Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Sweet Sixteen - West Highland Way Race 2022

My training has gone well, I have even managed to dodge Covid. After a couple of years of just ticking over more or less on my tod I’m glad to get back to races, both running and marshalling, I had a consistently paced run at the Falkirk 33 miler in February and surprising myself with good runs at the Sri Chinmoy 50km at Perth in April and covering over 61 miles at the inaugural Formartine & Buchan Railway 12 hour in May. The only thing I would’ve loved to have managed, was more running on the West Highland Way. As much as I know the route well, I felt out of practice on the terrain. Also I haven’t done anything to hone my TTFU skills since the last West Highland Way Race. Nothing else comes close to the toughness of it. 

Sue was celebrating her 60th birthday by running the race this year too, so my support crew was decimated, she was keeping Ken too! But we worked together building new teams for us both with a mix of experience and newbies. I was having Pauline and Val at the start, they would hand over to Ally and Donna in Crianlarich as Val had to leave, having a family commitment in Hawick Saturday evening, Pauline would continue with Ally and Donna. 

By Thursday, all my lists were ticked and gear gathered. Friday is a long day, with a few wee food preps, rechecking my tick lists and pretending to sleep until Val and Pauline picked me up at 9.00pm, destination Milngavie. 

 Pauline is still very covid apprehensive and isn’t too comfortable in busy places, so only Val came in with me to register, we wore our masks as requested, but we timed it nicely, it was very quiet. Back at the car I did a bit of pre-race faffing before tipping the seat back, closing my eyes and waiting until there was around half an hour before the start to organise last minute faffs and headed over for the race briefing, afterwards Pauline and Val went up the tunnel to find a nice spot to cheer everyone on. I found Sue and we would start together, although we’re similar paced and train together we put no pressure on ourselves to wait for each other, we’d be running our own race and it would be a bonus if we managed to be side by side at times.
1.00am WOOOOHOOOO! Finally, after a three year wait, we were off! I focus on the steps after the tunnel so I don’t trip, scan the faces in the crowd so I can wave to everyone I know, this is really happening! We really are on our way! Head torch on as we turn down at the West Highland Way Obelisk and into Mugdock Park. It’s busy; there’s chatter and brilliant to see folk I knew would be running but hadn’t had a chance to say hello to before the start. I kept it nice and easy, it is a runnable path but there are bobbles and boulders that can catch you unawares, I have had quite a few friends whose race has ended here before it really started. 

Sue and I were together going by the Carbeth huts, I said “Aw, wasn’t that lovely!” Sue replied “I'm glad you saw them too, it’s too early for hallucinations!”. Folk were standing out in their jammies at around 2.00am to cheer us on. I had to remind myself to take my shoulders out of my ears, try and relax, watch my feet and settle down. Once on the road towards Gartness watching the flitting bats and listening to a hooting owl and a calling cuckoo, I did begin to settle down. At the top of the field in Drymen, I passed my head torch and spare one to Pauline and Val, it wasn’t quite dawn but light enough to see where I was putting my feet, I picked up a fresh water bottle and squeezy pouch of custard from them and head up towards Conic hill. I was on my own, relaxing into the challenge ahead, taking in my surroundings and watching for the sunrise as I climbed. 

Once over the top and descending the wooden steps, (they have really suffered from erosion) I watch my footing as I phone Val to say I’m on my way so they can have my porridge and mug of tea ready for my arrival. I dib my dobber and head towards my crew, Pauline walks with me carrying my mug of tea as I shovel in the porridge, then swap the empty tub for the mug and try not to drown in tea as I stride towards to the stone steps up to Craigie Fort, I give Pauline the mug, wipe the tea slavering off my chin and head up. We were using my 2019 splits as a guide, I was told I was a little down on them but it’s fine. I always enjoy the trail to Rowardennan, and I do again, the climbs and descents through the woods, the birds in full song, I had the bonus of Sue’s company for some of it too. 

Although my feet feel fine, at Rowardennan I have a sock change, it’s pre-emptive, Pauline flosses between my toes with a wet wipe, covers them in Body Glide while I spoon in a thick and creamy rice pudding between the squirms and squeals Pauline delights in giving me. 

As I get up to leave Pauline reminds me Val is standing down and will be heading home after handing over all my gear to Ally and Donna, I won’t see her again. I’m shocked at my remiss, I give Val a hug of apology and thanks as she sends me on my way. 

Sue has also had a sock change and we’re back together heading along the lochside, I’m now stressing the Beinglas cut-off. I didn’t feel like I was going slower than usual but I was half an hour down for Rowardennan. The low road is lovely, a promise of the more technical section ahead but still fairly slow going with acute climbs and descents, there is a staircase with a handrail and a steep stoney descent that would benefit from having one! I usually enjoy the change of terrain, my short stecky legs get a stretch and rest from running. 

We push a good effort along to Inversnaid where we don’t hang about, I top up my water bottle, take the stuff from my drop bag and hoof on. Not long out of Inversnaid I laugh out loud at an abandoned Unicorn inflatable, normally I wouldn’t pass up the chance to sit in it for a giggle but we don’t have time for any fun and we push on some more. 
Glad to see Yan have fun! 

We caught up with Karl, he’d just had a wee slip at the bottom of the giant stone steps, he was fine, lucky it wasn’t at the top! We were with him for a wee while but pushed on as we got closer to the end of the technical part. Yay! Glad to get that done with no mishaps, I encourage my running legs back into action and shuffle the flat grassy bit. Sue and I are still together both of us feeling we’re working harder than we’d really like, I’m mulling over the possibility of not having time to pause and share a dram with Dario, I’m sure he’d forgive me and would be as pissed off as I would be if I was timed out at Beinglas. I don’t doubt my ability to reach Fort William well within 35 hours despite being so close to the early cut off times. If working too hard at this point scuppered my usual long race tactic of staying consistent throughout, I consoled myself with the thought that I would have plenty of time just to walk all the way from Auchtertyre if necessary. The cut offs get more generous as the race continues. I was looking for a positive, laughed and said to Sue, “I wonder if this effort now will give me a decent hallucination later!” So far I have failed miserably in that department. As we climb to Dario’s post we do have time to pause and I bring out my hip-flask and share a wee Talisker with Dario, Sue has brought her own this year too and shares her sloe gin, I smile at the thought of Dario getting a wee bit squiffy mixing his drinks. 

It’s mostly runnable down to Beinglas and we do, dibbing in with 28 minutes to spare. I feel that that was as close as I’d like to make it, and breathe a sigh of relief. 

John has coffee and Sue has one, I just inhale the aroma, that’s not cheating is it? I’ve abstained for a month and I’m saving my first coffee hit for Bridge of Orchy. We pick up the delights in our drop bags and walk on. Sue suggests we take it easy for a few miles to regroup, a good plan, apart from the climb towards Derrydarroch it is quite runnable but we walk a bit, shuffle a bit and let go of the anxiety. The sun was shining, it was pleasantly warm although there have been a few short showers and you didn’t have to be Sean Batty to see they’ll pass over fairly quickly, so my jacket stays packed. I relax and just enjoy where I am and what I’m doing. 

Coo Poo Alley No More! There have been a fair few changes on the route over the years, and I won’t be reminiscing the lack of shite, the path has even had a bit of maintenance and almost feels like a carpet under my feet. 
Photo from a solo training run a good few years ago, and yes they got out of my way!

Up into the rollercoaster Sue has pulled ahead slightly and is just out of sight but I heard her being greeted with cheery voices from round the bend. Debbie and Karen’s happy, smiley faces run towards me, they stop, hug me then tell me not to stop!! A lovely wee boost to see elite runners support us shufflers…but that’s Scottish ultra for you! The rollercoaster has a final swoop down to the road, Sue and I are together again and we cross without having to pause for traffic. Yay! Bonus! We shuffle along waving to support crews leaving Auchtertyre, I'm smiling, looking forward to seeing Ally and Donna, I haven’t seen them since last year! 

Ally is waiting for me just ahead of the checkpoint, I’m greeted with a hug and we head into Auchtertyre where there’s someone else I’ve been looking forward to seeing and I have a huge big squishy cuddle with Robin. 

Ally leads me to the van where I’m having soup and new shoes, (not totally brand new, I’ve had two runs in them, both on the WHW, a 15 miler and a 24 miler so they should see me all the way to the finish) Pauline and Ally set about my feet while Donna hands me my mug of soup. Hmmm! It’s the wrong soup! Pauline soon lets me know that on my Diva Demand sheet it wasn’t specified which soup! Fair enough, that’s true, I didn’t write chicken and noodle but the leek and potato was nice anyway.

Pauline held my hoof between her knees like a farrier and set about my toes with a wet wipe, Lorna laughing told me to keep the noise down, someone is trying to sleep! Finally the squeal and squirm fest is finished, and I put my new shoes on, I also put on another long sleeved top, it’s now around 3.45pm, I’m not cold but it will start to cool down, there’s no point waiting until then to start to layer up. I’m having company all the way to the finish now and Donna is coming with me to Bridge of Orchy (plot spoiler) Sue has left Auchtertyre before me and is having a fantastic run, I don’t see her again until Fort William! 

It’s great to catch up with Donna and we chat along to Tyndrum where Ally sees us safely over the road,

the wind is picking up and the showers are increasing so it’s time to get my jacket on. We make fine progress to Bridge of Orchy, I’m guided over the road by a marshal, Pauline and Ally have my coffee ready for me at one of the picnic tables in front of the Hotel since no vehicles were allowed down to the checkpoint, there was no point carrying my stuff down, I’ll dib in once I’ve had my rice pudding and walk through with my coffee, Sue had been through around 5 minutes earlier, Steven, who is now supporting Sue with Gail is kind enough to walk up the hill with us to take my mug back once I’d had my coffee. Pauline is coming with me now to Glencoe and my chat can’t be too bad as Donna decides to carry on to Glencoe too. As we climb up the hill and decide I’ll take advantage of the forest facilities and duck into the trees before we’re out in the open. “OOOOWWW!” “Are you ok?” Pauline and Donna ask, “Yeah!” I answer as I touch my cheek, I’ve walked into the broken end of a branch I didn’t see in the murky light. I take more care coming out after my comfort break, I’m told my cheek is bleeding… it did feel quite a dunt! Pauline rummages in my bag for my wee First Aid kit, I find an antiseptic wipe and clean my cheek except it hasn’t stopped bleeding and a wee trickle runs down my face, which gives too much hilarity to Pauline, she tells me “It's fine, I look like Action Man!” and just to leave it alone, and it’s not as bad as Minty! Well, that’s reassuring! (A few years ago Minty gave himself a sair yin, quite a serious head wound and possible concussion and when race medics heard about him, they wanted him pulled out at Lundavra for his own safety, luckily for Minty, the message never got relayed as there’s no signal at the checkpoint so he blithely carried on to pick up his goblet!) Oh, and of course, while I’m having this palaver, Stephen has stopped to chat, he’s been scampering around the area cheering on everyone running. It was lovely to see you and next time I see you I hope I’m not so messy! 

Oh well, onwards and upwards, but it isn’t long before I pause again, at least this time for something nice, a jelly baby from Mike, he’s putting in a mega shift in challenging conditions, the weather is deteriorating and isn’t going to improve any time soon. I’m moving well, heading down to Inveroran,

maybe not quite a bouncy scamper but my legs are in great shape for having over 60 miles in them and onto the short section of tarmac, the wind was right in out faces so I tuck in behind Pauline to shelter from the worst of it and have a nice wee run along towards Forest Lodge where sheltered by the trees I pull on my cut-off waterproof breeks, a fashionista would call them capri length but there is absolutely nothing fashionable about them, purely practical, they were a long and baggy pair I commandeered from Pete years ago and I can pull them on and off over my shoes without a fight. 
My cut-off breeks - photo from a previous race

We make good progress along Rannoch Moor, Donna hasn’t been here before and is enjoying some pretty impressive scenery, (having grown up in Elgol, Skye, she has a discerning eye.) Pauline and I entertain Donna regaling a few of our old race tales, with 25 goblets between us we do have a few wee stories to tell. Peter Flemings Memorial Cairn signals the top, I climb strong and steady, the terrain levels and heads round and down, we can see the Glencoe checkpoint, on getting closer Donna scampers off to ready my Diva Demands, I have a bag of clothes labelled “Glencoe” it contains fresh sock, winter tights and my blue fleece, it’s been a tradition for me to wear it from here since my PB in 2007. 

I dib in and it’s now compulsory to wear full body waterproofs. Yep! That’s the plan! But I’m the lucky one, I get to move on from here, the marshals have a long tough shift looking after us in what are now very challenging conditions. In the back of the van, I take my shoes off, pull on the winter tights over the ones I’ve been wearing from the start, I check that the two long-sleeved tops, club vest and arm warmers that I’m wearing are still dry then pull my fleece over the lot of them. Pauline does my feet for the last time, she is so kind and doesn’t floss between my toes, maybe more to do with my complaining that with the floor of the van being wet and mucky I’m having to hold one clean foot up, while leaning back so her arse isn’t my face while trying to eat a Tiramisu, I don’t really need a core and quad work out right now! Yay, Pauline has finished my feet, I can rest my legs and tummy muscles, pull on my full length waterproof breeks, have a few mouthfuls from my mug of tea, before getting my jacket back on and a fresh pair of dry gloves. Ally is ready to go with me and Pauline walks us out while waiting to take my mug when I’ve drunk enough tea. All this took half an hour, my longest stop during the race, actually it's the longest I’ve stopped during all my WHW races, but I wasn’t stressing, I’m not racing, I’m enjoying. 

Ally and I take it easy walking down the hill but my legs feel fine and haven’t stiffened up, so we soon get into our stride, at Kingshouse I call into the toilet, I might as well take advantage of proper facilities (without the risk of a poke in the eye) especially as I had a million layers on, I’d struggle to get them comfy again lurking behind a bush in the wind and rain. Hoods up, torches on, we march across the rough path that pointlessly climbs just to come back down, a sweeper catches up up, we blether away, I know the voice but it would be rude to stick my torch in his face, but it isn’t long before we identify each other, “Of course it’s you Kristian!” At Altnafeadh Pauline and Donna have a mug of soup and roll ready for me, the roll is cut into slices so it’s easy to dunk. I just stand and enjoy it before heading up the Devil’s Staircase. Ooft! My tummy is full and this feels like hard work now. I don’t push it, just keep it nice and easy, breathing deep and even, slow is good when you're moving in the right direction, a few others catch up and we had a nice steady group with Ally leading the way to the top. Once over the top, I still breathe deeply to gather myself and give my legs the chance to recover from the climb. I’m pleased they move well, feel strong and supple, I don’t have any problem placing my feet where I want them to go and we gradually pull away from the others. My stomach is a bit iffy, I have a few dry heaves, Ally knows I’m having a low point, he doesn’t speak and just lets me work through it, leading me along the tough terrain in the dark. Once on the wide track that descends steeply into Kinlochleven, I can’t say I’ve perked up but I remember how horrible and hard I’ve found this part in the past. It has been never ending with concrete quads jarring every step or blisters burning and bashing my shoes, these memories make me feel loads better. We have a good march down and find our way to the community centre. I blink in the bright lights, dib my dobber, receive a hug from Julie, then do something I have never done before in Julie’s checkpoint, I sit down, and eat a pot of porridge, no rush, I enjoy a wee blether with Gail, she escorted Sue along Rannoch Moor and Steven would now be with Sue all the way to the finish. Before I leave, I visit the toilet, and laugh out loud when I see my face in the mirror, I’d forgotten about my “Action Man scar.” A lovely lady also in the loos at the same time looked at me and said “Let me help clean you up.” I thank her and say it’s ok, I’m fine but she insisted and caringly wiped away the dried in smear of blood I’ve had on my chops for the last 20 miles! Thank you Anne for being so caring. 

Another half an hour spent in a checkpoint and I’m liking this new leisurely attitude I’m having, I don’t feel like I have to get this over with, the time on my watch will have no relevance to my sense of achievement. The weather has been epic which will add to my memories to cherish, I still have around 15 miles to go, I’m smiling to myself, who knew type 1 fun could be a thing at Kinlochleven. But I suppose we better get going and it’s light enough not to need head torches when Ally and I leave. Another slow and steady climb up onto the Lairig Mor, I feel the porridge has settled my stomach. For the first time since being treated for mouth cancer in 2013 I have managed to get enough fuel in to keep me moving well. Although everyone can have difficulty eating during a long ultra but with me not having a fully functioning mouth adds to the challenge, there’s only so much milkshake I can swallow before it triggers my gag reflex. I feel the game changer for me was Active Root Gel, (I’ve never been a big fan of gels, I wouldn’t have any at all in a big ultra maybe two or three during a marathon but that’s all I’d use them for). A couple of weeks ago I’d bought two different flavours and two of the gel pouches, it was a bit of a gamble, I just had a couple of short runs to try them out, I wasn’t sure if my mouth would tolerate the heat of the ginger, six weeks of radiotherapy in my gob has left it extremely sensitive, but I’m not complaining, I’m nine years alive and cancer free. Every checkpoint I’d swap the pouches alternating the flavour between the cacao, peppermint and ginger which was easier on my mouth and the original ginger which was a wee bit hot for me but the aftertaste was like cuddling a hot water bottle during the second dark, cold, wet night

While I’m mentioning what worked well for me, my favourite bit of kit for the second night was the gloves I put on at Glencoe, hand knitted by yours truly in DK with a mix of acrylic and pure wool (soft enough to wipe your nose and stays warm when wet with rain and snotters) There’s nothing nicer than having roasty toasty hands when there’s weather!

Lairig Mor is a lovely scamper with fresh legs but the terrain is too rough when there’s 80 miles in them, there wasn’t any running happening. But with being better fuelled, my legs were still strong and supple, I had a fine march with a good cadence, I was even sprightly enough to have an occasional jump or stride over the wee burns flowing across the track. I can’t remember when it stopped raining, I think it just very gradually eased off to nothing and I eventually put my hood down. 

At Lundavra I was handed my mug of hot chocolate, coffee combo, that’s been another staple for a good few years, both Pauline and Donna were rejoining me, and Ally would drive round to the Nevis Centre. Between the combination of the hot drink, working the final leg, and the morning warming up, I soon stuffed my gloves in my pocket, then my woolly hat got stuffed somewhere, I’m finally breaking sweat, I sit on a boulder and Donna fights my waterproof breeks off for me, they’re stuffed in my bag, a short time later, I’m still roasting and my jacket comes off too, I eventually push my sleeves up but keep the rest of my clothes on. Just as well, my backpack is stappit, (I should stop showing my age and call it a race vest, but for me a race vest is a singlet in club colours!) 

What was once the spooky woods before it was turned into a devastation of tree stumps and broken branches, is now a meandering path through green shrubbery, nature is doing a grand job but I much preferred when you couldn’t see the final climb up to the fire break! Yay! The last haul down to Braveheart, I try a wee run but I feel smoother and more energy efficient with a long strided march. That does the job, and when the gradient eases I stick in a few wee runs. 

At Braveheart, Pauline and Donna shoot off to the finish to get the camera ready, I giggle when Pauline looks behind, I am running, and as much as I’d like to chase them in, just to make them panic  They will get there before me, and Donna knows a short cut. I’m left to my own thoughts for the final mile, how lucky am I? 

I glance at the old finish on the way past but push on, following the little bits of tape marking the route, and come round the corner at the station “Oofft! There’s a horde of old people taking up the whole pavement, I envisage a ten pin bowling strike, then think that that would be very rude of me and veer round them with my pointy right elbow giving them a bawhair’s width of clearance! 

Steven is standing just past them and leads me round the final jinks and points me across the car park,

photos from Ken

I high five my way to the side door of the centre and in, my arms raised and I let out a shriek akin to the one I’d given at the start. I’m finished. I head towards Ian but some guy hassles me for my dibber, hang on, it’s tucked in all my layers, here you go. I’m hugged to pieces and eventually stop my watch too. I’m handed a marvellous cup of tea and slowly my achievement starts to sink in. 

Sue gives us the heads up that the showers are freezing, so we head to the Leisure Centre and for a small fee have a wonderfully long hot shower. I check my feet and only have three wee blisters to show for my efforts! 

After breakfast we head to the prize giving but don’t go in, we stand outside near the side door and watch from there, a compromise Pauline is happy with, I enter when it’s near my time to be presented with my 16th goblet. Sorry if I was a wee bit rabbit in headlights, my achievement is taking a while to sink in. 
Neil and I have 32 Goblets between us.

I may be the custodian of 16 goblets but there are many that can hold a hand to them. Everyone that has supported me over the years, pandering to my Diva demands and running with me, every marshal that’s spent hours in Scottish weather, keeping us safe and accounted for, those that do the mountain of work getting the logistics of the race in place, and a special thank you to whoever has the stressful job of picking up the crystal goblets from Glencairn and driving them safely to Fort William! Finally a heartfelt thank you to Val for the early shift and Donna and Ally joining Pauline for the second half, sorry Ally you had my company when my chat was rubbish. One more thing Ally, if we’re both lucky enough to have the health and fitness to stand on the start line next year, Donna is mine, she’s a wee star, you can find your own support!

Friday, 8 April 2022

The Gathering of Awesomeness

The Young Hearts Run Free podcast lads weren’t wrong when they billed the Anglo-Celtic Plate and open Sri Chimnoy 100km and 50km being held on the Inches, Perth as The Gathering of Awesomeness.

Although it’s been a fair while since I’ve run at Perth, I’m no stranger to the Inches. I’ve previously run two 24 hour races in 2008 and 2009, I did the 100km in 2016 and the 50km in 2019, I was looking forward to doing another 21 laps of the loop that flows round naturally and beautifully measured at around a mile and a half.

Pauline needed a bit persuading to come along, she’s a bit reluctant doing “unnecessary” stuff after her brain haemorrhage last year and the pandemic doesn’t encourage her to get out and about much, so I was glad when she said she’d come, especially as she has had six Scottish vests in the Anglo-Celtic Plate, the first being in 1999.  

With the 50km starting at 10.00am, we arrived just before 9.00am, the 100km was well underway, starting at 7.00am.  I laughed at Pauline’s observation as we watched runners go by. “Aren’t ultra runners looking young these days!”  Then she went on to say that while attending a Team GB training camp in Loughborough a “few” years ago the young track and field athletes were curious about who the "old people" were, the youngsters were informed “That’s the Ultra Squad!”  

I set my wee table up at the Carnegie tent then went to register, it was lovely to see pals I haven’t seen in ages! Are hugs allowed yet? I refrained from hugging, except for Ruth, it’s not a Scottish Ultra unless you're enveloped in a Ruth hug, it was wonderful! 

Adrian gave a briefing and the 50km runners were lined up on the left side of start/finish line, the path was coned down the middle for around quarter of a mile to the floodgates, we were to stay on the left hand side until we merged into the race with the 100km runners just like joining a motorway, I think I’ll keep well left, I won’t be getting up to their speed!

I’d lost count of what lap I was on by around the third lap, never mind, it was just a perfect day, the sun was shining, it wasn’t windy and a sheer joy running with buddies I haven’t seen for a long time. Also the beauty of a looped course is that you get run with the fast folk, usually I only see them on the start line and then they’re off, never to be seen again. 

Pauline's photo
Many of the elite runners were wearing the super-duper bouncy shwanks (more YHRF terminology). A thought made me smile. “Why do these flying shoes sound like John Deere tractors?” I don't mean to knock their zoomy shoes, and going by the amount of times I was lapped there must be something in their hype, that and the runners natural ability and a shedload of dedicated training! The bonus of hearing them approaching from a good way off was I was able to move to my left in plenty time to let them go by on the inside, apart from Jo, she’d didn’t hoof past sounding like a galloping carthorse but I knew she was approaching by her cheery shouts of encouragement, also Martin B’s whoop whoops signalled he would be whooshing by.

I took my camera round a couple of laps and Pauline snapped away for the rest of the day.  
I was revelling in just being here, just running and enjoying the company I was keeping. 

I felt quite comfortable and glanced at my watch, it suggested I was going faster than I had expected. I put that down to the excitement of being where I was, I didn’t worry, I would settle down to my usual happy plodding pace soon.  As the miles ticked over I was quite surprised that I didn’t slow down, I didn’t feel like I was pushing the pace, I was just cruising comfortably, so be it, I always run to feel, not the watch. At around 21 miles I felt my legs were locked into their stride and cadence and I now needed to put in a bit of effort to maintain but I was being sucked along in the slipstream of awesomeness and the words of camaraderie exchanged, it wasn’t hard. 
Photo from Steve Adams
photo from Steve Adam
The support around the Inches was fantastic from everyone involved with the race, fellow runners just here to watch and passers-by just out for fresh air.

One old boy reminded me of Captain Tom, leaning on his wheeled walking aid near the Bell’s Sports Centre, his voice was a bit frail so I never caught what he was saying but with a wave and a nod he was encouraging, I smiled and waved back every lap I saw him, it touched my heart that he must have stood there cheering us on for around an hour. 

After another couple of miles I felt that the remaining 8 miles was going to be a big effort, I know what will make it easier!  I’ll work out what lap I’m on and count down laps, there’s less of them! I’m rubbish at arithmetic while running and by the time I’d sussed it I had just under 5 laps to go, that sounds better! 

The wind picked up, it was strong enough to blow the cones over from the Memorial along to the end of the lap, at least it was hitting us sideways, the incentive not to slow down was even greater now the weather was deteriorating, rain was threatening and I’m not a fan of being wet and cold. I increased my work rate and continued to count down the laps.  I approached  the lap counters for what I hoped was the end of my penultimate lap, I raised a finger asking “Have I one more lap?”  No one could answer me but as I went through the inflated arch, Ken didn’t look up from tapping on his phone and quietly said “One more lap!”  Yaay! What a relief! I threw Pauline my bottle belt, put my elbows into gear, breathed deep and pushed the last lap finishing in 5.06.13 hours. 

I was really pleased with that! I expected to finish under six hours but hopefully closer to around five and half. While I’m talking stats, my first 50km was the Speyside Way 50km organised by Don Ritchie in 1999. Not all cherished running mementos are blingy medals. 

Since then I’ve done eighteen 50km races, ten of them on hilly trails where you can’t really compare times. Of the eight road races they’ve all been on a lapped course, six at Glenrothes and two at Perth, with my times ranging from 5.23.43 in 2001 to my PB of 4.31.57 in 2003 and the rest either just before or just after five hours. So although I’ve never had a great turn of speed I’ve had over twenty years of consistent 50km running, I’m calling that a win!  After finishing on Sunday Martin H. said “I hope I’m still running like that when I’m as old as you!” It was meant as a sincere compliment and I’ll take it that way!  But steady on young lad, I’m not that old, I don’t get my bus pass ‘til August!  

And finally a huge thank you to Adrian and everyone helping him put on such a fantastic event. There’s a lot of hard graft to bring it together, making sure the elite had the chance to perform at  their best, and us lesser mortals got to go home buzzing from rubbing shoulders with them. I know quite a few runners don’t fancy running a lapped race, but I urge you just to go for it, you will love it!

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Glenmore 24 2021

My first race in eighteen months and how wonderful for it to be Glenmore 24! 

Training over that time was more or less just ticking over, especially last year, just enough running to keep me happy.  This year at the beginning of March Pauline and I planned to start doing some longer stuff but at the end of the month Pauline had a brain haemorrhage, sixteen years after I had one, was it a twinny thing? The medical profession was noncommittal but there is a possibility for it to run in families. Although we compared notes, the neurological fatigue has taken its toll but she’s managing her recovery well.  So most of my running was solo and not the same without Pauline’s company, I just had a couple of twenty milers and one lovely 27 miler on the West Highland Way with Sue. With no races to hone my TTFU skills my goal was just to keep moving forward for 24 hours at whatever pace I was happy with and enjoy being back wearing a number with my ultra family. Standing on the start line was a privilege and not to be taken for granted, and after a wee wobble a week before the race Pauline would be standing on the start line too, for the 12 hour race. 

Pauline and I arrived in the Hayfield on Friday afternoon, we’d borrowed the club shelter (it’s not a tent)

we got it set up with our race stuff and put up our pop-up tents in the marquee for sleeping in, there has been a lot of hoops for Bill to jump through to get the race organised this year, a huge amount of hard work sorting out the problems, thank you Bill, for persevering. 

There was no pre-race party but lovely to catch up with folks I haven’t seen in ages before heading off to bed in my wee tent. It was cosy enough with three blankets over my sleeping bag, and surprisingly it wasn’t cold anyway. In the morning I didn’t have to rush, it was nice just to take my time having two pots of porridge and get ready. Gillian and Val arrived to do support so we registered and I fastened my number to my number belt with my lucky pins, (I’ve used them to pin on every race number since my first marathon in 1992!)

12.00noon, Wooooohooooo! We were off, I said to Pauline I’d stay with her round the Hayfield and down the narrow lumpy path to the right turn... at the top of the grassy hill just before leaving the Hayfield I looked around but she was nowhere to be seen, then I spotted her with Helen at the back of the pack. Ooops! I didn’t realise in my excitement I scampered off like a puppy that saw the gate was open! 

First lap I soaked up the beauty of the 4 mile loop, long time, no see, the winding lumpy bumpy mile through the trees, the wide track. I called it “the long run” in 2011 because I always run it all (not so much this year) the long uphill mile and the downhill hill mile. On my second lap I took my camera, the sun was shining, it was roasty toasty, I even pushed up my sleeves and took off my Buff, running nice and easy. I wasn’t over heating, in a race this long if you’re too hot, you’re going too fast.


After three laps revelling in my surrounding and company, I went past my crew, they were sitting comfortably chatting with Pauline, she’d just completed 2 laps, her longest run since March and was having a tea-break, but no Diva strop from me, but I laughingly shouted “You lot are rubbish, lucky I don’t need anything anyway.” I was happily just plodding away picking up a milkshake or custard most laps and around 7.00pm I had some macaroni cheese. As the sun started to dip, I picked up my arm warmers but I carried them for a wee while before I put them on. The sky was overcast so no pink hues reflected on the Loch Morlich this year but at least the cloud cover would stop it becoming baltic. With not having any races for ages, one thing I haven’t practiced is eating on the hoof and I thought that if I was going to have any problems it would be my guts and I wasn’t wrong, around 40 miles I first felt a bit of a stitch.  Another lap, it progressed to being quite uncomfortable, I was using a wee bum-bag and it was starting to put pressure on my stomach so I swapped to a race vest (I still think a race vest is a singlet made of acrylic fabric in club colours, I must be old) I was hoping that would ease things, at the same time I might as well pull on a long sleeved top and take my iPod, it was dark and time for tunes. After a few dry heaves I eased back a bit more and managed to hold on to the soup I’d had, that’s fine, as long as I moved forward, the pace wasn’t important. 

After 11.00pm the 12 hour race was in its final hour and on the wee loops, I arrived in the Hayfield, Pauline came motoring down the hill and shouted “Coming through!” as she barged by me.  Ha ha ha! Absolutely bloody brilliant to see! But she’s not the only one that can shout.  “COME ON!” I yelled, “ALRIGHT!” was her reply, we’ve been bellowing the lyrics of Runrig’s Clash of the Ash at each other since the 24 hour race round the Inches at Perth in 2008, (where she’d set the Scottish record for 100 miles, 200km and 24 hours covering 130 miles.) 

She’d had a minimum target of half marathon distance but hoped for 4 laps, and moved the goal posts as she carried on and completed 6 laps, 24 miles before it got dark then rested until the wee loop opened and targeted 2.2 miles for a marathon, still the class athlete, Pauline carried on for a cheeky wee ultra finishing with 27.76 miles. I knew she’d do it!  

While Pauline was being the conquering hero I also had a wee smile to myself, I’d just completed my 900th Glenmore mile and that gave me a boost through the night.

I’d had loads of lovely wee chats with friends old and new and now that the 12 hour had finished there were quite a few moments of solitude, luckily for me I was on my own when I was boaking, I feel that that’s a wee bit like yawning in company, when one person starts so does everyone else, and I’m glad I didn’t inflict that on anyone. I also had a lap of trying to keep my eyes open and not fall asleep on my feet, even that made me smile, even though it was not my favourite point in the race, it's been two years since I’ve been in this position and I knew it would pass, a mug of hot chocolate/coffee combo would help too.  I looked up, the sky was clearing and the stars were starting to sparkle. It did get a bit chillier and I put on my tea-cosy of a hat and a pair of gloves but I didn’t need the hundreds of layers that were necessary in 2019, just one more thermal top and fleece.  

Every year I seem to have a very special moment to cherish, and this year what started as an exercise in keeping my breathing deep, slow and even to stave off the dry heaves turned into a special memory. Not all the music on my eight hour “Run Forever” playlist are bangin’ choons, some are slow and peaceful, evoking my visualisation of a swan, the top half moving forward, relaxed, beautifully serene and graceful while it’s big feet are going like the clappers under the water. In reality I might look like a shuffling sack o’ tatties but I’ll hang on to my delusion and embrace my inner swan.  I was on my own walking up the long hill and began to sing out softly along to a beautiful version of Wild Mountain Thyme, with my surroundings and the stars shining their magic on me. I was a smidge emotional at the end, this was a moment that would never happen anywhere else.  

The sky slowly lightened and the sun eventually peeped up over the trees. I was with Mairi coming up the hill and she captured the beautiful sunrise. 

Photo from Mairi Fox
A beautiful morning with mist lying on Loch Morlich.

photo from Lorna MacLean
I warmed up as the sun rose, I took off my tea-cosy, gloves and fleece, and had a pot of porridge, my stomach was fine as long as I didn’t work too hard so I just maintained my determined plod. At around 8.00am I looked at my watch and sussed that as long as I stayed steady I’d make West Highland Way distance with 24 laps, and that would be absolutely brilliant. I didn’t have the inclination to run myself into the ground to attempt the 100 miles, I doubted my guts would’ve let me anyway and I wasn't going to spoil a beautiful day trying, I even eased back a little in my final three laps, I would still have around half an hour on the wee laps, enough time for some fun without having the stress of trying to complete the lap before 12.00noon. Normally I’d hit the wee loops like a hamster on amphetamines squeezing out every yard I could so it was a novelty going round at a civilised pace, and 98 miles would be perfect, 99 would just annoy me! (A good excuse not to knock my pan in!) It was Pauline’s turn to bellow “COME ON!” at me.

It was wonderful to see others realise their goals and get the horn from Ada. Neil MacRitchie had gone out for a 27th lap with a bit of time to spare as long as he maintained his pace, but he must’ve been waving cheerio to every clump of heather, or hugging every tree, bye bye! Folk were panicking, the clock was ticking down to the final horn, he came into sight. The noise that was directed at him could be translated as  “NEIL, MOVE YER ARSE!” Yay!  He made it with seconds to spare! 108 miles! The rest of us poked our tent peg into the ground for our final distance to be measured. 98.05 miles for me, just perfect! 

Glenmore 24, thank you so much for another wonderful 24 hours! Bill, all the work you’ve put in to get the race on in these difficult times, every marshal, every runner, every support crew, you are all part of the magic that realises goals set, whether distance, reaffirming health or just the joy of being there. Over the years I have been lucky enough to excel in all these categories.

If all goes well for next year I’ll be running my 10th Glenmore 24 (in 2013 I had a special wee 6 hour run) but it will be my 13th 24 hour race and on my 13th lap I will complete 1000 Glenmore 24 miles. If that happens I will consider myself truly lucky.