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. 


Sunday, 8 August 2021

Ally K's Long Run

At last! Ally’s Long Run was going ahead after being postponed from last year. His challenge raising funds for the Highland Hospice and his route would be starting in Milngavie, going up the West Highland Way to Fort William, followed by the Great Glen Way to Fort Augustus then moving on to the road and the Loch Ness Marathon route, finishing at the Hospice which is situated in the final half mile of the marathon, estimated at 180 miles and giving himself 70 hours to complete it.  

Logistics meant Ken took his car up to Inverness full of all our adventure supplies on Tuesday, he was leaving his car there for coming home afterwards. The rest of the Fifers, Pauline, Sue and myself caught the bus to Milngavie Wednesday afternoon to meet with the rest of the team. 

Douglas - Driving the safety vehicle making sure we all got to Inverness without being roadkill.
Graham - Keeping Ally going with physio and food.

Ken - Joining Graham in his van to look after Ally. 

Donna - A gold medalist in the multi-tasking category, driving the big team van with all our kit, keeping us all fed and watered plus updating social media. 

Andy, Sue and myself - Pacers, keeping Ally company and moving forward.

Pauline - Still recovering from the brain hemorrhage she had at the end of March wasn’t going to do much in the way of running but would be Donna’s lovely assistant in the chuck wagon. 

Also Lewis, Ally and Donna’s son, he was there for the banter, and to eat the abundant supply of doughnuts and pot noodles. 

John and Helen were joining us at Tyndrum

After we had a meal, it was time to get ready for the 10.00pm start, friends and family were gathering, and an unexpected surprise for Ally, his brother and sister living in Northumberland had driven up to see him off. 

Ally was having two runners with him for the first night, Sue was running the first 12 mile section to Drymen then Andy was taking over, also Robbie, a Calmac colleague and speedy runner averaging just over 18 hours over four West Highland Way races slowed his normal pace to accompany Ally from the start to Rowardennan. 

Coming into Drymen
I called shotgun for the loch side. It's one of my favourite sections on the West Highland Way, it’s quite technical and slow going, a lot of runners don’t like it, I think because they are not banging out their average race pace, but you just have to embrace it, all the wee clambers, big steps and wee shuffles give your running legs a rest, and you can expect an occasional 20 minute mile! I’d call that pretty good going! Also, having done a lot of races on the WHW I think I know the best line to take over the rough ground and would lead Ally safely over the scramby bits. 

Graham and Ken drove along to Rowerdennan to drop me off and pick up Robbie, the rest of the team left Balmaha to go straight to Inverarnan and take the chance of a decent rest, Ally and I won’t see them for over five hours. It was around 6.00am when we left Rowardennan, the weather was dull with a little light rain but pretty good conditions. The undergrowth was thick and bushy, the spiders must have been busy through the night, their threads strung across the path tickling my face. It was happening constantly, that it was starting to give me the heeby-jeebies. 

I thought the bracken was tall here...wait until the climb to Dario's post!
We were making good progress, moving fine and steady, taking it cautiously over the tricky bits, we paused briefly to refuel at Inversnaid before taking on the really tricky terrain along to the top of the loch,

there has been a fair bit of erosion since I was last along, when I dropped down a narrow gap between two boulders I’m sure the ground never used to be so far away, I jammed my bum between the boulders before hitting the ground, that’s never happened before! Ally leaned his poles against the boulder so he could use both hands to drop down, one of the poles slid off down the banking, luckily it stopped before hitting the water. Oh well, I suppose it’s part of my job to retrieve it. I managed to scramble down to it without too much difficulty and glad I didn’t end up in the loch either.

I have never seen the bracken so overgrown before, it enclosed the path and well over six foot tall in places, there was no running through it, I couldn’t see where I was putting my feet, just pushing our way through wishing I’d brought a machete,

Spot the Ally!

Ally was quite relieved when we reached the flat grassy bit and we could have a few wee shuffles to remind the legs how to run. As we approached the climb up to Dario’s post I pushed on a wee bit to get the hip-flask out, it’s a special spot to pause for reflection.

Beinglas isn’t far away now, around half an hour and we’ll be back with the team. As we got closer I pushed on to herald Ally’s arrival, hopefully he enjoyed a wee seat, a chicken roll and a mug of tea.

Sue was now with Ally after his brief stop and would see him into Auchtertyre, this section isn’t much easier, you can get some steady running in between a few long climbs  as long as you watch your feet and once into the forest above Crianlarich, known in the WHW family as the rollercoaster, and for good reason, there’s long steep swoops up and down until you cross the A82 and onto tarmac leading to Auchtertyre. 

Andy took over from Sue leading the trek through Tyndrum and the open path where you can see the long ribbon of the track stretching ahead with Ben Dorain standing aloof and majestic as you pass by. 

From Bridge of Orchy, Douglas gave his legs a stretch and went over the hill and down into Inveroran with Ally, great to see him have a bit of time with Ally without having to be the responsible adult in charge. 
Nadia and Ewen from the Inveroran Hotel were marvelous in supporting Ally, hosting a barbeque in his honour and raising over £750 for the Highland Hospice, also giving the team a good feed before heading into the second night. 

photo credit - Inveroran Hotel
photo credit - Inveroran Hotel
It was my turn again to keep Ally company over Rannoch Moor, I’d had a lie down in the back of the van, I can’t say I slept and was cold and dozy when I surfaced, but I’d been resting and I knew I would perk up and warm up once I got moving. Ally and I left the hotel around 9.00pm easing back into our stride, it’s a long steady climb onto the Moor, the sky was overcast, we plodded on while we still had some light but it wasn’t long until darkness fell, with the heavy cloud there wasn’t going to be any stars to guide us, no mountains in silhouette to mark our progress, just our head torches shining a circle of light on front of us, this was the start of Ally’s second night and he’d been moving forward for over twenty-four hours so I expected him to have a dip, and he did, he was using having a drink or a wee nibble as an excuse to stop, I didn’t bully him to keep moving but I did my best to prevent his stalling, “I’ll hold your poles while you’re getting your stuff, just keep it at a stroll while your faffing!” I know the West Highland Way well but I’ve never gone over Rannoch Moor in the pitch black, normally I’d look up into the distance for Peter Fleming’s Memorial Cairn and aim for it, it was just our legs letting us know we were on the climb up to it, it’s a very long slog and we just worked away at it, I was surprised when my legs were telling my weren’t climbing any more, we had topped out, I looked ahead for Buachaille Etive Mòr, it’s iconic shape was lost in the dark, but I could see the tiny lights in the distance of the Kingshouse Hotel. “Yes! We are heading down to Glencoe!” I shouted. Finally, we could see where we were aiming, it’s a rough bouldery descent so gently does it. I didn’t have to message ahead, my phone pinged and in our group chat, “I can see torches!”  Ally’s soup would be ready and waiting for him when we arrived and he was stopping for a well deserved 20 minute sleep. 

I was relieved and pleased when John and Helen offered to help us after they knew of Pauline’s  illness, both very experienced ultra runners joining us at Tyndrum with the luxury of proper night’s sleep for the first night so it made sense for John to escort Ally over the Devil’s Staircase in the wee hours, he also brought out a hip-flask at the cairn for a wee celebration at the top.

(A wee disclaimer here, this story is my recollection of events, the first duty of a support runner is to take care of themselves, I’d be no use to Ally if I wasn’t rested between my running shifts so at Glencoe I crashed out in the back of Douglas’s car only to be disturbed when Sue got out at Kinlochleven for her turn to run with Ally, saying “Get your feet up and use the whole back seat to lie down.” So if I’ve made any mistakes you’ll understand why I wasn’t paying too much attention to what was happening all the time) 

Sue had the short straw in support, the climb out of Kinlochleven, it’s steeper and longer than the Devil’s Staircase but doesn’t have a scary name to psych you out, it’s a tough slog even with legs that haven’t already covered 80 hard miles, Sue was staying with Ally along Lairig Mor, through Lundavra and into Fort William.

Friday morning saw Andy and Douglas heading to Morrisons for a full breakfast, Ken and Graham were heading up the single track road to Lundavra, I thought I’d go with them and maybe join Ally and Sue there if he was struggling, I’ll nip to the van for my running bag, “Err, where’s Donna?” I ask. Donna, Pauline and Lewis stayed in Kinlochleven to get the airbeds out and have a decent rest through the night, and weren’t planning to come to Fort William until Ally was due to arrive. Oops, I hadn’t thought ahead when I got into the car at Glencoe but never mind I’ll go along anyway. We arrived at Lundavra just a few minutes before Ally and Sue, it was a new day and a new Ally, he’d been motoring along, I need not have worried!

Lundavra - photo credit - Ally K's Long Run
We headed back to Fort William, Donna arrived and I readied myself for the next section along the canal. I had a porridge pot for breakfast and changed from trail shoes to road shoes since the terrain was going to be easier going underfoot.  

There was quite a welcome for Ally as he arrived at the old traditional finish of the West Highland Way.

Part one of his challenge completed, he had another 20 minute sleep, Graham worked on his legs, Donna updated Ally with messages of support, one, a wee video from friends “Glad you’re not dead!” He had some soup and freshened up, before setting off on part two, the Great Glen Way. The Caledonian Canal stretches on, as much as it’s awfy bonnie, it’s long and flat with nothing technical to take your mind off how you’re feeling, after the high of finishing the West Highland Way, I wasn’t surprised Ally had another wee low, he apologised for not being good company, typical Ally, thinking of others first, I didn’t doubt he’d pick up again, no point fighting the dip, we just eased along, he now had over one hundred miles in his legs, but I did have a distraction technique up my sleeve, I brought my camera out, told him to run... and to smile while he’s at it! 

At Gairlochy his smile broadened, Ryan, who's supported Ally during his past two challenges was waiting with Shaun to wish him well.

photo credit - Ally K's Long Run
Andy was taking over here and at Laggan Locks Helen joined them, time to double up support again as Ally would be heading into his third night on the move. The rest of us went onto Aberchalder, the sky was quite dull and it didn’t take long for the gloaming to turn to darkness,

Ken walked out to meet them, there was no hanging around when he arrived, just a quick coffee and a roll and John set off with Ally for his second night shift also Ally’s pal, Innis joined here to see him into Fort Augustus.

Sue and I were going from Fort Augustus, but there was no rush when he arrived, Ally was having his third and final 20 minute sleep, Graham worked on his legs and he had more soup. We left around 1.30am, 50 hours and around 130 miles done, again we eased into the pace, walking it out and running a few short shuffles to wake up the legs, we were now on the road heading up towards the Loch Ness Marathon route, if you have ever been on one of the buses that’s laboured up the monster of a hill out of Fort Augustus to the start of the Marathon and was anxious that it wasn’t going to make it up, we strided up that hill at a fair lick! Although Ally was tired, he was strong and heading towards his final marathon. At the top the mist had descended and soon turned into cold rain, the van’s headlights couldn’t penetrate it, my shadow standing in front of me reflected off the murk.

Sue and I kept ourselves awake and cheery playing word games like we did when we were wee on long car journeys. One of them, we worked our way through the alphabet naming songs with a place in the lyrics or title, Is this the way to Amarillo, was the first one, we sang a few too, Ally didn’t join in much, he often had his earphones in, our singing wasn’t that bad! Well, mine was but Sue can hold a tune! There were a lot of big frogs on the road, we were accused of booting them into the verge, but we were just gently nudging  them off the road with a shoe, not wanting them to be flattened by the van behind us. On the road there was an opportunity for support to swap every five miles or so but both Sue and I agreed that since we were already outside and wet we might as well keep going for a bit longer. Donna and Pauline were preparing a couple of cups of hot chocolate for us, I waited at the van to pick them up, Ally and Sue kept moving, when they were ready Pauline suggested I jump in the van to catch them up, I was pretty cold so I declined the offer and would put in a wee effort getting back to them to warm me up. Since running Fastest Known Times has been the lock-down fashion for runners, I’m claiming an FKT for 400 metres on the Loch Ness Marathon route in the dark, piddling rain carrying two cups of hot chocolate without spilling them!  Ally was very quiet, but as long as we could hear his poles tip-tapping on the road behind us we knew he was doing fine, with his focus on the few steps ahead and hauling it in. 

We pulled into Foyers around 6.00am, now daylight on the fourth day, the rain was starting to ease slightly, Ally wanted Pauline to come with him and she did, managing around three miles together, a cherished moment for them both,

photo credit - Ally K's Long Run
Helen and John took a turn each and a posse of pals were forming to escort Ally into Inverness. After changing into dry clothes I jumped into the front of the van with Donna, now sitting warm and cosy, my head was doing the noddy dog thing, I didn’t fight it but it felt rude to sleep while Donna was working hard leading the way, flashing lights on the van, warning oncoming traffic of our presence on the road and alerting the rest of the team with walkie talkies of their their approach. The stress was building with more traffic on the road. We had come all this way without incident and the team vehicles were doing a great job of keeping the runners safe, protecting them front and back with warning lights and carrying caution runner signs.   

We had a final stop in the car park at the end of Dores, I rejoined and was staying with Ally and the posse into Inverness, Douglas gave us a safety talk and insisted that if there was pavement we were to use it. Graham gave Ally’s legs a last going over ready for the final ten miles,

we soon got into a good routine, I’d pick a spot where to run and Ally would pick where to walk, staying in control of effort, I went into Mummy Goose mode, keeping an eye on my gaggle, ushering them over the road when moving onto the pavement and back between the team vehicles when it ran out.

We were making good progress and moving well, at a good, strong pace. Side by side Ally and I looked at each other, no words were needed, we have done it! Our emotion rose, I managed to keep it from leaking out my eyes but Ally used the front of his t-shirt. 

Robin had driven up from Perth and just planned to run a little bit with Ally, after a short distance he said “Ally, I’m holding you back, I’ll let you go on and I’ll see you at the end.” Ally was insistent “No, you’ve come all this way for me, we’ll go at your pace! 

This time my emotion did reach my eyes, and why we love him and support him so much, over 62 hours on his feet and he was happy to prolong his finish for Robin to be able to keep him company all the way into Inverness.

The support posse went over the foot-bridge near the Highland Hospice to join everyone waiting to cheer Ally in, while Ally continued along and round the road bridge of the Marathon route to finish with a strong sprint, Saltire soaring to a fantastic reception, and into the finish banner held by Eilidh and Lewis. A mayhem of bubbly and hugs before an interview for BBC Alba. I’m not sure many could remain standing after such an arduous achievement, never mind speak coherently enough to be on the telly! 

I’m glad I was able to play a small part in Ally’s Challenge, an astounding effort raising funds for a charity close to his heart, and what a heart he has, I don’t think he’ll mind me saying that he’s no natural athlete, just a very determined person dedicated to do his best for others.  As I write his Just Giving page is sitting just short of £21,000 + Gift Aid, a phenomenal amount especially in these times.  

This was his fourth and final epic challenge, his first one was Ally K Runs Skye for Cancer Research Uk in 2014, followed by Ally K Runs Skye to Maggie’s in 2016 for Maggie’s, then Ally K’s 10 Island Challenge for MacmIllan in 2018.  He dared to dream of raising £100,000 for charities that mean so much to him, and against the odds he has succeeded. Ally has said it wasn’t just him, he didn’t do it alone, he’s had a good team behind him, and if over any of his challenges you have donated a pound or two, you too are part of the team that has inspired him to give his all.  

We might have different parents but I am as extremely proud of him as if he really was my wee brother, Ally, you inspire me to be the best person I can. 

Ally has now officially hung up his running shoes for huge, epic fundraising events. I have two words to say on the matter. Aye, right!