Sunday, 21 July 2019

West Highland Way Race 2019


This year my training has ticked over nicely, no illness or injury, just consistently plodding along with a few races for my long runs, a flat tarmac 50km in Perth, a lumpy trail 50km in Kielder and the Fling, (I won’t mention the weather!) Sleep deprivation training in marshal mode at the Skye Trail Ultra (with lots more weather) which was followed by three weeks caffeine free, that signals the countdown is on, it’s tough giving up coffee but I think helps me focus and prepare for the race, a test of my determination and what lengths I’m willing to go to for success, then a week before the race I had a meeting with my crew and we were good to go.

9.30pm, Friday evening Ken, Sue and Pauline picked me up, I’d dropped off all my gear with Ken on Thursday so there was no faffing loading the car when they arrived. Heading over the Kincardine Bridge the sun was dipping behind the hills, the sky was a clear rosy-gold, the shepherds were delighted, me too, the weather was promising to be good. 
photo from Sue
We parked at Tesco, it’s the first time we’ve never got into the station car park, I’m not complaining, it just shows how much the race has grown since I first ran in 2003 when registration was inside the ticket office.  I tried to register in the shortest time possible but with loads of hugs and wee catch ups, I knew it would take it longer than planned but I was soon back to the car making last minute decisions on what to carry and what to wear. 

12.30am We are all gathered for the race briefing from Ian, then Sean’s “There will be weather” and medical information and just before the start there were poignant words from Adrain and a moments silence for the family we’ve lost this year, Tony Thistlewaite was sorely missed, he should've been standing here, aiming for his sixteenth goblet.

1.00am WOOOOHOOOO! We are on our way! (I don’t plan to write a then and now report but there may be a few reminiscences) another contrast from my early years. The support along the length of the street this year is fantastic! I had a big daft excited grin on my face when folk shouted my name, managing a few high fives until we turned down towards Mugdock, years ago support crews huddled round the steps just after the tunnel, then it was eerily quiet along the front of the shops occasionally encountering a few bemused locals heading home after a night out.  Jennifer and I stayed together for the first few miles, all uneventful until nearing the end of the path of a thousand gates, I managed to catch my toe and down I went, we were in a bit of a bunch and I was relieved that I wasn’t trampled, folk stopped and helped me up, I was fine, just a bit stoory and in need of a wee dust down, I’d adopted the starfish technique for breaking a fall, just a wee dunt evenly spread out between both knees, stomach and the heels of my hands on landing... being caught having a wee lie down was probably more embarrassing!  

My crew were in Drymen, I just picked up some custard and a fresh water bottle and plodded on, I switched my head torch off not long after, the sky was brightening with a few light clouds and the weather was promising to be kind.  I may have had a hand in making sure the weather was going to be lovely, on the Tuesday before the race I re-proofed my big, sturdy “see-me-through-a-tsunami/bomb-proof/serious weather” jacket and carried it from start to finish. 

I kept the pace fine and steady up Conic taking a few photos, and even steadier on the way down, saving my legs for later, just before the steps I phoned my crew, “Get the kettle on!” The reply, “It already is!”. 


Down into Balmaha, and I hauled out the timing chip to dib in, I’m not too keen on these huge flat ones that resemble a coaster, they’re too big for my wrist so I’d clipped it onto my stretchy waistband that held my phone and reading glasses. A hug from Davie and my crew walked me through the checkpoint with a pot of porridge and a mug of tea.
 
photo from Sue
Heading towards Rowardennan, I usually feel like I’ve settled down, and it was no different this year, that’s the first night done, I’ve had my breakfast and relaxed into the adventure, it’s now time to revel in my surroundings and enjoy one of my favourite sections, the ups and downs in the meandering ancient woodland and the morning birdsong. One runner did have his music on loudspeaker, I was surprised at my tolerance of his air pollution, laughed and suggested he should have Jimmy Shand for good cadence, he joked and said he was saving that for later.  The sun was breaking through the clouds, the glimpses of the loch through the trees were stunning, when the views opened up the loch was calm and still with the hills and sky reflected in a mirror image. Most of the conversations I had were with first timers, I hoped they will come to love this race as much as I do. 



Into Rowardennan, I dibbed my coaster and hugged Gavin, my crew were ready and waiting for me with a chair for my first sock change, I sat down and spooned in a rice pudding while Sue and Pauline wiped down my feet and apply lots of Body Glide, it’s pre-emptive, I have no problems and I'd like to keep it that way. I’d decided the shoes I’m wearing are fine, they have good grip and perfect for the loch side, I wore them for the Fling but looking ahead I feel they are a wee bit firm on my toes and may cause problems later on so I say to Ken, Sue and Pauline that I’ll change my shoes at Auchtertyre. 
photo from Sue
So with fresh happy feet I skip off towards the loch side… it was just metaphorical skipping, no real waste of energy just my mental image heading to my next favourite section, I haven’t done the low road since last year’s West Highland Way Race, I love the natural flow of run a bit, walk a bit and ooshah, how steep are those steps bit!  Just letting the terrain dictate the pace, I was moving well, chatting when I had company and savouring the beauty of the route when I had it all to myself. Note to self - look where I’m putting my feet! I fell again! I was about a mile away from Inversnaid, and this time the technique I used for breaking my fall was a hundredweight sack o’ tatties and I don’t recommend it much, it hurts, especially down the left side which took the full of wallop of the roaster!  The girls behind me sprinted to me and pulled me up, “I’m fine, it’s ok, I’m fine!” I say before I really know if I am or not, but I’m up and moving forward. I let the girls pull away while I take stock. My left palm is bleeding again, I rub my left quad, it’s bound to have some lovely colours and a few scuffs too but I wasn’t pulling my tights down to check just yet, at least there were no holes in them, my knee had another wee dunt but didn’t feel too bad, my ribs feel tender where they landed on my water bottle, I give them a good prodding, nothing broken, I think, just another bruise. I use a little of my water to rinse the blood off my hands since I’m not far from Inversnaid and will be filling my bottle up soon and decide I was lucky not to have done major damage, I reprimand myself for being such a muppet and to pick my feet up.  

At Inversnaid it’s lovely to see friends manning the checkpoint, John is wearing a life jacket and having a great day monitoring the race from a  boat. I quickly ditch my rubbish, pick up my drop bag and stuff a squeezy sachet of baby mac ‘n’ cheese and wee bottle of flat coke in a pouch and leave, no hanging around. A minute or two later I realise I’d forgotten to top up my water bottle, I check it and realise I have around 150mls maybe 200mls left, I consider turning back but decide it will be ok, although it’s not that far to Beinglas, it does take twice as long as it looks on paper, I won’t be breaking sweat along the most technical part, it’s slow going for a short arse with stecky legs, I also have the 250 ml bottle of coke to see me through to Beinglas, I’ll be fine. 

I enjoy the scrambly bits not worrying about the time it takes, I feel it gives your running legs a rest and a good stretch for the muscles. It doesn’t take too long before I spy the flat grassy bit and ease back into running. I steadily climb up to Dario’s post, I pass on a kiss for Lee and share a wee dram with Dario, Martyn joins me in a toast to our absent friend, is it really ten years since you left us? 

Martyn and I stay together until Beinglas where Wilson filled my water bottle, I chat to Ada, and I inhale the aroma of proper coffee but I resist the offer of a cup, one of my traditions is that I’m caffeine free until Bridge of Orchy, I’ll save the hit for Rannoch Moor. When I found out crews wouldn’t be able to get in, my first thought was “ Aw naw, I usually enjoy soup there!” but having a drop bag at Beinglas was fine, as much as I like my wee traditions being able to accept and adapt to changes is the key to having a successful race. 

It was now around noon, the sky clear, the sun shining, the path ahead open with no shade, my full length black tights were absorbing the sun’s warmth like solar panels, I love running warm but even for me it was getting a bit roasty toasty, so I slowed right down and would save myself for when it cooled, knowing I’d be going through a second night, I feel it would be detrimental to my race to push on in the heat, it’s maybe worth the risk at the pointy end finishing in under 20 hours or thereabouts (part-timers) but for those of us finishing closer to the full time allowed, we need to play the long game and pace it accordingly, I have a wee saying for running in the heat. “If you’re too hot, you going too fast!” 

I had a nice tootle along past Derrydarroch and Not Coo Poo Alley, a path upgrade I’m quite happy with, there will be no nostalgia about being shin deep in shit from me.  Val and Gillian were driving up today and joining the crew, a wee bonus for me, they walked up the hill from Crianlarich to meet me with a tub of mashed potato/sweet-potato//cheese, I’d made it quite sloppy so it would be easy for me to eat but I was disappointed to see it had firmed up over night, they walked with me up the wee steep hill from the big gate to the trees while I forced in a few spoonfuls, I couldn’t not eat some after they’d made the effort to bring it to me! Besides, it was brilliant to see their fresh cheery faces, they waved cheerio, “See you in Tyndrum!”  as I headed onto the roller-coaster.   

I had to wait ages to cross the road after the funfair, I stood with my hands on my hips, elbows out, giving the traffic my best scowl. “I do not stand still! GET OUT MY WAY!” Harumph! Finally I crossed over and made steady progress towards Auchtertyre, looking forward to my soup and a shoe change. After being weighed by Tim and Murial, Pauline led me to where the car was parked, I was handed my mug and was expected to leave… “Err… my shoe change?” A look of surprise all round! “What shoe change? That’s not on the list!” I let out a big dramatic sigh, “Was nobody listening to me at Rowardennan?  What a rubbish bunch of support! Yer all sacked!” Within seconds I’m sat in my chair with my feet up, Ken is doing my feet and I’m enjoying my cream of chicken soup, receiving the same level of cheek back, it’s all in fun and those within earshot laughed at our antics. 
photo from Sue 
Although I really enjoyed my soup I think I rattled it in a bit quick, it was sitting heavy in my stomach so again I kept the pace easy towards Tyndrum as I let my tummy settle. Pauline joined me at Tyndrum and we heading towards Bridge of Orchy I said out loud that my left shoulder was awfy sore, did it take a dunt when I fell or was it more from my posture? I think I might be rounding my shoulders trying to keep my ribs from being held tight to my water bottle, I loosened the straps of my race vest a wee bit, stretched my arms above my head, rolled my shoulders, lifted my head and let my shoulder blades slide down my back, relaxing and restoring my posture. I smiled thinking about having my first coffee in weeks and let that thought pull me on, Pauline faffs about with my camera, pointing it at me and making me run bits that I would’ve walked, a cunning ploy! 


A lovely surprise as soon as I came out of the tunnel under the railway in Bridge of Orchy, my team were waiting there with my coffee, I was going to savour this, Ken swapped places with Pauline and we walked down through the checkpoint pausing only to dib in before heading up to Jelly Baby Hill. We spent a bit of time with Murdo, thank you, you’ve done a grand job over the years. 

On Rannoch Moor we were striding out a good walk on the long inclines and running some bits, always looking around, today with the good weather it’s vastness was benign and easy going, the last time Ken was with me on this section we were in full waterproofs battling with the weather and occasionally Ken was grabbing my backpack to stop me blowing away! It was still a long haul picking the smoothest path over the cobbles and stones looking up towards Fleming’s Memorial, it takes ages to come into view and even longer to reach it. Ken sent a text to say where we were and we be heading down the rough bouldery path soon. 

Arriving in Glencoe at 9.30pm it was cooling down so I put on the thick thermal I had tied round my waist at Bridge of Orchy, I still didn’t feel the need to gear up but I’ll now carry the cut-off waterproof breeks, more as a windproof if I got cold, I’ll also carry the blue fleece, another tradition, I rarely wear it these days, keeping it special, I had it on going over the Devil’s Staircase in 2007, the year of my PB and it’s full of good vibes!  Sue was joining me now and staying with me to finish, the setting sun cast beautiful rosy-golden hues around the hills, these views fuelled my heart and soul, far more potent than the macaroni cheese I’d just fuelled my body with. 
photo from Sue

At Altnafeadh fairy-lights adorned the crash-barrier, of course it was Sarah! What a boost to see you and have a hug to send me on my way.  It was time to put on the head-torches, I prefer to be over the Devil’s Staircase and heading down and round towards Kinlochleven in daylight or at least light enough not to need a torch, it’s easier to pick a path with a bit more vision than just a circle of light a few metres ahead, it hasn’t happened for a few years now but never mind, it’s not as if I don’t know where I’m going! 

I was pleased with how well my legs were coping with the miles and miles of downhill to Kinlochleven, it didn’t take several lifetimes as it has before, I was pleasantly surprised on how quickly it seemed to pass. After being hugged and weighed by Julie, I was sat eating porridge, Pauline flossing between my toes with a wet-wipe, she knows it makes me squirm, this was an extra sock change, I felt there was something in my sock jagging my foot, slight problem,  Pauline had put the offending socks back on, Val had tidied them onto a pair so they looked like fresh ones, lucky Pauline noticed the real fresh ones before I put my shoes back on! Gillian joined us now, it’s great having more than one keeping me company since my conversation is usually rubbish by this time so at least Sue and Gillian can chat away and I can listen. It was slow and steady on the steep climb out, at the clearing at the top we pause and look back down over the lights of Kinlochleven,we could see head-torches at the top of the descent heading into the town, I lifted and dropped my head hoping they could see my torch flash across to them and catch the good vibes I was sending.

I was still feeling good, I felt it was me setting the pace and I was joining in with conversation too, previously my crew on Lairig Mor tend to pull away and I follow muttering under my breath about being left behind. Having a really easy spell in the heat of the day seems to have paid off. We blether along to Jeff and his wee oasis and pause for a wee juice. 
photo from Sue
Heading towards Lundavra I don’t really fancy the hot chocolate/coffee combo on my list but I can’t think of what else I would manage, I ask Sue and Gillian for suggestions and I’m told if you don’t fancy anything in particular just stick with what’s on the plan. Good call, I am tired and maybe not as clear-headed as I think. I have a couple of wee blisters, a few scuffs and bruises but nothing to diminish the joy of being here, this was the best I have ever felt, although my legs were weary they moved well. I never had any real dips, of course I felt uncomfortable at times, covering 95 miles in one go is never going to be easy! My main goal was to finish smiling, in fact it was to smile all the way, I was in a very privileged position, I don’t take for granted I’ll be alive, fit and healthy next year, if this was my final time I was enjoying every precious moment. 

Pauline joined the ranks again and we headed up the hill for the final six-ish miles, it does have some lovely swoops and climbs but with near 90 miles in the legs it’s tough going and I did prefer when the trees were there to hide the steep climb up to the fire road.
photo from Sue
photo from Mairi Fox
I don’t need any encouragement to move, just letting my body and terrain dictate the pace between running, walking and shuffling down to Braveheart and along the road, my crew makes me cross over long before the Leisure Centre, I am happy to embrace the new finish but they take no chances I might deviate to slap my hands on the Leisure Centre doors. Ken had parked at the Nevis Centre and ran out to meet us and lead us through the jinks to the new finish, into the side door, there’s the arch! I’m finished! 
photos from Alan Young
I have done something that I find hard to take in, I am the first woman to complete the race fifteen times. Neil finishes for the fifteen time this year too, making five of us amongst the 1429 finishers to have done this!  
photo from Ken 

None of this would be possible without the unwavering support I’ve had, not just from my wonderful crew, also my West Highland Way family and not just during the race but through the health problems I’ve had in previous years, I could not have coped so well without you and will never forget that. I thank you all for being there and making me the person I am today. 

Nobody’s tomorrow is guaranteed and I hope my West Highland Way Race story has not reached the end. To be continued...

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

The Highland Fling 2019 (The soggy one)

A 2.30am alarm means only one thing! It’s Fling Day!

Pauline arrived at mine and Mags picked us both up at 3.45am then we met Iona in Kincardine and we arrived in Milngavie just before the first bus from Tyndrum arrived, nicely timed to get registered, hand in drop bags and a visit to the loo before the queues began. Now just to decide what jacket to carry, I’d brought two, the big bomb-proof one that has seen me through Tsunami conditions or the lighter one which doesn’t have a hood, the forecast I’d seen was for showers and it was mild, with no mention of weather with a girls name! I was dressed warmly, two long-sleeved tops under my club vest, long tights and my kilt, I wasn’t even wearing gloves, if anything I felt slightly overdressed so I opted for the light one. (No plot spoiler but the weather didn’t do what the BBC or XCWeather predicted and with hind-sight I wished I’d chosen my big coat!) While faffing with my bag, I checked my phone and foil blanket for the umpteenth time, I even made Mags and Iona check I had them, how embarrassing would it be if I was disqualified for being an eejit. I handed my kit-bag into the baggage lorry then just hugged loads of friends until it was time to head into the starting pens just after John’s breifing for the 6.00am start.

For the last few years there’s been one mass start in three waves, two minutes apart, awfy fast folk in the first wave, fairly fast folk in the second wave and rest of us waited in the party pen for the final wave.
photo from Richard Newall
The excitement in Milngavie is almost tangible, it never stops being special, even though this is my eighth Fling and my twenty-second race starting under the tunnel and hoofing north on the West Highland Way!  

Woohoo! At last we’re underway, under the tunnel, up the stairs and through the cheering supporters lining the street,

photo from Monument Photos 
I scuffed my foot along the pavement and gave a wee squeak, Pauline shouted “Don’t fall yet!” I laughed and replied that I didn’t really plan to fall at all! That set the precedence for any time either of us stubbed a toe or bobbled on a boulder we’d shout at each other “Don’t fall yet!”

It was nice steady running to Gartness where walking up the hill I had my second breakfast, a Weetabix milkshake, my first one was ages ago at around 3.00am! Then swiftly through the kit check on the grassy hill at Drymen with no worries.

Conic hill loomed, so did the dark clouds, the wind picked up and I put my gloves on, Pauline put on her jacket, I stubbornly held off, I was wearing cosy layers and I was sure that as soon as we’d be heading down into Balmaha I’d be taking it off again... Aw stuff it!  This is daft, no point getting soaked and freezing, I got my jacket on!






Well Done Graeme! I wasn’t sure if you’d be at the top of Conic to take photos in this weather, lovely to see you!
photo from Monument Photos 

photo from Kay Roxby 

Balmaha and a big hug from Big Davie, you’re are looking well and great to see you, I paused briefly to down another milkshake so I could bin the empty rather than have to carry it to Rowardennan.  

I love the ups, downs and steep wee climbs through the trees of this section, yes, the jacket did come off...for a wee while! The bluebells were showing promise of the lilac carpet they will be in a couple of weeks, we scampered along and Rowardennan was soon in sight, the support was great and I again paused at the bin as I polished off another milkshake and picked up a squeezy sachet of custard.  

Heading towards Inversnaid  we could feel the chilly wind bite and the rain was persistent, the jacket was back on. At Inversnaid we hung around just long enough to drink my bottle of coke and to blether to Egle and Graeme. Pauline has been recovering from a duff achilles and not done a lot of running recently so she felt a bit out of practice along the technical loch side, but with it being so wet and having had a horde of runners tramping along before us the boulders and tree roots were slick with mud, care was needed so we took it easy. One of our group bashed their head on a low branch while concentrating on their footing, we all waited, feeling pretty helpless, while she held her hands on her forehead until she gathered herself together and managed to get going again. We made it to the end without losing anyone into the loch.

Once we reached the flat grassy bit we paused briefly, Pauline sorted her shoe, I faffed with my jacket and zipped it up to my neck, I was wearing my peaked Buff and I added another normal Buff over it to keep my head cosy, the cold was giving me a mild headache, I wished I’d brought another pair of gloves, the ones I was wearing were soaked through from hanging on to soggy trees and boulders. I wasn’t hypothermic but chilled through and cold enough to make me feel miserable... if I chose to be!  This is the West Highland Way, I could never be miserable running here no matter the conditions! My freezing fingers, still worked but only just, it took an effort to move them but I managed to unscrew the lid on my hip-flask when we paused with Dario.


With so much rain the waterfall at Inversnaid was quite impressive and wee burns appeared where usually there’s none and at the burn just before Beinglas there was no point trying to use the steppy stones, it was just a wade across, “Oh well, that’ll get the mud out my toenails!” Even the primroses, usually little rays of sunshine, had their heads bowed and looked weather weary.

Into Beinglas and into Julie’s arms, she hugged me so tight, my feet left the ground, I closed my eyes and drew in her warmth, I stayed there as long as possible feeling like that moment when you’re cosy in bed on a winter's morning and you know you have to get up and you don’t want to.

We stood and chatted with Julie and Neil, Julie was surprised I was standing still, not a normal occurrence for me on the West Highland Way but since this was the Fling I don’t have a support crew to pander to my needs and walk me through checkpoints to take my empties, I was willing to hang around for as long as it took me to drink my wee can of coffee.

There’s a fair bit of climbing from Beinglas some you just have to walk, others were “sloggable” we used Pauline’s technique of run 100 paces then decide whether to walk it or shuffle on, we made steady progress along hoping to warm up a smidge with the effort. Through the crack yer heid tunnel then under the road and up that nasty climb to coo poo alley... nae coos... nae poo and the upgraded path a veritable carpet! Wonderful! Then the wee colourful oasis of Bogle Glen with Katie and Graham and onto the rollercoaster, we kept a steady effort on the ups and came down hill in  “I’m saving my quads for later” mode for no real reason other than I haven’t pushed hard all day so no point starting now.

Pauline and I put no pressure on each other to stay together but we do run well side by side I wouldn’t say I waited for her along the loch but I felt it easy, I wasn’t for rushing anyway, besides Pauline has form for pushing the pace after crossing the road towards Auchtertyre I thought she was bound to drag me from there.  There was a car approaching as we stood waiting to get over but it stopped for us and shouted encouragement as we crossed, it must been runners, they've finished and on their way home, lovely of them to let us over.

Pauline looked at her watch and said that if we wanted to be under 14 hours we’d have to push on, I replied that I was happy to maintain but wasn’t for busting a gut, this was going to be the slowest Fling for both of us and I was quite relieved when Pauline confirmed that she was happy to trundle in without puffing and blowing, Pauline’s then said “Well, if we didn’t stop to hug marshals, pose for photos and spend time with Dario we would’ve been under the 14 hours.” But it wouldn’t be the Fling is I didn’t get to do all that! Despite the weather we were having a brilliant day out and time wasn’t on the agenda, more important for us to have a grand day without any problems, building up for our big races. From Auchtertyre it was a bit of a slog into the wind and our shout changed from “Don’t fall yet!” to “Don’t fall now!” mainly because we didn’t want to lose our rhythm or if one of us went down it would’ve been a huge effort to get back up again!

Yay! The piper, a big smile and a thumbs up in thanks, and onto the red carpet.

As soon as we rounded the bend, Pauline took off and stole two or three yards, I chased her down matching her pace, she wasn’t getting it without a fight and she knew I wouldn’t just give her the win, she pushed on, so did I, but I couldn’t make up the head start she had, as hard as I tried!  
photo from Graham Milne 
I should’ve expected it really, after my shenanigans on the red carpet last year, I dropped my Squeezy Carnation Milk, Pauline waited for me while I went back to pick it up but once I’d picked up momentum to catch her up I kept it going and pipped her on the line!

But it’s all in fun, there were hugs all round, I received my medal from Mags, Sue took my dobber and brought back my slip with my splits and finish time, a pose at the finish line for the giggles, another mugshot at the finishers backdrop, a can of beer from Ken, a hefty goodie bag and another special hug from Julie, then a cup of tea. Phew, a moment to catch my breath with more congratulatory hugs in the tea tent before a shower and food.
photo from Graham Milne
Pauline finished her soup and baked tattie before me and got up from the bench and tried to squeeze past me, she placed her hand on the wall to get by, but it’s not a wall it’s a big tent so the “wall” moved, Pauline lost her balance but my hood made a great safety grab and she soon regained her balance, luckily I was only mildly throttled and recovered to finish my grub!

Mags was off duty now after her long day and it was time to head home but there was no nodding off in the car as Mags recounted loads of finish line stories, from the do or die PB’s to a marriage proposal and dreams realised. I hope everyone has taken away a memory to cherish.   

Thank you Johnny for another fantastic day, you and your team produced another brilliant race in challenging conditions, which would’ve been pretty tough for you guys, hanging around in checkpoints getting chilled to the bone but still smiling. Outstanding effort just so a bunch of folk could scamper up a beautiful trail.  Us runners had the easy job!

Sooooo, if all goes well next year and Pauline and I run together again, I’ll be ready for the best of three, it’ll be gloves off and elbows out as soon as we hit the red carpet!

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

50km races are a bit like buses

You don’t do one in ages then two come along together! Well, a fortnight apart to be precise and two very different races, the first one, the Self Transcendence 50km covered twenty-one laps of a flat tarmac loop of 1.47miles at Perth’s North Inches and the second one, a hilly trail with the only real flat bit being the length of Kielder Dam!


I did have a bit of a dilemma when I realised Perth clashed with the beautiful Loch Katrine Marathon, I love that race and was sorry to miss it, but with the Anglo-Celtic Plate coming to Scotland once every three or four years incorporating an open 100km and 50km I wouldn’t get to run round the Inches again for a good few years.  It might sound a bit boring running round and round but it’s a lovely loop that flows nicely and having done two 24 hour races on it and the open 100km the last time the Anglo-Celtic Plate was in Perth I was looking forward to just doing the “wee” one this time! Plus there was plenty going on, watching the youngsters rugby training in the morning and matches in the afternoon, shouting encouragement to the home nations battling out the Anglo- Celtic Plate when they lapped me, and having a few wee blethers when I was side by side with runners.  


It was brilliant to see so many friends volunteering at the event and even more pop up throughout the day and shout support. There was a good contingent of Carnegie Harriers, four of us running the 50km, Jonathan, David, Jane and myself, Jo representing Scotland in the Anglo-Celtic Plate with Val, Ken, Sue and Gillian supporting the Scottish team and Jennifer helping in the food tent.
It’s been ten years since I last ran a flat 50km on tarmac (Glenrothes 50km) so I was just hoping for a good strong steady run not aiming for a specific time. There was quite a fierce wind so no point wasting energy fighting it,  I just kept an equal effort round the loop and tried not to get blown into the river when it was blowing me sideways, I locked into my cruise control, knocking out pretty consistent laps only pausing at my table twice during the race to swap my water bottle and pick up a tube of Squeezy Carnation Milk and a gel that I’d laid out ready, never losing my rhythm, staying strong to the finish. I checked back my diary I was pleased to see I finished just a few minutes adrift from the aforementioned 50km ten years ago.
photo from Steve Adams
I’m maybe making it sound like running 31 miles isn’t arduous but I held Ian in my heart, keeping me strong, he should’ve been celebrating his thirty-third birthday this weekend, he will forever remain twenty-two, mouth cancer took him from his family.  No matter how tired or sore I felt during the race I was alive and well, I was here to do him proud, it was a pleasure and a privilege to run in his memory.


I’d persuaded Pauline to join me for the Kielder Ultra, it would be a grand day out in beautiful scenery with no pressure, just time on feet and perfect timing being three weeks before the Fling. So after an early start, just over a two hour drive we were sitting in the Kielder Castle Cafe in front of a real fire having a pot of tea with Susan before the start.


Kielder Water is the biggest man-made lake in Northern Europe and the forest built round about it is pretty impressive too. The weather was a bit grey and misty, nothing extreme, no rain, pretty perfect really. In just over half a mile you start to climb, it’s fairly steep and goes on for ages then undulates with views over the water.

The route is a cracker with over 3000 feet of climbing, forest track, narrow tree rooted paths, mud, boggy spongy moss, heather and a smidge of road, the only real flat bit is the length of Kielder Dam.





Pauline has a strategy for the Great Glen Ultra we adopt, run for a hundred paces on every hill unless it’s of nosebleed gradient then decide whether to walk or keep running. We ran the race last year but couldn’t quite remember the route until we were on it, and with having done quite a few other off road ultras we kept saying stuff like this bit reminds me of the fire track down to Fort Bill, Dunoon 55km, John Muir Way 50km, even Devilla 15km! It was fun finding similarities to other great races we’d done. We’d forgotten about one bit, there’s a right bar-steward of a hill within the last few miles that climbs for around a mile, Pauline changed the run/walk ratio to 20/20 paces and call out every transition, it takes a bit of discipline to keep it going but it saves you getting locked into constant walking and easier to get back into running without feeling clunky once you reached the top, I had a wee cheer once we started to descend then we turned onto a narrow wooded trail along a river with short steep climbs and descents and a few steps (a bit like those heading down to Balmaha), over a bridge and ta-dah the finish!

photo from High Terrain Events
Being around an hour and half slower than Perth shows the difference the terrain makes but we were over ten minutes quicker than last year so happy with that.
Kielder profile and route 


Two variations of the same distance and I’m glad I’m pretty ambidextrous regards road and trail and enjoy doing both.   


While I’m waffling about 50km, it’s exactly twenty years since I first did the distance, the Speyside Way 50km organised by Don Ritchie, in those days the results didn’t appear the same evening or following day on the internet, you waited at least a week for them to arrive in the post. I still cherish Don’s personal post-it note, not all running treasures hang around your neck.