Monday, 21 April 2014

Ally K Runs Skye

I can’t remember when I first heard that Ally was planning to run round Skye but Pauline and I had decided that it would be lovely to go up and do a bit of running with him, especially through the night, that’s a tough time, you’re at your lowest ebb and it’s good to have company and we thought he probably wouldn’t have many others daft enough to volunteer for the graveyard shift.  After speaking to Ally at the WHW training weekend at the beginning of February he was happy for us join his support crew, so we arranged to have Friday off work and we would head up in the morning.

9.00am, we left Dunfermline in bright blue skies, as we drove up the road the clouds were slowly building and there were a few showers, Ally was starting in Armadale at 10.00am, hopefully his weather would hold for a bit longer, rain was forecast for the evening but it looked like it was arriving earlier. 
from Ally K Runs Skye facebook page
Checking Ally’s schedule we would find him somewhere between Broadford and Sligachan, sure enough just before Luib, there was no missing him, with two support vans with hazard lights flashing and “caution runner” signs plastered over them, they had planned a quick stop at Luib so we drove on and pulled over until they arrived, as we sat waiting in the car there was a young lad loitering, he was wearing shorts and a rain jacket,  Pauline went over to ask if he was waiting for Ally and would he like to come and sit in our car?  Probably against all the words of warning from his mother about getting into a car with strangers he was persuaded to join us while he waited, he was going to run a long stint and better to keep out of the rain for as long as possible.  It wasn’t long until Ally arrived.   In the lead van, the support crew was Hugh, Thomas and Neil. Andy and Karen were in the tail van, we also met Donna (Mrs Ally) and we were hugged by Ally’s Mum; she gave us her address where we were staying on Saturday night. 

So after a quick pit stop Ally was on his way and we drove on up to his parent’s house in Portree where we left the car, got changed into running/supporting clothes and had a large pot of tea and a fair go at the spread Ally’s Mum had laid out for us then Ally’s dad took us to Sligachan to join the support. There was a fair crowd, and a piper playing, Pauline joined in the running here, I did the easy job of sitting in a warm dry van taking the odd photo through the windscreen.  I didn’t feel guilty; I was saving myself for the night shift!
Hugh (young lad we enticed into the car), Ally and Pauline 
The rain was constant and heavy with no promise of it stopping any time soon, but it didn’t dampen the amazing support Ally received, there were banners tied to fences, draped over cars, people waiting in the rain to cheer him on and to donate a few pounds, a car pulled up beside us, the lady wound down her window and said “I’ve donated online but here’s another tenner.” 

Ally reached Dunvegan around 10.30pm, having covered over fifty miles maintaining a good steady pace despite the atrocious weather.  After being checked over by the doctor, had something to eat and his feet sorted he was good to go. Pauline and I swapped over, I was keeping him company now until morning but he also had a great bunch of runners for company too, Andy had ran a few miles with him at the beginning  and was doing some more now as well, it wasn’t going to be a lonely night. 

In all my years of running and supporting ultra I’m struggling to remember conditions as tough as this night. In 1998, going over the Devil’s Staircase during the night, supporting Pauline in the West Highland Way race was as wet but the thunder and forked lighting was a bit scary, in 2010, going through the night over bog and heather with Sue during her Heart of Scotland 100 was torrential too, running the West Highland Way race in 2012 was another soggy one but none of these events had the fierce gale-force wind that knocked you off your feet and blasted the rain sideways, stinging any exposed skin like bullets! 
Pauline sticking the camera out of the window
photo from Anne Morrison Beaton
At one point in the wee small hours when there was no other traffic on the road and the weather was blasting us from the right Karen drove the van on the wrong side of the road while we ran alongside, it was a brief respite from the wind for a short time, Ally was concerned for our welfare in this weather, I wanted to shout “For God sake, be a Diva! Don’t waste your energy on us! We can have a break whenever we want!”  I’ve seen quite a few and thrown the odd diva strop myself but I don’t think it’s in Ally’s nature to do the selfish thing, so I just told him firmly "Don't worry, we're fine!"

It must have been psychologically tough for Ally coming into Portree for the first time at around 5.00am, practically running by his front door and still having a long way to go. We had a wee stop in the Square.  I enjoyed the warmth from hugging a paper cup of coffee in the luxury of the bus shelter.  

We were soon back out and heading up to Staffin, at least the wind was on our backs now and was blowing us up the hill, the road was just a river, I scrunched my toes to wring some water from my squidgy socks and shoes. I felt freezing cold after the wee stop and my right jaw aches in the cold, I tried to keep it loose and not to clench it.  I think I was a proper surrogate Mum asking Ally, “Are you warm enough? Do you want another top on? Don’t let yourself get cold!”  

The dawn was slow in coming but the sky slowly lightened, Alistair arrived with hot bacon rolls, I did manage to eat nearly half of one before I broke it up and fed it to the birds. I was a bit concerned that I hadn’t eaten enough but I’d be stopping soon and I could refuel then, I had covered 34 miles through the night and it was time for a wee rest.  Pauline had been back in the group for a while so I was happy to have a break. 

The clouds were breaking up and there were wee patches of blue in the sky, the rain had finally stopped after falling constantly for around seventeen hours, the wind never dropped but at times wasn’t so fierce.  

Pauline stuck her head into the van and said to get the bells out Ally was just about to go through 100 miles, a major mile stone, he had never ran further than 84 miles before. I’d had a rest and my porridge so re-joined the group of support runners, it was brilliant that folk had managed to come along and do a bit of running, some went away only to come back and do some more, one lady I spoke to was doing her own challenge of running 5x50 which is 5km a day for 50 days in a row and she felt it a privilege to be able to do her 5km supporting Ally.

I had a bit of a giggle to myself at Staffin when Eilidh was filming a close up of Thomas giving Ally’s legs a going over, actually I think I pointed, laughed out loud and took a photo  myself, the cruel soul that I am, I’m sure the torture would’ve refreshed his legs for a bit!  

Ally is doing this Cancer Research and there isn’t anyone who hasn’t been affected by cancer, it was this time last year I was a couple of weeks post-surgery and just starting chemo and radiotherapy, some side effects are permanent but I can LIVE with them, my speech is far from perfect but I’m generally understood, and I'm still re-building my strength.  If it wasn’t for the funds raised for research, and progress in cancer treatment I don’t like to think where I might be.

The wind was even stronger as we headed north and round the top of the island, it was hard work trying to stop myself being blowing into the ditch when it gusted, I wasn’t much of a wind break but at least I could set the pace and I knew Ally was following my feet.   Every time I turned and looked over my shoulder the emotion rose into my throat, he was in a lot of pain but he was still smiling, I felt his effort personally, Ally was doing this for me and I would work my socks off doing anything I could to help, it took all my strength and every ounce of my seven stone ten to stomp up the hill keeping the steady pace into the gale, I fought back the tears and managed to put a wicked grin on when I turned and shouted “Come on, keep up!”  After working so hard on my second shift of only just over 12 miles, going from a mile or so out of Staffin to a mile or so before Uig, but I was done in and couldn’t keep the pace any longer, it was time to swap with Pauline again, where she keep him company all the way to the end, it was a nice thought that between us we’d manage to cover the whole way from Sligachan,our support was only a small cog in Team Ally  

The overwhelming support of the Skye community fuelled him throughout, from the pipers, banners on fences and cheers from folk coming out of their houses, parked in lay-bys, even a jar of coins left of a fence post, and the donations dropped into buckets on the day/s reached over £4500, Hugh was checking updates on his Just Giving page, and kept Ally informed it was over double the target!

Watching the final miles from the van I could see the effort show in Ally’s shoulders, his comfort zone was left many miles and hours ago, but he was still moving well. The support group grew, Donna was at his side, the Boot Camp girls joined him, they sang and cheered, I laughed later when Pauline said that the smell of freshly washed hair and cleanliness was strong, although I doubt the troops that had been there from the start and overnight would've be too whiffy after all that rain!

As we approached Portree the tail van was no longer needed for his safety, Ally’s Guard of Honour had swelled to around forty, so Andy, Karen and I drove on to the Square.  My mouth hung open, the Pipe Band was playing and I think there were nearly a thousand people lining the streets waiting for Ally.  I left my cowbell in the van; it wouldn’t have been heard and I can scream louder. 

Gordon Willoughby Photography
Despite his pain and fatigue Ally sprinted into the Square to the finishing tape held by his children, and into the arms of his proud parents. 
Gordon Willoughby Photography

Gordon Willoughby Photography

Gordon Willoughby Photography

The funds raised for Cancer Research will help carry on the work that has made a difference to my life and many others.  Ally’s Just Giving page is sitting at £29,780 as I write, well over three times his initial target, it also proves how well thought of he is.

It was pleasure and a privilege to be there, there were a lot of laughs and a fair bit of ribbing, but what happens on Skye stays on Skye!  I shall always cherish my memories of an amazing weekend.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Loch Katrine Marathon

I was pleasantly surprised when the alarm went off at 5.30am that it wasn’t totally dark, I haven’t seen this time in the morning for ages. After a big bowl of porridge and a big mug of coffee, I was ready to go.  Sue picked up Morna and then me, and we arrived in time for a pot of tea before the start, very civilised for pre-race preparation. It was lovely to have a wee catch up with folk I haven’t seen in ages, especially Ellen; we compared notes on returning to running.  Yep, we both agreed that the fatigue from chemo and radiotherapy is a bit of a pace killer, but we are on our way back.   

It was a stunning day although a bit of an icy cold wind, the snow topped hills were sparkling in the brilliant sunshine. I was looking forward to running somewhere new to me. My race plan was to have a quality training run, I still felt heavy legged from the Great Glen runs nearly a fortnight ago. My goals were to be quicker than my Loch Ness Marathon in September, and, if possible, to run it all. My quads still need building up and hill work is the way to do it and from what I’d heard about the course, this was place to do it!  I was also carrying my camera, I didn’t plan on stopping to frame photos but the scenery was too gorgeous not to try and capture it even if it was just a point and click on the hoof.

After a photo and a short race briefing from Audrey we were off.

I love an out and back course, it’s great to see and say Hi to everyone face to face, I tried to photograph everyone (all my photos here) but since I was shooting from the hip, I ended up with quite a few fuzzy ones, some tarmac and close up nostril selfie!  I got a better selfie with Sue near the turn.

On the way out I wasn’t confident of being able to run all the hills, especially when I saw the one at around six miles, it would be climbed again at twenty miles!  

I maintained a steady plod and didn’t stop at all except to hug a few marshals and to pee (I’m blaming that pot of tea) also a quick pause for a photo shoot-out with Lorna near the turn. 

I got this cracker pointing my camera over my shoulder earlier

But more importantly was the way I felt.  I was comfortable the whole way, maybe because I remember how empty and exhausted I was at Loch Ness, I felt as if I eased myself round, not fighting the cold wind or the terrain, on the hills I told myself I could go as slow as I liked as long as I didn’t walk, and shuffled my way up.  I had a wee cheer to myself seeing this sign on the hill at twenty miles. 
Mission accomplished, no walking! 

I finished with a big daft grin which I think was on my face all the whole way round. I was also thirty-three minutes quicker than Loch Ness, a great confidence boost in my recovery and another step towards my goal in June.
photo from Running Gannet

Loch Katrine is a small no frills running festival organised by Audrey for the first time last year as a one off fund raiser incorporating a 10k, a half marathon and marathon and after its success she was persuaded to put it on again this year.  I'm so glad she did, I've just found my new favourite marathon. Now don't tell anyone about it, it's our secret, 'cause when the entries open next year, there's going to be a stampede! 
You can follow Audrey's Adventures and find details of Loch Katrine Running Festival here

Friday, 14 March 2014

A Recce in the Snecky

Pauline is doing the Great Glen Ultra in July this year and wants to cover most of it before hand. I’m happy to go along with that and it’s lovely to go and run somewhere new.  So plans were made and perfect weather booked.

We drove up to Inverness Sunday afternoon. We did budget hostel instead of our usual B&B we stay in for the Loch Ness Marathon since it’s just training, only slight problem, they have no car park but for the princely sum of £3 for twenty-four hours we left the car in the car park above the Market Brae Steps which wasn’t too far away.  We then wandered down to the Bus Station to buy our tickets for the following morning, and it was lovely to have a wee blether with Robert Kinnaird who had ran the Half Marathon in the morning before he headed home on the train.  Then back to the hostel for some pasta, we pushed the boat out and had a couple of pints in the pub before heading to bed.

Breakfast on Monday morning was porridge at a civilised hour then we headed for the 8.45am Fort William bus with a wee detour to the car park to pay for the parking.  The bus driver took the ticket from Pauline and said “The Youth Hostel, are you sure? There’s nothing there.” Then he looked at us dressed in tights with back packs and stated the obvious, “Ah, you’re runners!”  Glad he didn’t just think we had a lycra fetish!  I asked him to give us a shout when we got there, I didn’t want to miss the stop, the run was going to be around twenty seven/twenty eight miles and that was long enough!

Once we got off the bus, there was no obvious sign to the Great Glen Way but it wasn’t hard to find, with the loch at our backs, we walked towards a house over the road with a track leading up, and tad-ah, a blue marker post! Yaay! Now just a wee run back to Inverness! 

The weather was perfect, no wind and wall to wall sunshine, I even took my gloves off just after we got going. It was fairly steep from the start, so we walked and jogged our way up watching a helicopter that was buzzing back and forward trailing a big bucket, not realising as we climbed, we were going to come face to face with it. We had to wait a few minutes as it was parked on the path to refuel.  We were quite happy to have a wee breather even though we’d just started, that first climb was a steep two miles long!

The path under-foot varied from wide forest track to soft woodland path, and a fair bit of tarmac and pavement, Pauline was wearing trail shoes, I had on road shoes, we were both happy with our choice of footwear.  We carried a map with us but never felt the need to bring it out, the blue marker posts were well placed and sufficient.  There was a long road section where we didn’t see a marker for ages, although there was nowhere else to go it was reassuring to finally see a blue post.

After Drumnadrochit we’d been stomping up a steep, twisty path in the woods, every bend I’d look up and it got steeper, we’d go round another bend and it got even steeper, Pauline said “What are you laughing at?” Oops, I didn’t realise I laughed out loud, this hill is ridiculously steep and I’m daft enough to find it funny.  I think I covered it when I answered “This hill… come race day, I’ll be one of BaM’s lovely assistants and I won’t have to come up here again!”  Pauline wasn’t exaggerating when she said, “This is like climbing out of Kinlochleven but twice as long!” 

Emerald Forest

Profile for the last 30 miles of the GGW

There’s a long section on road through open moorland where you can see the path for miles which was fine in the sunshine, but come race day, if your head isn’t in a happy place it could be soul destroying, especially if the weather is foul.  
Looking back

Don’t know what these padlocks were meant to keep locked in (or out) but the gate was wide open!
 Eventually we were back on meandering forest tracks and paths

Finally we could see Inverness which was probably about four miles away, we plodded on, looking at the Garmin, our run was going to be closer to twenty nine miles, the race finishes in the stadium at Bught Park but we decided we would stop at the bouncy bridge which is just past the park, but the GGW path takes you over the river before that so we just followed the markers, I then suggested we finish at the Castle which would round up our run to thirty miles, I knew Pauline wouldn’t want to log twenty-nine and a half miles We needed to burl round a bucket right beside the Castle and back down to the traffic lights before the Garmin beeped, a tad OCD but always good to push on further than you plan. I was tired, my feet were a bit achy but nothing hurt, I was moving easily albeit slowly.  I was really pleased with how I felt, going from my last long run of sixteen miles to almost double is quite a big jump in mileage but I didn’t think the sensible rule of increasing training by ten percent applies to old warhorses!

After a lovely hot shower followed by pasta and beer at the hostel, we thought a brisk walk would do us good.  We took some of our gear back to the car so we weren’t too laden in the morning and bought some more beer, well, we had earned it.

Tuesday morning saw us heading towards Fort Augustus, we weren’t finished with the GGW yet, a wee out and back run with a max of ten miles was the plan, we parked at the wee forestry commission car park at Allt na Criche about a mile outside Fort Augustus.  We managed a gentle pace along the Caledonian Canal and turned back after five miles out, if either of us was struggling we would’ve turned earlier but I’m happy to say all I felt was tired.

Next was the decision of which way to go home, I suggested the A82 and a call into the Woolly Mill at Fort William for a cup of tea and a scone first, then we changed our minds to a bowl of soup but when we got there we changed our minds again, a baked tattie with haggis, when it arrived it was served with salad which I punted onto Pauline’s plate, as much as I’d love to eat salad it’s just not worth the time or effort but I did manage to eat all my tattie and haggis even though Pauline had to twiddle her thumbs for a bit and it was cold when I finished.  

We ended up having to go down the A9, as the A82 was closed, I later found out it was due to a lorry spilling its load of hydrogen peroxide, hopefully it was just a clean up and no one was hurt. I was a bit disappointed not to go through Glencoe it would’ve been stunning with snow on the hills in the sunshine but the view at the Commando Memorial didn’t disappoint.

Now a few days later, I’m still not suffering any after effects other than tiredness and I’m not sure whether it was running on new trails or the sunshine but I feel as if I’ve had a holiday, plans are for more of the same and hopefully soon.