go without Lynne and Val who was ready to go with both of them. Russell, hero of the hour, employed purely to drive after being instructed by his physio "No running!" said "Give me two minutes to get ready and I'll go with you, Val can wait for Lynne." Gear came flying out the back of the car like a dog digging up a buried bone as I sent Pauline off on her own, I watched her figure grow smaller in the distance, she had the same dejected air as Oates when he left the tent in the Antarctic and told Scott he was popping out for a bit, but Russell would catch her fairly quickly, she'll not be on her own for long. I turned to face the heap of Russell's clothes, shoes, kitchen sink etc. strewn across the wet car park, "How will I get that lot back in the car?" was my first though, then "YEEEKS! I'll have to drive!" A new Citroen Picasso does not drive like a wee old Rover but I got to Kinlochleven (81 miles) in one piece.
I spoke to a marshal at the checkpoint he said they've only had about 15 runners through, where was everybody? Stuck on the Devil's Staircase? At least there's no lightning. I sat in the car for over an hour bursting for a pee before the rain let up enough for me to venture out. I then got myself changed into thermal, fleece, Goretex etc. ready to go when Pauline arrived, prepared her ham roll and oxo which she really enjoyed after all the sweet stuff. At 00:20am Pauline and I were off on the last long section after a stop of only 8 minutes, it wasn't long before my feet were soaked through, when we crossed burns most of the steppy stones were under water or the path had just turned into a river and there wasn't much choice but to wade through it. The heavy rain returned with a cold wind blowing in our faces, I noticed Pauline had pulled her Buff scarf up over her face. Good idea, my face was wet and frozen too, so now looking like a couple of desperados from a Clint Eastwood movie I told Pauline to tuck in behind me so I could protect her a bit but she kept dropping back too far for me to be any good, she moaned I was going to fast but after the race when her brain was back in gear she said the reflectors on the back of my trainers caught in the light of her torch were leaving arcs of light like a kid with a couple of sparklers and it was making her dizzy.
We arrived at a river with no hope of crossing it without being nearly knee deep. Sod it! Cold feet it is then. I crossed then turned to shine my torch on the path for Pauline. Double sod it! There's a damn bridge just off the path. At least I saw it before Pauline waded across. The path was long and wide open and it took an age for the trees to come into view, it was a relief to get out of the wind. I felt cold and I wasn't as chirpy as last year, conversation was now one sided and I don't think Pauline heard half of what I said anyway. I stopped asking her if she wanted a drink or a Mars bar because she just refused so I kept unwrapping one and gave it to her from time to time, the only way she could get rid of it was to eat it. The sky was getting lighter and Fort William must be getting nearer. Pauline looked pale and done in, I felt tired myself! We kept plodding on not running much but walking at a fair pace. When we got down onto the road I tried to make her run short bits but it was easier to keep the walking pace going, from the roundabout she got her legs into running mode all the way to the Leisure Centre to finish in 27hours 27minutes also first lady. "That was hard." were the three understated words Pauline uttered before crawling into a sleeping bag on the floor, I went for the best shower in my life then for a sleep. Missed Lynne finishing again. (At least I had a good reason and I wasn't just in the pub!)
I am in awe of everyone who has completed this race and next year my name will join that prestigious list of athletes. I'm girding my loins already!

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