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.
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, aw...it’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!