Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The Fabulous Fling

With Gillian volunteering to marshal it was going to be very simple for Pauline and I, Gillian would pick us up, take us to Milngavie, head off to Rowardennen for her race day duties then afterwards she would have a wee scamper down the WHW from Crianlarich, then head into the finish to see us in then drive us home, a great plan that worked well for all of us to have a great day out.

On Friday, I got my drop bags ready and took a bit of time deliberating what to wear considering the wintery weather we’d had the week before, bottom half was always going to be long tights and kilt but the forecast was promising so I decided on two long sleeved tops instead of a Duffle coat under my vest!  2.30am the alarm went off, I’d gone to bed early but like a kid at Christmas I didn’t sleep much, had my usual breakfast even though it was the middle of the night, once I’m in race day mode the normal time of day doesn’t mean anything to me, it’s just been a wee while since I’d got up in the dark!

Gillian and Pauline were outside my door at 3.40am and we were in Milngavie within an hour, the road was lovely and quiet at that time of day. It was great to start the hug fest, register and hand over drop bags before rush hour,  we spent the rest of the time hugging and blethering until it was time to head into the party pen. 
photo from Graeme Hewitson Monument Photos 
Yeah, I suppose it is a race and the pointy end was going to be exciting and no doubt a lot of folk have set themselves target times but for me that’s just a technicality, as much as I don’t want to waste time and prolong it, the goal was to have a good strong enjoyable day out regardless of the time on my watch at the end, doubt it’s a spoiler to say that I finished just five minutes slower than last year. 

6.00am, after a countdown we were set off in waves, it wasn’t much of a delay before the party pen were off up the steps and along the High Street, there was a bit of a giggle as soon as we were on the path in Mugdock, some poor sod fell, but was back up and running quicker than he went down, probably more embarrassed than hurt, oh well, if you’re going to fall might as well get it over with at the start!  It wasn’t long before folks were stopping to remove layers, I was just pleased that my hands were starting to warm up, it was a bit nippy to start with, there were wee patches of light frost on the grass still in the shade but the sun was rising and the weather looked promising.

Great to see these guys were back this year

Along the path of a thousand gates even I started to feel the warmth of the sun but I was just enjoying it, I have a wee rule, nothing comes off until after Conic, well, it’s an early Spring morning in Scotland, if you’re too warm you’re going too fast! As we looked over to the hills, Conic was the only one without snow but I bet it was still going to be chilly, the sky was clear and the views were going to be stunning. On the climb up I was with Amy, she said last year Graeme took a brilliant photo of her jumping and would I jump with her this year?  Err, I’m just a shuffler and I doubted my feet would leave the ground but ok, let’s do it, I’m here for fun after all!
photo from Graeme Hewitson  Monument Photos
After a bit more practice we took these photos of each other, the views down the loch was stunning, no better place to pause for a bit of fun, 

then nice and steady down into Balmaha, I picked up my drop bag, ditched my rubbish and walked on drinking my milkshake, and managed to guzzle it in time to drop the empty bottle in the Fling bin before crossing the road and heading up road to the turn up to Craigie Fort, Robin looked very comfy sitting in his chair, polishing off a runner’s left-over crisps while directing folk up the hill. On the stomp up I finally took off my gloves and woolly hat, still keep the peaked Buff on though, it did come off later in the afternoon and I even pushed up the sleeves on both my long-sleeved tops, definitely a lovely warm and sunny day, we had just a wee shower after Rowardennan that I had to pull my sleeves back down for with no need for a jacket.

I love the path to Rowardennan, through the trees with bird song, some gentle climbs and descents and a couple of not so gentle climbs but a good excuse to take photos. A little further on we could hear a bell and drums and a cheering squad. Alan and Chuck doing fantastic support, Alan held out his whisky glass, a surprise to have a wee dram this early, I don’t usually break out the Malt until I’m with Dario but what a lovely wee boost and brought back memories of sharing my hip-flask with Alan at Dario’s post a couple of years ago. Slainte!  

A lot of the relay runners went past on the path to Rowardennan, I was wondering where I might see Jo, running with the Carnegie Ramblers, I heard a shout from behind, I hauled out the camera and she was happy to pause for a photo.

At the checkpoint, another wee hug fest with marshals, then my usual routine of ditch rubbish, pick up my drop-bag and get out of there without slowing down much, I never saw Gillian until she shouted, a quick wave and I was off at a good walking pace downing another milkshake. On the long climb out of Rowardennan Amy and I were together again, we ran a lot of miles together, sometimes she would go ahead then I’d breeze through a checkpoint where she took a little longer, then she’d catch up with me again, as we chatted she said, “I’ve been watching you and you run like a fairy.”  I laughed out loud, she quickly followed with, “I don’t mean any offence but you’re so light on your feet, I can’t hear you breathe and you move with ease!” I wasn’t offended, in fact I loved it, I’m all in favour of a good mental image, I’ll hang on to that one when I feel like a shuffling sack o’ tatties, I shall evoke a light, flitting fairy and try to move like one. Amy is such a wee bundle of enthusiasm and I’m sure put a smile on the face of anyone she was running with.

After the big slog of a climb the path narrows and descends, I smiled, I love this section,
it’s a gentle start to the technical terrain of the lochside, I go with the flow, running and walking  whatever the path dictates, not stressing the pace, you have to pay attention to where you’re placing your feet and your running legs get a rest. I was aware of folk behind me and a few times asked if anyone wanted by and was happy to pull over when they did, a few were happy to stay behind me and later said thanks for pulling them along to Inversnaid, the past couple of years I’ve had a wee train with me but nobody was shouting “Choo choo!” like Robin, a couple of years ago!

At Inversnaid it was a dinky can of coke I downed as I walked out the checkpoint, I’ll be buzzin’ for the hangy on bits and big leg stretches for short arses, again not stressing the time it takes to cover the few miles to the more runnable bits near the top of the loch. I got my legs back into a shuffle on the flat grassy bit then moved between running and walking on the pull up to where you can see  Dario’s post, there was quite a centipede of runners on their way up and it gladdened my heart to see them pause and look behind them down the loch. On the steep climb up to Dario’s post I was with Silke and Amy, I asked if they’d join me with my hip-flask, it was filled with Highland Park, Dario enjoyed a wee Malt and I never go by his post without sharing a wee dram.  I laughed at a small notice taped to the rock, Keith was making sure nobody missed the stunning view down the loch.  (On days out I’ve taken time here and sat awhile just enjoying my surroundings and the company of an Angel, I once spoke to a walker that was slogging up the hill, she totally blanked me, neither pausing to catch her breath or look behind, it saddened me that she never knew what she was missing.)  We took a couple of photos then my camera died, not surprising really the amount of photos I’d taken. (my photos)

 At Beinglas I had something new in my drop bag, yeah, I know that’s something you’re not meant to do but I don’t think I was running fast enough to get gut problems, a small can of Starbucks Double Espresso coffee, it was ok, more milky than I thought it would be and not the rocket fuel I was hoping but it went down alright.

My plan was the same as last year, get to Beinglas comfortably then give it a bit of welly to the finish, in the past I’ve carried a wee piece of paper with previous WHW race splits to check my progress for reassurance I’d make the checkpoint cut-offs but I knew that wouldn’t be a concern so never paid attention to it all day, I eventually gave it a glance, I was on a par with previous years.  (Apart from wee training runs I was wearing a Garmin for first time ever during a WHW race only because I’ve now got one that the battery will last the distance and I like looking at the wiggly lines on the laptop afterwards.)  I was working the hills towards Derrydarroch then decided my quads weren’t for pushing on.  Ok, fair enough, just a steady slog in then, I wasn’t going to flog myself to the finish and thinking back over what I’ve done the past few months it wasn’t surprising my quads were grumpy, this was my fourth ultra this year but the other three have been on flat tarmac, and just nearly three weeks ago I’d covered seventy miles doing Ally K’s support, that wasn’t flat but still on tarmac.  I’ve never been one to over race but these days I don’t take for granted my health and fitness, I’ll cram in what I can while I can without being too daft.

So just kept an equal effort, I was looking at my watch now, playing the “It’s only xyz miles to the finish” game but I know better than to equate WHW miles with normal miles, I smiled to myself thinking “Aye, you’re not fooling me, I know how far it is and miles don’t come into it!”  and plod on. On the rollercoaster a relay runner went by shouting “Well done!” I replied with “Well done you too!”  She next came back with “Wow, I can’t believe you’re still smiling!”  She was off before I could say it was just my face, my quads were not smiling at all! If they had a face they’d be wearing the bawl like a hungry baby expression for the descent down to the road. At the crossing I hoped there would be no traffic to hold me up, oh no, a car approached, I’ll have to wait, but it slowed and stopped, the window was wound down and I was cheered over by the driver, WOW! Thank you!  Right, now to keep it steady, no heroics, it’s a long long four miles, I kept working, although I wasn’t pushing I wasn’t letting go either, my mantra was “There’s beer at the finish, there’s beer at the finish!”  Where’s the piper? At last, I heard him, then saw him, a big thumbs up as I went by, round the corner, I could hear the Fling bells and the cheering, I tried to wave to everyone shouting for me, I was on the red carpet, a high five with Johnny Fling, my arms were above my head, a smile from ear to ear, then I let out a “Wooooohoooo!” before landing in the longest hug of all day, thank you Julie, you know how to hug a runner until their emotions are under control. Another beautiful run on the WHW.
photo from Graeme Hewitson Monument Photos 

Caught my breath and loads more hugs, found the beer, yaay! Sat in the marquee with soup in one hand, beer in the other, fantastic!  

Pauline and Gillian rounded me up, I had a quick change before walking to the car which was parked miles away! Or so it felt, I’m sure my legs would benefit from the walk.  Another Fling was flung and well done to Johnny and all his helpers, this is such a great event, it has grown over the years but hasn’t lost any of it’s charm with being so big, you just get to make more friends.  

Thank you all for a fabulous day. Let’s do it again. Same time next year?     

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Ally K Runs Skye to Maggie's

Wednesday 6th April, I lay in bed until 8.00am although I was awake, I was savouring being there since I wouldn’t get to go to bed again until Friday night, it wasn’t a daunting thought, I was looking forward to the adventure.

Pauline and I had an easy drive from Dunfermline and arrived at Ally’s around 4.00pm, I was glad to see he was sitting with his feet up, although I did threaten to duct tape him to his chair when he was faffing about. We had a huge plate of pasta before heading to Ally’s parents at around 7.00pm  to have a wee lie down and leave our stuff with them, we would be staying with Flora and Farquhar, for a couple of days afterwards.

At 11.00pm we were back at Ally’s before heading down to the Square to meet the rest of the team in the Lucky2BHere office where Douglas had a few words before we headed off. He had three rules, safety, safety and safety, being the responsible adult in charge he wasn’t going to have any of us end up roadkill.  
Photo - Hugh Campbell

The team - Graham - physio and nutrition, Clam - radio comms and driver, Neil - primary driver, Douglas - safety and logistics, Hugh - project manager and IT guru, Ally - the main man, Pauline - pacer, Me - pacer, Donna and Fiona did a fantastic job in charge of the chuck wagon, an army marches on it's stomach and so does a support crew, what a bonus knowing that as soon as I finished a shift there was hot food and drink waiting for me.

Thanks to Steve Millar pointing the camera ensuring Hugh made it into the team photo with the bonus of having it taken with a real celebrity, if you follow the facebook group Scotland by the Roadside you’ll know Blaze 

Just before midnight we down into the Square, the Pipe Band were playing and there were a lot of folks there to wish Ally well and send him on his way.

photos - Hugh Campbell

He looked a wee bit nervous and uttered those normal pre-big-scary-event words. “I feel sick!” I reassured him he was fine and bang on midnight he was off.  Escorted out of Portree by the blue flashing lights of the Police and if anyone was really observant following the tracker, you would’ve noticed he shot out of Portree at around 50 miles an hour, get about five miles away then turn and come back. I hope it didn’t cause any concern, the tracker was in the wrong van, it was with the girls and not the one that would tail Ally all the way.

The plan for Pauline and I was for both of us to start with Ally then swap over roughly every three hours all the way with both of us finish with him in Inverness and it was lovely for Vicki and Rachel to forgo a nights sleep and run with Ally to Sligachan.. It’s critical to have the pace at the start right, you’re fresh and raring to go but if you head off too fast you’ll crash and die a thousand deaths later, the reasoning behind having both Pauline and I at the beginning was to enforce a steady start, an hour or so into the run Ally kept looking at his watch, someone asked if he was ok, he answered yes and that we were going at five miles an hour. “Oofft! Of course we were! I could’ve told you that and I haven’t looked at my watch since I started it at Portree!” Was my fierce retort. Well, it was my job and besides I’ve been running in tune with my body for thirty years and wearing a Garmin for just a couple of years, no surprises what one I rely on! I didn’t doubt he trusted his team but there was no harm reinforcing his belief that we’d see him right.

There was a fairly heavy shower but it didn’t last too long and was on our backs, I hoped there would be no repeat of the horrendous weather that accompanied Ally’s last epic fundraising event, Ally K Runs Skye (my report from that here) we reached Sligachan, just over nine miles in just under two hours, a fine steady start for the first section with no major hills to contend with. Rachel and Vicki headed home, I took my first break and Pauline carried on with Ally for another hour before we swapped over, we weren’t too worried about hitting three hour shifts to start with, we’d just go with the flow of what felt natural until we’d settled into routine.  I joined Ally again around 3.00am for the run into Broadford, he was still a bit jittery, but not surprising really, the longer the run the longer it takes to settle down. We were all carrying radios but some of us have not been training in radio protocol, so I wasn’t sure about passing on the details of one concern but, hey ho, the crew need to know what’s happening.  Ally’s van - “How’s things? Over.” Me - “He’s frightened to fart!. In, over, through and off.”  But after a pit stop in a dark layby I believe he felt a wee bit more comfortable.

The dawn was approaching as we arrived in Broadford where the crew were given coffee and a bacon or an egg roll from the Waterfront Fish and Chip shop free of charge, their support was really appreciated, they had opened a wee bit earlier than normal just for us. Pauline and I swapped over and she was a little concerned about running after eating a bacon roll but she was fine.  Paul joined us, he didn’t know Ally but had seen his event on twitter or facebook and wanted to support him, he kept Ally company into the Kyle of Lochalsh.  

Although it was Pauline’s shift from Broadford I’ve never run over the Skye Bridge and I thought it would be lovely to do it,

so Donna and Fiona let me out the van at the roundabout and I ended up keeping Ally company for the next ten miles up the hefty hill on the A890 after turning up from Auchtertyre but well worth the stunning view, I’ve never been up this road before and I hoped Ally could take the same inspiration from the view I as I did.
photo - Hugh Campbell
He, at last, had settled down, around thirty miles in, one hell of a warm up, but now in his groove.  The team had settled into the routine too, Douglas and Clam in the safety car,  a warning for the traffic coming up behind us, then Graham and Neil in the tail van directly behind the runners, looking after Ally, then Donna and Fiona would go on ahead to boil the kettle and heat food for when we arrived with either me or Pauline cooried in a blanket wearing lots of clothes, resting.  Hugh, floated about in the vehicles,  camera in hand covering around thirty miles over all, running with Ally and throwing in a few speed sessions filming the runners going by then sprinting ahead to film again, (no wonder his calves were sore afterwards!)

Fraser had joined us at the Kyle, and stayed all day, covering over forty odd miles, until trying to find his car parked at a remote train station in the dark was a bit of a problem, a lovely guy with great blether who knows well the fantastic job that Maggie’s do.

There was a section on twisty single track, it was my turn in the van but I couldn’t rest, the manic  drivers around us wouldn’t let me!  The girls stayed just ahead to protect the runners, both vans were plastered in event logo, caution runner signs and flashing hazard lights but some drivers took no notice, the radios were vital here, warning of approaching traffic with the tail van and car controlling overtaking, we pulled over at every opportunity to allow traffic by but there were a few cringey moments with some drivers having no patience, but there were many that tooted support and slowed to hand over tenners and twenty pound notes.  
A woo-hoo in the tunnel and a toot-tool from the train

The road widened to single carriageway and Donna, Fiona and myself went on to the Strathcarron Hotel, chips were on order for the support crew and what a pleasure to use a proper toilet, bliss! I felt a wee bit guilty sinking into a sofa with a half pint beer shandy but any support crew worth their salt knows you have to look after yourself too,  the medicinal properties of a sparkling lemonade with the benefit of a splash of beer will do me the world of good, again it was lovely to see the support Ally was receiving, the hotel refused payment for the food.  Ally was using something called Huel, a complete food powder that was working well for him  along with other stuff but it was good to see Ally have a handful of chips,
maybe not what you’d call top nutrition but along with some homemade soup he managed stay on top of getting just enough calories in to keep him moving.

The sun shone, there were a couple of short showers, and even a rainbow, Ally’s brother Iain, arrived bringing their Dad, Eilidh and Lewis to give him a cheer, further on there were another couple of surprises for him, his younger brother Andrew was sat at the roadside with his friend to gave him a tune, next moment there was a deep rumble in the sky and we were treated to a low flypast by what looked like a Lancaster or a Wellington bomber or something like it!  Wow! Never did I think we’d see either of these things during the run.  

The road ribboned on or was a cruel straight with no end in sight, the sun sank below the hills. Ryan joined us at Achnasheen and great for Ally to have fresh conversation,  it was mostly one sided now, Ally was fairly quiet heading into his second night running with no sleep, his knees were now taped and being iced regularly, but he just relentlessly moved forward.

The sky was clear and the stars were out, yay, no rain, but that meant the temperature would drop, I layered up, three pairs of tights, two base layers, a fleece, a down jacket and my bright yellow jacket, I waited wearing a second down jacket over the top ready to take off before my next shift except I didn’t remove it when I started my turn, after a warning that I wasn’t very visible from the safety car, I faffed about swapping the bright jacket to the top, I didn’t attempt to zip it up, it probably wouldn’t, not over all my clothes but wearing a bottle belt help keep the edges together, I felt justified when you could see the grass sparkling with frost and the gritter went by!  One wee pitstop had a proper toilet, I was so glad to have the privacy of the ladies loo to get all my layers tucked in cosy, when I went back outside I didn’t realise I’d taking so long getting comfy but glad to see Ally and Ryan didn’t waste time waiting and had headed off without me, I couldn’t see how far up the road they’d gone and was ready to face a bit of speed work hoofing it back to them but Douglas was waiting, Hugh had had a pitstop too so we hopped in the car and Douglas drove us back to them, not sure whether to call it an oops or a bonus but I’ve now clocked a couple of PRs on Strava, an estimated 55secs for 400 meters and an estimated 2.56 for half a mile. Aye, the only way I’ll ever do a sub six minute mile is in a car! Go me!

In the wee hours  Ally’s answers to my questions were mumbled and vague, I radioed to get the coffee on, but not to worry, he just had the facial expression of the lights were on but nobody’s home!  After cutting out caffeine for a month it was bound to give him a kick and wake him up a bit, he still managed some nice wee hallucinations though, the rocks at the side of the road were full of babies faces and there were baskets sitting in the grass. This was my sixth run with Ally and my head wasn’t so clear and focused either, at around 4.00am, I could feel myself getting dozy, but there’s no way I could admit it to Ally, I’d only gone half the distance he had, although I don’t sleep well with my cheek pressed against a van’s side window I was rested!  Time to use every trick I know to stay awake, stretch my arms above my head, shake them out, take long walking strides swinging my arms, also my left hip was giving me a bit of grief, I think it was coming from my back, it’s been a bit grumpy for about a month, I had a sore, numb bit at the top of my left leg and when I prodded it, it gave me a fizzy in my hip, Sciatica? Trapped nerve?  Whatever!  Every time I poked it, it helped keep my eyes open. Bonus!

I was happy to crash across the length of the front seat of the van after that stint, Pauline and Ryan keeping Ally company until the sun rose, and with the sun rising so did my energy levels.  A pot of porridge, coffee and sunshine, I was a new woman and ready to do the last eleven miles with Ally. Quite a few folks had come to the lay-by to say hi, even local radio came for an interview, just after they left, a car pulled in, the guy got out saying he’d just be listening to the radio, he shook Ally’s hand, wished him well and handed over some money.  

The end is in sight but it’s still a very long way to go with a hundred and ten miles in the legs, this was where Ryan was absolutely brilliant, a fellow Fifer but he now lives in  Muir of Ord, and knew every step of the way into Inverness, he’d point ahead saying “Right, we’ll walk this little incline to the tree on the left, after that we’ll shuffle to the bend.” Picking the points for where to walk and when we’d run, the miles weren’t fast but they were getting done, the sun was getting higher and warmer, I no longer resembled the Michelin Man, I think everyone perked up as Inverness came closer.

Another wee pitstop in a lay-by, this one had a few well wishers in it too, great for Ally, not so for the crew who needed to pee, but the big white van was parked at an angle that gave a bit of coverage, I crouched close to the wheel by the open side door, no fuss, no big deal then popped in the van to organise my drink for the last bit, I stayed in the van facing away from the door as  Ally used the appropriate spot, Pauline was readying herself to run all the way in with Ally too, Ryan was standing by the van leaning in organising his stuff for the last haul, then Pauline announced she was going to pee, I raised my eyebrows as she hunkered down, ok, if she was cool to pee right beside Ryan, that’s fine, next, I stifled a giggle at her running commentary, “Oow, well, this is really worthwhile, didn’t realise I needed so much!”  Ryan was quite nonchalant as a tsunami of wee washed round his shoes, uttering  something along the lines of “I’m happy for you Pauline.”  Pauline’s jaw dropped, her eyes popped and she coughed and spluttered an apology, not so cool to pee beside a bloke after all, she thought Ryan was Donna!  

With five miles to go we pulled into a petrol station, Ally was to have his last wee break and headed to the van for Graham to give his legs a final going over and icing. He opened the door, the look of surprise on his face was priceless. “Goodness me! Mr. Wombill!”  (Polite translation)  

Robin had driven up from Perth in the wee hours parked his car at Raigmore and walked out the route until Donna and Fiona found him.  We now had quite a posse of outriders to escort Ally into and through the town, Ryan would continue with his guidance, both Pauline and I were now wear Maggie’s vests, Mark had joined us a bit earlier, Iain hadn’t run for years was now proudly going the last stretch with his brother, and Robin wasn’t coming all that way up not to run in with Ally!

As we approached the town centre, Pauline and I brought out our secret weapons, our Highland Fling cowbells to warn shoppers and folk about town that we were coming through, Ryan was carrying the collection bucket but I’m not sure if he managed to collect much, Ally had upped the pace and was flying through the town,
he paused for a hug with a group of Maggie’s supporters waiting for him. He flew up the steep hill on Castle Street, the rest of us struggling to keep up, or was it just me?  Robin handed him a large Rampant Lion flag with the words, “Today you are a rampant lion!” My emotion was stuck in my throat and was ready to bubble over with pride to see him run so well.  A young lad wearing shorts and a Skye Camanachd tracksuit top ran towards us, shook Ally’s hand and continued with us.  At road crossings we’d been sensible and waited for the green man but at the final roundabout the young lad stepped out and halted a big bus and the rest of the traffic so we could run through without breaking stride. (Afterwards he said that even though he wasn’t in uniform if you act with confidence folk tend to obey direction, yes the “boy” was a police officer. Hmmm, no comment on my age!)

Maggie’s Centre was in sight, Ally flew the Rampant Lion high above his head, his family were waiting for him, Eilidh and Lewis holding a finish line for him to run though. I couldn’t hear the support of the crowd, I was shrieking like a banshee. Throught the tape, he held Donna in his arms, I was bursting with pride watching him receive hugs and congratulations, he had done it, and I never doubted he would.

photos - Fiona Cruickshank

I was very impressed with the way he managed to speak coherently in interviews for the papers and telly, he looked a bit pale but didn’t succumb to the very common post big run faint, a major achievement in itself!  The run has been a huge success for Maggie’s, the funds raised have gone over his target and still coming in. Ally's just giving page Also the awareness he's raised that Maggie’s is there for anyone affected by cancer whether they, or a family member, or colleague has been diagnosed, just knowing that you can walk through Maggie’s doors and help is there for them, job done.

Now I know Ally won’t mind me saying this but he is not a natural athlete, he’s an ordinary guy with shed-load of determination and a heart to match, no matter how hard the challenge became he never lost sight of his goal,  but he would exasperate me at times, I had to physically bar him from walking back to the van to get a drink or whatever, telling him that if he wanted something that’s what we were there for. 120 miles was far enough without adding on because he didn’t want to be any trouble!  I’ll need to give him more lessons on being a diva! But I know where he get’s it from, Flora and  Farquhar couldn’t do enough for us once we were back in Portree, feeding us like we were at our Auntie’s, and wouldn’t even let us tidy the plates after we were finished. 

Ally, I'm so proud of you and what you've achieved,this was the toughest support both Pauline and I have done, with us overlapping at times we covered around seventy miles each over seven runs of various distances and it was a pleasure. I know it will be a while before Donna lets you loose with another big daft challenge but Ally, whatever it is, whenever it is, you're not doing it without me!
Ally K Runs Skye to Maggie's documentary

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Ticking over nicely

February was a fine steady month of running with a cracking run on the newly re-established low road from Rowardennan to Inversnaid and back, I loved it, it’s more in keeping with the rest of the WHW route along the lochside than the long haul up the wide track. I had one race in February, the club’s Devilla 15km, brilliant fun with lots of mud, shin deep with the consistency of wallpaper paste and porridge which I thought I ran through with no fear.  I was well pleased to finish with mud splats on my kilt since I’ve perfected my running style to a minimal effort ultra shuffle with no leg lift whatsoever. But this photo spoiled the daredevil image in my head. What a Mincer!
Photo from David Greig
At the end of the month I was on holiday from work with no plans, just a case of use it or lose it but luckily it coincided with Ally’s last long training run before his Skye to Maggie’s event. So I nipped up to Skye for a few days joining him on his night time fifty miler. We set off just after 7.30pm from Portree, it was pretty cold but dry, the stars were amazing. I kept him company until Staffin, around seventeen miles, then Hugh ran with him for twenty miles, I dozed a bit in the van then re-joined him at Uig at around 4.00am for the last fifteen miles back to Portree.  Although it was bitterly cold, (we were told later that it dipped to -8 degrees!) It was a great success and a practice run for the support team too.

Photo from Donna Macpherson
The drive home was a stunning day and I spent it stuck in the car! But I had plenty stops to stretch my legs and take a few photos, even sneaked up the Devil’s Staircase committing the cardinal sin of being inappropriately dressed, jeans and a pair of old road shoes with soles worn smooth demoted to role of outdoor baffies. The snow was dry and crisp, the air perfectly still, the sky a cobalt blue and the sun shining, my only concern was if I slipped I might damage my camera, I was fine.

Next up, a week later, on March 6th was the ladies only Smokies 10 at Arbroath, I was mindful that my lower back has been a bit grumbly, my Achilles had settled down but I was still aware of it and I had the D33 the following week so I wasn’t planning a do or die pace just a good hard effort, I certainly ticked that box! Happy with my run,it was also my 23rd Smokies but Pauline’s 25th consecutive one and was given a bottle of bubbly at the prizegiving in recognition.

The following week was the D33, it was great to catch up with folks I hadn’t seen since the Glen Ogle 33, Pauline drove up and was marshalling with Noanie at the road crossing so shot off before the start, I was left standing in the loo queue without my jacket, I’d put it away in my bag in the marquee but wished I’d kept it on longer, Duthie Park was freezing, my jaw ached with the cold, it hasn’t done that in a while! But we were soon off and I eventually warmed up enough to take my gloves off, but at no point did I feel the urge to remove my fleece.  With it being an out and back route it’s perfect for carrying a camera and I had fun trying to get everyone’s photo until the battery died.
Love a wee shoot out with Chen! 

With the 100km in two weeks I wasn’t running hard, just looking for a six hour jolly but I was quite pleased to finish in 5 hours 40 minutes, I had to wait about a bit until Pauline was off duty but it was no hardship, I hung around the marquee drinking Stella, it’s not my usual tipple but it was the perfect post run recovery drink before heading home to savour my race beer.

7.00am last Sunday saw me standing on the start line of the Self Transcendence 100km with a little trepidation, on the Thursday my back gave a wee twinge, on my easy run at the club, it jarred every step, on Friday I went for another wee three miler just to see how it was, I decided that it was still sore but didn’t hinder my running style and I had one more day for it to ease, I would run! No matter how sore it might get it wouldn’t go anywhere near the level of endurance I put in three years ago, the last time the Anglo Celtic Plate was Perth. I was a DNS, I was still incarcerated in St John’s Hospital, three weeks post mouth cancer surgery and had to following the race on an iPad, so there was no way I was letting a wee bit of a sore back get in my way of finally running the 100km.  

Once we were off the rest of the field stampeded off at quite a pace, even in the first lap I feel the runners in the open were sucked along by the elites in the Anglo Celtic Plate. “Ok, guys, I’ll see ya again when you lap me!”, I run no-one's pace but my own and kept a fine steady pace throughout, my back felt ok, a bit of tightness in my glutes, nothing I couldn’t live with. The fast guys and gals seemed to lap me thousands of times but never without a word or two. On the riverside of the lap there was a very strong and freezing headwind that never let up, just varied from force nine gale to here’s some dust in your eyes! The other side of the lap was sheltered and you didn’t seem to feel the benefit of a tailwind but at least that side wasn’t so cold.

Pauline was doing the 50km and had a wee kip in the car for a couple of hours and at 10.00am the 50km started, I’d just made it through the start/finish area about a minute before they were set off. “I’m gonna get stampeded!” Was my shout to Sarah as I went through but I was given plenty elbow room and lots of hellos as they whooshed past. Although Pauline and I were running unsupported and had set up our table with our stuff ready to grab on the way by,  Sarah, supporting a few runners was parked a wee bit further up the feed zone, so I’d pick up a milkshake and keep moving, having a couple of mouthfuls then handed it to Sarah and she’d take it back to my table for the next time I picked it up and Bernt was happy to look after us, as well as Susan for the duration of the 50km.  Thanks guys!

There was a bit of a problem with the chip timing which was quite stressful for the guys doing results but I was happy with a cheery wave every lap from my real person counter, back up for the technology and in my opinion, far more reliable than something that needs plugged in!   I’m not sure if it was coincidence but my shoe with the chip attached was giving me a bit of grief, the top of my foot was starting to hurt, I stopped three times over about six or seven laps to lift my foot up on a bench to loosen the lace, until I felt my shoe was flapping about like an old baffy, my foot didn’t get any worse and I eventually got used to the loose shoe.  But apart from that I had a great run, keeping a metronomic pace, not fighting the wind on the far side and staying happy and relaxed for the whole way, eventually it got very quiet as the everyone else finished. Pauline was happy to do a bit of support, I started walking through the feed zone but running everything else even that wee bugger of a hill up through the gate.  I asked Pauline if she would check if I was allowed to stick my music on in one ear, it wasn’t allowed for the ACP runners but now I was on my tod I thought it would be ok, next lap round Pauline had my iPod ready for me, “Brilliant, I’m allowed then!” Pauline replied “I didn’t ask, what are they gonna do, disqualify you from being last!” I laughed and thought that was a bit harsh... but true! My lap counter was holding up her hand counting down the laps still to go with her fingers. I was breathing a 10km effort but the pace was nowhere near, the last half dozen laps weren’t easy but I just had remember where I was this time three years ago, running 100km is not hard, a joy from start to finish and the bonus I finished well within the cut off time, in 11 hours 31 minutes.  There were 33 runners in the race, 21 in the ACP, 12 in the open and I was the only female in the open, 27 finishers and 6 DNF’s.I didn’t finish last just last man standing! 
Another of Chen's photos
This week I’ve felt pleased how the legs have been, I’ve just had a few three milers and everything is moving nicely, I felt a bit of tightness in the quads on the Tuesday and a bit tired but fine and ready for the next adventure. 
On Wednesday Pauline and I are doing Ally K’s running support in his 120 mile Skye to Maggie’s challenge, taking turns of around three hours each, he will be setting off from Portree at midnight and won’t stop until he reaches Maggie’s Centre at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness hopefully Friday morning. If the technology works there will be live tracking,  you can follow his progress on the Skye to Maggies website and on Ally K runs Skye to Maggie's facebook, or if you are in the area, come along give him a cheer or run a few miles with him.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Supporting Pauline - 2002

It's not my turn to run the WHW until next year so I don't know why I was so nervous the week before the race and especially Friday afternoon at work. Once I got home and started getting my gear sorted my nerves settled as I began to focus on my job of looking after Pauline. Earlier in the week I spent time planning the route through to Milngavie and marking it on the map so we wouldn't get lost before the race had even started (like last year). Russell took one look and said "We'll go the M8." So ok, he's the driver, (we got there no bother). We arrived in plenty time, Pauline now wide-eyed and tight-jawed joined the queue to pick up her number and goody bag. After some fiddling with head-torches, bum bag etc. both she and Lynne (supported by Simon and Sarah), were ready to go.
2:00am. 72 runners girded their loins (or whatever!) and set off for Fort William. We lesser mortals set off too, we stopped at the point where the Way crosses the road at about four miles just to say hello. It was hard to make out the runners as their torches bobbed along in the dark, but we had no problem recognising Lynne and Pauline as their voices were heard long before we saw them. Next stop the checkpoint at Drymen (12 miles), it was now light enough to see how muddy and wet the runners legs were, Pauline and Lynne were still on schedule though. Got to Balmaha at about 5:00am, we support crew got to close our eyes for an hour before they came in with demands for coffee and a change of shoes. Rowerdennan (26 miles) came and went with no problems, (for the support anyway!)
The drive to Inverarnan (40 miles) was where it began to get "interesting" for us, it reminded me of an episode of the old cartoon "The Wacky Races". We were using Pauline's new car with barely 1000 miles on the clock and my nerves were a bit on edge as we cringed passed tour buses and caravans on the very narrow, twisty road. One poor foreigner spoiled his holiday when he ran into the back of a land rover and due to the "highland hospitality" of the two establishments on the A82 we were not allowed to use the safety of their car parks to service our runners so after driving up and down for a bit (plus a U-turn!) we managed to park safely. Not so good for a couple of other supports, their vehicles were damaged when a caravan swung out into them. Simon's van lost a wing mirror. We put Pauline's change of clothes and food into a rucksack and walked the half mile to the midge-infested checkpoint where Pauline and Lynne had their longest stop so far (14 minutes) to eat, change and for Lynne to have her feet treated as the wet conditions were now causing problems. We didn't tell Pauline about the manic motorists and didn't want her worrying about the car needlessly as we could do that for her anyway! Russell and I went back to the car (which was thankfully still in one piece) we asked the girl who was standing next to the wrecked car if we could help, her runners still had no idea of their predicament. Russell and I drove to where the Way went under the road near Crianlarich, met the two guys and offered to support them until they got something sorted with their car, but they wanted to go back to Inverarnan so Russell ran them back and sadly we never saw them again. What a shitty way to have to pull out of the race. I was left on my own with a rucksack of goodies and the big umbrella, luckily Pauline never noticed Russell and the car were AWOL and thankfully she or Lynne didn't want anything from the car. I breathed a sigh of relief when Russell returned and we went on to the checkpoint at Tyndrum (53 miles).
Val and Allan arrived at the checkpoint bright and chirpy after the luxury of a whole night asleep and probably a lie in! I got changed to run the next section with Pauline and Lynne, I was looking forward to this as I knew from past experience the run would wake me up, also the conversation would improve to more than just "Here's your stuff, now get going." The weather was now either warm and sunny or heavy showers, my rain jacket took on the life of a reincarnated yo-yo. I took my camera and scampered about taking photos thoroughly enjoying myself knowing I just had to run, eat jelly babies and blether. We came into Bridge of Orchy (60 miles) at 6:00pm Pauline and Lynne were still moving well. Allan now accompanied them over Rannoch Moor, his job was to shove all those walkers on the Caledonian Challenge out of their way. I stood behind the car in another midge fest, managing a complete change of clothes in record time before I was reduced to skeletal proportions.
We drove on to Kingshouse (72 miles) were I ate vast quantities of pasta and other goodies while watching the weather deteriorate, huge clouds full of rain kept obscuring the top of Buachaille Etive Mor and emptying their load on the cold and tired runners. It was now approaching 9:00pm when our bedraggled runners came in. Poor Allan, obviously not running his hardest with bare legs just a rain jacket and no gloves looked hypothermic as he chittered off to change. Pauline changed into full battle dress (thermal, fleece, tracksters, full waterproofs and boots) while eating her pasta as I taped up her feet. I then checked on Lynne in the van with Simon and Sarah, she wasn't ready and would be a wee while yet, when I told Pauline this the dilemma was written plainly on her face, she was standing chittering and needed to get moving but didn't want to go without Lynne and Val who was ready to go with both of them. Russell, hero of the hour, employed purely to drive after being instructed by his physio "No running!" said "Give me two minutes to get ready and I'll go with you, Val can wait for Lynne." Gear came flying out the back of the car like a dog digging up a buried bone as I sent Pauline off on her own, I watched her figure grow smaller in the distance, she had the same dejected air as Oates when he left the tent in the Antarctic and told Scott he was popping out for a bit, but Russell would catch her fairly quickly, she'll not be on her own for long. I turned to face the heap of Russell's clothes, shoes, kitchen sink etc. strewn across the wet car park, "How will I get that lot back in the car?" was my first though, then "YEEEKS! I'll have to drive!" A new Citroen Picasso does not drive like a wee old Rover but I got to Kinlochleven (81 miles) in one piece.
I spoke to a marshal at the checkpoint he said they've only had about 15 runners through, where was everybody? Stuck on the Devil's Staircase? At least there's no lightning. I sat in the car for over an hour bursting for a pee before the rain let up enough for me to venture out. I then got myself changed into thermal, fleece, Goretex etc. ready to go when Pauline arrived, prepared her ham roll and oxo which she really enjoyed after all the sweet stuff. At 00:20am Pauline and I were off on the last long section after a stop of only 8 minutes, it wasn't long before my feet were soaked through, when we crossed burns most of the steppy stones were under water or the path had just turned into a river and there wasn't much choice but to wade through it. The heavy rain returned with a cold wind blowing in our faces, I noticed Pauline had pulled her Buff scarf up over her face. Good idea, my face was wet and frozen too, so now looking like a couple of desperados from a Clint Eastwood movie I told Pauline to tuck in behind me so I could protect her a bit but she kept dropping back too far for me to be any good, she moaned I was going to fast but after the race when her brain was back in gear she said the reflectors on the back of my trainers caught in the light of her torch were leaving arcs of light like a kid with a couple of sparklers and it was making her dizzy.
We arrived at a river with no hope of crossing it without being nearly knee deep. Sod it! Cold feet it is then. I crossed then turned to shine my torch on the path for Pauline. Double sod it! There's a damn bridge just off the path. At least I saw it before Pauline waded across. The path was long and wide open and it took an age for the trees to come into view, it was a relief to get out of the wind. I felt cold and I wasn't as chirpy as last year, conversation was now one sided and I don't think Pauline heard half of what I said anyway. I stopped asking her if she wanted a drink or a Mars bar because she just refused so I kept unwrapping one and gave it to her from time to time, the only way she could get rid of it was to eat it. The sky was getting lighter and Fort William must be getting nearer. Pauline looked pale and done in, I felt tired myself! We kept plodding on not running much but walking at a fair pace. When we got down onto the road I tried to make her run short bits but it was easier to keep the walking pace going, from the roundabout she got her legs into running mode all the way to the Leisure Centre to finish in 27hours 27minutes also first lady. "That was hard." were the three understated words Pauline uttered before crawling into a sleeping bag on the floor, I went for the best shower in my life then for a sleep. Missed Lynne finishing again. (At least I had a good reason and I wasn't just in the pub!)
I am in awe of everyone who has completed this race and next year my name will join that prestigious list of athletes. I'm girding my loins already!