Friday, 21 February 2020

Just a training run!

When Alistair Macpherson said he was going to do one last big fundraising event Pauline and I were on board for support.  We’ve been there for his previous big challenges and we weren’t going to let him do the final one without us! This one is huge and a lot further than he has ever gone before,180 miles in 70 hours for Highland Hospice, going from Glasgow to Inverness on the West Highland Way, the Great Glen Way then onto the road at Fort Augustus using the Loch Ness Marathon route to finish at the Highland Hospice which is situated on the final stretch of the Loch Ness Marathon. 

There would be a wee change of tactics for this one, with it being so long Ally is going to factor in a few short sleeping breaks so I suggested we practice that in training and came up with the idea of splitting a 40 mile run into two. The South Loch Ness Trail is on his doorstep and we’ve never been on it so I thought it would be good to go somewhere new. Ally agreed it was a good plan and since we’d be running through the night during the event we should do that in training too.  I suggested we drive to Dores, park up, run the 10-ish miles back to his house in Inverness, have 40 winks then take another car to Fort Augustus and run the 30-ish miles to the car parked in Dores where we would leave some warm dry clothes and a wee snack then head back round the Loch and pick up the vehicle parked in Fort Augustus then back home.  

So with a plan in place Pauline and I drove up to Inverness on Friday afternoon. Now, Ally is well known for getting weather during his challenges and it looked like we would get some in training too, Storm Dennis was on his way and a yellow weather warning was in place for the weekend but if you’re Scottish that just means you wear yer big coat and mine is exactly that, one size bigger than my usual so there’s plenty room for layers, my arse is well covered and I can pull the sleeves down over my hands for extra cover, so let’s just get on with it.  

We chilled out for a few hours, discussing the logistics for Ally K’s Long Run, eating huge bowls of Macaroni Cheese before getting geared up and heading off. It was around a 15 minute drive to Dores, I only had to brake sharply once to avoid a deer!
We started our run around 10.15pm, Pauline had printed out the route info and it was well marked but with it being new to us and dark we were careful not to miss any marker posts.  At times it was heavy going under foot, wading through mud and flood, I’m sure it will be a pretty route in daylight. The rain had eased off and eventually stopped, the sky cleared and was full of stars, this was a surprise, we had expected to get drookit! So it was a pleasant 11 mile run back to Ally’s house, fairly dry (from the shins up) with no problems, part one done! 

Back at the house I had a cup of tea, a pot of instant porridge, a change of running gear then a lie down on the bed for around 40 minutes, another pot of porridge and cup of tea before Ally drove to Fort Augustus, which took just under an hour, so we eventually set off on part two of our run at 4.50am. 

The wind had picked up and was bitterly cold, at least with running north/east it would be behind us most of the time and in a few hours we’ll have daylight.
The path out of Fort Augustus seemed fairly new and flat, a nice gentle start but that didn’t last long, we were soon climbing and quite steeply, looking back down over the twinkling lights of the town was a pretty view, I don’t suppose many are daft enough to come up in the dark to see it!

Although we were attentive looking out for route markers we missed one going by Glendoe Hydro works, we were watching our feet on the steep icy road but it was no big blunder, we just came out on the B862 sooner than expected, we decided to stay on the road for a short stretch rather than go back up and retrace our steps, it wasn’t long until we were back on route and climbing up onto open moorland.
The higher we climbed the wind gathered strength buffeting us about, bringing a mix of rain,snow and hail to sting our cheeks. With the snow lying in thick patches it was tricky finding the path, and difficult placing our feet, sometimes the snow held firm and other times I sank deep up to my knees, as we reached the top of the “big white mountain” (that’s what we called it anyway), it was really more of a hill marked on the map as Suidhe viewpoint, it was still quite dark so there was not much of a view for us, we weren’t going to hang around waiting for one either!

 I’ve been up the Pentlands and the Lomonds when it’s been blowing a hoolie, even a bunch of us were out running during Hurricane Bawbag in 2011 (which killed my shed), this is the strongest wind I have ever attempted to run in, (there was very little running going on) Storm Dennis was giving us his best shot! I struggled to keep my feet, trying to stay sideways to the wind for the least resistance as possible, the peak on my Buff was flattened against the side of my face, the good news, at least it stopped the hail from stinging so much, the bad news, it also covered my right eye! I had the vision of a pirate and very little control of where I was going, so there was no surprise I got blown onto my backside, I wasn’t dismissing or underestimating the conditions, this could be serious if we weren’t careful but I laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of it. I heard Pauline laughing too! It took a fair bit of time (just checking Strava), just under an hour to cover the highest and exposed two miles of the route! It was a relief when we headed down towards the relatively sheltered forest track where we could gather ourselves, get some food in and recover from the energy sapping battle we’ve just had. 
The weather never abated but least now in daylight and mostly at a lower level it didn’t seem too bad compared to what we had for the first third of the second part of our run, the rest of the route was a nice mix of forest track, woodland, minor road and farm land, a few wee water crossings which in better weather would be pretty insignificant.

We just kept a steady effort, letting the terrain dictate the pace, running where it was easy going and walking up the hills, one monster hill known locally as the Corkscrew road, a narrow track with a million hairpin bends that I imagine would fit well into a mountain stage of the Tour de France with close ups of grimacing, suffering cyclists. 

At around 30 miles at a junction on a minor road, there was a marker for the Trail of the Seven Lochs which shares some of the South Loch Ness Trail but no marker for our route, we had a wee dither deciding which way to take when we heard a shout!  Up the hill about a hundred yards away was a lone cottage and an old boy stood at the door waving to us. Pauline and I walked up to speak to him, before we could ask if he could confirm our direction, he shouted “ Come in, come in, I’m not coming out in this weather in my slippers, don’t mind the sheep, he thinks he’s a dog, and I have used him to herd cattle!” 
We protested saying “Oh no, we’re wet and muddy!” 
Again, he insisted we come in, “Don’t worry, I don’t do housework!” A wee shuffle of our feet on a doormat and into what must have started life as a kitchen, it had a sink, kettle and microwave, but now was a proper indoor man-shed, with a log pile that would see him into the summer, the table had a vice attached and covered in tools and stuff, so was every other surface.  He offered us tea, we politely refused, saying if we stopped we wouldn’t get going again, he went into great detail describing our route and where all the other paths go, I was getting a bit bamboozled with all the information but managed to retain the “Straight on here, then second left, there is a marker but it quite often gets knocked down!” I don’t suppose he gets many visitors and eventually I think we chatted long enough that it wouldn’t seem rude if we left. Heading out, he said “Wait a minute while I get my wellies on.” he walked us to his gate, feeding his sheep a bread roll as he went, stood and waved until we were out of sight. I gave him a final cheery wave and hoped we brightened up his day as he did mine.   

We were climbing once more and hopefully for the last time up the Fair Haired Lads Pass (a wee bit of Googling led me to a newspaper article that suggests it was named after an old man that had died crossing the hill on a stormy night) and at 333m above sea level, the second highest point on the South Loch Ness Trail. There would’ve been fine views over to Urquhart Castle and along the loch if the weather was better, we dropped down to the where the trail ran parallel to the road back to Dores. 

Those final miles were quite a slog but at no time did any of us feel like we were carcass hauling, we still bantered along.  Reflecting on the races I’ve done so far this year, covering 40 miles during the Falkirk 8 hour ultra with challenging underfoot conditions and 50 miles during the Tyndrum 12 hour in January never made me feeling as weary as I did heading towards Dores, testament to effort needed for what was “just a training run”  41 miles with over 4500 feet of climbing along with the lack of sleep, battling the conditions and the terrain all added up to a epic day and perfect practice for Ally going into his challenge in April. 

Looking back over my 34 years of running I can safely say this is one of the most challenging training runs I've ever had!

If you want to follow his progress during the challenge Ally will have a tracker, the link will be available from the event facebook page and if you'd like to support the charity here’s his Just Giving link

Friday, 7 February 2020

Falkirk 8 hour Trail Race

It was just at the beginning of the year I realised that the Falkirk 8 hour Trail Race would be two weeks after the Tyndrum 12 hour. Oh well, never mind, it will be good training remembering how to run tired and being on a loop there was no pressure to hit cut-offs and the plan was at least 30 miles (8 laps),  and a good target would be 35 miles (9 laps). 

Going by the photo from the race facebook page of the start line and where the tented village would be on Friday night it was going to be a bit damp and muddy underfoot but ultras rarely get cancelled, just adapted, a lot of time and effort put in by race crew and after a wee adjustment of the route and moving the start over a bit, we were good to go. 
photo from Falkirk 8 hour Trail Race
Pauline picked me up just before 6.00am and around half an hour later we found a spot to set up camp, Neil was bringing the club tent and Andy brought his gazebo, we joined forces with the Glenrothes Tri club with Pauline and  AJ supporting. I would be easy to look after this time, no hot food, drinks or Diva tendencies, I just wanted Pauline to note my lap times and I’d swap my water bottle when needed and pick up a custard or milkshake and carry it round the 3.80 mile lap. 

I’d registered with no problem when I arrived but I think with the majority of runners trying to sign in at the same time caused a bit of delay, no worries, just an 8.15am kick off instead of 8.00am and problem solved.  

Surprisingly it wasn’t raining when we arrived but it started not long after we were set up, I’d start in my big rain jacket and hopefully ditch it as the day progressed. A team photo (sorry Sarah, I think you were in the loo queue when we took it)  

First giggle of the day standing on the start line, Paul Kelly said that the shorts over tights combo is called shites, hope I can run better than my apparel then! 

I scampered round the first three laps, running more or less all of it, it was a good runnable course on fresh legs before it got churned up. Giggling with Karl as we were sliding about at the side of the pond. Then I caught my toe on a boulder hiding in the mud at the top of the hill in the woods, and did my fastest two yards in the race, luckily my legs caught up with my face and I didn’t have to eat mud. My legs reminding me they covered fifty miles a fortnight ago and weren’t as spritely as I thought. Time to work on energy management, concentrate on picking the best line through the mud, try to avoid any camber that will send my skiting sideways, I was giggling again at the length of skid marks on the slopes, a few were perfecting their best mud surfing techniques. I laughed out loud as Adrian Dingwall careened past me on the down hill like an out of control juggernaut on ice. I used the old ultra adage:  If you’re not sure whether to take one or two steps, take three! Fairying about with lots of little steps and no fighting the terrain seemed to work well for me. I was glad I was wearing gaiters and using the bunny lugs method for tying my laces, my shoes stayed secure even though the mud was trying to steal them.  
photo from Sandra Hunter 
I steadily plodded away, the rain also stayed steady, a persistent heavy drizzle but it never damped the spirits of the fantastic marshals on the route, every lap enthusiastically cheering everyone,on, and brilliant to see loads of pals turn up even just for a short time just to support, and a looped course is brilliant to see my speedy pals, every time I was lapped there was always a few words of encouragement or tap on the shoulder, just after negotiating the steep dip and climb back out of it, I had another laugh out loud moment, there was a huge groan from behind me, I’m sure Andy Jannetta was enjoying his day too… just the ditch bit... not so much! 

The beauty of a timed event on a loop is that if you’re recovering from illness, injury or daft enough to run another ultra a fortnight after a 24 hour race, you can call a halt any time it feels right. I had a few pals do just that! (Yeah, I know, ultra runners being sensible, this breed of athlete is evolving!)  After my seventh lap I paused to hug Martin when I saw him wearing a warm coat in the race village and forgot to pick up my custard but not to worry, you know that boggin’ emergency gel that’s about ten years out of date and has lived in a pocket of your backpack for around the same length of time! That did the trick!   
photo from James Day
I looked at my watch after eight laps, 6.02 hours, I should have time to get two more laps as long as I don’t ease off the pace, I really didn’t want to do a full hour on the wee laps (around 600 meters with a steep wee hill) I was pushing the effort a bit just to maintain the pace, keeping a close eye where I was putting my feet, I’ve managed to stay upright so far and wasn’t going to jinx it now by throwing caution to the wind, ninth lap steadily done and off for my final lap, I never noticed the rain stopping but it had eased away to nothing. I thanked all the marshals on the route, they stayed cheery throughout, a tough task in dreary conditions.  Another bonus of a lapped race I got to run with Andy Johns for the last bit of the big lap, that wouldn’t happen on a point to point.

10 laps done, 38 miles, I was really pleased with that especially with the conditions and a big race still in my legs from a fortnight ago, but I finished my last big lap with 24 minutes left to go... Can I make the 40 miles? The wee lap has a steep, muddy, hands on thighs climb which gradually levels out, followed by a steep grassy descent onto the flat, turn right and along towards Callendar House, back through the tented village and repeat. Right! I’m going for it! After finishing my first wee lap, I took off my jacket and backpack and hand them to Pauline saying “Haud ma coat, I’m away fur a fight!”  I would have laughed if I had breathe to spare, hands on thighs and stomp up the muddy hill, now it’s time to throw caution to the wind and I push the downhill as hard as I can, lengthening my ultra shuffle of a stride, let gravity pull me down and try to keep up!
photo from Barry Davie
Back round to the tents, I can hear the encouragement and my name being called, my apologies for not acknowledging you, my eyes are focused in front, arms pumping hard, weary legs following. My Garmin showed 40 miles but these doofers are always a bit rule of thumb and I wouldn’t trust one on a loop, they get dizzy and confused, also you have to take into account that the lap would have been measured to the racing line and not the wide arc I was taking to avoid most of the mud on the bends and deviations going to the loo etc. adds to the discrepancy.  Keep pushing, one more lap, keep pushing, one more lap, what time is left? Keep pushing, one more lap, we must be nearly finished, ...once more, hands on thighs and push up the hill...let me get to the bottom of the hill... mild panic...the way I’m pushing down, there’s no way I’d be able stop if the hooter blows! Made it! Can we stop yet? The countdown and hooter! Finally! Yaaay! I poke the wee wooden stake with my number on it into the ground so my partial lap can be measured and added. 

I took a short-cut across the grass towards our tent and Ken walked towards me with my jacket, my battle done, no blood was spilled and hoping I was successful. I had to wait until Monday for the official results. Yaaaay, I made it by a slide, finishing with 40.14 miles! 

Falkirk 8 hour Ultra Trail Race, I do love a loopy race and this is a cracker, thank you so much, and thank you to all your wonderful volunteers, I can’t have all this fun without you all putting in the hard work. I think I’m due Pauline a favour or two for looking after me again.

Lastly you cannae beat a goody bag with a quality beer in it, (BrewDog), a bespoke medal, long-sleeved-hoody t-shirt, buff scarf and I had to fight my family off when I was home. “This is my Tunnock’s Teacake, I ran 40 miles to get it and I’m no’ sharing!”   Value for money or what! (I’m presuming you got the mud and rain for free)
When do entries open for next year? 

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Tyndrum 12

When I first heard there was going to be a 24 hour race in January in Tyndrum my interest was piqued, then a quick Google of darkness hours for that location and time of year (not far off 17 hours!) made me realise that the novelty of running with a head torch wore off ages ago… hmmm... there was also a 6 hour and a 12 hour race to choose from.  During Glenmore 24 at midnight, I jokingly shout at anyone finishing the 12 hour “Bastard!” and I mutter it again as I go through the night seeing them all cosy, snug as a bug, dozing away wrapped up in blankets and sleeping bags so I thought that it would be lovely to stop at midnight for a change; I’ve never done a 12 hour race before so that was my choice. I asked Pauline if she fancied it too, her reply was a very decisive “No!”  She claims to be a fair weather runner these days and it even took a fair bit of persuasion for her to agree to do my support! 

So Saturday morning saw us trundling from race parking up at the back of the Green Welly with a ton of gear, luckily Pauline had pimped a Granny trolley with Saltires and Rampant Lions for lugging stuff to 24 hour races from her days as an International athlete. After registering we asked Stacey (race director) where we could set up and right beside the timing tent was fine, it didn’t take long to put up our wee shelter and it’s paraphernalia, just the job for one runner and one supporter.
photo from Karen McIndewar 
Pauline, wearing thermal top, hoodie, one down jacket, one down coat, one wax coat (three hoods, one hat) silk/wool long johns, fleece lined trousers, two pairs of gloves, two pairs of socks (merino and fleece), wellies (nothing else would fit!)
Everything I do between January and June is West Highland Way Race training and I don’t race as such, but sticking a number on does make me work a bit harder, giving me a good quality day out with pals but keeping in mind what’s to come. All roads lead to Milngavie. What was to make this event more exciting was that only full laps counted, there would be no wee laps to move onto in the last hour to keep running to the final moment so pacing was paramount, I wanted to keep a fine strong consistent effort throughout, I didn’t want to ease off near the end because I’d have loads of time left nor did I want to run like my arse was on fire to squeeze in a last lap!  A group of us recced the loop in August it took us around one hour fifteen minutes, so I thought nine laps would be a good target averaging one hour twenty minutes a lap over the twelve hours, knowing it would be a wee bit quicker to start with having fresh legs and daylight but with around eight hours of darkness I would slow and hopefully have a wee cushion to play with. This was all weather dependant and if it was pretty grim at least six laps would give me an ultra and I’d be chuffed to get eight laps. 

The weather was promising to be pretty good for the time of year, dry, bright but chilly. I don’t do cold so was cosied up with two pairs of full length tights, a compression pair with thick winter ones over the top, two long sleeved tops under my club vest, a light-weight thermal and a heavier one, two hats, a peaked Buff topped with a wooly beanie I’d knitted in club colours and lined with fleece especially for T24, my tootsies were kept toasty, again with two layers, a thin pair of socks and knee-length waterproof ones.  During our August recce the water crossing was quite high, fast flowing and reaching just below my knees, so I wanted to be well prepared if it was the same, I was pleased that the water was fairly low but wearing the waterproof socks meant I didn’t have to pussyfoot the boulders too much, and to be on the safe side as well as mandatory kit I also carried my big rain-jacket throughout.

After Stacey gave the briefing the 24 hour race set off at 11.45am and the part-timers at 12.00noon to prevent a bottleneck since the first mile is narrow, technical with water crossings,
narrow paths, muddy bits and loose stones, after looping round to the railway crossing there was a steep long haul up through a forest path then gently dropping down, through a gate onto a wide open track with cracking views, a few long gradual upward undulations,which was followed by a fairly steep descent, under the railway, up a wee climb and past the best upholstered checkpoint I’ve ever seen,
aka the party tent with a homely fire burning, comfy seats, and the smell of burgers and sausages cooking!  The guys were fantastic and shouted support every lap but I was not tempted in, I thought Hansel and Gretel got themselves into a bit of a pickle stopping at something similar! 

Shortly after the enticing camp there was a left turn onto the West Highland Way past the Loch of the Lost Sword, narrow and lumpy until the big gate and back to the By the Way with a wee out and back around a flag, and that’s the five mile loop to be repeated as often as possible in the time allowed. 

Pauline took my camera to the water crossing for the start and I picked it up later, the photos I took don’t do justice to the stunningly beautiful route but I tried to capture a hint of it, the sun on the snow capped hills, the light changing every lap and shadows growing.

As predicted, I scampered round the first three laps in under 1hr 5mins each, I then picked up two head torches, freezing temperatures can do funny things to batteries so I wasn’t taking any chances, I faffed briefly taking off my Carnegie vest and putting a fleecy top underneath, keeping the bright colours on top would make it easier for Pauline to see me coming every lap. Although there were hot drinks and soup available inside for runners I wasn’t deviating from the route to get it, support were not encouraged to go inside but we’d brought a stove so Pauline was totally self sufficient and did a grand job of looking after me. I kept it fairly simple, each lap picking up either a squeezy pouch of custard or a milkshake and swapping my water bottle when necessary and occasionally shovel in a couple of spoonfuls of rice pudding but I do have some Diva tendencies, I’d brought a wide necked thermos flask which Pauline filled with boiling water and placed either my custard or milkshake in it to take the chill off as the temperature dropped.  

It was lovely to hear the piper at dusk lamenting the setting sun,
welcoming the dark and the stars. The stars! Wow! I had to pause on the wide track, look up, turn right round to take in every twinkle, a moment to cherish. My first time round the loop after it was dark felt quite different, I had to double check I was on the right path on the stony bit after the water crossing under the railway, I changed tactics a bit, I would walk more of the lumpy bumpy stuff even though it wasn’t uphill, so on the smoother wide track I would run more of the inclines trying to equal out the effort over the whole loop. My fifth lap was a bit slower, Pauline made me a MugShot macaroni cheese in a thermal mug and I walked round the first mile with it, Pauline met me at the railway crossing to take the mug back, I would’ve happily stuck the mug in a pocket but it was good to hand it over when I was finished and it gave Pauline a reason to walk about, she did a fair bit of moving around, going from the gate just before entering the By the Way and the railway crossing to stand and cheer on everyone with a few cheery tunes playing from a wee speaker. 

Around my seventh lap I was now thinking as long as I stayed consistent I might manage ten laps, that’s five miles more than my original plan! Ok, let’s just keep steady and keep going and see what happens, on my eighth lap I took a thermal mug round the first mile, this time it was charged with two sachets of hot chocolate and a spoonful of coffee, that’ll keep me alert and spritely. Yikes! I nearly lost it at the water crossing, it was icy and I had a wee slide, not enough to make me fall but enough to wave my arms about! Easy does it round the open sections, in the trees, it was fine, but I should’ve realised it might be a wee bit dodgy underfoot, there was ice sparkling on our wee shelter, Pauline must’ve been well insulated too, there was ice forming on her hood! 

I was trying to read the time on my watch, my old eyeballs need their reading glasses but I could just about make out the time, was that 2 hours 40 minutes to go? I shouted at Pauline to confirm the time. Forty miles done, can I do another ten? It’s icy, lumpy and dark!  Two more laps, keep it steady, keep it strong, don’t let the effort go and don’t do anything stupid! Ninth lap done with no drama, a big spoonful of rice pudding and swap my water bottle and go. Last lap, push it a smidge but no heroics. I go to drink some water, I can’t get any, I unscrew the lid and sip straight from the bottle,’s full of ice! Well, that’ll be that then, I’m sure I’ll make it round on what I’ve had already, I hate freezing drinks! I want to check my watch but I want to keep my eyes on path in the torchlight, the time will be what it will be, I should be fine as long as I don’t fall and smash my face in and that won’t happen as long as I watch where I’m going. My last time past the guys at the party tent, I thank them for their support, careful along the narrow lumpy West Highland Way path, along the river, up toward the By the Way, last time round the flag, push it to the timing tent and dib in for the last time! Yay, fifty miles done with seventeen minutes to spare! I catch my breath and Stacey tells me I’m second lady. “Really! Wow, what a bonus!” 

Pauline nipped back to the car for my after bag while I sat in our shelter having another Mugshot then I went for a shower. The hardest thing I tried to do all day was to take two pairs of tights with tight waterproof socks over the top off in a oner! That was a losing battle and a faff, luckily I didn’t fall over in the process! Eventually I was showered and in clean cosy clothes and made it over to the prize-giving at 1.00am in time. It was lovely to be warm, inside on a comfy sofa sipping a cup of tea, as well as picking up my prize. 

Afterwards Pauline and I went back to the car at around 2.00am for a bit of car camping, we had plenty of cosy blankets but a couple of times Pauline switched the engine on to get some heat going, after a bit of dozing, dawn arrived, there was a wintery shower, my thoughts were for those still running, I was glad I was finished. We headed into the Green Welly for Daddy Bear portions of porridge and a big mug of tea, my treat, it was the least I could do for Pauline after her brilliant support - I would not have got that extra lap without her.  

We went back down to watch the end of the 24 hour race. Fantastic efforts from everyone finishing, especially those taking on their first 24 hour race, be proud of what you have achieved, that was a tough gig! Well done! 

Congratulations to Stacey and your team, you’ve put in a lot of hard work, time and commitment into getting this new event going, I loved it and would do it again, I hope you manage to do it again. Thank you! 

Monday, 16 September 2019

Glenmore 24 2019

After a good West Highland Way Race I just had a nice easy tick over, no races, no big miles just rest and recovery so I was raring to go for Glenmore. These days I set no goals for my races other than to have fun, PB’s are so last decade and as long as I can remain upright, outside and moving forward, that’s all I want from a race… except Glenmore! 100 miles is a big goal and I was aiming for 25 laps. Nothing is guaranteed but with previous experience I’ve learnt what works for me and how to nip things in the bud if problems arise so I was hoping. 

This year Pauline and I had Ken and Gillian for support and around a week before the race we had a wee race planning run and were discussing race logistics and the theme for the fancy dress, with it being Scotland, I had decided on a pair of black dungarees, a metal bucket and some wax in my hair, Oor Wullie wouldn’t be too hard to do, it was suggested that Pauline and I should be Fran and Anna but I’d ordered the dungarees by then, the idea wasn’t lost, Ken was up for borrowing my wee kilt, and with a little supervision of putting on his lipstick and fishnets Fran and Anna looked wonderful (I think Pauline was a bit put out that Ken’s legs in fishnets got more compliments that hers!) Gillian was happy to stuff a cushion up her jumper and with shorts and cap she was Wullie’s best pal Fat Boab.

I left the party around 11.00pm, I was happy lying all cosy, tucked up in my sleeping bag and blankets listening to Fat Boab, Fran and Anna with a few others party on for a while longer, smiling at the sing-a-long to some of Scotland’s finest tunes! I slept ok for the night before a big race, not as deep as usual but that’s normal. I was a tad intolerant on hearing folk chatting loudly at the back of 7.00am, didn’t they realise tents aren’t soundproof! 

I don’t think I’m a morning person, so much for a lie-in! Never mind, it was a nice gentle morning anyway, with plenty of time before the 12 noon start to have two breakfasts and go over my race plan with Ken and Gillian, lay out all my food and clothes for them, so it was easy to lay a hand to when I shouted for whatever I wanted. I also promised not to be too much of a diva and laughingly said “Please, please, please, please!” loads since I won’t be wasting time with niceties during the race. Ok, maybe a wee bit of a diva! 

Bill did the briefing at 11.30am, then time for a team photo and we were ready to go.

12 noon we were off. Wow! How many runners are there this year? I hope everyone comes to love this race as much as I do, it has certainly grown from the 27 of us on the start line of the first year in 2011.
photo from Robert Hill 
Pauline and I ran together as per usual for the first lap, it felt fast but that’s usual too. On the second lap she said that she had expected me to scamper off by now, I replied that I kinda felt that she was pulling me along! She was a bit surprised as she has only had two 15 mile runs since May after being injured and missing the races she’d planned, her Glenmore race plan was just to stay on her feet for the full 12 hours, I was really pleased that she went on to finish with 57.33 miles. Pauline was happy with her result too, hopefully her injuries are behind her now. 

Each of the four miles on the loop is different, in 2011, I named them, the lumpy bumpy mile, the long run, (a wide track that I made a point of running every step) the up-hill and the down-hill.  It always takes a few laps to settle down, this year was no different, I had to adjust my number belt, at first it was loose and burling round then too tight and on the 6th lap (24 miles) I had to loosen one of my shoe-laces but after that I was in my groove, comfortable and cruising, revelling in my surroundings, having a wee blether when side by side another runner. 

The weather was perfect, sunny but not too hot, as the day progressed I watched the sun move across the sky and start to dip, there was a wee coolness in the air, it was going to be a clear night, remembering how stunning the night was in 2011 I knew the stars would be magnificent. I didn’t take my camera round for a lap this year but Gillian did, running the route in reverse taking a few photos,

photos from Gillian 
and Mairi captured the setting sun reflected on Loch Morlich perfectly, always a special Glenmore moment for me, one that makes my heart soar, singing the lyrics of Runrigs Hearts of Olden Glory in my head I am thankful for my good fortune of being alive, healthy and being able to do what I’m doing.
photo from Mairi Fox

The colours of Scotland leave you young inside
There must be a place under the sun where hearts of olden glory grow young
Ken and Gillian were doing a brilliant job, every lap I ate a little something, choosing from milkshakes, custard, rice pudding, soup, pasta, and when I wasn’t sure of what I wanted next time they have done my support in big races often enough to know what I needed whether I did or not. The support around race HQ was fantastic, the boys on the wee kick of a hill just before entering the Hayfield, I could hear them shouting “Well done!” every lap and waved back when I eventually spotted them playing in the bushes, or high up a tree and everyone I went by offered encouragement,  I felt a bit guilty not being able to say thank you as I made my way round the field with a mouthful of grub, I hoped a wave of my spoon would do. 

As the evening wore on I pulled on my arm-warmers, peaked Buff and gloves, next lap my head torch, when it was dark, I picked up my iPod, it just goes in one ear so I’m not anti-social, each lap seemed to get colder and I’d add another top, it eventually it took six layers and a wooly hat over my peaked Buff, two Buffs round my neck with one pulled up over my face before I felt I was retaining my body heat. I even asked that all my food and drink be warmed, placing my tubs of custard and rice pudding into a pot of boiling water to take the chill off them. The 12 hour race had finished and Pauline took over support for a bit allowing Gillian and Ken to get a bit of a break before she went for a sleep. The stars were stunning, I’d pause briefly to look upward, the frost was also sparkling, that’s a first for Glenmore, it has been bitterly cold in the past with hailstones and fierce winds but never -5 degrees! No wonder I needed millions of layers and I’m glad my sunglasses are light reactive so I was able to keep them on and protect my face and stop my eyeballs freezing! I was a bit concerned that the batteries in my head-torch, although new, might die in the freezing air, so for peace of mind I carried a spare torch but I’m glad I didn’t need it. 

Pauline and I have been shouting the lyrics of Runrig’s Clash of the Ash at each other since the 24 hour race round the Inches at Perth in 2008 and at Ally when we’ve supported him in his big charity runs, one lap through the night, I came up behind him as he walked with his drink and shouted “COME ON!” Poor bugger, I gave him the fright of his life, he jumped out of his skin and nearly dropped his bottle but he should know by now the correct response is “ALRIGHT!” and not “Ya wee shite!”  

The earlier hours of the morning are the hardest, your body is at it’s lowest ebb but I had a goal to keep my chin up, at the back of 3.00am I went through my 17th lap which also brought my total of Glenmore laps to 200 since the race started and that made me smile, I was with Jenni for bit, she wasn’t going to stop for a sleep this year so we hugged our congratulations on reaching goals.

My 18th lap was my slowest, I did expect to have a dip after the high of the previous lap, although I still ran every step of “the long run” I was walking more, sipping Horlicks from a thermal mug. I yawned and that, for me, triggers the dry boak, so to keep that at bay I was going to have an easier lap and hoped it would pass. 

I was watching the sky for the first signs of dawn, as it lightened, the view of the loch was again fuel for the soul,
photo from Vicki Clark 
the rising sun forgot to bring it’s warmth but my lap times picked up and I was managing to keep my stomach on a fairly even keel. Checking my watch, as long as I just kept moving, staying steady, the 100 miles was on, no heroics needed.  

For the last four hours I couldn’t face any proper food, I had some of Pauline’s ginger beer which burnt the mouth off me but helped my stomach, and flat coke. Eventually I warmed up and peeled off some layers counting down to my final lap. Glad to get it done, but sad that I won’t see the beautiful loop again until next year. 

Into Hayfield and dib my dobber for the 25th time! Yay! 100 miles accomplished!  

Now for a sneaky wee bonus goal, can I get further than the last two years? I’d reached 102 miles in 2017 and 2018 can I squeeze in three miles on the wee laps this year? There was about forty minutes left to go so I had to try. There was no way I could run up that wee basturt hill but I could let gravity work it’s magic on the down, I tried to stomp up the hill, shout my number to Matt and Bill then just let my legs go, arms flapping and concentrate on not crashing into anyone taking the down hill a bit easier, hit the bottom, work my elbows and try to maintain momentum until the far end of the wee lap, catch my breath before the start of the hill , stomp up again… after a few laps I asked Bill “How much longer?” I pushed another wee lap, and another, and another, I asked Bill “How much longer?” Time seemed to have slowed down, I’m sure I can push another lap… it must be about time up!
photo Robert Hill 

Pauline shouted at me to stop! I was just past Noanie’s party tent and hadn’t heard the count down or the hooter! Yay! I leaned forward and poke my marker peg into the ground for my final distance to be measured! 103.36 miles, bonus mission accomplished! 

Pauline walked me back to our tent, happily I managed to stave off the post race spew and faint. I had my camping mattress laid on the grass and for the first time in 24 hours I could stop moving and lie down! I didn’t move for what felt like ages.
photo Donald Macleod
Eventually I dragged myself up to sit, freshened up with a wet wipe round my face, a clean top on and I was a new woman… slight exaggeration, maybe just managing to function, we took our chairs over for the prize-giving, it was wonderful to see so many tired but content faces. Glenmore 24 is such a special event, we are so lucky to have a fantastic bunch of people give up their time so we can run to our hearts content. Thank you all for making this weekend phenomenal.  Magic happens at Glenmore. 

When I add up all my Glenmore races it sounds a bit mad, eight 24 hours races and a very special six hour in 2013, totalling 208 big laps, adding the wee laps I’ve covered  849.64 miles, that means I’ve done 17.64 miles in Benny Hill mode...that really is quite mad! 

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...