Friday, 18 May 2018

Ally K's 10 Island Challenge

When Ally asked if I’d like to support him in another big running challenge, this time fundraising for Macmillan, I didn’t hesitate in saying yes. The date was set for Friday 4th May, and it saw Pauline and I leave Dunfermline after work Wednesday evening, spending the night with Donna in Inverness before heading to Portree to meet the rest of the support team at 12.00 noon Thursday, we loaded our stuff into the van and then travelled up to Uig for the ferry to Lochmaddy, it seemed a very long drive before we got another ferry to Barra and drive to Vatersay, Ally was going to be running back! A tough and long challenge with the logistics of having to catch ferries as well as having to cope with running 120 miles and whatever the weather threw at him as well.

Ally had a good team behind him, I was confident we’d do whatever was needed to get him back to Portree.

Douglas - the grown-up, responsible adult in charge, keeping us all safe with the ability to spot and prevent accidents or mishaps from happening.
Graham - Massage Therapist/Sports Nutritionist in charge of keeping Ally upright, breathing, fuelled and moving forward.
Hugh - Project Manager, in charge of media, photography, filming and all things geekery.
Iain - Driver of the pick-up, leading the way and helping Hugh with the filming being promoted to best boy, dolly grip or whatever you call the poor sod that holds up the big fluffy microphone until their arms ache.
Andy, Pauline and myself - the support runners, taking turns pacing Ally, in charge of nothing much but hopefully our banter would keep him going.

There were loads of folk in the Vatersay Hall to greet Ally when we arrived, he gave a wee talk about the run and presented medals to children for their achievements in recent races. We were generously given the use of the Hall for the night and after the meeting finished we were shown where the light switch was and told just to close the door on the way out when we left in the morning.  We scattered ourselves around finding a cosy wee corner to lay out camping mattresses and sleeping bags, I slept as well as could be expected the night before a big adventure, Hugh on the other hand hadn’t pick such a great spot to sleep, where he laid out his sleeping bag had a motion sensitive light switch so every time he turn over through the night the light came on!

6.30am Friday morning, we were off! It was dull, misty and a little drizzly but not cold, and we were to have a tail wind, not the worst weather for running, we decided that Andy, Pauline and myself would run the first section of around 13 miles from Vatersay to the ferry point at Ardmhor, Barra with Ally, it’s easy to set off too quickly at the start and heading off mob handed it would help keep the early pace nice and steady and lovely for a few of Barra’s runners to get up early and join us for the first section.
photo from Ally K's 10 Island Challenge

On the ferry the team took the chance for a coffee before arriving in Eriskay where we were met by more runners ready to join Ally.

The plan for Andy, Pauline and myself was to run in shifts of around two hours each, swapping over when Ally took a short break to refuel. The team settled into our specific tasks, Douglas driving the white van going on ahead with a “caution runners” fluorescent sign on the front and hazards flashing warning oncoming traffic and stopping every five or six miles to get a brew on or anything else the team needed with either myself or Pauline for company when not running, Iain driving the pick-up staying just ahead of Ally with Hugh hanging out the back, camera in hand. Graham driving the black van with all of Ally’s supplies following behind monitoring how he was moving, preparing Ally’s food and dealing with any of Ally’s problems or niggles with either Andy or Pauline sitting beside him when they weren’t running.

We settled into the routine as we steady made progress through the ten islands, Vatersay, Barra, Eriskay, South Uist, Benbecula, Grimsay, North Uist, Berneray, Harris and Skye. This was my first visit to the Western Isles and although I wasn’t in tourist mode and would have loved to see more, I still got to catch a glimpse of the wide open rugged beauty of the islands and beautiful beaches, even though the weather wasn’t the best, I loved the colour of the sea, a warm turquoise colour of old copper, quite different to the cold slate grey on a dreich day at home on the Fife coast.

As we worked our way up the islands it was lovely to see the community come out and support Ally, a highlight and a great boost for him, the children from Daliburgh Primary School left their classrooms to line the pavement and high five Ally and cheer him on as he went by. The Dark Island Hotel wouldn’t take any money from us when we stopped for a quick bite, cars would stop and donate money for the charity.

My next run with Ally of nearly twelve miles was from South Uist to Benbecula, we’d just shared a fish supper, it was lovely and tasty, I wondered if it would give me grief but it was fine, the pace was nice and steady, mixing up walking with running, Ally had been on the go for nearly ten hours now, he was still moving well but was starting to feel wee bits of tightness creeping in. Ian came over and introduced himself, he lives locally and he’d been following the tracker to find us and waited on the road for us to appear and came along for a few miles, it was great for Ally to get a new face to chat to.  

photo from Ally K's 10 Island Challenge 
I wasn’t quite sure of place names or where I was but Douglas kept me right driving over causeways, “That’s another island done!” we were soon counting them down and with recording my runs on Strava I’m glad I can go back and see the sections I covered with Ally and put into perspective the length of the challenge and the islands.
Vatersay and Barra
South Uist to Benbecula
Lochmaddy to Berneray
Uig to Portree
Early evening I was with Douglas in the van and we pulled into the carpark of a church, Donna had managed to get a lift from the ferry down to join us, when the rest of the team pulled in, Iain had a big tray of delicious hot macaroni cheese and box of sweets someone had given to them, the minister came out to talk to us and offered us the use of the facilities. It was so wonderful to have everyone we met so wholeheartedly support the challenge.

From late evening I suggested Andy, Pauline and I overlap our shifts so he had two of us with him from now on, hopefully the chat of two might help. Keeping going through the night when your body craves sleep is always the toughest part, in the dark, blowing a hoolie, rain coming and going and nothing to look at except the tail-lights of the pick-up and the circle of light from a head-torch. It was going to be a long night. (A tough shift for the drivers too!) I started my next run at 1.00am at Lochmaddy going to Berneray, after taking a break in the middle Ally seemed to lose momentum and struggled to get moving again, Andy and I kept pulling away, every time I looked over my shoulder Ally had dropped back a lot further than I’d expected. Donna came out the van and joined us, Ally had been using poles at times to help take the strain from his injured knee but now he was just holding them out in front and in my mind, they were of no use whatsoever.  Time for a bit of tough love, “Ally, you’re not moving efficiently, those poles aren’t helping, you’re just holding them, get rid of them for now, swing your arms, your legs will follow!” Donna took the poles and was laughing trying to coordinate her arms and legs with them. There wasn’t any real urgency to reach Berneray, the ferry to Leverburgh wasn’t until 7.15am but the sooner we got there the soon we could all have a wee rest and you can call me selfish if you like but after the break, even though I was wearing plenty layers and full body waterproofs, I was freezing cold, and I needed to pee, no way was I baring my bahooky at the side of the road with no shelter in this weather! I wasn’t for dawdling!

Roddy, Ally’s friend living in Berneray welcomed us into his home around 4.30am, Katie had a huge pot of homemade soup and oatcakes ready for us and big mugs of tea.  An accordion appeared and probably for the first and last time in my life would I sit in a kitchen at nearly 5.00am in the morning supping scotch broth while being entertained by a man who’s been on the hoof for nearly twenty-four hours!  
photo from ally K's 10 Island Challenge 
After our soup some of the guys went back to the vans to rest, I sat down in the living-room, the telly was quietly wittering away, I closed my eyes briefly and when I opened them I’d melted down the sofa like an old church candle. Was it time to go for the ferry already? Roddy and Katie waved away our thanks, “We were getting up for work anyway!” Their generosity was wonderful.

The ferry was busy, there was an athletics meeting and local clubs were competing, it was great to see so many kids would be participating and I smiled to see they wanted to be photographed with our local hero.

photos of North Uist AC and South Eriskay and Vatersay AC from Ally K's 10 Island Challenge 
Pauline was with Ally on the slog up to Tarbert, that was one long monster hill, Douglas had pulled in at the top, I decided I would jog down to meet them and ask what they needed. I could see that the hill had been hard work and tough going, Ally looked tired but, of course, I didn’t show concern. I just asked.  “You’re nearly at the top, are you wanting a coffee when you get there?” He was hurting and Pauline asked if he’d had any painkillers at all. He replied he hadn’t. Rightio, I legged it back to the van with an order for a coffee and a couple of paracetamol.

After they’d gone by Douglas and I went on into Tarbert and dropped a treadmill off at the Calmac office before getting the vehicles in the queue to board the final ferry. Andy got the job to carry it up the gangplank. There were two reasons for Ally to use the treadmill, it would raise awareness and funds for Macmillan and just keeping the legs moving helped prevent them seizing solid which at this late stage in the game is a possibility, I think he covered five miles just  keeping ticking over!

I got myself ready to run again, Andy and I were going all the way from Uig into Portree, Becki and Ryan had come up and were doing a relay with their son Orrin as the baton all the way in, Kay joined us for the run out of Uig.

Pipers were playing to greet Ally off the boat, there were hugs and handshakes waiting for him . Back on home soil, just the glory leg to do, the sun was shining, no more boats to catch, nothing could stop him now… woooof! He was off, flipping hell, I cannae keep up, this might be embarrassing, I had to work hard not to drop off the pace he was setting!  Once up the hill, he settled down and there was no point fighting the strong head wind we were facing, there was warmth in the sun and I had to take off two of the long sleeved tops I’d put on, I had prepared for a bit of a slog! Hugh had given me a hand-held camera to try and get some footage on the move, I’m just used to my own wee point, click and delete hundreds with a few odd lucky snaps, hopefully I managed to get something he could use.

Running into the wind was a hard battle, Ryan and I were pretty rubbish at being a windbreak, Andy was a bit better but Ally was still having to work against it. Lucky really that the strongest headwind we faced was on the final section. Pauline rejoined us and took charge of the pace, mixing walking with the running, working the efforts depending on the hills.

The clouds rolled in and with them rain, it was coming at us so hard I thought it might have had hail-stones in it too, it was stinging the side of my face. My rain jacket was in the van with Douglas and he’d gone on ahead, I was only wearing a light wind-proof, so it wasn’t long until I was soaked through and shivering. (I should’ve known better not to part with my rain jacket running with Ally on Skye but the sun had been shining when we left Uig!) There was a lot of support out on the road for Ally, Becki helped Ally on with his Macmillan vest as Portree came closer.

Despite the weather, Ally was moving well, he was ahead of schedule, Pauline was still a sergeant major with the pace but Ally was in great spirits and clear-minded, he knew how he wanted to finish and we went with his plan. Douglas was parked at the Cattle pens for the last stop, brilliant, I dived in the van and hauled off my sopping wet tops, grabbed a thick thermal and pulled it over my head, “Pauline help!” My hands were so cold and wet I couldn’t get them in the sleeves, she manhandled me into my dry top, I managed a fleece and my jacket myself, what a difference, within minutes I didn’t feel hypothermic. I jumped out the van, in my haste I nearly smashed my face on the wing mirror, lucky dodge around it and I was back in position as outrider. The vehicles had gone on into the Square, the plan was for Ally to finish on his own, Pauline was going to tail him from a distance just for peace of mind, so at the Co-op Andy and I pushed on and made our way into the Square I smiled when I saw the Police van sitting with blue lights ready to escort Ally into the finish, the Pipe Band were playing and the crowd were waiting.

Ally ran into the Square with his Lion Rampant flying above his head.  My hands stung from clapping, my throat sore from shouting and the lump of emotion and pride.  
photo from Ally K's 10 Island Challenge
I never doubted Ally would succeed.  Heading into this challenge he wasn’t in the best physical shape, under-trained nursing injury and the recent upheaval of moving the family home from Portree to Inverness was bound to curtail focus and training, minor details for someone who runs from the heart and soul in memory of loved ones. My inspiration.

No comments: