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.
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).
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!
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.
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.