Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Second West Highland Way Race - 2004

After last year's race, I was on such a high, which I did not come down from until January 1st when I said, "Training starts today." So with schedule written and mind focused, the months flew in. As June 19th approached I expected the nerve jangling panic attacks to begin but all I felt was the excitement of the impending adventure, I knew what was in front and with that knowledge I was prepared. On the week before the WHW I was driving up to the Isle of Skye. I was having a good look at the path at Tyndrum, Bridge of Orchy and the Devil's Staircase. I felt like a boxer in the ring, eyeballing my opponent, touching gloves and I did not drop my gaze first.
I was well organised and had all my gear sorted by Thursday, so on Friday I could just chill until Simon picked me up at 10.00pm. Wrong! In the morning when I was cleaning my teeth a big lump of a back tooth, which had been giving me a bit of bother lately, came out. A quick ring to my dentist and I was sitting in his surgery, now the nerves have started. But I breathed a sigh of relief when he said, "No problem, just a dressing in it, you'll be fine for the weekend." And "Good Luck."
Back home, I was just starting to settle down when my brother phoned, he wouldn't be able to pick up Erin tomorrow as planned because he'd had a run in with a kamikaze deer and his car was a write-off. Since my car would be un-used all weekend I offered it to him (as long as he didn't hit anything), I drove it out to him and another couple of hours went by before I could chill.
Simon arrived at 9.30pm I was still faffing about but it wasn't long before Pete, Simon and Erin were loading the van with my mountain of gear. Just before we left the phone rang; it was Pauline and Lynne calling from South Africa to wish me luck.
At Milngavie I still didn't have the teeth rattling, gut-wrenching nerves I just wanted to get the adventure started. In registration it was good to meet fellow runners with hugs, handshakes and best wishes for this year's race. Russell looked a tad nervous in the queue to sign the death disclaimer.
At 1.00am there was a quiet "Go" and ninety of us set off into the dark. After a couple of miles I was relaxed and chatting away to Jim Robertson, a WHW veteran, we were running in a group of about eight when the path started to look unfamiliar, Jim confirmed my doubts. We stopped and a first-timer brought out his map, after a bit of "I think we're here" and "Naw, we must be here". We retraced our steps and got back on course. I said to the guy with the map "Thanks for that, I didn't bring one because I know the route" which was met with laughter, then Jim said
"Me neither, I've ran it twelve times." The gales of laughter were probably heard in Fort William. Oh well, you've got to laugh, if you're going to go wrong and add an extra mile or so, it might as well be done on fresh legs. Twenty minutes down already and we've only just started, but on a race of this magnitude I wasn't going to batter up the road to try and make it up.
Dawn arrived and Conic Hill loomed, the path up was very wet, just a river in places, impossible to keep feet dry. Russell and I were still together but at the top the demon descender took off, I didn't even attempt to keep up with him, besides, I'd just taken out my mobile and it was quite dodgy calling Simon, who was waiting for me at Balmaha (20 miles) while bouncing down the steep steps without catching my feet and smashing my face in. Worth the risk, Simon had everything ready, feet checked, dry socks, rice pudding eaten and I was back on the path sipping my coffee within five minutes. Russell soon rejoined me, he'd had a slightly longer stop, we ran a good many miles together but we didn't put any pressure on each other to wait if either of us dropped back, this race is hard enough without prolonging it. We kept each other company along the scary path by Loch Lomond where I nearly came a cropper; my foot slipped and got stuck between two boulders, so there I was, arse in the air, hands in the mud, did Russell rush to my aid? Naw, all I heard from behind me was laughing; I soon joined in, as the theme for this year's race is "Laugh in the Face of Adversity",
The rough twisty, turny path to Inversnaid (34 miles) seemed to take longer than I remembered, I was panicking a bit in case we didn't make the cut off time but we were fine. Picked up my drink bottles and flapjack from the lovely mountain rescue people who helped man the checkpoint. I had a problem with one of my bottles, it tasted soapy, and I didn't risk drinking it so I tipped it out. I wasn't worried about getting de-hydrated going by the amount of pee-stops I'd had. Luckily, no embarrassing moments this year, the closest I came was when I'd just stepped out from a clump of bracken when a horde of scouts came traipsing up the path.
At Inverarnan (40 miles) Russell's support, Laurie, David and Sean, had walked in to meet us with our goodies, more coffee, rice pudding and fresh bottles. Simon went on to the tunnel under the A82. Now around midday, it had warmed up but nothing extreme. Plodded on happily and as we were getting near the tunnel (45 miles) I thought I'd phone Simon to let him know I wouldn't be long, I was still faffing with the phone when I looked up. "Och!" I'll just wave, there he is. Simon has done an excellent job of looking after my feet, with the path being very wet I was changing my socks loads. Simon was drying them out so I always had a new "fresh" pair when I needed them. I changed my shoes for the first time then Russell and I headed off for the roller coaster route through the forest near Crianlarich.
The weather deteriorated a bit, a cool wind and some drizzly showers in our faces as we arrived in Tyndrum (53 miles), there was a shift change in support crew, and Simon had to leave, which was a bit of a surprise for Val and Lesley as originally he planned to continue up to Fort William but he had to pick up Lynne and Pauline from their exploits (also tidy up before Lynne got home). Now with Val and Lesley as the responsible adults in charge I still had a formula one style pit stop. Lesley had taken over the grim task of "foot man", after only eight miles in my second pair of shoes I decided to change back to my first pair, they were just more comfy. In a stop of just twenty minutes I'd eaten my soup, roll and coffee, had my feet checked. Put on my Gore-tex jacket and hat, swapped my sunglasses for the ones with clear lenses, which kept the midges out of my eyes as well as the elements. Anything that helps keep you relaxed and comfy is worth having.
Now with Lesley for company as chief gate opener, we set off for Bridge of Orchy (60 miles), Russell also had fresh recruits in his team, Ken and John have reported for duty. Five blokes to look after Russell and just two "wee wumin" to keep me on track! Now, ladies, no sexist thoughts of how many men does it take to…? I believe they kept Val and Lesley well supplied in coffee etc. and John did a sterling job of sheltering me from the wind on the open path to Bridge of Orchy. At the checkpoint I was issued with a large, hefty orange survival bag. (We were warned at the pre-race briefing that if the weather worsened we would have to carry them.) I handed it to Val and said "Here, YOU'VE to take this." She had to re-organise all the paraphernalia into a larger rucksack while I had my rice pudding and coffee.
The Caledonian Challenge walkers were now coming at us thick and fast but they've got port-a-loos at their big checkpoint near the Inveroran Hotel, as Val and I made a bee-line for them one of their marshals shouted over. "Hang on, I'll need to check you in." Harrumph! Take me for a walker.
"Naw! I'm running the whole way!" was my stroppy reply.
"Err… ok, just leave your ten pence on the way out." was his retort.
On the long haul up Rannoch Moor was where the wee wumin came into her own. Val took on the persona of Jonah Lumo, with rugby ball protectively tucked under one arm (me) and the other hand out steamrolling up the path with the opposition going down like skittles in her wake. Her technique (take note future Rannoch Moor minders) was to run at my side, then as the walkers approached, step in front of me claiming the easiest passage. We only had to give way a couple of times, once, when a big bloke just wasn't watching where he was going and also when a woman came stomping down the track with her poles under her arms, she probably thought they were tucked in neat like a down-hill skier but they were actually splayed out like a Boeing 747, not wanting to lose an eye, we gave her a wide berth.
I vaguely knew earlier in the day I was down on last year's time but knowing my feet were in good condition, considering the mileage, they wouldn't give me as much pain and I was still moving well I would pull it back. I wasn't looking forward to stopping at Kingshouse (72 miles) remembering how horrible I felt last year, getting the shakes and how sore it was to get going again. But thankfully it wasn't that bad, I was still fairly lucid, no shakes, I only took twenty minutes to have my pasta and coffee, Lesley treated my feet and I put on my waterproof trousers and walking shoes, protection now being a priority. Russell arrived around fifteen, twenty minutes behind me, looking cold and tired but I had every confidence in him finishing, he's not a quitter. Before Lesley and I headed off for the Devil's Staircase I nipped into the loo at the hotel, a real one, with hot running water and … a mirror above the sink. Oooowwh! Why did I look?
I was pleased with the way I was moving, nice long strides except when Lesley and I were negotiating a squelchy bit, not being as sprightly as usual my arms wind-milled and I fell backwards, flattening my rolls in my bum bag, I was surprised by the strength of this wee wumin as she hauled my nine stone carcass back up with just one hand. Just at the bottom of the Devil, we heard a group of runners behind us, moving fast. It's Russell and minders, they passed us and were never to be seen again, I believe he gave his support problems as they struggled to keep with him, (Don't know what he had in his rolls but I want some for next year!) Lesley and I made good time up to the cairn; it took us only thirty-five minutes, (on a training run we did it in thirty). At the top I celebrated with my chicken roll, but I think I ate it too quick, on the steep path down I started to feel sick, my quads were sore, they were about as supple as a house brick and we now needed our torches, I'm sure there wasn't this many boulders last time, the long descent knocked the stuffing out of me, but I still managed to hang on to my roll.
At Kinlochleven (81 miles) I had a longer stop than planned, drank some plain water, but couldn't face another roll. Lesley spent some time taping my feet, there wasn't much to see, but those crafty goblins on the Devil must have chucked some hot ash in my shoes. Eventually Val and I were off on the last section, we had a good pace climbing out of Kinlochleven, passing another runner, I couldn't have stayed with him for long "Whinge, whinge, I'm never doing this again! Moan Moan." Typical man! I wasn't letting his negative vibes get to me. The sky slowly lightened and we could see the whole long path of Lairigmor stretching for miles, I was struggling, my feet and quads have had enough, it was hard to keep my head up, but Val's verbal cattle prod was switched on to full strength, it didn't take forever to reach the trees, it only felt like it did. I asked Val if I was close to last year's time. I was informed I had two hours to cover the last six miles. If it's that close I'm sure I could better it, so with ninety miles in my legs I started to race, pumping my arms, the legs began to follow, I warmed up, the legs loosened, Val was lobbed my rain-jacket. I was back running the downs and flats, and on the ups I had hands on thighs stomping up, lungs going like bellows, there was a word of caution from Val "You don't have to work so hard" which I ignored, I was passing other runners, once on to the long descent of the forest track I lengthened my stride, surprising myself how well I was moving, I threw Val my fleece, if I could've removed the water-proof breeks Full Monty style without breaking stride Val would've had them too. I didn't want to carry any more extra weight so I took a last mouthful of juice and emptied my bottles onto the track. Lesley was waiting at the Braveheart car park to take the heavy rucksack from Val, I didn't need my bum bag any more, and Lesley had to dodge as I threw it at her. Val stopped to get rid of her burden. I hit the road, exactly one mile to the finish. Head up, arms pumping, I was sprinting it in. Then emotion took over, I tried to stifle a sob, I shouted out loud "Get a grip!" come on, you can't sprint if you're crying. I scolded myself. The emotional metronome swung over and I had a big daft grin on my face. I could see the Leisure Centre. Across the car park, could I take the three steps in a one-er? Battered the door off its hinges, arms above my head with an ecstatic whoop. I had finished. A young girl, on her own behind the desk, blinked and asked me my race number. No cheering crowds or a brass band to acknowledge your finish but it's not necessary. I know what I have achieved.
31.08.18 hours, over half an hour faster than last year, not bad considering I was about an hour and a half down at Tyndrum. Val and I went off for a shower then met Lesley and Russell for breakfast, (his crew are unconscious in the car) he finished in 28.32.50, and he'll have to go some next year to beat that!
Now for the Oscar style thank you. If it wasn't for Simon, Val, Lesley and Russell's crew this adventure wouldn't have been possible, I managed to put one foot in front of the other, you lot did the hard work!
Thank You So Much
Same time, next year?
A wee word of warning to future back up crews. That's where Russell and I started.

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