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!
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.”
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!