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.  

Saturday, 30 August 2014

This time next week…

I’ve just read my previous blog posts for the last three years of Glenmore 24 and I’m really really looking forward to running it again.  I feel I’m still heading into unknown territory regards my running and recovery, but all that I’ve done since the end of the surgery, chemo and radiotherapy has boosted my confidence of what I’m capable of, the West Highland Way Race was so special and I felt it was… naw, I can’t say the word ‘cause it doesn’t feel right to say it loud so I’ll spell it, e.a.s.y!  Completing the WHW was my goal, time irrelevant, so maybe because I kept the pace within the early cut-offs meant I wasn’t so wasted at the end, and the euphoria knowing I was going to do it kept my head clear and my legs fuelled.  I’m not into over analysis but this boost this has given me confidence to aim high, my pace is still slow compared to what it was pre-treatment but my goal is 100 miles minimum! 

A wee update on the medical side, my mouth is still very sensitive to a lot of foods, it is fifteen months since my treatment finished and I had hoped that I’d be managing to eat more by now, there is improvement though, I can manage a bag of Wotsits with a pint, they kinda dissolve.  The one big plus is I have recently had three visits to St. Johns Hospital, Livingston, some x-rays, and impressions have been taken, and they are working on dentures for the meantime but since the bones in my top jaw have not been affected by the treatment, there is a possibility of implants in the future, my bottom jaw is a different story, the bone is damaged from the radiotherapy and when I saw the x-ray I thought there are enough pins in it to resemble the Forth Bridge!  But loads of folk manage with dentures so I’m sure I will too. I’m coming to terms with the minor details of having two thirds of my tongue removed, like I’ll never ever be able to lick my lips, or eat an ice cream cone, there is not enough tongue left to stick out, not something you think about until it’s something you can’t do, but if I don’t have a napkin, I’ll have a sleeve! Go on, next time you’re having a meal try eating without tidying up the wee bits of food that touch your lips with your tongue and you’ll get my drift.  Anyway, it still beat the alternative, cancer is a bastard, and so is the treatment but hopefully I’ll be able to live a healthy life for a good few years yet.

Looking at the time, it is now approaching 11.00pm, next week I will have been running for nearly eleven hours, hopefully the weather will be kind to us, I’ll be picking up my iPod soon with my playlist of cheesy tunes and foot stompers, I only use music in the wee hours of a 24 hour races, never any other races, ear-phones are anti-social but I’ll only have them in one ear, the camaraderie at Glenmore is second to none, between the music and the blether I’ll have a good night, come the morning I may crash and burn and have to walk for more than I intend but I’m going for it, I have no doubt in my ability to push on when in discomfort and when Ada blows the horn at 12 noon on Sunday, I’ll be lying on the grass and my guts will be on the outside, no matter the distance it will have been the best I can do.

Last year I filled my decanter with another gift, the stopper hasn’t moved since, but I hope I’ll do it justice,  I will fill a hip flask with this fine malt and I’m hoping the endorphins coursing round my body on Sunday night will enable me to share a wee malt in celebration.

If you want to read my previous reports, here you go.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A Perfect Ten

Friday morning saw me gently pottering about, I was calm and relaxed, all my gear was sorted by Thursday. I went to bed for a few hours in the afternoon, knowing I wouldn’t sleep but just to rest, relax and listen to some music, I let my emotion trickle down my cheeks, at last, the dream that has helped keep my head up for the last eighteen months was going to be a reality although there are no guarantees in completing the WHW, nothing was going to get in my way, I was as fit and as strong as I was going to get, maybe not as strong as I would’ve liked but on the plus side I have not managed to put back on the half stone I’ve lost, less carcass to haul!

Val, Gillian and Pauline picked me up at 9.30pm and we were in Milngavie in around an hour.  HUG FEST!  Thank you all, for the best vibes to take with me!  I also managed a wee goal, I was over 50kg at the weigh in, well, I had managed to eat a fair amount through the day and I was fully clothed with shoes on!
Monument Photos
 1.00am, we were off, I screamed “Wooohooo!” emotion crumpled my face but within seconds the big daft grin was back.  Milngavie High Street is a wall of sound. 

Mugdock seemed very quiet, with not as much chatter going on as I’ve had in the past, everyone is concentrating on the lumpy path, no one wants to fall in the first few miles, I did see a girl on the ground, she had other runners with her, so I didn’t stop, I hope she only needed a moment to gather herself and she was fine to continue. 

It wasn’t too long before folks relaxed a bit, I had settled into my stride, my lower back gave a wee twinge but settled down, my watch was on time of day, no pressure other than making the cut-offs, enjoying the blether when I had company and the peace and beauty of the WHW when I was on my own. I was with Alan and Tommy for a good hour along the path of a thousand gates and the road up to Drymen, the bats were flitting above, the sky lightened and promised to be a fine day, all was well.

At Drymen I just swapped my empty milkshake bottle for custard and tootled off up to Conic hill. Working my way up I kept looking over my right shoulder to watch the sun come up.  Ahead on the horizon a Saltire was flying and a kilted silhouette stood watching the sun rise too, a wee bonus for George while he checked runners coming through, the view was crystal clear for miles. Pauline had told not to take my camera, I was in a race! But I did take my phone out for this.

I took it very gently down Conic, I knew I needed my legs for later, I phoned my team when I was on the steps, my mug of tea and pot of porridge were ready and at the right temperature, and I went straight through Balmaha.
Gillian multi-tasking as chief banana bearer and media officer 
I’ve always loved the section to Rowardennan, the gentle ups and downs through the woods, my hearing has been slightly affected from the chemo but the bird song seemed so loud and all around. 

At Rowardennan I stopped to change socks and shoes, I’d worn road shoes for the first twenty seven miles and on my approach I considered revising the plan because my feet felt good and the path was in excellent condition with it being so dry, but I thought at this early stage the change would be pre-emptive of foot problems and trail shoes are a bit sturdier for rock hopping along the loch side and boulder kicking on Lairig Mor. I sat down, skoosked myself with Skin-so-soft, the midges were fierce, and I shovelled in a rice pudding as Pauline did one foot and Val did the other, it took eight minutes, but they did have a wee fankle with the hooks holding my gaiters to my shoe laces!
I was glad to get moving out of the midge infested Rowardennan, on the steady climb out I spent most of it with James, he lives in London so doesn’t get on the route very often, he was doing his second race, we had a fine blether and both agreed on how uplifting the majestic landscape of the West Highland Way is. 

After the long haul up the forest track I love it once the path narrows and swoops down to the loch, a gentle introduction to the technical section that comes after Inversnaid but here it flows nicely between the ups and downs, I always feel I move well and easily between running and walking, in sync with the terrain along to the checkpoint. At Inversnaid I picked up the milkshake in my drop bag, I noticed there were only a handful of drop bags left, being at the back was not problem I was moving nicely and I knew I would continue to do so. Along the scrambly Loch side I took it gently, getting to the top of the Loch in one piece was more important than trying to maintain pace, and it’s all part of the fun!  After the loch I eased my legs back into running and made fine progress up to Dario’s post, I spent a minute or two sharing my hip flask with him.

I got to Beinglas at just before quarter past twelve; the cut-off was one o’clock, plenty time,  it was lovely to see Helen and John manning the checkpoint but I didn’t hang about to chat, I walked on with another mug of tea and a rice pudding. 
Val - Bein Glas mug bearer
The sun was out and it was getting quite warm, but that’s fine I like warm, I enjoyed Helen Smith’s company heading towards Derrydarroch.  Once I was up onto Coo poo alley I thought there might’ve been more of a breeze but the sun was beating down on the hard dry path and I was getting a bit roasted, normally I’d run a fair bit of this section but I decided to walk until I got to the shade of the trees on the rollercoaster and save myself for when it cooled down.

Once I crossed the road I had a fine running pace going along the tarmac towards Auchtertyre, my legs are in great shape. Got weighed, I’m around a kilo down but no major problem, a hug from Lee and I’m off, tucking into my mashed tatties, and for instant mash they were rather tasty with broccoli and stilton, but I managed to inhale a spoonful, I coughed, spluttered, boaked a bit, my eyes were streaming, my nose running, I turned and blew a snot rocket. “Oh sorry David!”  Mr Hetherington was close enough to see my very unladylike behaviour, but luckily, far enough away that I didn’t hit him with it! I did enjoy my tatties once I got my breath back!

At Tyndrum Ken and Sue had joined the support and I had Ken’s company to Bridge of Orchy, I still felt a wee bit wabbit from the sun but we kept a good walk/run pace going.  I was looking forward to Bridge of Orchy, my first mug of coffee in over a month and a couple of paracetamol.  
Coming into Bridge of Orchy - photo from Val
There was enough Isle of Jura in my racing hipflask for Sean to have a wee snifter, I sat down for a sock change, again my feet were ok, just a couple of wee hot spots and with around two thirds of the distance done it was good to pre-empt any problems, my shoulders were a bit sore, Ken gave them a wee massage and I put on another long sleeved top as it was now just after six o’clock and Rannoch Moor would be cool. What a team! I just sat there and they did all the work within eleven minutes.  
photo from Val
Pauline handed me my coffee… “It’s not strong enough, put more in!”  Pauline added more although muttering that she thought it was fairly strong, but I had deprived myself since the 17th of May, I wanted it to hit me like a prize-fighter. Sue was coming with me now and Pauline walked up the hill with us to take back my mug once I finished my coffee. 
photo from Val
Sue and I spent a few minutes with Murdo, it was lovely to see him but tinged with sadness, he was meant to be running this year, Sue took a few photos and we re-created my favourite photo from 2010.

I love the wide openness of Rannoch Moor, on fresh legs it’s a lovely run but the constant gradual climb on legs with sixty odd miles in them made for a walk/run strategy but we still made steady progress, once over the top near Peter Flemings cairn I was looking forward to my mug of Mrs Baxter’s Cream of Chicken soup.  Getting close to the checkpoint on the lumpy bumpy descent I saw folk coming towards us, it was Ken and Pauline and she had my soup with her. Brilliant! Good thinking Pauline! I would have it finished by the time we got into Glencoe Ski Centre, so there was no wasting an easy running section on the tarmac down to the Kingshouse Hotel with having to walk and eat, I could run it all.

We arrived in the checkpoint at five to ten, it was still light but time to gear up for the Devil’s Staircase, Val helped me get more tights on over my shoes, I wasn’t messing with my feet, there were a couple of hot spots but not worth bothering with at this stage. I put on my blue fleece, I’ve worn it over the Devil since 2007 so now a tradition, also my bright yellow baseball cap, it was full of good vibes since Ally K wore it during his run round Skye.  
Val about to fight my breeks on over my shoes
Val was with me for the next section, a wee tradition for Val, I think this is the section she’s done with either me, Pauline or Lynne since 2002! After sitting down for a few minutes to get the breeks on it took a few paces before I eased my legs back into running, we were soon passing a few others along to Kingshouse, and maintained a good pace along to Altnafeadh, we had a good yomp up the Devil and caught up with Paul, he was supported by Val’s husband, Allan, who had also ran the first leg in the relay with the Carnegie Wrinklies, (just an apprentice since he’s in his fifties). I thought it was very considerate of Paul and I to manage our timings so that husband and wife could spend a little time together over the weekend.  Once over the rough path and onto the long descent into Kinlochleven Val and I left Paul and Allan, my legs were still in good condition and we had a great pace coming down, my mind was a sharp as a pin, heading into my second night with no sleep I have never felt so clear headed at this point before.  I’ve never had any exciting hallucinations in the past and there would be none again this year!

We arrived in the Kinlochleven checkpoint just after 2.00am, I was hugged and weighed by Julie, went for a pee in a proper lavvy and I was back out within minutes with another tub of mash with broccoli and stilton and I managed not to choke on it this time, I’d finished it before heading up the hill. I now had Pauline and Gillian for company for Lairig Mor. The climb out of Kinlochleven is usually a battle for tired and done in quads but this time my legs were fine, it was my stomach I felt, it was as if I’d eaten a Christmas dinner, my tummy was full, not a sensation I get very often these days since eating is so slow, I tend to stop before I’m full. It was time for a wee diva strop, more for the fun of it rather than being a proper petulant brat. I felt that my mashed tatties were slightly thicker than I would’ve liked and it was my team’s fault that I was in discomfort so I let them know.  Pauline’s reply, “It has nothing to do with the fact that you’ve just covered over eighty miles and you scooped them back in one shovelful then!”  I laughed but still milked my diva-ness for all it’s worth! We stopped briefly at the top of the hill to look back over Kinlochleven in the dark; there were twinkling torches on the hill opposite, heading down to the town. I wished them well. The feeling of fullness eased but I now felt queasy, my legs were still in fine fettle and I focused on Jeff’s burning torches and pulled them in. Just before we reached Jeff there was a body reclining on the heather, “Hiya, are you ok?”  He stirred and replied he was fine, just taking a wee nap, he stood and joined us, he was using poles, ok, he was a walker then, and not in the race, it took a few minutes to recognise him since it wasn’t polite to point my head-torch straight into his face, it was Jon Vernon, owner of ten WHW Goblets, he was doing the challenge, we asked him where his event finished, his reply was “I don’t know, I’ll find out when I get there.”
photo from Jeff - Wilderness Support
I didn’t take any of Jeff’s goodies, I was still feeling queasy, but we stopped for a wee blether and a photo then we marched on, I had small sips of my milkshake, the sky lightened and we reached the sheep pens, then we saw the smoke, Lundavra wasn’t far, lovely to see John and Katrina, Ken handed me a mug of hot chocolate and coffee, it settled my stomach and I was onto the finishing straight with a full complement of outriders, Val and Sue now joined Pauline and Gillian to escort me in, the pace was mostly walking but it was a good ultra-walk pace, I warmed up and took off my fleece, the chatter was constant and I was joining in, my head never went fuzzy.  When Pauline said we should run the wide track down to Braveheart, I replied if I didn’t want to run I wouldn’t, I wasn’t in a weary state that would be easily cajoled. Up the last climb, I liked it better when there were trees and you couldn’t see how steep it was!  Onto the wide track, it was a long haul down to Fort William and would be prolonged if I walked, so I started running, I could feel a couple of wee blisters on my left foot but that was all. Ken was dozing in the car as we went through Braveheart, I giggled as Sue knocked on the window, I wasn’t stopping, onto the road for the final mile, my body was tired but I had paced it to perfection, the whole way was a pleasure I did not have to fight for a single inch although I was prepared to battle tooth and nail to finish if I had to. My emotion was channelled into staying strong; my head was up, my arms pumping, past the 30 mile sign, past the roundabout at the woolly mill. I pushed into the car park, round the cones and under the finish arch, up the steps and slapped my hands on the Leisure Centre door.

photos from Sandra McDougall
I dropped my head and let my emotion flow, I took a few moments to gather myself before I took my hands away from the glass and turn round.  I have realised a dream, slapping my hands on the Leisure Centre was a vision I used if I felt myself struggle over this past year. An emotional hug with Pauline then the guy with the timing chip doofer found me and I fished out my chip on the lanyard from under my vest and registered my finish.

I remembered there was enough Isle of Jura left in my wee hipflask for a wee celebratory sip, I hugged my team.  Guys, I couldn’t have done it without you.  

Then sat outside in the sun taking in what we have achieved with a bottle of beer and a wee tin of coke before going for a shower, a wee doze in the car then breakfast at Nevisport.

Every year there seems to be more and more people at the prize giving, this family just keep growing. I had a lovely surprise from James Hill, he gave me a beautiful bouquet of flowers.  This year there were 157 finishers with Paul Giblin knocking over 47 minutes off his record finishing in an amazing 14:20:11. He received a standing ovation for his outstanding achievement. The prize giving does take a bit of time as every finisher is awarded their goblet individually and in order of finishing to well-deserved applause. I finished in 135th position in a time of 30:09:57 Ian announced my name, another realisation of a vision I had in my head, the sound of support from my WHW family as I received my Goblet and Decanter for completing ten WHW races.
photo from David Hall
Keith, Bob,Me and Neil,  joined the 10 club this year.
I felt that finishing the WHW and collecting my goblet was my way of thanking everyone for their support during my surgery, treatment and the long haul back to fitness.  I hugged Ian, Sean and John then turned to face everyone… Everyone was standing! 

How do I put into words what I’m feeling? I’m sorry, but I can’t. But I do know that without the support I’ve had I couldn’t have done it.  My race was a dream with no trauma, apart from feeling queasy for a few miles. How did I get away with that?  Some luck, a bit of experience and a lot of love.  Thank you.

I have taken a long time to put this in writing, I wasn’t sure how I’d be after focusing for so long on this goal. Would I spiral into depression? But I can safely say that hasn’t happened, I think aiming at the West Highland Way race has given me time to get used to permanent changes that will be with me for the rest of my life without having to think about them too much and I can accept them now without crashing into despair. I don’t know when or if I’ll ever hear the words “All clear” but I know that at my check-ups every six to eight weeks they are happy with my progress and even starting to talk about reconstructive dentistry. 

The strength I have gained from the race and family has shaped me and given me the ability to face what life has thrown my way and I’m sure I’ll handle what lies ahead because I know my family will be with me whatever happens. 

I’ve been asked that since I’ve done ten WHW races would I do something else now.  Well, I’ve entered this race every year since 2003 I’ve had to DNS twice, in 2005 a brain haemorrhage in the April put paid to that year, and in 2013 a wee bout of cancer held me back.  I’m a stickler for tradition of course I’m going to enter next year!