Monday, 21 September 2015

Glenmore 24 2015 - A perfect day.

I dropped a car load of stuff with Ken on Thursday evening so he could do the jigsaw thing with all the camping gear, club tent and my race stuff before picking me up Friday morning, I hoped there was enough room left for Pauline’s gear! In the morning we managed to squeeze in Pauline’s adventure supplies and set off fairly sharp. With the forecast for rain in the afternoon we hoped to get the tents up before it started, we were fairly successful, the big club tent, a posh sports gazebo type thing that snaps up in a minute but far more wind and weather resilient than a gazebo and the two wee tents we were sleeping in on Friday night.  We had a tea-break while the rain was at its heaviest before setting up the rest of the paraphernalia then headed back to the Italian restaurant in Aviemore for some pasta.

Back at Hayfield Ally and Donna had arrived, we were joining forces, having two supporters sharing the work of three runners made it easier than have Ken do Pauline and I on his own and there was plenty room in the tent.

Next was the Glenmore 24 party, this year’s theme was Cowboys and Indians, with a Bucking Bronco, I only watched, it looked great fun but no way was I risking injury falling off.

It was bitterly cold on Friday night but I was a well prepared cowboy, under my long sleeved top and checked shirt I was wearing a long sleeved thermal and I found an ancient blanket in the cupboard with the old tins of paint, I slashed a head hole, cut it to fit and blanket-stitched the edges, Clint Eastwood style, an arrow through my head topped with a cowboy hat and a set of pistols I was ready to party.  My jaw aches in the cold but I think it was the laughter that got it this time. There is no other 24 hour race in the world with a pre-race evening like this! (Think I’m fairly qualified to make that statement having supported Pauline in 24 hour races in Holland, France, Italy, England, Wales and Canada!)  After a lot of giggling and two cans of sports drink (Belhaven Black) it was time for good little athletes to go to bed. I was well prepared for a night in a tent at this location and time of year, air mattress, cosy sleeping bag, warm jammies under fleecy jammies, double layer fleecy blanket and I threw my cowboy blanket over the top just for good measure, if I woke up roasting I could knock it off… I didn’t! 

In the morning there was no rush to get ready, I had two pots of the Oats so Simple porridge and a banana for breakfast before we took down the wee tents, there will be no sleeping for us, it’s only 24 hours! Then got race clothes on but left doing my feet to the last moment, I’d borrowed my daughter’s festival wellies and I was keeping my feet dry for as long as possible, the grass was wet and a wee bit waterlogged at the bottom of the field and I was concerned about having a repeat of the carnage that happened in my shoes last year.

At high noon we were off, (some still in costume) I was surprised how fast the leaders went round the field on the first lap; I presumed it was the relay leading the charge, new for this year and not an easy option, run like the clappers for one lap then hand over to three other team mates keeping the same order doing a lap each, then run like the clappers again for one lap and maintain that for 24 hours, I think my constant steady plod will be easier! 
Photo from the first lap by Chen Chee Kong
Photo from James Day
Although the first few laps were a wee bit quick which is quite normal as long as you don’t go too daft, I clicked into the routine of the points I picked in previous years for where to run and where to walk on the beautiful four mile loop and hopefully I’d be able to maintain the discipline every lap no matter how tired I got. It took me to the fifth lap (20 miles) until I felt settled and relaxed into my groove and was keeping a fine steady consistent pace.

The eating plan was to pick up a little something every lap and to make things a bit easier for Ken and Donna I placed a box at the top of the field for us to drop our half-drunk bottles and empties into since neither Pauline or I stop to eat and Ken or Donna could collect them at an opportune moment. All my race food has to be fluid these days, so it was mostly milkshakes either Ensure Plus or Yazoo, supplemented with custard,  chicken soup, sloppy mashed tatties, very soft cheesy pasta, hot chocolate, coffee and coke. I was supposed to give my next lap order when I came in but I didn’t always think ahead but Ken was brilliant at guessing what I would like when I didn’t pre-order. On one lap I arrived without having left instruction and ask for a milkshake, Ken took longer than a nano-second to find one, so I just flounced off empty handed shouting I’ll get it next lap. I heard Donna laugh and she called after me asking if I wanted it at the top of the field.  Thank you Donna for pandering to my only diva strop, she was waiting for me with my milkshake I paused and had a couple of mouthfuls, giving myself a row for being such a brat.
Patricia Carvalho Photography
 I had planned to pick up my camera for a lap in the afternoon or early evening but I kept forgetting, I was concentrating on getting my food and I never took any photos of the gorgeous  route but I do have some cracking images locked in my memory, every year I’ve had a moment where the view has stopped me in my tracks and I enjoyed the privilege of owning it. In 2011, the clear sky with a millions twinkling stars had me pausing briefly, 2012 the sky wasn’t clear but the full moon made an occasional appearance and I followed my moon shadow rather than my head torch, in 2013 the setting sun had tears running down my cheeks, I was around 12 weeks post chemo and radiotherapy, fighting my way back to health. Being back where I belonged running a special 6 hour “race” just for me, my emotion was as intense of the colours of pink cotton wool clouds and blue sky reflected in the Loch. I struggle to find an image in my memory that made my heart sing in 2014 but the giant red toadstools made me smile. This year’s “pause and cherish the moment” happened in the evening, on the stretch after the hill and before the left turn, the setting sun gave the heather an intense warm and vibrancy through the long shadows will never be forgotten, I consoled myself that a camera probably wouldn’t do it justice. Another beautiful sight was seeing George and Karen running towards me doing a lap in reverse.  High fiving them both as they past gave me a boost, it’s great to see George looking and moving so well.

The laps steadily notched up, I picked up my head torch before it got dark and my iPod when it was, it was usually only in one ear, I enjoyed a wee blether whenever I had company and just a wee word when folks were going at a different a pace. Even the speedy pants relay runners flying by always gave a shout; the camaraderie of ultra is second to none.   

At around 11pm I asked Ken, for the first time, where I was in relation to my 2012 splits, he told me I was around five minutes slower.  I felt as if I was running slower than that and to find out that I was only five minutes adrift was a big bonus.  I don’t wear a Garmin for 24 hour race, just my old Timex Ironman to clock the laps so I know what one I’m on. I always run to my body and never to a watch or gizmo, I’m usually pretty consistent when things are going fairly smoothly and I’m settled into my groove.  How’s this for consistent! Studying my lap sheets, at just over thirteen and a half hours of running there was only one second of difference for the time I went through the 16th lap (64 miles) in 2012 and this year!

Around 3.00am and 4.00am is where the body is at its lowest ebb but I had a great boost in my arsenal to combat it, I would complete my 18th lap between those hours totalling 100 laps for my five years of running Glenmore24. Ken asked if I wanted my bottle of beer opened for when I came round but I declined, it was more the thought of celebrating with a beer than actually doing it was the goal, my stomach was doing ok but a beer at the back of 3.30am might have tipped it over the edge so I just had some custard.

It was still dark when I caught up with Pauline she had been ahead until her stomach started to give her jip, so she knocked her pace back a bit and we ran a couple of laps together, then she said she was going to ease back a bit more to try and let her stomach settle, I was quite relieved for selfish reasons, listening to her dry heaves wasn’t doing my guts any favours, they were threatening to come out in sympathy!

The sky lightened and with moving well all night I only had to add one long-sleeve top and gloves which came off as the day warmed up, the weather was so much kinder than last year. After 6.30am I’d gone through lap 21 (84miles) I started doing some sums in my head, working out that if I was going to complete 27 laps I’d have to up it.  It was do-able but I’d have to pick up the pace, so with around five hours still to go I started to push. I thought that if I could finish lap 26 with 55 minutes still to go I’d go for one more big one, I wasn’t keen on spending nearly an hour on the wee laps and that thought spurred me on, but after a couple more laps I felt I’d have to run myself into the ground to do it and even then I wasn’t sure I had the pace to finish lap 26 in time to do one more big one. I felt I was working too hard so decided I’ve had a fantastic run anyway, the 100 miles was in the bag, so was the 104 as long as I didn’t fall and smash my face in.  I didn’t let go but stopped working so hard, I’d get the 26 laps and whatever I got on the wee laps would be a bonus.

At 10.14am Ada sounded the horn, I yelled a “Woohoo!” with my arms in the air, the dream 100 miles done.  
100 miles
A few mouthfuls of coke and set off on my last big lap, as much as I was glad to get it done I savoured every moment of the beautiful lap, the narrow winding and lumpy first mile, the long wide forest track where I ran every step ever lap, the relief to have a wee walk on the left turn up the hill, only to the post sticking out the ground, then walk/run the rest of hill depending on the gradient,  I walked the last part of the hill with Jenni, we agreed on how fantastic this race is. I then ran down the last mile for the final time and came into Hayfield with about 45 minutes still to go. 

I needn’t have dreaded doing “millions” of wee laps, the support was phenomenal, the party tents on the back stretch, Sarah’s with the fairy-lights through the night next to Noanie, Carol and Kaziah, with music and cheering that wasn’t just in the last hour but every time I went by for the whole duration of the race, same too for the kids at the top of the hill, throughout the whole event they put a smile on my face. Now in the last hour on the wee lap I shouted my number to George and Julie logging everyone’s laps at the top corner, before heading down the hill and round again, I caught up with Ally and shared a hug, he’s had a tough day but was still smiling. I kept an eye on the entrance of the lap looking for Pauline coming into the final effort, then going past our tent I saw she was sitting in a chair cheering!!! What???  She wimped out (I’m the only one allowed to say that) after lap 25, the 100 miles, stopping with an hour and a quarter still to go, her stomach never settled, there was no point flogging a dead horse. It confused the hell out of Julie, she didn’t know there was two of us and wondered how I managed to run the wee laps with her AND sit on the side in a comfy chair!
Pauline clocking the 100 miles
 My quads weren’t as knackered as I thought; I flew down the hill, the noise of support at the bottom was the fuel they needed, I heard my name being shouted, the encouragement pushed me on like a strong hand on my back and with the momentum from the hill and the cheering I lengthened my stride and pumped my arms, no longer tippy-toeing the soggy bottom, it didn’t matter anymore if my feet were wet, then hands on thighs, stomp up the hill trying to catch my breath, shout my number, fly down the hill, push as hard as I can round the bottom, hands on thighs, stomp up the hill, shout my number, fly down the hill… I lost count how many times I went round but I never stopped pushing. I was amazed at how strong I felt but I wasn’t just having that rare occurrence of a great race with everything going to plan, I was kicking the shit out of cancer.
On the wee laps in the final hour - photo from James Day
12 noon the final horn, I plant my peg with my race number into the grass, luckily it’s right beside our tent and Ken gave me my chair so I didn’t have to collapse in a heap. I let my bum sink into a chair for the first time in 24 hours, I take a lot of deep breathes, my legs are still jumping, I’m still sitting there when Bill is measuring everyone’s final distance with a wheel, it took a great effort to move out of his way.

 I am back, as fit and as strong as I was before. No! I think I’m fitter and stronger, this race more than any other has proved that to me (Finishing with 107.35 miles, 4th from 28 ladies and 12th overall from 88 runners.) I will never eat normally again but I do bloody well on what I can, my mouth will always be sensitive and painful from the treatment and nerve damaged from the surgery, this year a lot of friends have said that my speech has really improved. I’m probably a bit hard on myself but in my head I still think I sound like a pished Sean Connery without his teeth!  I’m lucky that I have running and the support from my ultra-family; I doubt I could have faced the trauma as well as I have without either.

In 2011 I finished my Glenmore 24 blog post with this.

Put the Glenmore 24 in your diaries, it is going to grow to be an event equal to the WHW.  Folk that know me know I won’t say that lightly. 

Well, I didn’t have to be Brahan Seer to predict that! It has grown and although I think, this year, base camp may have reached its limit, from a runners point of view, it was perfect, at no point did I feel I was hindered or in the way of faster runners. The work that goes into putting on the race is akin the big dod of iceberg under the water, race day is the tip and as long as BaM and all the helpers are willing to give up their time to pander to divas living their dreams I am grateful, I thank you all for letting me realise my goals. Hopefully for years to come I will still manage to run, I may have completed over 100 laps, I still have not had enough, magic happens at Glenmore.

I’d like to finish by congratulating Lorna on her second Glenmore 24 win and doing it in style wearing number 100 celebrating her 100th race of marathon distance and over. For me, lumping my marathons and ultras together this was my 90th race, I’m not a great fan of churning out races just to clock up the numbers but looking forward I just have to find one extra marathon to add to my race plan between now and next September for me to hit the hundred, there’s a new cheeky wee ultra in May at Glen Lyon, the date is still to be confirmed and I wonder if that might do it for me? All being well, next year I will run my 100th race of marathon distance and over and it will be wonderful if it could be Glenmore24, I can’t think of a better race to reach that milestone. When do entries open? 

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.