Saturday, 29 August 2015

This time next week

I’ve just read through my race tales for Glenmore 24.  Some tough but brilliant memories in there, and I know that this year is going to add some more to cherish.

Here's the links to my previous G24s if you want to read them.

It doesn’t matter if your training has gone well and if you are well prepared, it still requires a lot of luck if everything is going to go according to game plan A, which for 24 hours, very rarely happens!  But I am feeling strong and raring to go… and a little emotional.  This is my first big race since my cancer treatment in 2013 that I feel that I’m back to full strength and able to gie it laldy. (WHW doesn't count, that's purely for the pleasure)  No matter the distance I get I will be pushing my best effort and when Ada sounds the finishing horn, don’t panic when I go face down on the grass, I will have given my all, (if you are beside me and it’s as wet as last year, make sure my head is not under water and drag me out of the swamp so as I don’t drown.)

Am I capable of the 27 laps I managed in 2011 and 2012?  I don’t know… but I’ll be trying, my body has had quite an assault and I’m looking forward to finding out how it will perform.  Training has been fairly minimal since the WHW, I feel recovery is more important than banging out miles or races, I had a quality training run at the new Fort William Marathon, which I found fairly tough but I have a rule for marathons - no walking allowed!  There a fair few hills in this marathon and I managed to keep to my rule until the last wee steep bugger within 400 metres of the finish, but I was consoled that the race winner also walked that hill too.  

So game plan A, to do the same as the first two years, that would be absolutely bloody marvellous, maybe a big ask but no harm in aiming high.  Plan B, the 100 miles, that would be fantastic and hopefully a realistic goal, Plan C, to remain upright and moving forward for the whole 24 hours, I managed that last year so I don’t doubt I can do it again, except I do not want to finish this year wrapped in a Granny blanket hugging a mug of tea!

The toughest time in a 24 hour race is usually around 4.00am but I have a brilliant wee boost for at that time of the morning, if all is going according to the plan and I’m knocking out consistent laps I will be finishing my 18th lap around 4.00am, that doesn’t sound so special, but adding up all my laps from my previous G24’s it will be my 100th Glenmore24 Race lap. Think I might have a wee celebratory beer waiting for me after the 18th,  maybe a bottle of BrewDog 5.00am will be appropriate!

There is no plan D… well, if it really goes more pear-shaped than Kim Kardashian’s bahooky as long as I get further than Ally K I’ll be happy. (Hee hee, just a little friendly rivalry)  This year, Pauline, Ally and I are setting up together with Ken and Donna doing our support, now as much as I will be a diva I will not swear at Ken and Donna but Mr Macpherson, you know I don’t take prisoners, if I see you sitting down for any reason other than sorting your feet you will hear language that will curl your toes and make your hair do funny things! COME ON!

Wishing everyone a fantastic race, there is no hiding in a 24 hour race, it's going to be tough but let's all give our best, and if this isn’t on your playlist it should be!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

West Highland Way 2015 - 95 miles of smiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 18 June 2015

One more sleep!

At last it’s nearly here, and this year is going to be a cracker, since the start of the year I have smiled every day at the thought of it.

Since the Fling was flung I’ve had a brilliant run every weekend for four weeks on several Ways, St Cuthbert’s Way, West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way to be precise. 

The Saturday after the Fling Pauline and I joined Sue on her twenty mile recce for the St Cuthbert’s Way Ultra on the 11th July. It was lovely to run somewhere new and just for the fun of setting foot in England we ran back the route for a mile or so to “Border Control”
Not sure if the gate is to keep us oot or them in!
before setting out proper on the Way, Ken joined us for our border raid then picked us up later.  I was really pleased how my legs felt seven days after the Fling.

Photos from our run on St Cuthbert's Way

The next weekend saw Pauline and I on the Great Glen Way, thirty miles from Clunes to Invergarry and back, the weather was bright and sunny, a little chilly but even I took off my arm warmers and pushed up my sleeves for most of it. It was another fantastic day out feeling good.

The next weekend was on the West Highland Way, an out and back from Braveheart car park until we could look down onto Kinlochleven. 

The weather was a bit wet, dreich even, with a very occasional blink of sunshine. It’s the first time in around eight or nine years I’ve ran Lairig Mor without starting in Milngavie, it’s amazing how runnable it is without eighty odd miles in the legs, I will try and remember that Sunday morning!

The final weekend for a long run saw us back on the Great Glen Way for twenty four miles, we went from Bught Park to past the Highest Point marker and a wee detour up to Carn na Leitire and back. With last weeks run being on the Sunday instead of our usual Saturday meant this run culminated in seven days consecutive running with a total of seventy-six miles, and for the first time this year I felt a bit tired, but I still moved well and happily, maybe the tiredness had nothing to do with the miles I’d ran but with my lack of coffee, I’d been caffeine free from midweek! I only do this for the West Highland Way Race and I’m looking forward to the big strong mugful I’ll have at Bridge of Orchy.

Right, that was all the long runs done, the following weekend was the Skye Trail Ultra, where Pauline and I were marshalling, no running but good practice of no sleep for a whole weekend, on Friday Pauline and I took our time driving up to Broadford in Skye, had an evening meal before reporting for duty at 10.00pm, we did manage a couple of hours in a sleeping bag on the floor of the badminton hall at around 2.00am but I wouldn’t call it sleep! At daft o’clock the runners were bussed up to Duntulm for the 5.00am start. The weather was quite kind, some heavy mist for a brief spell on the Trotternish Ridge and some rain for those that went through to Sunday morning, but on the whole pretty good. I think it went well for the first run of the event, a couple of wee teething problems that will be fine for next year. Jeff, you can put me down to help out again next year. I got quite a few cracking photos too.

The weekend before the West Highland Way Race is always the Skye Half Marathon, I’ve been going up for it since 1993, and this was my 18th running of the race, I haven’t ran it hard since I’ve been doing the WHW but it has some very special memories for me.  In 2005 it was my 100th Half but also a great confidence boost in my recovery from having a brain haemorrhage eight weeks earlier, and in 2013 my slowest half marathon just seven days after finishing six weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I think with these memories and feeling strong and fit as I do now I really had to hold myself in check and not run hard at all. I was very disciplined and kept a steady pace all the way although I wanted to “leg it” It’s also a great weekend catching up with friends from all over that I only see at the Skye Half.

On Tuesday, I gathered and bagged my clothes, yesterday, I organised my food and had my last shift at work for the week, I also had a routine check-up at the hospital, my consultant is happy with me and doesn’t want to see me again for three months and she’ll be following my progress over the weekend online.  Today was the last trip to Tesco for some bits and bobs and I suppose I better leave Pete and Erin something to eat over the weekend. I’ll take most of my stuff to Ken tonight so he can pack the car with all our stuff.  I’ve got a crack support team, Pauline, Ken and Sue from the start and Gillian is joining late afternoon on Saturday with a fresh head since she’ll have been to bed for Friday night.  I doubt there is a more experience team, between us all, either running or supporting we can lay claim to around forty goblets.

Tomorrow is a looooong day waiting to be picked up and going to Milngavie, I’ll just be resting, I might watch a bit of telly, read a wee bit, do my nails, go to bed for a wee doze in the afternoon, I’ll have a lovely long shower around tea-time, the next one I have will be Sunday morning at the Leisure Centre!

I’m not going to predict a finish time, but I’m feeling really good and strong, so I’ve giving my team my splits from my PB in 2007 of 26.14.11, (well you never know what might happen) and probably more realistically, 28.59.59 my splits from 2012. If I need to use all 35 hours so be it, no matter the time on the clock when I slap my hands on the Leisure Centre doors, it will be a fantastic weekend.

If you want to follow the race here’s the link 


Friday, 1 May 2015

Hoka Highland Fling 2015

Friday night saw me in bed at the back of 8.30pm with my book and a mug of Horlicks, after an hour’s reading it was lights out and I’d managed to sleep fine until my alarm went off at 2.50, plenty time to eat a huge bowl of porridge with banana and blueberries and a mug of coffee before Pauline picked me up at 3.45am, she was disappointed not to be running, her back has been giving her problems although it was improving, it wasn’t recovering fast enough for a 53 mile run so on Wednesday she offered her services as a marshal and still enjoyed her day.

We were in Milngavie just before 5.00am, let the hug fest begin! First one with Sarah Self at registration, (aren’t you looking fabulous).  More hugs handing in my drop bags, then a final decision on what to wear for the start, all week I’d had my fingers in my ears, singing la la la at any mention of the grim weather reports. As the sky lightened, it was raining but too heavily it wasn’t too cold or windy, so I’d be brave and start wearing one long sleeved top, vest, arm-warmers, Buff, gloves and peaked Buff, I’d carry another t-shirt and rain-jacket, there was no dithering on what I’d wear on my bottom half, it was always going to be long tights and kilt.

More hugs, but with there being around 700 runners starting the full race there were a lot of folks I didn’t get to see, I was at the back for John’s race briefing so couldn’t hear a word, but I’d read the race information and knew the rules, hopefully there was no last minute changes. 

A photo shoot out with Graeme Hewitson
The race started in three waves from 6.00am, we were penned and moved forward two minutes apart, it was chip timed so there was no need to gallop off and create a bottleneck, I started in the last pen, and we were soon heading under the tunnel and along Milngavie’s main street, this is my fourth Fling but I still giggle at the novelty of doing Mugdock in daylight!

It was great to see the fiddler was back this year; I really appreciate the support at such a daft time in the morning.  The rain had stopped and looking north Conic hill had a sharp profile and the sky clear, we were going to be guaranteed stunning views up the loch.

On the road after the path of a thousand gates I spied Ally K and Alasdair ahead and tried to sneak up on them but Ally saw me and waited for me to catch up, it was lovely to run a few miles with you guys. Pauline was marshalling at Garadhban and took a bin bag in case anyone wanted to offload their rubbish, she did a fine job and if the cooncil is headhunting she’ll consider any offers as long as she gets a brush!

Conic was a bit chilly but views were spectacular, photos don’t do it justice but you can get the gist. 
Great company and scenery, what more can you ask for!

photo from Graeme Hewiston

I took it gently down to Balmaha, I know the stone steps aren’t popular but you’ve just got to accept change and there’s been a lot in recent years, if it helps reduce erosion, with more folk being on the WHW I’m happy they can enjoy being there without damaging it.  

First things first arriving at the checkpoint, a Big Davie hug before finding my drop bag. I’d bought a pack of 330ml water bottles and put one in each of my drop bags so I just had to swap them over, it just saved time faffing about filling up, then I walked up the path wearing as much of my Weetabix milkshake as I was drinking, 

Pauline was helping here now and walked with me until I’d finished it and took my rubbish. Heading up to Craigie Fort I took off the arm-warmers and gloves and pushed my sleeves up, it was going to be a cracking day! I love the section between Balmaha and Rowardennan, the way the path flows up and down through the trees, the sound of birds, I heard cuckoos and a woodpecker in the woods, I didn’t stop for a photo of the tree at Milarochy
here's one I prepared earlier (from the WHW training run in January)
 A relay runner went by saying she was told this bit was fairly flat, oops! I was in a wee group not far from Rowardennan and someone asked how far away we were, err… I knew exactly where I was and what was ahead but I don’t do the WHW by numbers, I think WHW miles are a bit Tardis like and can’t be measured by standard units, you’ve just got to go with the flow.

I can run for longer than my Garmin so there was no point wearing it, I just had on my old Timex Ironman which I didn’t look at until Beinglas but I have been sucked into the geeky thing called Strava, I do like the ziggy-zaggy profiles it does, so before the race I downloaded the app to my phone (Oowww, get me with the geek speak) I’d no idea if it would work or if I did it right, so just switched it on about ten minutes before the start, put my phone in a waterproof bag and tucked it away in my bag, only to switch it off after I’d finished and was getting changed and was happy to see I’d got it when I sussed it out on Sunday.
Fling Profile
There were a few hold ups behind walkers but I wasn’t stressing the wee delays, they are as entitled to the delights of the WHW as we are and I was glad to see they were happy and wished us all the best when we went by, as they’d already been passed by over six-hundred runners, proof the fast guys chasing times and positions must have remained polite and courteous. 

At Rowardennen I paused briefly to hug the MacPirates and Angela, I hadn’t seen them at the start, downed a Yazoo milkshake and pocketed my custard, I’d put into a squeezy pouch so could take my time with it.  Once up the long haul of the wide forest track the path narrows, swoops and climbs I love the way it flows and I had Audrey for company for most of the lochside, I enjoyed the warmth of the sun and even took off my peaked Buff.

It was brilliant to see the party of walkers and their guides heading towards Inversnaid, not the easiest section, I felt so pleased for them that they were not letting a visual impairment hold them back!

At Inversnaid, I swapped my water bottle again, picked up another pouch of custard and guzzled a wee dinky can of coke and left with the minimum of faffing.  At one of the big bouldery scrambly bits there was a walker having a bit of a dither trying to get up, I stood patiently behind her, she was shorter than me and fairly sturdily built, her wee legs couldn’t reach, so I suggested that I go first then give her a hand. Up I went, turned and held out my hand and then cringed, I just remember it was all sticky, why is the last mouthful of a can of coke more than the size of your gob, I forgot I wiped the sticky slavers from my chin, but she didn’t squeal “Eeeww” just thanked me after I gave her a wee pull up.

I always take it nice and easy along from Inversnaid to the top of the loch, my running legs get a rest and my muscles get a stretch out and they are good to go once back on easier going ground.  The terrain starts to climb gently before the steep wee pull up to Dario’s post, but I don’t find it hard, I’m pulled up by the thought of spending a few moments with an old friend, he has the first wee drop of malt from my hip-flask then Audrey and I share a nip.  A smile is on my face and my emotion in my chest as I raise my wee flask.

We move on towards Beinglas. On the descent through the trees Audrey fell, it was quite a sair yin, she skint the heel of her hand and the fall triggered some cramp, but what a trooper, Audrey was back up in no time at all, apologising for hold us up, about fifty yards later, I caught my toe, but I was lucky enough just to do the fastest three yards of my race and remain upright!  I must have looked dodgy, Audrey saw me go and let out a wee gasp on my behalf!  We made it into Beinglas with no other hairy moments. 

At the checkpoint Matt helped me with my drop bag, swapping  my water bottle and taking my rubbish, I took another milkshake, a Slim-fast this time, but I didn’t guzzle it down, I took it with me and had  a few mouthfuls every once and a while.  I have really enjoyed my run to Beinglas, I felt good and strong having kept it at a comfortable pace, now time to give it a bit of welly, I looked at my watch for the first time, just over ten hours, hmm… if I could do the last twelve miles in just under three hours it would be a PB, but I wasn’t out for a do or die mission, my plan was to have an enjoyable strong run, up the effort at the end and be faster than last year and unless I had a major problem that was on the cards. I would work with the terrain, breathe a bit harder and take what time I’d get.

On the open path towards coo poo alley the wind picked up a bit and it cooled down, I pulled my sleeves down, I was surprised how dry it was under foot, it’s not often this good. At the big gate above Crianlarich there were a few folk waiting on their runners and someone said “Well done, five and a half miles to the finish!”  Really?  The numbers still surprising me, I know every climb and swoop of the rollercoaster and the road in and out of Auchtertyre, and then thought of a routine five miler I do at home, even with the climb in Culross there’s no comparison! Yep, WHW miles are Tardis miles!   I felt it getting really cold in the trees, my gloves and peaked Buff went back on. 

Bill stopped me at the road crossing; there was traffic… come on! I didn’t mind waiting for walkers but soulless metal boxes on wheels tested my patience. Once over, I ran every step to the gate beside the remains of St Fillan’s Priory, I walk bits of the gentle rise towards the Wigwams, the wind was strong but so was I, still maintaining the effort, past the Loch of the Lost Sword, through the big gate, I could hear the piper, then I could see him, round the corner and along the red carpet! Arms above my head! Woooohoooo!  Fan-flingin’-tastic! 

Eleven minutes outside my PB but seventeen minutes faster than last year, a good strong steady run with no problems at all, perfect preparation for this year’s West Highland Way Race.  

Here’s the numbers blurb from my race and if you really want a geeky peek all my training is on Strava.

Here's a link to the rest of the photos I took through the day. My Fling photos

The number of competitors in the Fling has increased, but the race has kept the warmth and camaraderie of a family looking out for each other, that starts with John and his dedicated team, the work and detail that goes into making the Fling a fantastic event is down to you and everyone willing to give up their day so a bunch of eejits can scamper to their hearts content in the most beautiful scenery around. Thank you all for giving me a perfect day out. 

Thursday, 23 April 2015

All roads lead to Milngavie

I haven't written anything for a while so here’s a wee catch up.

Devilla Forest 15km on the 8th February had perfect conditions for running. It was dry, bright but a wee bit too cold for my liking but I have clothes and the race plan was – Go hard and hang on!

At the start I stood fairly well up, last year I started well back the field and I got a bit held up by the white shoe runners on the technical bits, I wasn’t going to let that happen this year, even though it wasn’t going to be a mud-fest, the paths and tracks were reported dry, frozen, maybe a bit rutted but nothing I couldn’t handle. After about a mile or so we turned on to the narrow path and it was all very civilised, the pace eased slightly because of the rough terrain but we all stayed in the trail conga with nobody fighting past anyone-else, once back on to wider track, positions changed a fair bit, I’d go past someone then they’d go by me, not something I’m used to in a race, I tend to have a blether until someone stops for a comfort break or to take out a sandwich!  I felt as if I might’ve over cooked the pace, but then thought to myself, what was the worst that could happen? My legs would get heavy and I’d go slower!  Ok, I can live with that, just hang with it; it’s only six miles to go! I had a wee glance at my time at half way, if I maintained the pace, a PB was on. 

We were back onto a narrow track and again the pace eased slightly, but I didn’t stress it, just stayed in the conga, no point wasting energy trying to get round someone, the course was well marked with plenty marshals, (no chance of last year’s shenanigans whether it was nasty sabotage or delinquent neds having a laugh) the marshals were encouraging everyone, I was happy to comply to Kevin’s instructions and walk the skitey plank bridge, yay, a wee breather!  But not for long, once off the steep narrow path I pushed as hard as I could go. The final mile I was running like my arse was on fire, once back on the tarmac two or three runners went past me, I consoled myself that they obviously couldn’t have worked as hard as I did for the whole way if they had a sprint finish!
It felt like my lungs were back to front or inside out and took a few minutes to get my breathing back to normal but it was brilliant!  I knocked 2.46 minutes off from 2012, with the conditions being perfect I think there were a few PB’s to be had that day but I’m glad to see my strength has returned and a great confidence boost.

Smokies 10 1st March

After such a great run at Devilla I was chomping at the bit for another blast at Go hard and hang on. I doubted a PB would happen, I set a Smokies PB in 2013, I was on a mission that day to prove I was fit for the fight ahead; the race was days before I went into hospital for surgery at the start of my cancer treatment.

I was aiming at finishing in around the same time as Devilla, I thought that the easier going tarmac would equal-out the extra half mile of the ten miler but the hill would make it a quality challenge.  I wasn’t taking into account that it was blowin’ a hoolie in the moosh for the first half which is up-hill to boot! On the way out I tried to find an odd bit of shelter behind other runners but it wasn’t happening.  I worked hard to try and hang on to those that were a bit faster than me, but I wasn’t prepared to use someone at a slightly slower pace to get a breather from the wind. I sneaked a peek at my watch at half way. Ooft! I felt I was working harder than that! But I’d be guaranteed negative splits with the downhill and the wind now working with me. I spread my shoulder blades as wide as they would go and imagined they were kites. I didn’t let the effort go and still worked as hard as I could, pushing all the way. I finished around a minute slower than Devilla but very happy with that considering how hard the wind was blowing. I was well outside my PB, but five minutes faster than last year where I felt I was at the start of rebuilding my strength and on the grand scale of twenty-two Smokies races it was in the top third of my times.  Another confirmation that I’m back.
Photo from Duncan McGougan - definitely not my ultra-shuffle stride! 

That’s the speed work done and onto the next phase of training, getting in some long comfortable cruise miles.  Driving home from Smokies Sue mentioned that she was running the Borders Marathon the following weekend and there were still places available. I’ve never entered a marathon six days before the event before but it sounded loads more fun than the Billy-no-mates twenty miler I had planned, so on Monday I entered it. I wasn’t going to race it, just use it as a training run but with sticking on a race number I’d give it a bit of welly at the end and hopefully pick up the pace for the last six miles.  

Borders Marathon 8th March

Sue and I travelled down to Kelso in good timing for the 9.00am start, the course was twenty-three and a half laps on the safety track at Kelso Racecourse.  I quite enjoy running round and round, my introduction to laps was at Glenrothes 50km in 2001 with a mere fourteen to count, and since 2008 all my races that have had laps have been a minimum of twenty-four hours so it was a novelty to run a “wee” race on laps!  From the start I clicked into my ultra-cruise mode and keep a fine steady pace, it was lovely to have snippets of conversation with everyone, I probably had more blether with the fast guys and gals since they lapped me loads!

Although there was a table stocked with drinks and sweeties available every lap with great marshals handing them out I wore my bottle belt and carried a couple of gels I only had to stop once to swap my water bottle (technically I stopped twice, more about that in a minute) the loop looked flat but there was a bit of a slope to it that wasn’t very noticeable at the start but as the miles clocked up the wind picked up too, and flaming typical, the wind was in our faces on the up side of the loop!  My slowest mile was the twentieth one where I had a struggle getting my second gel in, it was an awfy thick one and needed a lot of water to sloosh it round my mouth but once it was down I did manage to pick up the pace and push on to the finish.  I’d gone round the final bend and was winding up for a strong finish with about fifty yards to go… SPLAT! My nose was an inch from the ground! How did that happen?  I was back up as quick as I went down.  When saving myself from a fall I’m an aficionado of the starfish technique, landing evenly on all points of contact, no serious damage done, apart from being a bit dusty and feeling like a proper muppet! I don’t think anyone saw me, well, maybe the girl sitting right where I hit the deck and all the lap counters!  (At bath time just found some wee bumps and scuffs on both my knees, elbows and hands, also my left hip and thigh.) Sue finished not long after me, a quality training run for her too, pleased with her pacing and reassuring herself of making the cut off for the Two Oceans, her first big race since ankle surgery.

This was the second running of the Borders Marathon and I think it will grow; it’s a good accurately measured course with the possibility of a PB if the wind plays the game. I’ll happily do it again next year.

 Loch Katrine Marathon 22nd March

I was really looking forward to running this again, the scenery is stunning, the course challenging and the everyone involved friendly. With it being an out and back route you get to say hiya to all the runners. 

Just before the start we were honoured with a fly-past from a chevron of geese, I cringed as I looked up and I was glad not to get hit with “luck”!

After Audrey’s briefing we were off, I ran quite a few miles with Ellen and Amanda, lovely to have a catch up with them. 

I think I was around ten or eleven miles when the leaders were on their way back, last year I ran with my camera and I was doing the same again, I tried to get everyone’s photos but some were too blurry. (Loch Katrine photos) I was having a cracking run, really enjoying myself, I think with the memories of how hard last year was, this year I felt so strong in comparison.  Even Graveyard hill which climbs for over a mile at around the nineteenth mile couldn’t take the smile from my face, once up and over I did the same as at Kelso and pushed on to finish strong, (also glad I didn’t stop for a lie-down within spitting distance of finish!)  Surprisingly, considering the climbs, I was four minutes faster than the Borders Marathon two weeks earlier, and sixteen minutes faster than last year. Again proof that I’m back and my training is going well.

The following weekend Pauline and I had a twenty mile jaunt from Derrydarroch down to Inversnaid and back, it was a bit of a dreich day, we had rain-jackets on the whole time, there were a few wee blinks of sun and rainbows, the heavy rain had made the waterfalls thunderous and put some where there usually isn’t any. 
It was also a Fling training weekend and there was a bus load running from Balmaha or Rowardennan up to Tyndrum so it was lovely to say hi to everyone. (photos)

The next weekend had us doing a thirty miler from Bridge of Orchy out and back, I wasn’t sure where we would turn back but the Garmin clocked fifteen miles at Altnafeadh, I was prepared to go up the Devil’s Staircase, but Pauline persuaded me that it wasn’t needed, besides it was in cloud, we’d see nothing from the top, we would have done a fair bit of climbing by the time we’d get back to Bridge of Orchy also we’ll have time for fish and chips at the Real Food Café.  Ok, I’m convinced. (photos)
I was happily weary at the end and according to my Garmin there was over 3000 feet of ascent!  So we fair enjoyed our grub in the Café and a bonus of getting a blether with Helen, John and Amanda when they called in for something to eat after their adventures on the Way too. 

It’s now a  couple of days until the Highland Fling, the highlight of my WHW training, and I’m loving the buzz and excitement on the race facebook page, if the Fling wasn’t there I doubt I’d go this far in training  but this is exactly what brought it about in the first place! A quality training run for the West Highland Way race and it’s amazing to see what a fantastic race it has grown into over the past ten years; it’s just such a brilliant day with the best buddies you’ll ever come across. I don’t doubt I’ll feel as good as I have on all my other long runs this year and hopefully I’ll manage to put in a bit of welly at the end.  

On the medical front my consultant is happy with me and only wants to see me every three months now instead of two, but I’m a bit disappointed that the nerve damage from surgery, chemo and radio has not settled down much, my mouth is still very sensitive and irritated by most foods, eating will always be a chore and eating out is a bit of an ordeal but I’m thriving fairly well on full fat milk, salmon, homemade soup, beer and Tiramisu, I think that covers all the main food groups!  On the plus side I can now feel all of my bottom lip, it is still a bit tingly but feeling is there, nerves take a very long time to repair and there will always be numbness and “fizzy” bits but I still live in hope there will be improvement even if it is slow going. I’m even producing a smidgen of saliva, not enough to make a difference for eating and I’ll always need a bottle of water to hand but at least I don’t feel the need to have a sip of water every time I speak a sentence.  On the big plus quite a few folk have said they have noticed my speech is a lot clearer especially those I haven’t seen for a while, with the progress being slow those close to me probably don’t noticed it so much, I don’t suppose it will ever sound right to me but I’m glad that I’m understood.

It’s now over two years since the surgery and time has been a bit warped, sometimes it feels like it was only a few months ago but when I look back I have managed to do so much. 2013 felt like it was a wide eyed fight, 2014 was a slog, but 2015 has been so good so far, I feel so strong, training has been perfect and I’m really looking forward to this year’s West Highland Way Race. There are no guarantees in future plans, I have entered the race every year since 2003 and I’ve had two DNS’s, in 2005 a brain haemorrhage and 2013 cancer but I have no doubt that I’ll be on the start line on June 20th and I’ll get to Fort William, I’m not going to predict a PB or any finish time for that matter, I’ve ran it enough to know Plan A rarely happens.  One goal is keeping a smile on my face, being the first woman in the history of the race to pick up their eleventh goblet. Now that will be some achievement! 

Sunday, 25 January 2015

You're going to take 2015 by the baws and Rock it!!!

Thank you Donna Macpherson for my post title and my mantra for 2015, I'm gonna do exactly as you say! 

At the beginning of a new year it’s natural to look back over the past twelve months, but for me it seems as if 2013 and 2014 have merged together, my mind has deleted a lot but I’m hanging on to the good bits. It doesn’t feel like it’s nearly two years since I was diagnosed with mouth cancer, February 18th 2013 to be exact, which was followed by major surgery on the 18th March then six weeks of chemo and radiotherapy that finished on the last day of May, I look back at run/walking the Skye half marathon 6 days later in just under 3 hours with a smile, and covering 127 miles at the 48 hour race at the British Ultra Fest 10 weeks post treatment is filed under How the hell did I do that! Then managing to cover 25 miles at Glenmore 24 in my own wee special 6 hour run, that really felt like I was coming home, which was followed by a slog round Loch Ness marathon in just over 5 hours. These races were done purely to prove I was alive and kicking, and they did wonders for my morale.

The start of 2014 didn’t feel like a new year, just a continuation of working towards the goal that kept my head up when tough stuff threatened to overwhelm me. I had two images in my mind, I visualised slapping my hands on the Leisure Centre door and collecting my Goblet to the sound of the support of my WHW family.

I followed no schedule, just trusted my judgement regards training, it was a fine line between doing enough training without knocking myself back, was I fatigued from training or the treatment?  In March I ran Smokies 10 as hard as I could, I was 10 minutes outside the previous years time, but chuffed all the same, my next quest was running all of Loch Katrine Marathon, I could go as slow as I liked just no walking, mission accomplished! Then in April I covered 40 odd miles over 2 stints supporting AllyKRunsSkye. Mr Macpherson you are my hero, there are many that have fought hard for their sporting achievements but none as hard fought as yours in the worst weather I’ve ever had the “pleasure” to run in, proud to play a small part in your epic run.  Then the Highland Fling was a huge boost to my confidence, I did it within the WHW cut-offs, peace of mind I’d get half way.

West Highland Way race 2014 was so special, I was living the goal that had held me together through so much, I don’t want to use the word easy, but knowing what it meant to me negated any pain or fatigue.  The standing ovation when I received my goblet was overwhelming, I held myself together like a rabbit in headlights if I could’ve found a voice I would have said “Thank you, I couldn’t have done it without you.”  The support of my WHW family made a huge difference and I can’t imagine being able to do what I did without it.

Glenmore 24 was tough, I still didn't feel back to full strength, and conditions weren’t in my favour but still chuffed to do what I did. I had an appointment with my consultant a couple of days after, my Macmillan nurse was not impressed that I’d lost a bit of weight but I glibly retorted “Ocht, I’ll soon put it back on, that only happens when I run nearly ninety miles at the weekend!” My consultant smiled and shook his head, he tends to do that more often than not when I see him, he has allowed the start of reconstructive dentistry and after several visits to St Johns Hospital in Livingston at the end of November I now have a lovely set of laughing tackle, I feel my speech has been knocked back a wee bit with them and eating is still a struggle, but they are work in progress, eventually I might be able to have implants in my top jaw, the bottom jaw has been too damaged by the radiotherapy so not an option there, but at least I’ve got a bonnie smile back!

The Loch Ness Marathon was a happy plod, I’ve got the full set and since 2008 it has always been around a fortnight after a 24 hour race so I’m happy just to enjoy the scenery, Pauline ran with me but I wasn’t going to be dragged round and we had a fine steady race, and I had a wee giggle to myself near the finish, within the last half mile Pauline said “You can wind it up any time you like.” My reply “This is wound up!” I wasn't going to spoil a lovely run with a sprint finish, not sure I could've managed much of a one anyway! I had great fun running Glen Ogle 33, time-wise it wasn’t anything special but that’s not important, one thing that stayed with me the whole way, I felt strong, something that has been lacking since my treatment.  I felt a wee bit tired doing it again the following weekend, Pauline wasn’t able to run the GO33, she’d tweaked her back a few days before the race but it settled down enough to go back the following Saturday. That day had a bit of a horsey theme, I don’t suppose anyone else doing the race has noticed a wee memorial cairn to a horse that led the charge at the Hamden riot in 1980?  Nope? Well, something to look out for this year then!  As we were heading down the path back to Killin we met a woman leading a horse, she asked if we could do her a favour and hold her horse as she got back on, she said he was a skittish Arab and wasn’t for behaving, I stood back, Pauline held his reins and spoke in an authoritative manner, he still wasn’t behaving when his owner tried to get on, I braved up and held on too, eventually the woman got back on and cantered off with a thank you over her shoulder. I was well impressed with Pauline, she impressed herself too, saying she’s only used to a stroppy wee Westie and the closest she’s ever been to a horse before was watching them parade round the paddock at a day at the races before sticking a fiver on one!

December was an easy month, just ticking over waiting for the New Year to start, I definitely feel like this year is a new start.  Comparing my training for this January to January 2013 before my cancer diagnosis, I’m not far away from being back to where I was then, it’s taken two years but I feel strong and ready to take on all the challenges I have the luxury to set myself, mainly my eleventh West Highland Way Race and Glenmore 24. 

Yesterday I ran a good strong 10k at Buchlyvie, the course is fairly flat but underfoot there were patches of ice and a muddy forest track, I was only one minute twenty seconds slower than my 10k PB set over twenty years ago on a warm evening on dry tarmac in Dunfermline although that course was hilly.

I’m not sure whether I will ever run a PB again at any distance but it won’t be without trying, not because I care about the time I do, it's more about shouting “Fuck you cancer!”  Strong is the new fast!  

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Glenmore 24

On Friday morning Pauline and I had the car loaded and were on the road by around 10.30am, for a relaxed drive up to Aviemore arriving at Hayfield around 1.00pm.  We’d borrowed the club tent/gazebo which is dead easy to put up, a bit like popping up a giant brolly with no need to feed poles into sleeves. It took a wee bit longer getting the tables, chairs, race stuff organised and putting up the wee two man tent and blow up the air beds, the club tent is really a shelter and not suitable for sleeping in.  
Pauline's race food on the left, mine on the right

After lunch, we had a wee stroll round the first part of the loop, I wanted to go round the whole beautiful loop but I’d thought I’d save it for tomorrow, there’s no need for a recce I’d already covered the loop sixty times! In 2011 and 2012 I’d managed twenty-seven laps and in last year’s six hour special I was chuffed to do six laps.

We wandered up to Ada’s registration tent and she’d just started filling the goody bags, so I asked if she’d like a hand, we had a great production line going and after a couple of hours all one hundred and thirty odd were filled, individually labelled with correct size t-shirt or vest and laid out ready to be picked up. 

After some pasta for tea it was time to party in pirate style, there were some cracking costumes, mine was of minimal effort, an old Goonies t-shirt with a wee parrot pinned to my shoulder and my WHW pirate Buff.  Pauline and I were good little athletes and only had a couple of beers before heading to bed but not before a swig of Terry’s rum and a wee Slainte with John’s Octomore. 
photo from Go Al Gannet
I slept not too badly, it was a chilly night but I was well prepared, a good thick sleeping bag, two fleece blankets, thick socks and fleecy jammies over normal jammies, I still wasn’t overly warm but not freezing.  We were up by 8.00am had our porridge, then we took down the tent we slept in; there will be no kipping for us during the event!

Morna was doing the twelve hour race with her sister, Innes doing support, they arrived and organised her race supplies in the tent.  Val arrived and went over our race plans, she had her hands full looking after both of us but to help make her job a wee bit easier, I placed a cool-box at the top of base-camp for us to drop our bottles, mugs etc. into since neither Pauline and I ever stop to eat and Val wouldn’t be able to accompany either of us round the camp in case the other one was on the way in.

The race briefing at 11.30am was in the rain and there was no promise of it going off any time soon, so I decided to start in my serious weather jacket.  12.00noon, we’re off, Pauline and I stayed together for the first lap then I let her go on, I didn’t see her again until she lapped me hours later.  In the first year  of the race I labelled the course by the terrain splitting the four mile loop into four sections,  the lumpy bumpy mile, a narrow path through trees and this year some big puddles along with slippy mud heading out of base-camp, then the second section, the long run, a wee bit over a mile along a wide forest track and easy under foot and in previous years, I’d always ran the whole section, the up-hill, yep, self-explanatory, the mile with the hill but I’d still pick points that were runnable, the last section, the down-hill, where I’d take it easy on the steeper downhill bits protecting my quads before a wee kick of a hill, then a left turn down some steps onto the grass and back to base-camp.  

After a few laps, I felt settled into my groove and there were some blue bits growing in the sky, yaaay, I left the rain jacket with Val. Oh-oh! Next lap round I’d just turned onto the down-hill and the sky was black as night, seconds later the rain started then it wasn’t just rain, huge hailstones battered off my head and shoulders, thankfully the Buff round my head was peaked and stopped me losing an eye!  I pulled up the Buff round my neck bandit style to protect my lower jaw, my long-sleeved top and club vest didn’t stop the hailstones stinging my shoulders and I tried not to push too hard down the hill back to the base-camp.  I was just going to pick up my jacket but once I arrived at our tent Val said “Change your top; you’re soaking wet and cold.”  Yeah, probably a better idea, I was freezing and wouldn’t warm up much with just adding a jacket over my sopping wet clothes, so Val and Innes stripped my top half, dried me and got me changed into my thick thermal top, my jacket and my “Ray McCurdy’s” (an ancient pair of weatherproof breeks, that I’d chopped down to just below the knee and treated with Nikwax, they resemble the attire worn by the legend and are easy pulled on and kicked off with no faffing).  
photo from Glenmore Trail Race - Glad to see the hailstones had their uses at base-camp

I eventually warmed a smidgen and was back in my groove, I was targeting 100 miles but it was never going to be a ‘do or die’ mission, just a ‘go for it and see what happens’ and adjust accordingly.  After the great confidence boost of the West Highland Way Race, I knew that it wasn’t beyond me but the pace I was meant to maintain to be able to do it within the time would be the big ask.  There is no hiding in a twenty-four race, if your health or fitness is lacking it will show, but with never being more than two miles away from a checkpoint and the safety and camaraderie of the laps it was worth having a crack at it.

I’d enjoyed the laps and the chat with everyone that was around , I’d asked a few folk if they’d see the big red toadstools near the end of the “lumpy bumpy mile”,  they did, only after I’d pointed them out, was I the only one taking in my surroundings? 

Around 10.00pm I picked up my iPod but only had it in the one ear, nobody went by without a word or two.  Just before midnight, my quads were starting to feel empty,  I’d covered 13 laps, 52 miles, I knew the chance of reaching 100 miles was slim but I wasn’t prepared to let go yet, when I’m on form I maintain pace like a metronome, I was on the “long run” section and near the end of it I caught my toe and went down, it wasn’t much of a fall, more of a well-executed SAS style drop and roll, the only discomfort was coming to a halt lying on my back wearing a bottle belt, I picked myself up and carried on no damage done.  Next lap I’d picked up my thermal mug with chicken soup from Val, I walked a good pace on the lumpy bumpy mile enjoying the warmth of the soup, I’d only drank about half of it by the time I turned on to the “long run”, so I closed the lid and ran, I was at the point where I fell the previous lap, BANG!  Down I went again! For goodness sake, you numpty, pay attention! I shouted in my head.  This time it hurt a bit, I landed in Superman mode, with my right hand holding my mug out in front of me, it stayed relatively full, the clatter had knocked the lid off and a wee drop soup splashed my glove but I’d managed to keep it upright, my left hip and elbow taking the impact. This time when I got up I walked all the way until the very top of the hill, the fall had shaken me a little, the “long run” section was the easiest under foot, how did I manage to fall… again?  Maybe I was more tired than I thought, time to ease back a bit and take more care. 

The rain was never far away and there were constant showers but never as bad as the hailstones earlier, the puddles on the loop had shrunk a bit and you could more or less get round them but the bottom of the field at base camp was a swamp with no escaping an icy paddle every lap, tents were flooded and had to be moved. As the night wore on I added more clothes, I’d taken off the “Ray McCurdy’s” earlier, but I had added a fleece over the long sleeved thick thermal under my rain-jacket, another pair of long tights and a woolly hat over my peaked Buff, around dawn, I added another layer, a light weight down jacket under the waterproof. The sky lightened, I never noticed any pink in it this year, the black just turned to grey but the water of Loch Morlich was as still as a mill pond and the hills were a mirror image on one lap.  The hundred miles were no longer possible.  I would just do what I could do.

I’d just left base camp, “OW!”  Had Ada followed me out with her fully charged cattle prod? My left hip felt as if she’d given me a belt.  It happened a few times round the lap, I felt a zap like an electric shock in my hip, making me buckle over briefly, I rubbed my hip, the skin felt tingly numb, was it from the fall or my just my lower back?  This was new; I’d never experienced this in a race before although my back has given my grief for years, with dodgy discs and wee bouts of sciatica from time to time.  I eased back again and walked bits where if I’d had the strength of previous years I would’ve ran, but my head did not go down, I didn’t dwell on past achievements and just went with the body I have for now.  Although this was intensely painful and my strength had gone it was not hard, moving forward with the minimum effort required for a mere 24 hours is a pleasure.  Hard was lying flat on my back in a hospital bed, not even being able to roll onto my side, unable to get up because of all the tubes and drains for the first five days after surgery or not being able to eat because of the severe burns in my mouth from the radiotherapy.   

My feet were giving me problems now, having permanently wet socks and shoes had taken its toll, I felt a couple of wee nippy bits and a small blister of my left foot but it was the right one that was making me screw my face up, I’d had the lace a bit looser than usual, from the lap with the hailstones the bones on the top of my foot jarred every step, funnily enough, they weren’t shouting so loud now, it was watching the blood seep through the mesh that was giving me cause for concern, the skin on top of my toes and the top of my foot were rubbed raw, it felt like having a cheese grater in my sock on the down hills, and it frustrated me that I was wussing down them, letting something  so shallow and superficial dictate my pace, I didn’t bother stopping to change my socks or shoes since two steps out of the tent and they’d be just as sodden again and it’s only 24 hours!  My race plan was adapted again, my goal now was just to finish on my feet, the distance was not important. In all the years I’ve been running I’ve never DNF’d, being tired, cold, sore and off target is not a valid reason, as long as I can remain upright and moving forward I will never give up.  I didn’t know until afterwards but both Pauline and Val (and a few others too, thank you for your messages on Sunday evening) were a bit concerned that I was very pale, 
photo from John Kynaston - Last lap
Val came round with me on my last full lap saying Pauline was happy to look after herself, it was just a stroll, at least Val had time to take in the beauty and variety of the loop and admire the giant toadstools wishing she had her camera, we paced it nicely that I was going slow enough that I wouldn’t have to do another big loop but fast enough to keep my circulation moving and stave off the post-race faint and I’d get back to base-camp just before 11.00am then I could just stay on the wee loop for the last hour.  I had to stand for around ten minutes waiting for the wee loop to open, Val brought me my blanket and a mug of tea, and made Sean look down at my shoes, no way was she touching them and neither was I at the end of the race!  The wee loop opened and I strolled round, feeling a bit of a fraud as everyone cheered and shouted for me, my pace did not warrant their enthusiasm.  I had to have a wee laugh at the absurdity of the extremes between two runners in the same race, me, wearing every item of race clothing plus a blanket, hugging a mug of tea, then Johnny Fling dressed like an extra from Baywatch bouncing along as though on a sun kissed Californian beach in his teensy shorts and vest, Noanie handed him a bottle of iced water and he poured it over his head, that made me shudder!
photo from Go Al Gannet
Finally the countdown and the hooter, I could plant my peg with my race number into the ground. Val met me and walked me down to Sean, I was treated to a wee sip of Jura from his WHW hipflask, a gift from Dario before he and Laura removed my socks and shoes, I was impressed that I didn’t swear and only uttered a lot of ooyahs  as I sooked in my breath, although I did have to tense every muscle in my legs so I didn’t flinch and kick them in the chops as they used the “allegedly” not so nippy stuff  to clean and dress my feet, they did a fantastic job without  boaking or flinching at the sight and smell.   After a lie down wrapped in foil blankets and some chicken soup Terry had given Val for me I started to warm up.  Sean said they’re about to start the prize giving and did I want to go. I wasn’t missing it, so I tied the foil blankets round me and headed out of the first aid tent looking like an oven ready bird. 
photo from Glenmore 24
The BaM team put on some brilliant races but for me The Glenmore 24 is the jewel in the crown and a very special event in my calendar, thank you guys and everyone there for a cracker of a weekend, let’s do it all again next year.

I completed twenty-two full laps, six, and a bit, small laps covering a total of 89.56 miles.  I am not in the least bit disappointed, although it’s the least distance I’ve achieved in a 24 hour race, on the grand scale of where I’m at sixteen months post cancer treatment I am doing bloody brilliantly.  I’m looking forward to getting some quality winter training, come next spring I’ll be back to full strength and raring to go.