Saturday, 16 April 2016

Ally K Runs Skye to Maggie's

Wednesday 6th April, I lay in bed until 8.00am although I was awake, I was savouring being there since I wouldn’t get to go to bed again until Friday night, it wasn’t a daunting thought, I was looking forward to the adventure.

Pauline and I had an easy drive from Dunfermline and arrived at Ally’s around 4.00pm, I was glad to see he was sitting with his feet up, although I did threaten to duct tape him to his chair when he was faffing about. We had a huge plate of pasta before heading to Ally’s parents at around 7.00pm  to have a wee lie down and leave our stuff with them, we would be staying with Flora and Farquhar, for a couple of days afterwards.

At 11.00pm we were back at Ally’s before heading down to the Square to meet the rest of the team in the Lucky2BHere office where Douglas had a few words before we headed off. He had three rules, safety, safety and safety, being the responsible adult in charge he wasn’t going to have any of us end up roadkill.  
Photo - Hugh Campbell

The team - Graham - physio and nutrition, Clam - radio comms and driver, Neil - primary driver, Douglas - safety and logistics, Hugh - project manager and IT guru, Ally - the main man, Pauline - pacer, Me - pacer, Donna and Fiona did a fantastic job in charge of the chuck wagon, an army marches on it's stomach and so does a support crew, what a bonus knowing that as soon as I finished a shift there was hot food and drink waiting for me.

Thanks to Steve Millar pointing the camera ensuring Hugh made it into the team photo with the bonus of having it taken with a real celebrity, if you follow the facebook group Scotland by the Roadside you’ll know Blaze 

Just before midnight we down into the Square, the Pipe Band were playing and there were a lot of folks there to wish Ally well and send him on his way.

photos - Hugh Campbell

He looked a wee bit nervous and uttered those normal pre-big-scary-event words. “I feel sick!” I reassured him he was fine and bang on midnight he was off.  Escorted out of Portree by the blue flashing lights of the Police and if anyone was really observant following the tracker, you would’ve noticed he shot out of Portree at around 50 miles an hour, get about five miles away then turn and come back. I hope it didn’t cause any concern, the tracker was in the wrong van, it was with the girls and not the one that would tail Ally all the way.

The plan for Pauline and I was for both of us to start with Ally then swap over roughly every three hours all the way with both of us finish with him in Inverness and it was lovely for Vicki and Rachel to forgo a nights sleep and run with Ally to Sligachan.. It’s critical to have the pace at the start right, you’re fresh and raring to go but if you head off too fast you’ll crash and die a thousand deaths later, the reasoning behind having both Pauline and I at the beginning was to enforce a steady start, an hour or so into the run Ally kept looking at his watch, someone asked if he was ok, he answered yes and that we were going at five miles an hour. “Oofft! Of course we were! I could’ve told you that and I haven’t looked at my watch since I started it at Portree!” Was my fierce retort. Well, it was my job and besides I’ve been running in tune with my body for thirty years and wearing a Garmin for just a couple of years, no surprises what one I rely on! I didn’t doubt he trusted his team but there was no harm reinforcing his belief that we’d see him right.

There was a fairly heavy shower but it didn’t last too long and was on our backs, I hoped there would be no repeat of the horrendous weather that accompanied Ally’s last epic fundraising event, Ally K Runs Skye (my report from that here) we reached Sligachan, just over nine miles in just under two hours, a fine steady start for the first section with no major hills to contend with. Rachel and Vicki headed home, I took my first break and Pauline carried on with Ally for another hour before we swapped over, we weren’t too worried about hitting three hour shifts to start with, we’d just go with the flow of what felt natural until we’d settled into routine.  I joined Ally again around 3.00am for the run into Broadford, he was still a bit jittery, but not surprising really, the longer the run the longer it takes to settle down. We were all carrying radios but some of us have not been training in radio protocol, so I wasn’t sure about passing on the details of one concern but, hey ho, the crew need to know what’s happening.  Ally’s van - “How’s things? Over.” Me - “He’s frightened to fart!. In, over, through and off.”  But after a pit stop in a dark layby I believe he felt a wee bit more comfortable.

The dawn was approaching as we arrived in Broadford where the crew were given coffee and a bacon or an egg roll from the Waterfront Fish and Chip shop free of charge, their support was really appreciated, they had opened a wee bit earlier than normal just for us. Pauline and I swapped over and she was a little concerned about running after eating a bacon roll but she was fine.  Paul joined us, he didn’t know Ally but had seen his event on twitter or facebook and wanted to support him, he kept Ally company into the Kyle of Lochalsh.  

Although it was Pauline’s shift from Broadford I’ve never run over the Skye Bridge and I thought it would be lovely to do it,

so Donna and Fiona let me out the van at the roundabout and I ended up keeping Ally company for the next ten miles up the hefty hill on the A890 after turning up from Auchtertyre but well worth the stunning view, I’ve never been up this road before and I hoped Ally could take the same inspiration from the view I as I did.
photo - Hugh Campbell
He, at last, had settled down, around thirty miles in, one hell of a warm up, but now in his groove.  The team had settled into the routine too, Douglas and Clam in the safety car,  a warning for the traffic coming up behind us, then Graham and Neil in the tail van directly behind the runners, looking after Ally, then Donna and Fiona would go on ahead to boil the kettle and heat food for when we arrived with either me or Pauline cooried in a blanket wearing lots of clothes, resting.  Hugh, floated about in the vehicles,  camera in hand covering around thirty miles over all, running with Ally and throwing in a few speed sessions filming the runners going by then sprinting ahead to film again, (no wonder his calves were sore afterwards!)

Fraser had joined us at the Kyle, and stayed all day, covering over forty odd miles, until trying to find his car parked at a remote train station in the dark was a bit of a problem, a lovely guy with great blether who knows well the fantastic job that Maggie’s do.

There was a section on twisty single track, it was my turn in the van but I couldn’t rest, the manic  drivers around us wouldn’t let me!  The girls stayed just ahead to protect the runners, both vans were plastered in event logo, caution runner signs and flashing hazard lights but some drivers took no notice, the radios were vital here, warning of approaching traffic with the tail van and car controlling overtaking, we pulled over at every opportunity to allow traffic by but there were a few cringey moments with some drivers having no patience, but there were many that tooted support and slowed to hand over tenners and twenty pound notes.  
A woo-hoo in the tunnel and a toot-tool from the train

The road widened to single carriageway and Donna, Fiona and myself went on to the Strathcarron Hotel, chips were on order for the support crew and what a pleasure to use a proper toilet, bliss! I felt a wee bit guilty sinking into a sofa with a half pint beer shandy but any support crew worth their salt knows you have to look after yourself too,  the medicinal properties of a sparkling lemonade with the benefit of a splash of beer will do me the world of good, again it was lovely to see the support Ally was receiving, the hotel refused payment for the food.  Ally was using something called Huel, a complete food powder that was working well for him  along with other stuff but it was good to see Ally have a handful of chips,
maybe not what you’d call top nutrition but along with some homemade soup he managed stay on top of getting just enough calories in to keep him moving.

The sun shone, there were a couple of short showers, and even a rainbow, Ally’s brother Iain, arrived bringing their Dad, Eilidh and Lewis to give him a cheer, further on there were another couple of surprises for him, his younger brother Andrew was sat at the roadside with his friend to gave him a tune, next moment there was a deep rumble in the sky and we were treated to a low flypast by what looked like a Lancaster or a Wellington bomber or something like it!  Wow! Never did I think we’d see either of these things during the run.  

The road ribboned on or was a cruel straight with no end in sight, the sun sank below the hills. Ryan joined us at Achnasheen and great for Ally to have fresh conversation,  it was mostly one sided now, Ally was fairly quiet heading into his second night running with no sleep, his knees were now taped and being iced regularly, but he just relentlessly moved forward.

The sky was clear and the stars were out, yay, no rain, but that meant the temperature would drop, I layered up, three pairs of tights, two base layers, a fleece, a down jacket and my bright yellow jacket, I waited wearing a second down jacket over the top ready to take off before my next shift except I didn’t remove it when I started my turn, after a warning that I wasn’t very visible from the safety car, I faffed about swapping the bright jacket to the top, I didn’t attempt to zip it up, it probably wouldn’t, not over all my clothes but wearing a bottle belt help keep the edges together, I felt justified when you could see the grass sparkling with frost and the gritter went by!  One wee pitstop had a proper toilet, I was so glad to have the privacy of the ladies loo to get all my layers tucked in cosy, when I went back outside I didn’t realise I’d taking so long getting comfy but glad to see Ally and Ryan didn’t waste time waiting and had headed off without me, I couldn’t see how far up the road they’d gone and was ready to face a bit of speed work hoofing it back to them but Douglas was waiting, Hugh had had a pitstop too so we hopped in the car and Douglas drove us back to them, not sure whether to call it an oops or a bonus but I’ve now clocked a couple of PRs on Strava, an estimated 55secs for 400 meters and an estimated 2.56 for half a mile. Aye, the only way I’ll ever do a sub six minute mile is in a car! Go me!

In the wee hours  Ally’s answers to my questions were mumbled and vague, I radioed to get the coffee on, but not to worry, he just had the facial expression of the lights were on but nobody’s home!  After cutting out caffeine for a month it was bound to give him a kick and wake him up a bit, he still managed some nice wee hallucinations though, the rocks at the side of the road were full of babies faces and there were baskets sitting in the grass. This was my sixth run with Ally and my head wasn’t so clear and focused either, at around 4.00am, I could feel myself getting dozy, but there’s no way I could admit it to Ally, I’d only gone half the distance he had, although I don’t sleep well with my cheek pressed against a van’s side window I was rested!  Time to use every trick I know to stay awake, stretch my arms above my head, shake them out, take long walking strides swinging my arms, also my left hip was giving me a bit of grief, I think it was coming from my back, it’s been a bit grumpy for about a month, I had a sore, numb bit at the top of my left leg and when I prodded it, it gave me a fizzy in my hip, Sciatica? Trapped nerve?  Whatever!  Every time I poked it, it helped keep my eyes open. Bonus!

I was happy to crash across the length of the front seat of the van after that stint, Pauline and Ryan keeping Ally company until the sun rose, and with the sun rising so did my energy levels.  A pot of porridge, coffee and sunshine, I was a new woman and ready to do the last eleven miles with Ally. Quite a few folks had come to the lay-by to say hi, even local radio came for an interview, just after they left, a car pulled in, the guy got out saying he’d just be listening to the radio, he shook Ally’s hand, wished him well and handed over some money.  

The end is in sight but it’s still a very long way to go with a hundred and ten miles in the legs, this was where Ryan was absolutely brilliant, a fellow Fifer but he now lives in  Muir of Ord, and knew every step of the way into Inverness, he’d point ahead saying “Right, we’ll walk this little incline to the tree on the left, after that we’ll shuffle to the bend.” Picking the points for where to walk and when we’d run, the miles weren’t fast but they were getting done, the sun was getting higher and warmer, I no longer resembled the Michelin Man, I think everyone perked up as Inverness came closer.

Another wee pitstop in a lay-by, this one had a few well wishers in it too, great for Ally, not so for the crew who needed to pee, but the big white van was parked at an angle that gave a bit of coverage, I crouched close to the wheel by the open side door, no fuss, no big deal then popped in the van to organise my drink for the last bit, I stayed in the van facing away from the door as  Ally used the appropriate spot, Pauline was readying herself to run all the way in with Ally too, Ryan was standing by the van leaning in organising his stuff for the last haul, then Pauline announced she was going to pee, I raised my eyebrows as she hunkered down, ok, if she was cool to pee right beside Ryan, that’s fine, next, I stifled a giggle at her running commentary, “Oow, well, this is really worthwhile, didn’t realise I needed so much!”  Ryan was quite nonchalant as a tsunami of wee washed round his shoes, uttering  something along the lines of “I’m happy for you Pauline.”  Pauline’s jaw dropped, her eyes popped and she coughed and spluttered an apology, not so cool to pee beside a bloke after all, she thought Ryan was Donna!  

With five miles to go we pulled into a petrol station, Ally was to have his last wee break and headed to the van for Graham to give his legs a final going over and icing. He opened the door, the look of surprise on his face was priceless. “Goodness me! Mr. Wombill!”  (Polite translation)  

Robin had driven up from Perth in the wee hours parked his car at Raigmore and walked out the route until Donna and Fiona found him.  We now had quite a posse of outriders to escort Ally into and through the town, Ryan would continue with his guidance, both Pauline and I were now wear Maggie’s vests, Mark had joined us a bit earlier, Iain hadn’t run for years was now proudly going the last stretch with his brother, and Robin wasn’t coming all that way up not to run in with Ally!

As we approached the town centre, Pauline and I brought out our secret weapons, our Highland Fling cowbells to warn shoppers and folk about town that we were coming through, Ryan was carrying the collection bucket but I’m not sure if he managed to collect much, Ally had upped the pace and was flying through the town,
he paused for a hug with a group of Maggie’s supporters waiting for him. He flew up the steep hill on Castle Street, the rest of us struggling to keep up, or was it just me?  Robin handed him a large Rampant Lion flag with the words, “Today you are a rampant lion!” My emotion was stuck in my throat and was ready to bubble over with pride to see him run so well.  A young lad wearing shorts and a Skye Camanachd tracksuit top ran towards us, shook Ally’s hand and continued with us.  At road crossings we’d been sensible and waited for the green man but at the final roundabout the young lad stepped out and halted a big bus and the rest of the traffic so we could run through without breaking stride. (Afterwards he said that even though he wasn’t in uniform if you act with confidence folk tend to obey direction, yes the “boy” was a police officer. Hmmm, no comment on my age!)

Maggie’s Centre was in sight, Ally flew the Rampant Lion high above his head, his family were waiting for him, Eilidh and Lewis holding a finish line for him to run though. I couldn’t hear the support of the crowd, I was shrieking like a banshee. Throught the tape, he held Donna in his arms, I was bursting with pride watching him receive hugs and congratulations, he had done it, and I never doubted he would.

photos - Fiona Cruickshank

I was very impressed with the way he managed to speak coherently in interviews for the papers and telly, he looked a bit pale but didn’t succumb to the very common post big run faint, a major achievement in itself!  The run has been a huge success for Maggie’s, the funds raised have gone over his target and still coming in. Ally's just giving page Also the awareness he's raised that Maggie’s is there for anyone affected by cancer whether they, or a family member, or colleague has been diagnosed, just knowing that you can walk through Maggie’s doors and help is there for them, job done.

Now I know Ally won’t mind me saying this but he is not a natural athlete, he’s an ordinary guy with shed-load of determination and a heart to match, no matter how hard the challenge became he never lost sight of his goal,  but he would exasperate me at times, I had to physically bar him from walking back to the van to get a drink or whatever, telling him that if he wanted something that’s what we were there for. 120 miles was far enough without adding on because he didn’t want to be any trouble!  I’ll need to give him more lessons on being a diva! But I know where he get’s it from, Flora and  Farquhar couldn’t do enough for us once we were back in Portree, feeding us like we were at our Auntie’s, and wouldn’t even let us tidy the plates after we were finished. 

Ally, I'm so proud of you and what you've achieved,this was the toughest support both Pauline and I have done, with us overlapping at times we covered around seventy miles each over seven runs of various distances and it was a pleasure. I know it will be a while before Donna lets you loose with another big daft challenge but Ally, whatever it is, whenever it is, you're not doing it without me!
Ally K Runs Skye to Maggie's documentary

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Ticking over nicely

February was a fine steady month of running with a cracking run on the newly re-established low road from Rowardennan to Inversnaid and back, I loved it, it’s more in keeping with the rest of the WHW route along the lochside than the long haul up the wide track. I had one race in February, the club’s Devilla 15km, brilliant fun with lots of mud, shin deep with the consistency of wallpaper paste and porridge which I thought I ran through with no fear.  I was well pleased to finish with mud splats on my kilt since I’ve perfected my running style to a minimal effort ultra shuffle with no leg lift whatsoever. But this photo spoiled the daredevil image in my head. What a Mincer!
Photo from David Greig
At the end of the month I was on holiday from work with no plans, just a case of use it or lose it but luckily it coincided with Ally’s last long training run before his Skye to Maggie’s event. So I nipped up to Skye for a few days joining him on his night time fifty miler. We set off just after 7.30pm from Portree, it was pretty cold but dry, the stars were amazing. I kept him company until Staffin, around seventeen miles, then Hugh ran with him for twenty miles, I dozed a bit in the van then re-joined him at Uig at around 4.00am for the last fifteen miles back to Portree.  Although it was bitterly cold, (we were told later that it dipped to -8 degrees!) It was a great success and a practice run for the support team too.

Photo from Donna Macpherson
The drive home was a stunning day and I spent it stuck in the car! But I had plenty stops to stretch my legs and take a few photos, even sneaked up the Devil’s Staircase committing the cardinal sin of being inappropriately dressed, jeans and a pair of old road shoes with soles worn smooth demoted to role of outdoor baffies. The snow was dry and crisp, the air perfectly still, the sky a cobalt blue and the sun shining, my only concern was if I slipped I might damage my camera, I was fine.

Next up, a week later, on March 6th was the ladies only Smokies 10 at Arbroath, I was mindful that my lower back has been a bit grumbly, my Achilles had settled down but I was still aware of it and I had the D33 the following week so I wasn’t planning a do or die pace just a good hard effort, I certainly ticked that box! Happy with my run,it was also my 23rd Smokies but Pauline’s 25th consecutive one and was given a bottle of bubbly at the prizegiving in recognition.

The following week was the D33, it was great to catch up with folks I hadn’t seen since the Glen Ogle 33, Pauline drove up and was marshalling with Noanie at the road crossing so shot off before the start, I was left standing in the loo queue without my jacket, I’d put it away in my bag in the marquee but wished I’d kept it on longer, Duthie Park was freezing, my jaw ached with the cold, it hasn’t done that in a while! But we were soon off and I eventually warmed up enough to take my gloves off, but at no point did I feel the urge to remove my fleece.  With it being an out and back route it’s perfect for carrying a camera and I had fun trying to get everyone’s photo until the battery died.
Love a wee shoot out with Chen! 

With the 100km in two weeks I wasn’t running hard, just looking for a six hour jolly but I was quite pleased to finish in 5 hours 40 minutes, I had to wait about a bit until Pauline was off duty but it was no hardship, I hung around the marquee drinking Stella, it’s not my usual tipple but it was the perfect post run recovery drink before heading home to savour my race beer.

7.00am last Sunday saw me standing on the start line of the Self Transcendence 100km with a little trepidation, on the Thursday my back gave a wee twinge, on my easy run at the club, it jarred every step, on Friday I went for another wee three miler just to see how it was, I decided that it was still sore but didn’t hinder my running style and I had one more day for it to ease, I would run! No matter how sore it might get it wouldn’t go anywhere near the level of endurance I put in three years ago, the last time the Anglo Celtic Plate was Perth. I was a DNS, I was still incarcerated in St John’s Hospital, three weeks post mouth cancer surgery and had to following the race on an iPad, so there was no way I was letting a wee bit of a sore back get in my way of finally running the 100km.  

Once we were off the rest of the field stampeded off at quite a pace, even in the first lap I feel the runners in the open were sucked along by the elites in the Anglo Celtic Plate. “Ok, guys, I’ll see ya again when you lap me!”, I run no-one's pace but my own and kept a fine steady pace throughout, my back felt ok, a bit of tightness in my glutes, nothing I couldn’t live with. The fast guys and gals seemed to lap me thousands of times but never without a word or two. On the riverside of the lap there was a very strong and freezing headwind that never let up, just varied from force nine gale to here’s some dust in your eyes! The other side of the lap was sheltered and you didn’t seem to feel the benefit of a tailwind but at least that side wasn’t so cold.

Pauline was doing the 50km and had a wee kip in the car for a couple of hours and at 10.00am the 50km started, I’d just made it through the start/finish area about a minute before they were set off. “I’m gonna get stampeded!” Was my shout to Sarah as I went through but I was given plenty elbow room and lots of hellos as they whooshed past. Although Pauline and I were running unsupported and had set up our table with our stuff ready to grab on the way by,  Sarah, supporting a few runners was parked a wee bit further up the feed zone, so I’d pick up a milkshake and keep moving, having a couple of mouthfuls then handed it to Sarah and she’d take it back to my table for the next time I picked it up and Bernt was happy to look after us, as well as Susan for the duration of the 50km.  Thanks guys!

There was a bit of a problem with the chip timing which was quite stressful for the guys doing results but I was happy with a cheery wave every lap from my real person counter, back up for the technology and in my opinion, far more reliable than something that needs plugged in!   I’m not sure if it was coincidence but my shoe with the chip attached was giving me a bit of grief, the top of my foot was starting to hurt, I stopped three times over about six or seven laps to lift my foot up on a bench to loosen the lace, until I felt my shoe was flapping about like an old baffy, my foot didn’t get any worse and I eventually got used to the loose shoe.  But apart from that I had a great run, keeping a metronomic pace, not fighting the wind on the far side and staying happy and relaxed for the whole way, eventually it got very quiet as the everyone else finished. Pauline was happy to do a bit of support, I started walking through the feed zone but running everything else even that wee bugger of a hill up through the gate.  I asked Pauline if she would check if I was allowed to stick my music on in one ear, it wasn’t allowed for the ACP runners but now I was on my tod I thought it would be ok, next lap round Pauline had my iPod ready for me, “Brilliant, I’m allowed then!” Pauline replied “I didn’t ask, what are they gonna do, disqualify you from being last!” I laughed and thought that was a bit harsh... but true! My lap counter was holding up her hand counting down the laps still to go with her fingers. I was breathing a 10km effort but the pace was nowhere near, the last half dozen laps weren’t easy but I just had remember where I was this time three years ago, running 100km is not hard, a joy from start to finish and the bonus I finished well within the cut off time, in 11 hours 31 minutes.  There were 33 runners in the race, 21 in the ACP, 12 in the open and I was the only female in the open, 27 finishers and 6 DNF’s.I didn’t finish last just last man standing! 
Another of Chen's photos
This week I’ve felt pleased how the legs have been, I’ve just had a few three milers and everything is moving nicely, I felt a bit of tightness in the quads on the Tuesday and a bit tired but fine and ready for the next adventure. 
On Wednesday Pauline and I are doing Ally K’s running support in his 120 mile Skye to Maggie’s challenge, taking turns of around three hours each, he will be setting off from Portree at midnight and won’t stop until he reaches Maggie’s Centre at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness hopefully Friday morning. If the technology works there will be live tracking,  you can follow his progress on the Skye to Maggies website and on Ally K runs Skye to Maggie's facebook, or if you are in the area, come along give him a cheer or run a few miles with him.