Tuesday, 30 June 2015

West Highland Way 2015 - 95 miles of smiles

Wow, just wow! It’s now just over a week since the race and I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling yet!  2015 is definitely one of the best!

My support team, Pauline, Ken and Sue from the start and Gillian joining from half way are experts, I had no concerns there.  I took all my adventure supplies to Ken and Sue’s on Thursday so Ken could do the Tetris thing loading the car so that meant on Friday I didn’t tinker with it, which is what I’ve be apt to do in the past, so Friday was just a loooong wait until I was picked up at 9.30pm, I filled the time with a bit of telly, facebook, doing my race manicure, a lovely sparkly pink, a bit of a snooze and a long shower, knowing the next one would be Sunday morning.

We were in Milngavie at the back of 10.30pm. Let the hug-a-thon begin! This family is fantastic, amidst all the love and good wishes the process of registering, picking up my hospital bracelet, goody bag, crew goodies, and being weighed was a slick procedure. Then back to the car to sit and chill until the Ian and Sean’s race briefing at 12.30am, but I’m afraid I wasn’t close enough to hear, I hoped there wasn’t any last minute changes from what I’d read in my email and on the website. Then my crew took off to get a good spot in the High Street to cheer everyone on their way.  

Standing in front of the tunnel moments before the start, the atmosphere was electric and tangible, I loved it. 

The countdown started 10, 9, 8…3, 2, 1, the hooter sounded.  “WOOOOHOOOO!”  I couldn’t hold my excitement in, we’re off.  Al was playing his bongos just past the tunnel. Brilliant! George was just up from the steps so I veered off for my first hug in the race, then it was all excited shouts and waves until we turned off the High Street and down to Mugdock, head torch on and watch my feet.
photo from Greg Beattie
There were wee bits of chatter but most folk were quietly concentrating, the light drizzle caught in the head torch made it a bit harder to see where to place your feet safely, it felt slightly frantic, but there was no pushing or shoving, just busy, it would only take a moment’s lapse and it could be race over. It took a wee while before it settled a bit, I didn’t feel easy until I was through the path of a thousand gates, once on the road I usually take off my head torch but it was still very dark, I kept it on until after Drymen. The drizzle came and went and the breeze was quite cool going up through Garadhban so I put on my peaked Buff and gloves also my arm warmers for an extra layer over my long sleeved top.  The wind surprisingly wasn’t too bad at all on Conic Hill, I felt for the Scouts who’d got out of bed in the middle of the night for their mid-summer sunrise hike just to see it be not so dark!  Not a glimmer of sunshine or the stunning view appeared.

Once on the descent into Balmaha I called my crew, get the kettle on, porridge and a cup of tea please, also I was going to change my shoes, I could feel my right pinkie toe a little hot and the balls of my feet could’ve been a bit comfier, I think I had my laces a bit looser than usual and my feet were moving about in my shoes too much, it was on my plan to change at Rowardennan, but I would rather pre-emt any foot problems and the shoes I was changing to were nice and new, although I’d only run in them three times with not a blister or a bruised toe nail.  I knew they’d be fine, I had covered 100 miles in them, a 20 miler, a 30 miler and the Fling. My formula one team sprang into action, I sat in my chair scooping back my porridge doused in honey, it took all my self-control not to squirm and kick Pauline in the chops when she flossed between my toes with a wet wipe!

Pauline walked with me until I finished my porridge and mug of tea. New feet, fed and watered, 20 miles done, I’ve always felt that it’s Balmaha where I’ve settled into my groove, relaxed and ready to enjoy the adventure, and the section to Rowardennen is always a favourite, this year was no different and for most of it I had the company of David Etchells, David Searil and Stuart Macfarlane.  David S mentioned that since I’d done 10 WHW races already I’ve covered 950 miles in the race and later today I’d clock 1000 miles. Eh? What? Err…yeah… so I will! Quick do some sums where will it be?  It didn’t take much to work out that Auchtertyre, around 50 miles into the race would mark the point. Brilliant, now that was something really bonkers to look forward to when I get there!

At Rowardennan, I went straight through just eating some rice pudding, also saying to my crew to try and catch Neil MacRitche and Ian Rae, in case they hadn’t realised that they will also be clocking the 1000 miles too.

After the long slog of a climb after Rowardennan, I felt a wee bit wabbit and my quads were feeling it too, but I didn’t worry, I just relaxed, kept it easy, looking forward to the next part.  I knew I would perk up, loving the flow of the ups and downs of the Loch side, I think the constant change of stride with little runs, walks and stepping round and over boulders give the running legs a rest. I took it very easy on the technical stuff, the rocks were wet, slippy and a little muddy in places, I’d rather finish half an hour slower than not at all, for me it’s not worth the stress or risk of trying to maintain any kind of pace. Mind you, I’d love to see how Paul Giblin scampers along the Loch side!

At Inversnaid I only pausing long enough to pick up my drop-bag with one solitary item in it, a squeezy pouch filled with custard and kept moving. I enjoyed having Audrey and David S for company for a lot of the loch side, we’d come together or separate, all running our own pace, loving the easy flow of conversation when it happened. They were both a good few hundred yards ahead of me on the climb up to Dario’s post, I’m not sure if either of them had met the race Daddy but it put a smile in my heart to watch them both pause for a few moments with him, they had moved on once I was there, Dario always gets the first nip from my hip flask, it’s the Isle of Jura from my 10 Finishes Decanter, I think he’ll approve.

Heading towards Beinglas, I caught up with Minty. Ooyah, I winced just watching him, he couldn’t place his foot properly and was hirpling slowly along, he’d gone over on his ankle more than once and I could see he was in severe pain with it. I asked if he needed help into the checkpoint but I really quite relieved when he said he’d manage on his own, he’s a big lad and the heaviest thing I lift is a pint!  I was sad to see it was game over for him… BUT I was so surprised and pleased to see him at the prize giving collect his Goblet, after some clever taping and sheer determination. “Hat’s off to you sir, fantastic effort!”

I had primed my team when I left Rowardennan that I’d have a sock change at Beinglas but I changed my mind, my feet were feeling fine and I thought it would be more fitting to sit down for my 1000 mile service at Auchtertyre so I went straight through, my guys had my rice pudding and mug of tea ready and walked with me while I had them.

I had a wee reminisce along the path to Derrydarroch, remembering how I’d felt here on previous races, I was pleased this was a good one, no problems, legs feeling strong and supple, no stomach issues, just cruising comfortably along revelling in pleasure of just being here and being able to do it.  

As I approached the tunnel that goes under the A82, a couple were standing waiting at the stile for their runner, “Uh-oh! That’s naughty!” I thought, support teams aren’t allowed here for safety reasons. When I got closer, I was relieved to see it wasn’t any particular runners support, just everyone’s support!  Jim Robertson, owner of 12 Goblets, had been popping up all over offering goodies and water from his cool box.

I took it gently along Coo Poo Alley, it wasn’t too wet and you could pick your way through, but there are a lot of sticky up stones that can catch you out, a gobful of coo keech was not in my race plan! Neither was it on Audrey’s!  I’d just gone through the fence and was heading up the hill to the rollercoaster when she shouted up to me, asking if I had anything to clean the mouth-piece of her drinks bladder, she had taken a wee tumble on Coo Poo Alley and hadn’t had a drink since and didn’t want one either until she made sure it was clean. Glad I had some anti-septic wet wipes she could have.

I entered the trees with my arms above my head shouting “Woohoo!” well, it was the rollercoaster. I stayed with Audrey for a wee while then I took myself off the path a few paces into the forest facilities for a comfort break.  Oh the joys of meeting a friendly Labrador when your drawers are round your ankles! I stayed crouched where I was as the owners went by hoping they didn’t see me, highly un-likely wearing a Carnegie Harriers vest but they were polite and pretended they didn’t. (To add insult to injury on Sunday I felt a few midgie bites on my bahooky, bet I got them skulking here) Ok, drawers up, head up and move on, rollercoasters are meant to give you an unexpected “surprise”. 

I waited impatiently for probably not as long as it felt to cross the road, and then made fine progress up the road and along to Auchtertyre.  Val and Allan had arrived to support Paul and had brought Gillian, but sadly she was too injured to run but I’m sure having another pair of hands on the team with a fresh head after a night’s sleep would lighten the load.  After being weighed I was sat down and given a certificate aka a big bit paper with a 1000 WHW miles scribbled on it for a photo shoot (which will now be kept with my old WHW race certificates) 

I was then handed my tub of instant mashed tattie,  (Asda’s broccoli and stilton snack pot, quite tasty for plastic food) I was quite happy to sit and take a few moments to savour my achievement, (as well as my mash),  it’s not every day I get to run 1000 miles in the one race, even if it’s taken me thirteen years to do it!  Pauline and Sue did my feet,  Pauline took delight in flossing between my toes with a wet wipe only because she knows it makes me squirm then put my socks on… “Err, they’re not the ones I want, they’re the old ones out of the zip lock bag marked Spare Socks, only to be used if I’d had on my newer ones, same make but fluffier and softer!”  Pauline went off in search of my fluffy socks but couldn’t find them. Hmmm, my bottom lip stuck out in puzzlement, I knew they were there; I pack my stuff expertly marked, with no reason for them not to be found.  “Ok, I’ll stick with these ones then!”  I said with pretend petulance, I was having far too much fun to do a proper diva strop.  Finished my tatties as I walked out of the checkpoint, waved cheerio and off I scampered to Tyndrum,

I was crossing the road at Brodies Store and there was no sign of my crew, I’d been told I was within minutes of my 2012 splits all the way so far and I don’t think I’d put a spurt on, must have been them faffing about at the Green Welly, George was standing over the road, I’ll ask him to tell my crew just to catch me up when they arrive. Ah, no need, there’s Sue and Pauline, hoofing it over bridge from the Green Welly waving to me.  Ken was coming with me to Bridge of Orchy but there was no sign of him, I didn’t doubt he’d catch up, and sure enough, he did before I was up the rise from Tyndrum.  Also they had good news for me, not only had I reached Auchtertyre before Paul finished, I’d left Auchtertyre before he finished. Go me! (Oh and very well done to you too Paul, another new course record, 14.14.44 hrs.) 

Ken and I had a lovely trot along to Bridge of Orchy, the sun was blinking through the clouds, it was warm and I continued to move well, I just happened to bring Glenmore 24 into the conversation and what was he doing 5th and 6th September, gotta round up support when they’re having fun!  I kept looking up to hills above Bridge of Orchy, Murdo was up there with his Saltire and had mentioned he could see runners heading into the checkpoint, Ken and I were trying to work out which rise was jelly-baby hill, we thought we knew which one it was so I gave a big wave, I also remembered where I’d packed my fluffy socks.  In the zip-lock bag marked Glencoe. Doh!

Laura was in charge of the checkpoint, Sean had moved on, his loss, Laura had his wee nip from my hip-flask.
Although the weather was lovely now we were to carry full body waterproofs, fine by me, I’ve seen how quickly the weather can change on the WHW. I’d been looking forward to this checkpoint for a long time… I held my thermal mug with both hand, stuck my nose in and savoured the aroma before I had a sip, it was worth the wait, the magical properties of a coffee after a month’s abstinence and a night with no sleep plus 60 miles in is not to be underestimated.

I now had Sue with me for Rannoch Moor, and we headed up the hill at a fine stride, what a lovely sight at jelly-baby hill Murdo had a big smiley face flag beside his Saltire and Peter had joined him playing his whistle. Fantastic!  I was engrossed in the hugs, music and photos I forgot to have a jelly-baby! Any chance of having two next year, Murdo? 

The views down to Inverorran, Loch Tulla and the hills with the sun sending beams through the clouds were stunning, another glad to be here moment, the photos don’t do it justice.  

It’s a long slog up Rannoch Moor and quite runnable with fresh legs although my legs felt great they weren’t fresh so I didn’t want to work hard on any of the long pulls, Sue and I mixed up the running with walking keeping an even effort and steadily hauled it into Glencoe.

We arrived at 8.57pm, (consistent should be my middle name, in 2012 it was at 8.55pm) it was getting cooler, I’d already put my gloves and arm warmers back on and it was time to gear up from the zip-lock bag marked Glencoe, it contained another pair of tights to put on over the ones I was wearing, the blue fleece that I’ve worn from this point every WHW race since 2007…and my fluffy socks.  “Aren’t you glad you’ve got the nice cushiony ones now!” Pauline said while flossing my toes again and mushing Body Glide into the wee blister on the side of my big toe.  

Ken was ready to escort me to Altnafeadh and we walked down the tarmac as I polished off my cheesy pasta. At Kingshouse I deviated from the Way slightly, well, these guys are too cute!

At Altnafeadh, Pauline swapped with Ken to see me over the Devil’s Staircase and into Fort William, we marched up at a good pace, the light was starting to fade but head torches weren’t needed yet, it was a wee goal to get round to the top of the descent into Kinlochleven before putting them on. My legs felt great and I was able to place my feet exactly where I wanted and remembering how I’d felt in previous years made moving so well a bonus, in my first WHW, my feet were a blistered mess, my second WHW my feet were fine but I had concrete quad syndrome. We were racing the light, it’s a tricky section and easier to pick a path through the boulders if you can see further than the limits of a torch, but after going past a couple wearing theirs we ended up putting our torches on, we weren’t too far from heading down into Kinlochleven. Also another reason to get to KLL fast was that I’d get Sue’s company for the rest of the way too and having someone else to talk to might stop Pauline singing, it was bloody awful!  Pauline would never make it on the X  Factor but it wasn’t just her voice but the bleeding song! 999 green bottles hanging on the wall! I knew if I complained she’d see it as a success in rousing a response, it’s a fine technique if you’re leading the walking dead, to annoy the hell out of them to keep them awake but I was having a great day, the only way I could think of to shut her up was to sing myself. “Hey now boys there’s something not right. Did anyone see Willie at the dance last night?”  Hoping my rendition of Clash of the Ash would throw her off her song; she joined in but afterwards went back to flaming green bottles. Lucky for me my legs were in great shape for cruising down to the checkpoint.

Through the door into the Community Centre and I’m greeted with lovely hugs from Julie and Sarah before they weighed me, then over to my crew, they had my chicken soup ready, ow, ow it was too hot but soon sorted it with a splash of milk, I was having a couple of paracetamol, but with having trouble swallowing tablets they have to be soluble ones and taste awful, Gillian was laughing at my gold medallist gurning, I took the taste away with a wee cup of coffee before walking up the road with my soup, then it dawned on me I hadn’t dibbed my dobber, not to worry, I’m sure Sarah and Julie will vouch for me.

Right, the last long climb, it’s a cracker but I was so pleased with how I felt, yeah, I was hurting, can’t expect anything less after eighty odd miles but my legs moved with strength and suppleness, I didn’t have to fight for a single step, my stomach was fine and my head clear. Once up on the Lairig Mor, it started drizzling, it wasn’t long before it was fairly heavy with a cold wind too. I got my waterproofs on, slight problem was it wasn’t my big rain jacket, it didn’t have a hood and the sleeves didn’t come down over my hands, even with gloves my hands were cold and so were my shoulders, at least one of the two Buffs on my bonce had a peak and the three layers on my legs kept them warm and moving fluidly. The sooner I got to Lundavra the sooner I could get my big jacket, ok, let’s get a shift on.  Now it was Sue’s turn to sing, most impressed it was in Hebrew and not for as long as Pauline, when Ken was with me on our way to Bridge of Orchy he had a wee sing too, now I’m not ungrateful and I’ve always thought it sacrilegious to plug in an iPod on the WHW but sorry guys, next year I might!

We went through Jeff’s flags and torches but he wasn’t there, that’s not good, someone must have needed evacuated.  The sky slowly lightened and Pauline scooted off to Lundavra, with my requests, swap my jacket for the big one with a down jacket underneath, dry gloves, dry cap with woolly one over the top and a big mug of the coffee and hot chocolate combo. My hands soon warmed and I revelled in how good I felt with a fair bit of amazement, this bit is supposed to be purgatory, I was moving well with the terrain, running all the downs and flats and marching up the climbs, not once did I have to fight, I cruised along without the perception of effort.  Pauline mentioned the time and asked how hard I was willing to push to the finish, maybe if it was going to be a PB I would give it some welly but I have had a wonderful run and wasn’t going to spoil it but running like a rabid dog for the sake of a few minutes. She did laugh, once on the fire road and I picked it up a bit. Well, as much as I’ve loved every minute I didn’t want to prolong it either. 

The glory mile from Braveheart, head up and stay relaxed and let the enormity of what I’m doing sink in. I have been so lucky. I took the racing line at the roundabout with no traffic to hinder me, Leisure Centre in sight, round the cones in the carpark up the steps and BANG! Oh, that was a wee bit harder than I intended! 
photo from Ken
(Pauline later said she was impressed with reverberation of the glass in the Leisure Centre door, quality safety glass then!) I turned from the door, Alan had the doofer and I dibbed my chip for the final time. 29 hours 21 minutes 04 seconds. Of my eleven finishes it is in at number four and one of the most enjoyable. I’m the first woman in the history of the race to go over ten finishes and one of only eight to have done eleven or more and as long as I remain upright and breathing I have no intention of stopping!  

Sean was at the finish and I was able to give him his wee dram after all, it’s a dinky wee hip-flask but held enough for a few celebratory sips.

I removed loads of layers to get something close to an accurate final weigh in which was followed a cup of tea, a shower and a lie down.  We went for breakfast at Nevisport and I showed off my ability to do stairs, obviously hadn’t been stop long enough for DOMS to set in. 

The prize-giving is a very slick affair, it, with 155 finishers it has to be but no one was rushed and everyone had their well-deserved moment of glory, I reminisced a bit and wondered how long the prize giving would’ve taken if Dario was still here giving a wee anecdote for every finisher.

Behind every goblet awarded there is a cast of thousands to be thanked, without the selfless time given up by the race committee, marshals, medics, helpers, support crews, the dreams would never be realised.  Thank you so much for being there for me, I’ll never forget the support this family gives through hard times and good times and the best way to celebrate life is to keep running. See you again next year.


Ali said...

I rarely read a long post but there's something very engaging about your run reports, Fiona. You were anointed one of my heros of the week on Kingdom FM during your race. It's a crazy, impressive thing that you continue to do which inspires so many both in and outside the running community.

Long may you continue to do it!

Amanda said...

Another great run and what an achievement on so many counts. I've said it before and no doubt will again, you're an amazing lady and a huge inspiration! Never give up!! X

Anonymous said...

Well done once again Fiona. A great run and report. See you at checkpoint 6 on Saturday.

Helen said...

sounds like you had a great day at the races :-) You truly are an inspiration! Look forward to seeing you this weekend xx

Unknown said...

Another great run and brilliant blog ..... Go u x

John Cassidy said...

Fantastic read and a fantastic achievement, thanks for sharing.

And...well done Fiona!

Chris said...

A great read. Inspirational

Liz Moffat said...

Amazing lady, what an inspiration you are Fiona. Puts my moans and niggles into perspective. Yes! You're right running is fun! Keep up the great effort!

Fiona Rennie said...

facebook comments

Clark Hamilton - Great read - and never a dull moment! That Labrador is now having therapy!

Donna Macpherson - Brilliant report as always!

Helen Brown - I thoroughly enjoyed reading that Fiona!! Great humour too! Amazing stuff

Joanna Murphy - Great race report as always Fiona. X

Jacqueline MacIntyre - Extremely inspirational read, well done Fiona