Friday, 15 September 2017

Glenmore 24 - 2017

Pauline and I were well organised, the car was packed Thursday night so we could have a leisurely drive up on Friday arriving early afternoon with plenty time to get the club tent up, the wee tent for sleeping and chill out before the pre-race party. This year’s theme being the eighties, I didn’t need much effort for finding a costume, just a rummage in the wardrobe, a t-shirt I wore to a Thin Lizzy gig in 1980 and a jacket I bought from Graftons in 1982, but I’m afraid my hair-do was delivered by Amazon.

Photo from Old Dunfermline (The corner of the New Row and the High Street where the Kingsgate and M&S are now)

I first encountered 24 hour racing doing Pauline’s support at her first in 2003, and I’ve supported and run a few myself since, and I can safely say that no other race has such a fun filled, relaxing pre-race evening. My face hurt from laughing, mainly at a West Highland Way Race support crew confession, luckily not from my crew! A few folk thought I was drinking hot chocolate, excuse me, I’m a proper afleet, that was Belhaven Black in my tin mug!

With staying in Hayfield Pauline and I could have a lazy morning, we took down the wee tent, no sleeping for us during the race, except Pauline (the slacker) put the seat back in the car and had a nap during the wee hours, her race plan wasn’t a do or die mission especially with a whinging Achilles so as long as she clocked an ultra her master plan to make Glen Ogle 33 her 100th Ultra will be on track. Ken and Val, our expert support had arrived, Jonathan too, he was doing the 12 hour also we had adopted Patricia again, she ran a marvelous first 24 race last year and was aiming for the 100 miles this time.  

There was barely a cloud in the sky and the forecast wasn’t for changing, Bill gave a warning during the briefing that if it remains clear the temperature would drop significantly during the night, I selfishly smiled to myself, sounds like perfect conditions to me. On the forest trails you’re shaded from the sun and the trees hold their warmth through the night, it’s the support in base camp that will bake through the day and freeze through the night. Another thought that made me smile, if it stays clear  and if the stars shine as brightly as in 2011 it’s going to be a wonderful race.

12.00 noon we’re off with the 12 hour runners and the relay leading the charge. I took about five laps (20 miles) to settle into my groove which is about right for me in a big race, but I slipping straight into the routine of where I walk and where I run from the start, in 2011 I split the four mile loop up into four sections of roughly a mile each.
The lumpy bumpy mile - out of base camp down through a narrow stony path with high foliage brushing your shoulders, right turn onto a winding heather edged bouldery path, left into enclosed trees, round the muddy puddle and mind that wee stump just off centre of the path.

The long run - a wide flat runnable track where I’d check my posture, relax and run the whole way (well, I did in 2011 and 2012, since 2013 I’ve sneaked in the odd wee walk)

The uphill - yeah, that’s what it mostly did for around a mile, I just picked small not so steep sections to stick in a wee shuffle.

The downhill - taking it gently preserving my quads, with a wee bonus that the surface of it has improved over the last couple of years, it used to be very rutted, then up a short steep hill, down a few steps and back into Hayfield.

I’d placed a wee blue cool box at the top of the loop in the Hayfield to drop whatever half eaten custard pot or half drunk milkshake into after walking round from our tent near the start of the loop, I had a little something every lap and tried to say what I’d I’d like next time round, I don’t waste time standing and eating and with dropping it into the box it meant Ken or Val didn’t need to hoof it up to the end of the  field every lap to take it from me especially with looking after other runners, they could just bring it back to our tent ready for me to pick up again whenever it suited them. I think between myself, Pauline, Patricia and Jonathan we were spaced out nicely most of the time except once I came round Val shouted ,”Err, you weren’t meant to come round so soon after Pauline!” Ha ha, not sure if I had a quicker lap or if Pauline had slowed a bit on that one, we were together a few times but always ran our own pace.  Ken had my camera and took photos of the start and then a few laps in he took it up to the top of base camp to get a photo as I came up the wee hill, “Ah, that’s handy, I’ll take it round a lap!”  

During the afternoon I spent around half a lap with Ray, we were reminiscing about races and old runners no longer with us, Kenny Shaw was a legend from the Two Bridges to name just one. It was still fairly warm, (my long sleeves were still pushed up) so I was happy to go a wee bit easier than my own pace, during a race of this length I don’t like to break sweat in the first quarter, I was saving myself for when it cooled down, if you’re too hot you’re going too fast!  

At around tea time I requested my pasta next lap and I was looking forward to it all the way round.  Ken handed me my thermal mug… “Oh, what’s this?”
“Your pasta!” Ken replied, hmmm, yes, well, I suppose it was, but I was disappointed, it wasn’t the pasta I envisioned, the gently warmed tin of nice, soft, creamy macaroni cheese but the packet of Mugshot I had in the food bag for emergency rations which must have just had the hot water added.  Al dente! Snap ma wallies mair like! I spat out the offending brittle shards and drank the “soup”. But no Diva strop, it was my fault for not being specific, “Could I have the other pasta next lap please!” My bottom lip maybe stuck a little.

I was on “The Long Run” when the sun was sinking into the loch, shimmering down the water, a beam of golden light sparkling the length of the Loch Morlich, I was on my own so it was ok to sing out loud Runrig’s Hearts of Olden Glory, my memories of the sunset during my special 6 hour run in 2013 reminding me there was nowhere else I’d rather be, the privilege of health to be where I was and to revel in being around forty odd miles in and still feeling strong.

The sun had gone, I had the pool of light from my headtorch to follow, my iPod in one ear so I could still chat and the stars and the moon above,

photo from Andrew Paterson

I was singing away to my eight hour playlist then “Aw Naw!” my iPod died after only a couple of hours, I wouldn’t use it for any other race but some lively tunes through the night do help keep me sprightly but not to worry, I smiled remembering the only other time my iPod gave up the ghost, it was during the first night of a 48hr race on a 400 metre track! I’m sure I’ll cope!  Ken managed to give it a wee charge and I squeezed another couple of hours out of it.

I quite like the night time, I know some runners like to focus on counting, I’m not normally a counter during a race but at Glenmore I do, I don’t wear a Garmin, it’s not necessary, I know how far I’ve gone by how many laps I’ve done, clocking them on my trusty old Timex Ironman doing little sums in my head.  On completing my 17th lap this year adding it to all my G24 races and my 6 hour special it was also my 150th lap covering 600 miles! It seemed absurd to have covered so many miles on just a 4 mile loop but a testament of how gorgeous this course is and the people involved with the race and it certainly gave me a smile and a boost at around 3.30am.

During the wee hours there had been a bit of drama, Val was left doing support on her own, Ken had gone off to help, the wind had picked up and was swirling round the Hayfield like a tornado, nine gazebos were killed and a small tent broke free and birled down the field, it must’ve been terrifying for the 12 hour runner that was sleeping inside! Jonny managed to have a bit of a kip looking all cosied up wrapped in blankets sitting in a chair in the tent, well, maybe not sleeping as such with the howling wind and the way the tent was walloping about but at least he was resting!   

During a 24 hour race everyone usually has a bit of a dip at some point and after having such a happy, smiley 17th lap  I was due a wee crash and laps 18 and 19 were my two slowest laps.  It was between and dawn and I suppose only to be expected, I was struggling with dry heaves and nodding off on my feet but I knew when the sky lightened I’d pick up.

If you’re targeting the ton pacing the 100 miles at Glenmore is quite easy on paper, you don’t need heroics just a nice even plod, at the start you’re fresh so no need to push, do the first five laps within four hours roughly between 45/50 mins a lap then as long as you manage a lap an hour you’re guaranteed… but this is running for 24 hours there’s no such thing as guarantees no matter experience or if training has gone well, during the race there is perfect opportunity to fall over, puke or have a muscle go ping and that is more likely to be guaranteed. Until Ada gives you the horn you can’t take it for granted that it will happen!

Sure enough, I smiled when the sun tinged the loch the colour of a dusky rose, my pace picked up and I was back on track. During the night I had layered up but now as the sun was rising the layers were coming off, I was wary of placing my feet, last year I fell on my 24th lap, luckily no damage was done then but it was in the forefront of my mind that I was close to my goal but I could still ruin it by being a clumsy clops.  

The camaraderie at Glenmore is second to none, anyone going by me always say a few words of encouragement or acknowledgement, and if I’d had the energy I would’ve slapped every runner that past shouting “I’m ONLY doing the relay!”  Guys, that is no easy option, run hard for four miles then sit about waiting on your team mates doing the same then run like the clappers again for four miles and keep it up for 24 hours, I honestly think I would find that harder than keeping an even shuffle going for the duration.

With doing the wee sums in my head I was going to be ok for the 25 laps without having to knock my pan in and even have a wee cushion if I did do something dopey like catch my toe on fresh air and smash my face in!  I’ve never been fast but as long as I have no problems I’m consistant, my last three laps were all 56 minutes. Ada was ready with her horn! Wooohooo! A hug from Ally then I dibbed my dobber and recorded my 100 miles!

I timed it pretty perfectly, I had 23 minutes left for some fun on the wee lap, measured at 362 metres on grass with a wee bugger of a hill, actually it’s a massive bugger of hill in the last hour! So with hands on thighs I’d stomp up it, shout my number to Donald and Bill then let rip down the hill, at the club we’ve been working on  downhill technique as well as up, so I was well practiced on giving it mega welly, l pushed hard on down, kept the momentum going along the straight, pumping my arms round the bend, then hands on thighs for another stomp up the hill and repeat for as many times as I could in the final minutes, the beauty of a 24 hour race is you know exactly when you’re going to stop and can push to the very last second squeezing out every yard possible  no need for that mantra commonly used at races of a measured distance.  “Where the f*cks the finish?”

The support from everyone lining the perimeter of the lap is fantastic! Cowbells, cheering and your name being shouted out, you can’t do anything other than Gie it Laldy! (It’s the BaM rules!)  
photo from Glenmore 24

Everyone now running on the wee laps, some back in costume, and David Ross, you are a star! Maybe not eighties but I’d give you a prize for the most stylish finish in a 24 hour race!
photo from Matt Gemmell

Everyone was on the wee laps except Patricia, when I was heading out for my last lap she was just about to go up the wee hill to finish her 24th lap, time was tight but I didn’t doubt she would head out for another lap, she was determined and looked strong. The clock was ticking down, every time I was at the top of the hill I was watching for her coming in….  Yaaaaaaay! Ada had her horn ready, mission accomplished,100 miles done with five minute to spare!

What a boost to see her, I tried to catch her up to congratulate her but she was still motoring until the final second adding another half mile.  I managed to push 9 laps and finish with 102.04 miles, collapsing into the grass, my chest heaving and sweat stinging my eyes.  4th female 15th overall from 86 runners, 19 of us made it to the 100 miles.

Now the hard bit, how do I sum up how special this race is, I’m struggling so just going to cop out with a wee copy and paste from my 2015 report

In 2011 I finished my Glenmore 24 blog post with this.
Put the Glenmore 24 in your diaries, it is going to grow to be an event equal to the WHW.  Folk that know me know I won’t say that lightly.
Well, I didn’t have to be Brahan Seer to predict that! The work that goes into putting on the race is akin the big dod of iceberg under the water, race day is the tip and as long as BaM and all their helpers are willing to give up their time to pander to divas living their dreams I am grateful, I thank you all for letting me realise my goals. Hopefully for years to come I will still manage to run, I may have completed over 100 laps, I still have not had enough, magic happens at Glenmore.

Year after year my memories grow rich with the love and camaraderie that happens in such a beautiful setting, I have now completed 158 laps and I’m still greedy for more with a little luck I hope I can add a few more.  Magic happens at Glenmore.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Lucky 13 - West Highland Way Race 2017

Training for this year went very well, using a few “wee” ultras for my long runs and even a PB at the Fling, now for someone that isn’t motivated by time, that was a great wee bonus proving I was in great shape for this year’s race. My last long run was a “mere” 18 miles but cracking quality on the Trotternish Ridge with over 4000 feet of climbing after a weekend with very little sleep marshalling at the Skye Trail Ultra. My taper time passed in a flash, the weekends filled with two music festivals and a wee trot at the Skye Half Marathon, suddenly it was Monday before the race, I had a wee meeting with my support crew, it didn’t take long, between myself, Pauline, Ken, Sue and Gillian I believe we are the most experience team with either running or supporting have had a hand in earning around 50 Goblets. By Thursday all my stuff was sorted and I dropped it off with Ken on the Friday morning so he could play Tetris with all the gear, I spent the rest of the day chilling, doing my nails, having a wee snooze and waiting until Ken, Sue, and Pauline picked me up at 9.30pm. I’m not really superstitious, I like the number 13 and I love good vibes, the little guardian angel I’ve worn for every WHW race got a wee charm for extra luck.

Driving into the station car park at Milngavie never fails to make my nerve ends tingle, after about a hundred hugs I was registered and back in the car, curled up, snoozing on the back seat until race briefing time.

1.00am, Finally! We were off! Woohooo! Big cheesy grin, high fiving loads of folks along the length of the street, changed days from an eerily quiet high street dodging the odd drunk in my early WHW races years ago.

The weather was pretty benign to start with, perfect conditions  but this wasn’t going to last so I’ll enjoy it while it does.  Into Mugdock and going carefully, many a runner has gone over an ankle here and I’m not risking it. Side by side with Ally again and paying attention to the path instead of blethering we didn’t do any bonus bits this year, there’s no pressure for us to stay together but we’ve covered many miles at the same pace, I didn’t doubt we’d do the same this year. We kept it nice and steady along the path of a thousand gates then out onto the road to Gartness, I kept my eyes peeled for the bats, I was glad to see them flitting through the trees although it was still fairly dark, I said to Ally I was sure I had taken my head-torch off along here. Were we a bit quicker or was it just darker for longer?  No point looking at my Garmin, I was wearing it for the time of day, just for peace of mind of making the early cut-offs, the numbers are big enough that I don’t need my glasses on to read it. My crew have a detailed sheet of my splits, they’ll be able to tell me if I’m on a par with previous races, that’s their job, I just run.

A shame we weren’t going to be rewarded with a stunning sunrise on Conic it was too cloudy, at least it was dry, the wind was a bit cool too so I popped on my jacket and gloves just for the top,

I took the descent very gently, keeping my quads for later, heading down the steps I phoned my crew letting them know of my imminent arrival, my porridge and mug of tea will be ready and at the perfect temperature at Balmaha. Clocked my doofer with the timing guy, a big hug from Big Davie then through the car park without breaking stride, porridge pot in hand, banana stuffed in my bag for afters and Pauline walking beside me carrying my mug until I was ready for it, Formula 1 could take lessons from my team.

The beauty of the route between Balmaha and Rowardennan never fails to make my heart fly.
I wish Neil had said this was his 100th ultra, it would‘ve been lovely to celebrate with him, but I can understand he didn’t want the pressure, there are no guarantees with the WHW no matter how many times you’ve done it.   

Neil on his way to completing 13 WHW races and his 100th Ultra 

Again my crew were ready for me at Rowardennan, my feet were feeling great but to pre-empt any problems I was going to change socks, well, technically I didn’t do it, I was sat down with my feet up on a stool eating a rice pudding while Sue did the necessary ably assisted by Pauline.

photo from Lorna Sinclair 

I enjoy the low road, a short section re-established last year and I think more in keeping with the rest of the loch side and far prettier than the slog up the wide track. At Inversnaid I was handed my drop bag and keep moving then I heard my name shouted, “Sorry Ruth, I didn’t see you!” I turned around and walked back a couple of paces for my hug, it’s the rules.

I love the gnarly section out of Inversnaid and didn’t stress the pace, some folk don’t like it, I just embrace the breather my running legs get with scrambling the bouldery ups and downs.  I feel like I have the agility of a lumbering baby elephant but it doesn’t stop me having fun. I had a great blether with Lucy along here and we both said we’d love to see the fast guys doing this section!

Yay, the flat grassy bit and back to a bit of running, from here the thought of spending a few moments in the company of an Angel had me skipping along. Yes, I really felt that good!  Along by Doune Bothy and the climb up to Dario’s post was with a lovely wee group.  

In my hip-flask I had the Glenlivet which resides in my WHW decanter, it was gifted to me from Alan and Lesley at the January training run. Stan, paused with me for a wee toast to our absent friend.  

Into Beinglas I was having some leek and potato soup with a proper diva demand written on my race requirement sheet. Could you mash the lumps please. With the damage to my mouth, eating is always going to be a challenge, even more so during a race, everything has to be liquid or mushy, so far I’d had porridge, custard, rice pudding and Ensure milkshakes, I was looking forward to something hot and savoury, it went down a treat.

The weather had been fine, an occasional light shower but not enough to need a rain jacket and the shelter of the trees had kept the wind at bay but now into the open path towards Derrydarroch the wind was picking up, I was happy it was on my back and blowing me along, but it wasn’t long before I felt it chill my lower back and make it ache, I had a bit of a dip and slowed a little, just a wee yin to the yang I had heading towards Dario’s post and I didn’t doubt I’d bounce back, I put my jacket on, it didn’t stop my back aching but I didn’t get any colder. I smiled at the health and safety warnings, even laughing out loud at the bit of bubble wrap taped to the top of the entrance to the Crack Yer Heid tunnel, aye, back in the day you just took your chances! Coo poo alley was a bit squishy but not shin deep, I took it carefully, ever thoughtful for my crew, they’re the ones who touch my shoes! (I do tie my own laces though!) I was glad to reach the shelter of the rollercoaster and out of the wind. Apart from a big posse of walkers near the gate above Crianlarich I had the climbs and swoops to myself and timed it nicely crossing the road, there was no traffic. It’s great having company but I love having the route to myself too. I kept a good pace up to Kirkton Farm, there’s Dave and Lee! Hug time!  “Great Buff!” he says, I had to think a moment, oh yeah, I was wearing the limited edition, WHW pirate one inspired by himself.

I turned into the wind and headed to Auchtertyre, I could see a couple had walked up the path a wee bit to wait for their runner, they waved, I thought Aw, that’s nice, being really enthusiastic for all the runners!  Hang on! Wow! It’s Ray and Jorie! I ran on and into a huge hug from them both!

Oh, what a surprise!  My cousins have been holidaying up in Harris and driving back to Cumbria, they had hoped to see me around Bridge of Orchy or Tyndrum but made no promises as they had to be home Saturday night. Gillian had reported for duty but stayed in Tyndrum with Sue so there was room in the car for Ray and Jorie to come with Ken and Pauline into Auchtertyre and be part of my crew. Pauline did a sock change for me, slightly hampered by a heavy shower but Ray was holding the brolly, (a job he’s a wee bit overqualified for, just recently been elected president of Mountain Rescue for England and Wales, but that’s just shows the calibre of my crew) I polished off the last of soup that Jorie was in charge of heating up. Ken was finding my thicker thermal top and heavier rain jacket. What a team!

I was soon on my way but not without shouting at Ian Dorey for holding up the weigh in, he was having a wee faff taking off his backpack tangled with a charging cable to his Garmin while I was standing waiting behind him. I didn’t see his face so I hope he laughed with everyone else, I was just kidding!
"Hurry up Ian!" photo from Robert Snodgrass

I headed down the road towards Tyndrum with a huge grin and a spring in my step feeling blessed to have such a thoughtful crew managing to work out a way I could see Ray and Jorie without them having to extend their long day too much waiting to see me. What a great boost it was to see them and not just a quick wave as I went by!

At Tyndrum, Gillian was ready and waiting to keep me company to Bridge Of Orchy, Pauline walked up the hill with us as I had a mug with some cheesy pasta, she’d take the mug from me when I’d had enough. Sue had said to her “We’ll pick you up at the cemetery.”, after seeing the car go by up the road Pauline quipped, “Looks like I’m coming to Bridge of Orchy with you!” Sue was under the impression there was a way into the cemetery from the main road, not to worry, a wee bit of bog hopping, a climb over a fence Pauline and my mug were reunited with the rest of the crew!  That gave Gillian and I a wee giggle to watch.

The weather was really making its presence felt now, it was raining, a minute later it had stopped, my hood was up and down like a yo-yo, the wind was blowing us along then swirling round and in our faces stopping us in our tracks, quite a force on the high point before dropping down under the railway, Was the weather just mad or Scottish? Yep!
photo from Kirsty Archbold

Pauline had walked out and was waiting up on the path just before Bridge of Orchy to see if there were any changes to my Diva Demands, yes there was, I’d like the ziplock bag marked Glencoe now please, in it was my thick winter, windproof tights and my blue fleece I’ve worn every year over the Devil’s Staircase since my PB in 2007, Pauline was carrying a shortwave radio and called in my request… but shock horror...I was stepping away from tradition, in my kit bag was a thicker, newer, probably warmer fleece, could I have that instead. As she asked for my BaM fleece there was no reply, she tried again... still no reply... she called again. “Broadsword calling Danny Boy!”  Ha ha ha, gotta love my team having fun too!  

Into Bridge of Orchy after hugging Laura I sat under the gazebo so I could take my shoes off and get the winter tights on over the long Skins I had worn from the start, I was also going to add my cut-off waterproof breeks too, if the weather eases they’re easy slipped off.  Oh, and the moment I had waiting a month for, a mug of coffee.  Oooow, it was worth the wait!  Ken was coming with me for Rannoch Moor, he was geared up and ready to go, and again Pauline was my mug bearer as I walked up the hill.  I felt full after a tub of rice pudding but I wasn’t leaving any coffee, it wasn’t to be rushed either.

Great to see Murdo, what a shift he’s putting in with this weather and managing to keep the jelly babies dry too! Robin was doing a bit of reverse sweeping and lovely to see Dave again.

All cosied up, I was still moving well, Ken and I made good progress running down to Inveroran and along the road, there was a fine looking deer just beside Forest Lodge,

I didn’t run as much as I would’ve liked along Rannoch Moor, it felt quite greasy underfoot and the wind was taking me sideways, if I kept one foot grounded there was less chance of me blowing away and a good strong march was fairly energy efficient, At one point as the wind gusted I half joked, half seriously pointed over the moor saying “If I end up over there, you’ll come and get me?”  Ken grabbed the shoulder strap of my bag through the gust, I don’t think he fancied hoofing over rough bog either. Rannoch Moor was the first section I felt took ages, longer than I thought it should’ve although I never asked where I was time-wise after Beinglas or looked at my watch, I was just running on instinct and to the conditions, but the Moor is bloody long and mostly uphill and you can see it stretch out for miles until the ground meets the sky. Eventually we were past Flemings Cairn and over the top, heading down into Glencoe, Ken ran on ahead to rouse the troops.

Blowing a hoolie was putting it mildly when I arrived, I was to have my last sock change, my wee chair was set up at the side of Alan’s big red engine but he said “In you come.” What luxury to be out the wind although just briefly, you could feel it shaking the fire engine. Sue did my socks as I ate more pasta, Pauline was staying with me now until the end and was layered up and ready, I added another Buff round my neck and a wooly hat over my peaked Buff.

We walked down the hill so I could finish my pasta, last year my stomach started to rebel at this point, but so far so good this time, (no two years have ever been the same regards food) once round by Kingshouse the wind was blown straight into us for the only part of the route I feel is pointless, a rough, rocky, rubbly path that climbs up just to come back down which runs parallel to the road. I tucked in tight behind Pauline, close enough to clip her heels but we’ve worked together like this many times, Pauline picking a path through the terrain and me shouting either speed up or wait for me, I only wished she was build like a rugby player and made a better windbreak!  Ken, Sue and Gillian were at Altnafeadh just to pick up the empty mug and check we were fine for heading up the Devil’s Staircase.

My legs were still moving well but starting to feel the distance in them as we worked our way up, it was getting dark, we could see torches ahead on the high zig-zags and more behind moving pretty fast. I still didn’t feel the need to put my torch on, preferring natural light for as long as possible. As the guys went by I stood still with my hands over my eyes, saying “On you go, I’m not looking ‘cause I don’t want your torches to bugger up my night vision!”  After they were by Pauline gave me a row, “Well, that wasn’t very polite!” Oops, tolerance is the first casualty of tiredness, my apologies guys!  Heading down I gave in and put my torch on, the path was just a river and hard to pick a route of least resistance and keep my feet, if not dry, not so freezingly soaked, it is always a goal of mine to do this bit in daylight or at least dusk, I’ve only managed it a handful of times and is so much easier if you can see ahead a lot further than the confines of a torch. So resigned to having to slog it out I just got on with it and eventually we were heading down the wide steep track to Kinlochleven, having looked after my quads earlier I moved well and it didn’t take forever to get to the bottom.

Into the Community Centre, I was hugged and weighed by Julie, after the luxury of visit to a proper loo I did something I have never ever done at Kinlochleven before, I sat down for no other reason than to have a wee breather out of the wind. I used the time-out to eat a pot of porridge, I always just eat on the hoof but I think on this occasion taking a few minutes to gather myself before facing Lairig Mor seemed right. It was warm in the Community Centre and I had taken off my rain-jacket when I arrived but before putting it back on I added a down-jacket on top of the two long sleeved thermals, club vest and fleece, I know what Lairig Mor can throw at you, I was taking no chances going back out into this weather with eighty miles in my legs and heading into a second night with no sleep.

Having the luxury of such a great crew I was mob handed for the last section, Sue and Gillian joining Pauline to see me home.  I was roasty-toasty on the long climb out of Kinlochleven but I knew it wouldn’t be long until we were heading into the teeth of the gale, I didn’t take anything off, just unzipped a couple of layers. At the top I always like to pause and look back down over Kinlochleven and up the trail from where we had come, there were head torches just starting the descent, I wondered if it was Ally, I hadn’t seen him since the lochside but at the checkpoints I’d heard how he was doing, I waved and wished him well, wondering if they noticed our torches.

My hood was pulled down tight, with wooly hat and Peaked Buff as low down on my eyebrows as they could go and still manage to see about three feet in front.  It was great to pause and stand in the shelter of the Wilderness Support vehicle with some fizzy juice, a wee oasis of support created by Jeff and Patricia, even the hefty metal poles holding the flags had bent in the wind!   
photo from Jeff Smith 
At this point it doesn’t matter if training went well or if the race has gone according to plan (probably not), two things keep you going, heart and soul, time to slog it out.  As tough as it was, I was smiling on the inside, still a pleasure and a luxury to be here, I know I’m extremely lucky that I have the ability to complete this thirteen times.  Although I was happy it didn’t stop me having some petulant thoughts, being cocooned in all my layers with my head down against the wind and my vision blinkered by my peak made me a bit insular too.  At times the four of us were together, often I’d drop back a bit and have to work to keep up, I’d look up and they were “miles” away (probably no more than 50 yards) Pfft! They don’t care, look at them, just buggering off and leaving me!  Swiftly followed by a wry smile.  Aye, I’d leave me too, in this weather!   Rounding the bend heading towards Lundavra a fierce gust caught me and near took me down the slope, I over compensated leaning forward and ended up crouched forward with both hands gripping onto a big boulder in front of me, I looked up. The buggers haven’t noticed I nearly rolled down to the bottom of the hill!   But on the other hand when Pauline checked I was eating, after replying I was, she then asked “Are you sure?” I was stroppy enough to give her an earful finishing with “I know what I’m doing!” Post race debrief aka blether over a pint in the pub, I was told that they had noticed the wind nearly take me off and it was quipped “Oh, look, she’s saying a wee prayer!” I was also informed that if they did attempt the hand hold approach they could imagine the language, they really do know me!  

Daylight appeared for the second time during the race and we pulled into Lundavra, Ken was waiting with a mug of hot chocolate laced with coffee before we headed off onto the home straight, seven-ish miles of steep climbs and descents through the spooky woods… except it’s worse than that, there hasn’t been spooky woods for a few years now but with the recent tree harvesting you can see exactly where you’re heading, it wasn’t any easier before but at least you couldn’t see it!  At one point the path was strewn with a huge obstacle of felled trees and debris, I really loved how my crew let me lead the way over it, they were pushing from behind now, apparently!

Onto the long wide track down to Braveheart, I didn’t need any encouragement, I pushed on, Pauline thought I was getting competitive as we passed a few in the last three miles, nothing so heroic I’m afraid, with the shelter of the trees heading back down to sea level I was roasting and wanted to remove some of the layers and go to the loo, but with wearing all these layers that wasn’t going to happen without a palaver, I didn’t want to prolong it any longer than necessary and I doubted I’d be able to move so well if I stopped and broke my rhythm.  

Out of Braveheart, onto the pavement for the final mile, savouring the moment but wanting it over messed with my emotions, then seeing Jo and Martin, they deserve to be in bed but are waiting to see me finish messes with my breathing, I don’t let go, I’ll do them proud and finish strong. Round the car park and towards the arch and the guy with the timing doofer, I wave him out the way, up the steps and rest my hands and my forehead on the door...Breathe.
photo from Davie Hall
photo from Ken Walker
“Will you stop wasting time and register your finish!” Big Davie shouts at me,  I turn and rummage under a million sleeves to find my bracelet with the timing chip and officially finish. Davie hugs me and I’m ushered into the Leisure Centre to be weighed, I manage to remove two of my jackets before stepping on the scales finishing at exactly the same weight I started at, ok, I was still wearing two more tops and two more pair of breeks than I started with but my weight was fairly consistent throughout.

Now I was free to celebrate. Martin cracked open an appropriate bottle of Isle of Jura Superstition and poured family measures into very posh silver shot glasses, I reciprocated with the wee drop of Glenlivet left in my hip-flask.  It’s a wonderful heady mix trying to take in what I have just achieved with the love and support of those with me.
photo from Jo Murphy

The best team ever
So proud of these two

We managed to shower and get back outside in time to see Ally finish.  
Before the prizegiving we headed to Nevisport for our traditional breakfast, my legs were fine on the stairs, others not so much!  The prizegiving is a special event, a slick process these days with a greater amount of finishers than the days of old but no less emotive, every finisher has their moment of glory and the family comes full circle with the first finisher presenting the final finisher with their well deserved and hard earned Goblet.

I felt the weather this year was the toughest I’ve run the race with, I have entered every year since 2003. I have had to DNS twice, a brain hemorrhage in the April of 2005 put paid to that year, and being diagnosed with mouth cancer at the beginning of 2013, the following surgery and six weeks of chemo and radiotherapy curtailed my running for that year too. With the positive upward spiral from the first time of running of this wonderful event, and with the support of my WHW family I have had the strength to face some very scary times, I can now take strength from coming through those and whatever the race and weather conditions throw at me I know I can face them smiling.  What doesn’t kill you definitely makes you stronger!  But none of this was ever possible without the support of everyone willing to give up their time year after year, I know I could not have done what I have without you all. There are no words that can convey my gratitude, I thank you with all my heart.

I’ve never really been one to dwell on times but adding all my races together I’ve covered 1235 miles with 182,000 feet climbed in 16 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes and 34 seconds and I’m really going to have to get a bigger cabinet.


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

A Flingtastic day oot!

2.30am alarm, it must be Fling day! It was no hardship getting up, I’d prepared my drop bags and organised my clothes the day before, I even put my porridge in the bowl ready to go ping for breakfast before going to bed at about 8.30pm. Val picked up Pauline and I at mine at 3.45am and we were in Milngavie just before 5.00am. Plenty time to catch up with hugs, register and place our drop bags in the relevant cars.

The time passed quickly, it wasn’t long before John gave the briefing and we were in the starting pens, the race was started in three waves, two minute apart. The weather was fair and quite mild for this time of day, the forecast was for a few showers later on but nothing extreme, perfect conditions really, I wasn’t wearing gloves, that’s a first for a Fling start!  6.00am. The first wave were off, then the next, eventually those of us in the party pen were on our way, heading through the tunnel never fails to make my nerves tingle.
photo - Monument Photos 
Pauline and I were together for a while, great to see the fiddler again and lovely to high five Sandra at Beech Tree,

I let Pauline go on after that, I felt her pace was fine but a smidge too quick for me for the whole way. From the start my right shoe was a bit tight but I left it for a bit to see if it settled, it never did so I waited until Gartness, the wall just over the bridge is a perfect height to put my foot up and adjust the lace, after that I felt I was starting to settle into my groove now past the path of a thousand gates and on the wide road easier to be side by side and get a blether with folk around me.  

We had to pause a wee moment for traffic before crossing the road to the checkpoint at Drymen, no worries, always happy for a wee breather early on, there was water and toilets available but I didn’t stop for either, just went straight through trying to acknowledge all the shouts, the support throughout the race is fantastic.

Going up Garadhban I heard a cuckoo, laughed at the sign for the frog nursery and loved the first glimpse of Loch Lomond, I was with Lois for Conic hill, it was fine stomp up and Graeme and Josh were doing a grand job.  

Once over the top there were a bunch of guys on bikes and I thought This is going to be fun watching them go down!   When one bike’s brakes were howling out a long and a tortured squeal, I had a fair old giggle after a runner quipped “I think he’s trapped a runner in his wheel!”  

A few minutes later there was a warning call from behind, Lois replied “Is it ok if we stay on the right?” His reply had a hint of mild panic “Errr, no’ really and I can’t slow down!”  Just as well we were spritely as he zoomed by.  

I quite often just point my camera over my shoulder and it was only when going through my photos on Sunday did realise how close I’d come to being disqualified for cadging a lift sitting on this guy’s handlebars!

I was glad I didn’t see this until the day after! Another cyclist’s descent mantra was full of sweary words and comments about not knowing a box was an essential bit of protection for on a bike. A case of crushed nuts!  This was definitely the biggest giggle I’ve had coming down Conic and kept me chuckling for ages.  

Down into Balmaha, a big hug from big Davie, my drop bag was handed to me, I ditched my empty banana Yazoo and water bottles I was just using shop bought 330ml ones, I don’t faff with filling up, packed away a new water bottle and custard in a Fill N Squeeze pouch and walked on drinking my Weetabix milkshake, I timed it nicely, finishing it just as I crossed the road and Lorna was happy to take my empty, cheers for that, although it would’ve been no great hardship to stash an empty bottle in my bag.

Heading along to the climb up to Craigie Fort a young lad was playing Highland Cathedral on the pipes down at the shore. Wow, emotion filled my chest and made the hairs on the back of my neck raise, there isn’t a finer tune to hear running on the WHW, deep breath and head for another lovely hug, this one from Robin.

Not sure how many times I’ve said this but I’ll say it again, I love the section between Balmaha and Rowardennan, the meandering ups and downs through the trees, the bird song and the Bluebells, cue for another tune, this time just playing in my head, the Bluebell Polka on the accordion, aye, ya cannae beat a bit of Jimmy Shand for a good cadence!

On the steep steps there was sign saying kit check ahead, what a perfect place for it too, everyone was walking here anyway, so there was no time lost taking backpacks off and finding the two required items, a phone and foil blanket, I also have two more items as mandatory kit I’ll never run on the WHW without, hip-flask and camera.  Well done Stan taking on the task, a toughie having to disqualify anyone not having the stipulated stuff whether it was by accident or disregard for the rules.  

With good company and scenery Rowardennan soon appeared, again another quick ditch of my rubbish, replace my water bottle, drink a milkshake and move out. The Fling was using the high road, I think the low road is more in keeping with the rest of the lochside section but still fine to do the wide track, I’m happy whatever route we have to use but I was looking forward to when the path narrows and descends, it’s the start of the fun section, I love it, just letting the terrain take charge, run a bit, walk a bit, stepping over boulders or tree roots not trying to fight for a pace, just enjoying the natural beauty of being able to move forward on a stunning route.  In a nice little group I was asked “Inversnaid is 34 miles, isn’t it?”  I replied, “I dunno, I don’t do WHW by numbers but you’ll know when you’re getting there when you can see the big pipes coming down the hill on the other side of the loch, they’re opposite Inversnaid.”  At one point I mentioned there had been a bit of repair on the path and I think it was Billy that said “You must know every boulder and tree root!” It made me think how many times I’ve gone along the lochside, not counting the odd training run, this was my sixth Fling but my eighteenth race starting in Milngavie and finishing either in Tyndrum or Fort William, so I guess I kinda know the route well! Wow! That’s a bit mad! was my next thought!  
photo - Mark Dawson
At Inversnaid a quick hello to Helen, swap my water bottle, ditch the rubbish, take my custard and walk on drinking a dinky can of coke, no hanging about.

Again near the front of another wee group heading along the gnarly section, I’d call out occasional, “Just shout if you want by.” It was usually answered with “I’m good here, thanks.” We caught up with a group of four guys just happy to amble along blethering, there were a few gentle hints to let us past, they were unaware we were moving just a smidge faster, I don’t mind being stuck in the slow lane for a bit, there’s no point stressing it, and I think that it’s not time wasted but energy saved, I’ll be able to push on later. There was a shout from the back “Excuse us guys, but can we get by?” “Oh yeah, no bother!” Not being sexist or anything but it made me smile that it was a group of ladies that ploughed on past the blokes. It didn’t seem long until we were on the short flat grassy bit and that signals a return to more runnable terrain and the pull up to Dario’s post.

On the steep steps up I saw Jonathan taking time and a few photos at Dario’s post, I pulled out my hip-flask and hold it towards him, he’s happy to wait until I’m there to share a wee dram with an old friend, Mark joined us too.

I always keep it steady down into Beinglas, the path is easily runnable but there are quite a few tree roots or boulders ready to catch you unawares and I’d rather get there in one piece. Arriving into the last checkpoint, the support was still as noisy and as encouraging as the first. Same routine for me, swap my water bottle, dump my rubbish, walk on drinking a dinky can of coke and pack away a wee bottle of cafe latte.  I looked at my watch remembering I usually average around 10 hours for Beinglas, 9 hours 44 minutes.  All the way to Beinglas with a happy cruising pace and to be a wee bit ahead of my usual, oooww, bonus!

Once on the open path towards Derrydarroch there was a wee shower, not too bad but with a bit of a cool breeze, I put my arm warmers back on but didn’t feel I needed my jacket.  It was only now that I felt I had to put in a bit of effort, but after forty odd miles I didn’t really expect to do anything less, running all the flat and downs, keep shuffling the ups until I felt the effort wasn’t energy efficient then stride it out. Coo poo alley wasn’t too bad at all, just a wee bit of care near the muckiest bit, again I go cautiously along especially after so many miles, although my legs felt strong and nimble there are a few malicious stones that will jump up, catch your toe and try to make you eat poop. I thought I’d come through unscathed but when I looked up to wave to Katie and Graham with their cowbells and flags at the deer fence, I stubbed my toe, luckily I didn’t go down but enough of trip to make me squeak.

“Just” the rollercoaster, the road at Auchtertyre, and a wee meander through woods and the path lined with heather and shrubs to go. I think it was just last year or the year before someone said this was six miles, maybe so, but it’s no ordinary six miles, it feels more like a hard eight, I couldn’t remember how long this section usually takes me, I knew a PB was on the cards but I wasn’t going to run myself into the ground for it, just pushing a good controlled effort, working with the swoops and climbs of the roller-coaster and I was lucky enough to get straight over the road without breaking my rhythm, right, no walking on the tarmac, a good steady shuffle this is flat. Under the road and stride out up the wee hill over the cattle grids and onto the narrow path meandering through the heather and shrubs, (I remember when this was thick dark forest!) Through the big gate. Where is this Piper? At last I heard him, I gave him a big thumbs up and thanks as I went by. I could hear the cowbells and cheering of the finish, round the corner and onto the red carpet, big smile on my face, mixed emotions, glad to finish but sad that it’s over, I float down, high fiving folk on my left, sorry I couldn’t reach the folk on the right, sorry, I wasn’t for staggering over, Johnny Fling was running down the side shouted “Race ya!” I laughed and upped my pace a smidge, raising my arms over my head and letting out a huge “Whoooooohooooo!” before falling into Julie’s arms, she hugged me so tight my feet left the ground, I stayed safely surrounded by Julie’s hug until I’d caught my breath and emotion before she placed a medal around my neck.
photo - Stuart MacFarlane 
I picked up my hefty goody bag and went into the warmth of the marquee, soup in one hand and beer in the other, the best race recovery ever.  After refuelling I strolled over to baggage, I didn’t bother with the nicety of a shower, I can have a lovely long one when I get home and straight into my jammies so I just stood where my bag was and had a quick change. Val’s car was parked at the tourist info car park so a nice wee leg stretch before heading home.

I finished with a PB and I’m really pleased that it happened naturally without trying for it, running what was for me not a race but a training run with the ability to give it a wee bit of welly at the end. A thought that gave me a boost is that this wasn’t just the best time I’ve done post cancer treatment but my best Fling result ever, knocking 12 minutes off the time I did in 2012 where Pauline, Sue and I ran together! I may never speak or eat what is considered normal again and finding race food is a bit of a challenge but the trauma of treatment is well behind me. A fantastic sign that my training is going well and I am in great shape for my thirteenth WHW race.

From the impeccable organisation by John and team to the support of all the runners this is the biggest race with the warmth of a small family gathering. Thank you all for another fantastic day in what Lois calls my natural habitat, it doesn’t matter how many times I have had the pleasure and privilege of running on the WHW, that is not just down to the beauty of the route but company I keep, it never stops being special.