It's not my turn to run the WHW until next year so I don't know why I was so nervous the week before the race and especially Friday afternoon at work. Once I got home and started getting my gear sorted my nerves settled as I began to focus on my job of looking after Pauline. Earlier in the week I spent time planning the route through to Milngavie and marking it on the map so we wouldn't get lost before the race had even started (like last year). Russell took one look and said "We'll go the M8." So ok, he's the driver, (we got there no bother). We arrived in plenty time, Pauline now wide-eyed and tight-jawed joined the queue to pick up her number and goody bag. After some fiddling with head-torches, bum bag etc. both she and Lynne (supported by Simon and Sarah), were ready to go.
2:00am. 72 runners girded their loins (or whatever!) and set off for Fort William. We lesser mortals set off too, we stopped at the point where the Way crosses the road at about four miles just to say hello. It was hard to make out the runners as their torches bobbed along in the dark, but we had no problem recognising Lynne and Pauline as their voices were heard long before we saw them. Next stop the checkpoint at Drymen (12 miles), it was now light enough to see how muddy and wet the runners legs were, Pauline and Lynne were still on schedule though. Got to Balmaha at about 5:00am, we support crew got to close our eyes for an hour before they came in with demands for coffee and a change of shoes. Rowerdennan (26 miles) came and went with no problems, (for the support anyway!)
The drive to Inverarnan (40 miles) was where it began to get "interesting" for us, it reminded me of an episode of the old cartoon "The Wacky Races". We were using Pauline's new car with barely 1000 miles on the clock and my nerves were a bit on edge as we cringed passed tour buses and caravans on the very narrow, twisty road. One poor foreigner spoiled his holiday when he ran into the back of a land rover and due to the "highland hospitality" of the two establishments on the A82 we were not allowed to use the safety of their car parks to service our runners so after driving up and down for a bit (plus a U-turn!) we managed to park safely. Not so good for a couple of other supports, their vehicles were damaged when a caravan swung out into them. Simon's van lost a wing mirror. We put Pauline's change of clothes and food into a rucksack and walked the half mile to the midge-infested checkpoint where Pauline and Lynne had their longest stop so far (14 minutes) to eat, change and for Lynne to have her feet treated as the wet conditions were now causing problems. We didn't tell Pauline about the manic motorists and didn't want her worrying about the car needlessly as we could do that for her anyway! Russell and I went back to the car (which was thankfully still in one piece) we asked the girl who was standing next to the wrecked car if we could help, her runners still had no idea of their predicament. Russell and I drove to where the Way went under the road near Crianlarich, met the two guys and offered to support them until they got something sorted with their car, but they wanted to go back to Inverarnan so Russell ran them back and sadly we never saw them again. What a shitty way to have to pull out of the race. I was left on my own with a rucksack of goodies and the big umbrella, luckily Pauline never noticed Russell and the car were AWOL and thankfully she or Lynne didn't want anything from the car. I breathed a sigh of relief when Russell returned and we went on to the checkpoint at Tyndrum (53 miles).
Val and Allan arrived at the checkpoint bright and chirpy after the luxury of a whole night asleep and probably a lie in! I got changed to run the next section with Pauline and Lynne, I was looking forward to this as I knew from past experience the run would wake me up, also the conversation would improve to more than just "Here's your stuff, now get going." The weather was now either warm and sunny or heavy showers, my rain jacket took on the life of a reincarnated yo-yo. I took my camera and scampered about taking photos thoroughly enjoying myself knowing I just had to run, eat jelly babies and blether. We came into Bridge of Orchy (60 miles) at 6:00pm Pauline and Lynne were still moving well. Allan now accompanied them over Rannoch Moor, his job was to shove all those walkers on the Caledonian Challenge out of their way. I stood behind the car in another midge fest, managing a complete change of clothes in record time before I was reduced to skeletal proportions.
We drove on to Kingshouse (72 miles) were I ate vast quantities of pasta and other goodies while watching the weather deteriorate, huge clouds full of rain kept obscuring the top of Buachaille Etive Mor and emptying their load on the cold and tired runners. It was now approaching 9:00pm when our bedraggled runners came in. Poor Allan, obviously not running his hardest with bare legs just a rain jacket and no gloves looked hypothermic as he chittered off to change. Pauline changed into full battle dress (thermal, fleece, tracksters, full waterproofs and boots) while eating her pasta as I taped up her feet. I then checked on Lynne in the van with Simon and Sarah, she wasn't ready and would be a wee while yet, when I told Pauline this the dilemma was written plainly on her face, she was standing chittering and needed to get moving but didn't want to go without Lynne and Val who was ready to go with both of them. Russell, hero of the hour, employed purely to drive after being instructed by his physio "No running!" said "Give me two minutes to get ready and I'll go with you, Val can wait for Lynne." Gear came flying out the back of the car like a dog digging up a buried bone as I sent Pauline off on her own, I watched her figure grow smaller in the distance, she had the same dejected air as Oates when he left the tent in the Antarctic and told Scott he was popping out for a bit, but Russell would catch her fairly quickly, she'll not be on her own for long. I turned to face the heap of Russell's clothes, shoes, kitchen sink etc. strewn across the wet car park, "How will I get that lot back in the car?" was my first though, then "YEEEKS! I'll have to drive!" A new Citroen Picasso does not drive like a wee old Rover but I got to Kinlochleven (81 miles) in one piece.
I spoke to a marshal at the checkpoint he said they've only had about 15 runners through, where was everybody? Stuck on the Devil's Staircase? At least there's no lightning. I sat in the car for over an hour bursting for a pee before the rain let up enough for me to venture out. I then got myself changed into thermal, fleece, Goretex etc. ready to go when Pauline arrived, prepared her ham roll and oxo which she really enjoyed after all the sweet stuff. At 00:20am Pauline and I were off on the last long section after a stop of only 8 minutes, it wasn't long before my feet were soaked through, when we crossed burns most of the steppy stones were under water or the path had just turned into a river and there wasn't much choice but to wade through it. The heavy rain returned with a cold wind blowing in our faces, I noticed Pauline had pulled her Buff scarf up over her face. Good idea, my face was wet and frozen too, so now looking like a couple of desperados from a Clint Eastwood movie I told Pauline to tuck in behind me so I could protect her a bit but she kept dropping back too far for me to be any good, she moaned I was going to fast but after the race when her brain was back in gear she said the reflectors on the back of my trainers caught in the light of her torch were leaving arcs of light like a kid with a couple of sparklers and it was making her dizzy.
We arrived at a river with no hope of crossing it without being nearly knee deep. Sod it! Cold feet it is then. I crossed then turned to shine my torch on the path for Pauline. Double sod it! There's a damn bridge just off the path. At least I saw it before Pauline waded across. The path was long and wide open and it took an age for the trees to come into view, it was a relief to get out of the wind. I felt cold and I wasn't as chirpy as last year, conversation was now one sided and I don't think Pauline heard half of what I said anyway. I stopped asking her if she wanted a drink or a Mars bar because she just refused so I kept unwrapping one and gave it to her from time to time, the only way she could get rid of it was to eat it. The sky was getting lighter and Fort William must be getting nearer. Pauline looked pale and done in, I felt tired myself! We kept plodding on not running much but walking at a fair pace. When we got down onto the road I tried to make her run short bits but it was easier to keep the walking pace going, from the roundabout she got her legs into running mode all the way to the Leisure Centre to finish in 27hours 27minutes also first lady. "That was hard." were the three understated words Pauline uttered before crawling into a sleeping bag on the floor, I went for the best shower in my life then for a sleep. Missed Lynne finishing again. (At least I had a good reason and I wasn't just in the pub!)
I am in awe of everyone who has completed this race and next year my name will join that prestigious list of athletes. I'm girding my loins already!
Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Well, this time last year I said I was going to do it, so I had six months mental preparation to December 31st and on January 1st my training started in earnest, my schedule was set out and I stuck to it. As the months progressed so did I, so five races, five PBs later I was as fit as I was going to be. I was ready.
Then two weeks before the race my dodgy back started playing up, although it gradually settled down I didn't, on the Tuesday before my race I was totally freaked, on our easy run my head ached, my back was stiff, my legs were heavy, I couldn't breathe and I felt sick. Both Pauline and Lynne said, "Don't worry, it's only nerves." Fine!
On Wednesday, I did start to calm down, I kept telling myself "relax, enjoy the adventure." Also getting my truck load of gear organised helped me focus.
On Friday I just dozed between checking my stuff several times and waited for Pauline and Russell to pick me up at 11.00pm. I chilled in the back of the car listening to my music staying calm until we got to Milngavie. After signing in and picking up my goody bag I had to clamp my jaws together to stop my teeth rattling, my throat was so tight I could hardly swallow. Dario (Race Director) then gave us pre-race instructions and finished with "ten minutes to the start". "Aaaahh!"
2.00am. We're off. Deep breath, relax, I'm fine. At last I'm running.
Conscious of not going too fast and concentrating on the path in the dark it didn't take long until I met Pauline and Russell at the four mile point were the WHW crosses the road to pick up my juice bottle, bang on schedule. The path to Drymen (12 miles) was easy going I enjoyed watching the sky getting lighter as I trotted along. Only stopped at Drymen long enough to put some tape on a couple of toes, they were fine but I could "feel" them, prevention is better than cure, well, that was the theory anyway!
I kept a steady pace as I made my way along the forest track towards Conic Hill munching a Rice Krispie bar as I went. Stopped for a few seconds on Conic Hill just to check out the scenery, sun coming up behind me, Loch Lomond in front. What a beautiful day for a run!
Then I headed down to Balmaha (20 miles) where I only stopped long enough to change juice bottles, pick up ginger jam pieces and drink a mug of coffee. I had relaxed now that I'd gone through the first checkpoint with time to spare, I really enjoyed the section along to Rowardennan (27 miles), the path had lots of ups, downs, twists and turns. The coffee had kicked in and I skipped along.
Beep-beep, beep-beep. Oh! I jumped; the alarm on my watch had gone off, it must be 7.00am then. It felt quite an intrusion as I only had the birds for company happy in seclusion with all the scenery to myself. I needed a pee stop and as 95 miles is long enough I wasn't traipsing deep into the woods for the perfect bush, so beside a thickish tree I stopped, with knickers round my ankles I looked up, I was in full view of a man walking towards me. Oh nuts! A false sense of seclusion as it turned out! He just smiled as I ran past him muttering something about thinking I was alone. "Oh never mind, he's a tourist and I'll never see him again." I consoled myself.
At Rowardennan I just changed my socks, still happy in my favourite shoes, picked up my munchies and juice, walked up the path drinking my coffee which was a tad hot, but Russell cooled it with some cold water but his aim wasn't too good, I got a wet leg as well, but at least my coffee was drinkable.
After the long climb up the wide track and down to Inversnaid the path now got scary, although I'd found this section fun on a training run it was quite different with nearly 40 miles in the legs and more again still to do. I had a few heart stopping moments as I clung to boulders, trees, blades of grass, anything to stop me falling down the rocky drops into Loch Lomond. Then I couldn't believe my eyes, tyre tracks, some mad bugger has cycled this path! How?
As I approached Inverarnan (40 miles) I was ready for my tub of rice pudding and coffee. My pinkie toes were nipping a bit now, I asked if they had brought my No.2 shoes. "No!" was the reply but Pauline shot off, with her jacket flapping, over dressed for a sprint to the car which was parked about a mile away, picked up my shoes and sprinted back to me. I also discovered the bloke who caught me "powdering my nose" was another runner's support! Great!
It was now afternoon and I was getting a bit warm so I tied my thermal round my waist and trotted happily onwards, going past Derrydarroch Farm the path was full of beautiful toffee coloured cows and their calves, not wanting to scare them too much I gently clapped my hands and asked them to move over and they all obliged until I spotted a humungous cow "Wait a minute, that's not a cow, that's a bull!" I clapped my hands but he just strolled sedately in front, I considered slapping it's big butt then I thought better of it. Well, I would have needed a step-ladder to reach, and besides, the last time I was this close to prime steak it was covered in peppered sauce! I'll just walk behind him until he deigns to move over.
It wasn't long until I next saw Pauline and Russell at the tunnel under the A82 (45 miles) where I had put on my checkpoint demands that I may want some flat coke, I wasn't too fussed for it but Russell had it ready so I had a mouthful just to humour them. Then trundled off towards the forest near Crianlarich where the path had some very steep climbs and descents, which were starting to tell on my feet. I could feel some hot spots on my heels and on the balls of my feet. When I got down onto the flat tarmac I found an easy running pace passed the remains of St Fillan's Priory and the wig-wams where I caught up with a fellow competitor who was walking, as I acknowledged him, he held out his hand to shake mine. I was the first person to pass him still running. "Well done, keep it going." he encouraged.
Tyndrum (53 miles) seemed to take ages to pull in; I was looking forward to my soup and roll, also to check on my feet. Pauline had run out to meet me, it was good to talk about more than my immediate needs, and then with about ¼ of a mile to go into Tyndrum she darted off to muster the troops for my imminent arrival. Val and Lesley have now reported for duty and it was great to see friendly faces. Russell set about refuelling my bum-bag as I sat on the stool eating my soup.
Now guess how many Carnegie Harriers it takes to change a plaster?
Wrong! I'll just have to tell you. Four!
1. Well I count, 'cause it is my feet!
2.Lesley, to stand behind me to stop me tipping backwards off the stool and spilling my soup.
3. Val to hold my leg up.
4. Pauline to do the necessary. (She did very well, as she is usually too squeamish to wipe our dead cute and gorgeous two-year old niece's nose!)
With Tyndrum being over half way I was pulling it in now, I knew if I got to this point I would get to Fort William.
Now fed and feet treated I was ready to go, with Pauline and Lesley for company, they were great scooting off to open and close gates, they took loads of photos, I was even happy to stand still and pose while Pauline framed a shot with Beinn Dorain in the background. We were now in Caledonian Challenge territory (a sponsored walk from Glen Nevis south to Ardlui with about 1000 participants). They had portaloos, so I took advantage of one, as I emerged, there was my pit stop nemesis, he laughed and said "You've found a proper toilet then!" Lesley and Pauline looked puzzled until I explained where I had met him. It made them laugh too! Glad to cheer you up, guys!
Bridge of Orchy (60 miles) soon appeared, I wasn't stopping long here, it was heaving with midges, like a fog, they were in my rice pudding, my coffee, everywhere, it wouldn't have surprised me if fights broke out in my support team for who's turn it was for the midge net I got in my goody bag.
After being grilled by the checkpoint Marshall making sure I had bivvy bag, waterproofs, food and drink also that I was fit to carry on, Russell and I set off for Rannoch Moor, normally one of the remotest areas in Europe, but not today with all these walkers. Lots of them offered encouragement and moved over to let me through. I even heard a voice say "I really can't believe how far these people have ran!"
"Yeah! Me too!" I thought. But my tolerance was going, I was finding a lot of the walkers were as irritating as the midges, I was having to run round them, dodging their flaying poles with spiky ends. They shouldn't be allowed outside! Morons! I wanted to shout, "Get out of the bloody way! Don't you know how far I've ran?" It was now time for a game of chicken. I put my head down and shuffled blindly on, if I came face to face with a moron I stood still until they moved round me. I think Russell was being sneaky and was trying to make me run the gentle slopes up, but the rule is walk the hills, I might have needed a spirit level to prove it, but they felt like hills to me! My shoes felt like they were full of hot stones, I stopped to empty them but there was nothing there, I've never ran bare-foot over hot coals but I think I know how it might feel. It was getting hard to keep running, my toes were sore coming down hill, we could see Kingshouse but why wasn't it getting any nearer?
At last, Kingshouse (72 miles) I could take my shoes off. Pauline said she had a surprise for me, I was instructed to get in the car put my feet up on the dashboard, then she draped a cold wet t-shirt round my feet. I'm sure there was steam rising from them. (It was a tip from Simon; I think Lynne received this treatment last year.) Bliss. Do I have to move yet? I was given my pasta and coffee, as I was eating I started to shake, I don't think I was cold, but I was given my fleece and Gore-tex trousers to put on. Pauline reassured me that it was normal by that time anyway. My mind was a bit fuzzy by then but one of my clearest memories was of Val's generous kindness, while the rest of my team faffed about getting tape and plasters ready, I unjustly thought that if they don't hurry up, I'm only going to have stumps 'cause the midges will have eaten my feet off! Val held my burning feet in her cold hands. That certainly deserves a medal for "beyond the call of duty".
Lots of tape (every toe looked like an Egyptian mummy) lots of plasters, fine socks, thick woolly socks and boots, I couldn't face running anymore, but the legs were still strong. I can walk.
Got out the car after my longest stop (38 minutes). Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! My legs had stiffened a little but my toes were excruciating, I winced along the tarmac hoping my toes would settle down. My lightweight boots that I bought a ½ size bigger than usual especially with the WHW in mind were crushing my toes like a mobile medieval torture chamber. I stopped at the stile to remove the thick socks, I took in a deep breath, so did my feet, another five minutes down the path, I had to stop again, I was roasting, took off the Gore-tex jacket, another few minutes, I was still roasting, the vest came off from under the fleece, another few minutes, another stop, I had to lose the fleece too, Val and Russell who were to escort me over the Devil's Staircase, were extremely patient with me as I lobbed them my clothes, they probably thought we were never going to reach the Devil's Staircase never mind get over it.
I didn't mind going up at all, hands on thighs, I stomped up, singing The Proclaimers "500 miles" to myself to keep a good rhythm going. Coming down was a different song altogether, both feet were screaming at me and neither was in tune. I minced sideways down the brutal descent so my toes didn't touch the front of my boots with Val in front with the night-sight of an owl pointing her torch backwards for me to follow. I was very slow and both Russell and Val were good at holding out an arm for me to steady myself over big steps or jumps.
My cheese roll and oxo were waiting for me at Kinlochleven (81 miles) and I was hungry for real food, it took forever to get there. At the checkpoint I saw a couple of familiar figures, for goodness sake! It's Simon and Lynne; they've come up to see me finish, so I'd better get going then.
Pauline has the job to haul me into Fort William. After another climb through woods, we could see the open path of Lairigmor that wound on for miles, as it was now light again, I had hoped to be over this bit before dawn but never mind, I'm still moving, with every step Fort William is getting closer.
Beep-beep, beep-beep. It's 7.00am again! Bloody Hell! I'm still in the same race!
I'm tired now; if I shut my eyes I would sleep, so I concentrate on staying one pace behind Pauline and trying to place my feet exactly where hers have been. Every time I stumbled, or kicked a stone I let out a wussy yelp, Pauline gave me a row for not sounding very hero like! Earlier Russell had made comments about my cat impressions.
It had started to rain, so out came the jackets; Pauline's remark was "You jammy sod! Even when it rains, it's on your back." (Last year at this point, it was freezing, wet and in our faces.)
YEEOOWW! All was not hunky-dory, my right pinkie toe just exploded! Forgetting the big blister on my heel, I banged my boot on the ground trying to get it off my toe. Deep breaths, I feel sick. I've given birth, waxed my legs, but nothing comes close to this pain. Pauline reassures me it will pass, as I hobble on with my toes in the air.
At last, the trees, we're pulling it in. Probably still a few hours to go but my head is up. I know the pain will disappear, the tiredness will go but the sense of achievement will stay with me forever.
The last miles have some cruel ups and downs and a torturous descent on to the road. We cross over as we near the roundabout, it's the shortest route and this side has pavement. Then Pauline suggested I might want to touch the WHW Finish Post at the woollen mill as we go past. "Don't be so absurd! It's the other side of the road! It may as well be on the moon!"
I can see the blue and white sign for the Leisure Centre.
Deep breathes. My bottom lip quivers. I've done it… I have done it!
There's Russell and Lynne… with cameras.
I laugh and say to Pauline "We'd better start running then."
Round the corner, across the car park, up the steps, I'm in the Leisure Centre. A hug from Dario, I have finished. 31 hours 40 minutes 26 seconds. Wow!
Pauline and I head off for a shower. The moment I've been dreading, checking the carnage in my boots. Pauline's had her shower; I'm still counting toes. I'm told to hurry up as it's breakfast time.
At the prize giving every finisher is awarded his or her crystal goblet to the same applause as the winner.
Of 80 entrants, nearly 70 started and 49 finished. Due to the good conditions that was a record. In amongst that motley crew, seven ladies started and seven ladies finished. (Tough dudes us girlies.)
My epic journey would not have been possible without the unconditional support of Pauline, Russell, Val and, new recruit, Lesley.
THANK YOU SO MUCH.
(By the way, Pauline, Lynne, next year you're on your own, I bags this lot for support next year. Put June 19th 2004 in your diaries now guys!)
After last year's race, I was on such a high, which I did not come down from until January 1st when I said, "Training starts today." So with schedule written and mind focused, the months flew in. As June 19th approached I expected the nerve jangling panic attacks to begin but all I felt was the excitement of the impending adventure, I knew what was in front and with that knowledge I was prepared. On the week before the WHW I was driving up to the Isle of Skye. I was having a good look at the path at Tyndrum, Bridge of Orchy and the Devil's Staircase. I felt like a boxer in the ring, eyeballing my opponent, touching gloves and I did not drop my gaze first.
I was well organised and had all my gear sorted by Thursday, so on Friday I could just chill until Simon picked me up at 10.00pm. Wrong! In the morning when I was cleaning my teeth a big lump of a back tooth, which had been giving me a bit of bother lately, came out. A quick ring to my dentist and I was sitting in his surgery, now the nerves have started. But I breathed a sigh of relief when he said, "No problem, just a dressing in it, you'll be fine for the weekend." And "Good Luck."
Back home, I was just starting to settle down when my brother phoned, he wouldn't be able to pick up Erin tomorrow as planned because he'd had a run in with a kamikaze deer and his car was a write-off. Since my car would be un-used all weekend I offered it to him (as long as he didn't hit anything), I drove it out to him and another couple of hours went by before I could chill.
Simon arrived at 9.30pm I was still faffing about but it wasn't long before Pete, Simon and Erin were loading the van with my mountain of gear. Just before we left the phone rang; it was Pauline and Lynne calling from South Africa to wish me luck.
At Milngavie I still didn't have the teeth rattling, gut-wrenching nerves I just wanted to get the adventure started. In registration it was good to meet fellow runners with hugs, handshakes and best wishes for this year's race. Russell looked a tad nervous in the queue to sign the death disclaimer.
At 1.00am there was a quiet "Go" and ninety of us set off into the dark. After a couple of miles I was relaxed and chatting away to Jim Robertson, a WHW veteran, we were running in a group of about eight when the path started to look unfamiliar, Jim confirmed my doubts. We stopped and a first-timer brought out his map, after a bit of "I think we're here" and "Naw, we must be here". We retraced our steps and got back on course. I said to the guy with the map "Thanks for that, I didn't bring one because I know the route" which was met with laughter, then Jim said
"Me neither, I've ran it twelve times." The gales of laughter were probably heard in Fort William. Oh well, you've got to laugh, if you're going to go wrong and add an extra mile or so, it might as well be done on fresh legs. Twenty minutes down already and we've only just started, but on a race of this magnitude I wasn't going to batter up the road to try and make it up.
Dawn arrived and Conic Hill loomed, the path up was very wet, just a river in places, impossible to keep feet dry. Russell and I were still together but at the top the demon descender took off, I didn't even attempt to keep up with him, besides, I'd just taken out my mobile and it was quite dodgy calling Simon, who was waiting for me at Balmaha (20 miles) while bouncing down the steep steps without catching my feet and smashing my face in. Worth the risk, Simon had everything ready, feet checked, dry socks, rice pudding eaten and I was back on the path sipping my coffee within five minutes. Russell soon rejoined me, he'd had a slightly longer stop, we ran a good many miles together but we didn't put any pressure on each other to wait if either of us dropped back, this race is hard enough without prolonging it. We kept each other company along the scary path by Loch Lomond where I nearly came a cropper; my foot slipped and got stuck between two boulders, so there I was, arse in the air, hands in the mud, did Russell rush to my aid? Naw, all I heard from behind me was laughing; I soon joined in, as the theme for this year's race is "Laugh in the Face of Adversity",
The rough twisty, turny path to Inversnaid (34 miles) seemed to take longer than I remembered, I was panicking a bit in case we didn't make the cut off time but we were fine. Picked up my drink bottles and flapjack from the lovely mountain rescue people who helped man the checkpoint. I had a problem with one of my bottles, it tasted soapy, and I didn't risk drinking it so I tipped it out. I wasn't worried about getting de-hydrated going by the amount of pee-stops I'd had. Luckily, no embarrassing moments this year, the closest I came was when I'd just stepped out from a clump of bracken when a horde of scouts came traipsing up the path.
At Inverarnan (40 miles) Russell's support, Laurie, David and Sean, had walked in to meet us with our goodies, more coffee, rice pudding and fresh bottles. Simon went on to the tunnel under the A82. Now around midday, it had warmed up but nothing extreme. Plodded on happily and as we were getting near the tunnel (45 miles) I thought I'd phone Simon to let him know I wouldn't be long, I was still faffing with the phone when I looked up. "Och!" I'll just wave, there he is. Simon has done an excellent job of looking after my feet, with the path being very wet I was changing my socks loads. Simon was drying them out so I always had a new "fresh" pair when I needed them. I changed my shoes for the first time then Russell and I headed off for the roller coaster route through the forest near Crianlarich.
The weather deteriorated a bit, a cool wind and some drizzly showers in our faces as we arrived in Tyndrum (53 miles), there was a shift change in support crew, and Simon had to leave, which was a bit of a surprise for Val and Lesley as originally he planned to continue up to Fort William but he had to pick up Lynne and Pauline from their exploits (also tidy up before Lynne got home). Now with Val and Lesley as the responsible adults in charge I still had a formula one style pit stop. Lesley had taken over the grim task of "foot man", after only eight miles in my second pair of shoes I decided to change back to my first pair, they were just more comfy. In a stop of just twenty minutes I'd eaten my soup, roll and coffee, had my feet checked. Put on my Gore-tex jacket and hat, swapped my sunglasses for the ones with clear lenses, which kept the midges out of my eyes as well as the elements. Anything that helps keep you relaxed and comfy is worth having.
Now with Lesley for company as chief gate opener, we set off for Bridge of Orchy (60 miles), Russell also had fresh recruits in his team, Ken and John have reported for duty. Five blokes to look after Russell and just two "wee wumin" to keep me on track! Now, ladies, no sexist thoughts of how many men does it take to…? I believe they kept Val and Lesley well supplied in coffee etc. and John did a sterling job of sheltering me from the wind on the open path to Bridge of Orchy. At the checkpoint I was issued with a large, hefty orange survival bag. (We were warned at the pre-race briefing that if the weather worsened we would have to carry them.) I handed it to Val and said "Here, YOU'VE to take this." She had to re-organise all the paraphernalia into a larger rucksack while I had my rice pudding and coffee.
The Caledonian Challenge walkers were now coming at us thick and fast but they've got port-a-loos at their big checkpoint near the Inveroran Hotel, as Val and I made a bee-line for them one of their marshals shouted over. "Hang on, I'll need to check you in." Harrumph! Take me for a walker.
"Naw! I'm running the whole way!" was my stroppy reply.
"Err… ok, just leave your ten pence on the way out." was his retort.
On the long haul up Rannoch Moor was where the wee wumin came into her own. Val took on the persona of Jonah Lumo, with rugby ball protectively tucked under one arm (me) and the other hand out steamrolling up the path with the opposition going down like skittles in her wake. Her technique (take note future Rannoch Moor minders) was to run at my side, then as the walkers approached, step in front of me claiming the easiest passage. We only had to give way a couple of times, once, when a big bloke just wasn't watching where he was going and also when a woman came stomping down the track with her poles under her arms, she probably thought they were tucked in neat like a down-hill skier but they were actually splayed out like a Boeing 747, not wanting to lose an eye, we gave her a wide berth.
I vaguely knew earlier in the day I was down on last year's time but knowing my feet were in good condition, considering the mileage, they wouldn't give me as much pain and I was still moving well I would pull it back. I wasn't looking forward to stopping at Kingshouse (72 miles) remembering how horrible I felt last year, getting the shakes and how sore it was to get going again. But thankfully it wasn't that bad, I was still fairly lucid, no shakes, I only took twenty minutes to have my pasta and coffee, Lesley treated my feet and I put on my waterproof trousers and walking shoes, protection now being a priority. Russell arrived around fifteen, twenty minutes behind me, looking cold and tired but I had every confidence in him finishing, he's not a quitter. Before Lesley and I headed off for the Devil's Staircase I nipped into the loo at the hotel, a real one, with hot running water and … a mirror above the sink. Oooowwh! Why did I look?
I was pleased with the way I was moving, nice long strides except when Lesley and I were negotiating a squelchy bit, not being as sprightly as usual my arms wind-milled and I fell backwards, flattening my rolls in my bum bag, I was surprised by the strength of this wee wumin as she hauled my nine stone carcass back up with just one hand. Just at the bottom of the Devil, we heard a group of runners behind us, moving fast. It's Russell and minders, they passed us and were never to be seen again, I believe he gave his support problems as they struggled to keep with him, (Don't know what he had in his rolls but I want some for next year!) Lesley and I made good time up to the cairn; it took us only thirty-five minutes, (on a training run we did it in thirty). At the top I celebrated with my chicken roll, but I think I ate it too quick, on the steep path down I started to feel sick, my quads were sore, they were about as supple as a house brick and we now needed our torches, I'm sure there wasn't this many boulders last time, the long descent knocked the stuffing out of me, but I still managed to hang on to my roll.
At Kinlochleven (81 miles) I had a longer stop than planned, drank some plain water, but couldn't face another roll. Lesley spent some time taping my feet, there wasn't much to see, but those crafty goblins on the Devil must have chucked some hot ash in my shoes. Eventually Val and I were off on the last section, we had a good pace climbing out of Kinlochleven, passing another runner, I couldn't have stayed with him for long "Whinge, whinge, I'm never doing this again! Moan Moan." Typical man! I wasn't letting his negative vibes get to me. The sky slowly lightened and we could see the whole long path of Lairigmor stretching for miles, I was struggling, my feet and quads have had enough, it was hard to keep my head up, but Val's verbal cattle prod was switched on to full strength, it didn't take forever to reach the trees, it only felt like it did. I asked Val if I was close to last year's time. I was informed I had two hours to cover the last six miles. If it's that close I'm sure I could better it, so with ninety miles in my legs I started to race, pumping my arms, the legs began to follow, I warmed up, the legs loosened, Val was lobbed my rain-jacket. I was back running the downs and flats, and on the ups I had hands on thighs stomping up, lungs going like bellows, there was a word of caution from Val "You don't have to work so hard" which I ignored, I was passing other runners, once on to the long descent of the forest track I lengthened my stride, surprising myself how well I was moving, I threw Val my fleece, if I could've removed the water-proof breeks Full Monty style without breaking stride Val would've had them too. I didn't want to carry any more extra weight so I took a last mouthful of juice and emptied my bottles onto the track. Lesley was waiting at the Braveheart car park to take the heavy rucksack from Val, I didn't need my bum bag any more, and Lesley had to dodge as I threw it at her. Val stopped to get rid of her burden. I hit the road, exactly one mile to the finish. Head up, arms pumping, I was sprinting it in. Then emotion took over, I tried to stifle a sob, I shouted out loud "Get a grip!" come on, you can't sprint if you're crying. I scolded myself. The emotional metronome swung over and I had a big daft grin on my face. I could see the Leisure Centre. Across the car park, could I take the three steps in a one-er? Battered the door off its hinges, arms above my head with an ecstatic whoop. I had finished. A young girl, on her own behind the desk, blinked and asked me my race number. No cheering crowds or a brass band to acknowledge your finish but it's not necessary. I know what I have achieved.
31.08.18 hours, over half an hour faster than last year, not bad considering I was about an hour and a half down at Tyndrum. Val and I went off for a shower then met Lesley and Russell for breakfast, (his crew are unconscious in the car) he finished in 28.32.50, and he'll have to go some next year to beat that!
Now for the Oscar style thank you. If it wasn't for Simon, Val, Lesley and Russell's crew this adventure wouldn't have been possible, I managed to put one foot in front of the other, you lot did the hard work!
Thank You So Much
Same time, next year?
A wee word of warning to future back up crews. That's where Russell and I started.
The year started as normal, schedule written, training and focusing on the race began, all was going well until the morning of the Speyside Way 50km, while still at home getting ready, I had a brain haemorrhage which, to say the least, messed up my training. As I slowly recovered I knew I wouldn't be running but not to be part of this race was unthinkable, I would be Pauline's head chef and foot man.
At 1.00am, Pauline and 87 runners were set off with a quiet "Go" from Dario; I had a very large lump in my throat as I watched them leave Milngavie. Right, deep breath and get on with the job of looking after Pauline. Russell and I headed straight to Drymen (12 miles). Other back up teams were there, hanging about, chatting waiting for their runners, Russell and I being professionals at support put our heads back, closed our eyes and dozed until it was nearly time for Pauline to arrive, just a change of juice bottles with the slick speed of a baton hand over in a relay and she was off to Balmaha (20 miles). Another slick change of bottles, the only tricky part was making sure her coffee was at the correct temperature for when she arrived. A slight hic-cup in the pro support at Rowerdennan (27 miles), Pauline arrived about 45 minutes ahead of schedule and we were still dozing, but no slap round the ear, we had time to get organised as she nipped to the loo. Inverarnan (40 miles) and the tunnel going under the A82 (45 miles) passed smoothly with just a grub pick up and a change of socks.
At Tyndrum, I changed into running gear; since Pauline kept me company last week during my first half marathon in my recovery I thought it only fair if I chummed her for a part of the way this weekend. But being mindful that this life enhancing experience goes under SAL permit rules and lead runners are not to be paced, I checked her position and as she was sitting fifth lady I'd be ok to accompany her, Val and Gail arrived just in time for Val to throw the car door open, hit the ground running and come with us to Bridge of Orchy (60 miles). Now I know I've been taking it easy lately, but I didn't think I'd struggle to keep up with a woman with 53 miles in her legs and forty odd still to go! It was a faster pace than last week! Fat chance of being called a pacer!
I thoroughly enjoyed the section to Bridge of Orchy, just happy being alive and running. A tender spot at the top of right leg reminded me of the wee confidence boost I had on Thursday, I'd spent the whole day in hospital having a tube stuffed into my femoral artery and radio-active dye pumped in, (I wondered if this might be handy for the night sections if I glowed in the dark.) I haven't had the official results of the x-rays yet but the Doctor carrying out the procedure said although not a specialist my brain looked ok to him. I asked him if I'd be able to run on Saturday, he gave a non-committal smile and said that if the wound doesn't bleed within the first 24 hours it probably would be fine, but to use common sense. So I took that as a yes! (I wonder if I'm the only person involved in this race that has had confirmation in possessing a brain and I've seen it! Quite fascinating looking into your own mind.) Talking of mind altered moments, if it wasn't early afternoon and lacking only one night's sleep I would've thought we were hallucinating when we saw a posse of mobility scooters coming towards us along the rough track, it was another fund raising event alongside the Caledonian Challenge, great to see people not letting immobility hold them back but surreal to see these vehicles out of their normal habitat in the High Street. Arriving in Bridge of Orchy (60 miles) I hardly had time to catch my breath and I was back in foot doctor mode, just a compeed plaster on a blister under Pauline's big toe and she was good to go.
Lynne and Simon have arrived and Gail and Lynne are keeping her company along to Kingshouse (72 miles) not that Pauline needed any bodyguards, heaven help any Caly Chally walkers that got in her determined way! At Kingshouse, Lynne came sprinting in, ahead of schedule with a message to get the coffee and pasta on she's coming in. In a stop of nine minutes Pauline was fed and watered, bum bag refuelled, boots on and was off to the Devil's Staircase with Russell and Val. Gail and I enjoyed the drive round to Kinlochleven (81 miles) with Pauline running so well it was still daylight when she came in. I don't know why it took so long for her to have a ham roll and drink a mug of oxo, thirteen minutes, her longest and last stop in the race. Pauline and Val set off for the last long haul into Fort William.
Now for the sneaky plan I had, Pauline just expected to see us at the finish, but we drove round to Lundavra and I got changed into running gear, I didn't tell her earlier in case I didn't feel up to it, so when they arrived they were pleased to see us but not even noticing I was ready to run Pauline shot off up the track, I had to shout "Wait for me, did you think I'd let you go into the spooky woods without an extra torch!" Just as well I was there as Val had planned a two minute coffee break but Pauline was having none of it, I had to jog beside Val raking in her back-pack for the flask of coffee which when retrieved Val sprinted ahead and poured the coffee and handed it over to Pauline when she went past. Richie and his support Simon were with us through the dark woods with the cruel ups and downs, twists and giant steps. I was having a happy attack, feeling absolutely brilliant, just being here and skipping along, then I heard Richie's painful mutterings behind me "Oowwh! This is torture!" Oops, sorry Richie, I didn't mean to rub it in, I remember well how tough this part can be, probably another reason why I'm bouncing along. When we reach the wide forest track with the quad killing descent Pauline kept the pace strong and steady, passing other runners. Then out of the Braveheart car park and into the last mile. Emotion runs high along this final push, we were all fairly quiet, gathering our thoughts of this very special adventure, did it really take less than a day? I was bursting with pride watching Pauline leap into the Leisure Centre to finish in 23 hours 19 minutes. I also felt proud that I was there, able to be part of Pauline's achievement. I was impressed that Pauline never uttered a moan or negative comment and we must've done a decent job in support, as we were never sworn at!
This race has helped me immensely in my fight back to health; even stepping out the front door on my own for the first time was quite daunting but knowing that I've had the strength to run 95 miles, I can find the strength to face anything. I've never DNF-d in a race and I ain't doing it in life either! At this moment I feel I have reached the summit of my own personal Everest but I've still got to get back to Base Camp safely. So get the champagne on ice. I'M COMING BACK!
Well, the last fourteen months haven't been what you would call normal but I've been working on it. After having a brain haemorrhage on the 10th April 2005, the morning of Speyside Way 50k, I have made steady progress from the scary stuff in hospital and dealing with feeling as if I have an unexploded bomb in my head.
Last year's WHW was quite an emotional roller-coaster, watching everyone set off from Milngavie without me, not knowing if I would ever get to do it again, but still in the just-glad-to-be-alive phase I enjoyed being there, supporting Pauline, even though I struggled with the pace from Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy, she did slow down slightly when I joined her again at Lundavra to complete her sub 24 hour mission.
I had to explain ultra running to bemused doctors; they were a bit vague on what I could return to. "Just go to how you feel, but keep it easy." Was their standard reply to my many questions about training. The best advice I received was from Bob Allison (Fife AC runner and WHW family member) "You set the bench-mark for them. You tell the doctors what you can do." Thanks Bob, you helped set me in a more positive frame of mind. The next big boost I had was running the Loch Ness Marathon at the beginning of October, with great timing, (a couple of weeks before the race) I had been informed that the aneurysm was stable and I was safe to do more effort. Every time I managed something normal, like driving, returning to work, and running; it was another tick in the box of my recovery. The marathon was a huge tick and a gold star. I was quite nervous and apprehensive at the start, and with no training I put a lot of faith into the theory of muscle memory and set off at an easy pace. As it became physically harder, mentally I got stronger, "I'm still here and I'm ok!" I crossed the line on a high not far removed from a WHW finish. Although around 45 minutes slower than my fastest marathon it was definitely a personal best. The next goal on my tick list was Speyside Way 50k, in mid February I panicked when I found out it was cancelled, what was I going to do? I couldn't let it pass. I had an appointment to smack some demons in the gob. Then I calmed down and realised it wasn't me that chickened out, it would have been nice to slam the door shut on that one but no longer necessary, I had just run Draycote Water 35 mile race with a bad back and a cold, I have nothing to prove, of course I'm fine.
I had used my WHW "never give up" mentality to help me recover, as I focused on this year's race it was time to turn around the psychology and with the help of the old adage What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I have stared into the vile face of that creepy git in the big hoodie with the scythe and spat in his eye! I am invincible! Can I run 95 miles? It'll be a stroll in the park after what I've been through. Bring it on. (Well, Okay! Okay! Big stroll! Big park!)
As race day… err, I mean days approached I thought the nerves might start, but all I felt was excited and couldn't wait for the adventure to begin, even at Milngavie I wasn't nervous which did surprise me as it's in the air and very contagious, but I was here living my dream why should that make me nervous. I sat in the car, chilling, listening to my music while Pauline and Val did the social thing until the race briefing.
Right, backpack on, torches checked, lets go. 1.00am. We're off, 104 tough athletes (me included) left Milngavie. Kept it at an easy pace, making sure of no mishaps in the dark. Met Pauline and Val at Drymen (12 miles), swapped the backpack for the bum-bag without breaking stride and headed for Conic hill. On the climb up I made a point of looking around me, with all that scenery about it would be a sin just to watch my footing. Gave Pauline and Val an early morning wake up call just before the steep steps on the descent from Conic. "Get the kettle on, I'm about 10 minutes away." I was looking forward to my breakfast in Balmaha (20 miles), rice pudding with honey and banana washed down with my first mug of coffee in a month. Mmmm! Beautiful!
I have always enjoyed the run along to Rowardennan (27 miles) and this year was no different, I was on my own for most of it and happy to have it all to myself. I didn't stop here, just changed from the bum-bag to the backpack, which was refuelled and ready for me to pick up with no time wasted. I headed off for Inversnaid (34 miles) and the rough path along the Loch Lomond shore, I was glad to see that the fallen trees had been cleared. I had been along this way in a training run in April, just a few weeks after the heavy snowfall and I really didn't fancy repeating the tricky manoeuvres required for getting under, over or through the maze of fallen branches. This section is fun but I was relieved to get back running when the terrain eased. The weather was good even getting quite bright, I phoned in a request for my sunglasses at Inverarnan (40 miles) where I changed socks and went back to the bum bag. I felt great skipping along, getting close to half way, the legs were good and strong and a boost from Pauline saying I was the freshest looking runner she'd seen come through. I didn't stop at Derrydarroch, Stevie Hards from Kilbarchan AAC had arrived to help and he had to chase me up the track with a sticky tub of rice pudding with honey and fresh drinks bottles. I didn't see Val, she had gone on to run with Lynne at Tyndrum.
I trotted on towards the fun fair of a forest near Crianlarich (luckily there's no height restrictions) and I made it through the steep swoops up and down. I refrained from waving my arms above my head and screaming, (I'm not a complete nutter…I think I've got bits missing!) I stopped to take a stone out of my shoe that was jagging the ball of my foot. There was no stone, just the start of a blister, oh well, big dollop of Vaseline then. I found the words of one of Pauline's inspirational songs going round my head, The Cranberries Zombie except Pauline has changed the words a bit "In my head, I am so strong" I wasn't singing it to gee myself up I was merely stating a fact. There is nowhere else I'd rather be or anything else I'd rather do. I AM living the dream.
I arrived in Tyndrum (53 miles) to the usual encouragement, "Well done, looking good." My crew's scathing comments of "You look far too fresh, you're not working hard enough!" made me laugh they can say what they like, I'm enjoying myself. "Och! I'm saving it for a sprint finish!" was my reply. Simon had come back to see how I was doing, and since he's the foot expert Pauline relinquished that duty to him, I sat on the stool tucking into my soup while he put a Compeed plaster on the ball of my left foot, then he said "The blister on your middle toe needs to be burst, do you have a needle?" Yeeeeeks!!! There isn't a needle in my first aid box but that didn't deter him, he nicked it with the scissors (I now have a surreal flashback of Simon as Johnny Depp's Edward Scissors-Hands but not so pretty) squashed it flat and bound it tight with Compeed and tape. As I watched pink fluid ooze down my foot, I thought just as well I've a strong stomach 'cause looking at this could put me off my soup! Also tough ultra runners don't squeal, they just say lots of Owws! Simon had promised that it would settle down and he was right, it did, I didn't feel it anymore once I got going again. I now had Stevie with me along to Bridge of Orchy (60 miles) this section flew in, with great company and conversation we reached the checkpoint ahead of my anticipated time, where once again I didn't stop, dumped the bum bag put on the backpack and walked up the path with my rice pudding and hot chocolate, with Pauline for company going over Rannoch Moor, Stevie continued with us up the hill until I had finished my food and took my empty mug and tub back, it was the least he could do since he was now heading back home and in a few hours going to bed! Cheers Stevie!
Pauline and I kept a good steady pace along the Moor, what a pleasure it was this year without having to dodge the masses of Caly Chally walkers with their jaggy poles and to be able to pee whenever the urge took hold, bliss! We came upon another runner, he was lying on the grass and his support was on the phone, I continued on, Pauline stopped to check if she could help, they had plenty food and fluids, he was just knackered. So Pauline grabbed him by the ankles, lifted them up and gave his legs a shoogle, and informed him that when he stood up he'll have a whole new heap of fresh blood in his legs and that will help get him going. (It's a trick you'll have seen done to footballers after they've fairy-ed about for 90 minutes and then have to go into extra time, poor souls!) I now felt as if I had to put in some effort, kept looking up wondering when we'd start the descent into Kingshouse (72 miles), the wind got quite cool, I felt cold and hungry for my big plate of pasta that was waiting for me. Pauline scampered about taking photos of golden light and long shadows as the sun was going down, which at the time I didn't take much notice of (but now one of those photos is in my all time favourites) I plodded on. Where is this Kingshouse?
At last, Kingshouse, sat in the car, chittering eating my pasta, I put my tracksters on over my ¾ length tights and also my fleece, jacket and woolly hat. I couldn't decide whether to keep the trail shoes on or to change to sturdy walking shoes. Put one trail shoe on and one walking shoe. Ouch! They both hurt! Still couldn't make my mind up. Pauline decided for me, "Well, just stay with the light weight ones then." Gail and George arrived to wish me well; they were now heading home after supporting Richie, who finished with a massive PB, knocking around five hours off his time from last year. Gail in her caring, medical capacity said "Well, I've seen you look better, but plenty painkillers and you'll be fine."
Val and I headed off for the Devil's Staircase, fed and with lots of clothes on I soon warmed up, on the climb I handed Val my gloves, I was nice and cosy. Over the top and on the long boulder strewn descent Val, who has done support for Pauline, Lynne and myself over many years, usually started her shift from Tyndrum, commented how much harder it is finding your footing going into the second night without sleep. Yeah! I had noticed! I was trying to remember how Lynne and I skipped over these boulders on a training run last month. The legs were still moving well but now the ball of my right foot felt ready to spontaneously combust.
Kinlochleven (81 miles) did seem to take a while to come in but not as torturous as previous years. I sat on the stool eating my cheese and ham roll, drinking my oxo as Pauline tended my feet, then as Pauline and Val organised stuff the guy who was parked next to us put my socks back on for me, it wasn't weird, he wasn't a total stranger, in the realms of this race, he's family. I think he's Jim Drummond's support.
Pauline has the short straw, the long, steep climb out of Kinlochleven and the endless Lairigmor. Last month I did Pauline's support in Holland where she ran a 24-hour race (the first Scottish woman to go over 200km and setting a new Scottish record) I did a lot of shouting and bullying…err, I mean encouraging. It was now pay back time, except Pauline didn't shout at all. It was worse than that she made me eat! My feet were on fire, my legs sore, I was exhausted and felt sick. The last thing I wanted was jam pieces, Mars Bars and a bottle of flat coke, yeech! Even with lots of clothes on I got quite cold, I put on my waterproof trousers for a third layer on my legs and Pauline gave me her thick fleece for a fifth layer on my body and her gloves, I tried to remember not to wipe my nose on them (oops! oh well! She'll have washed them by now). I had made a CD of my favourite inspirational music, the song I had earmarked for Lairigmor was the Corrs version of Everybody Hurts but I didn't have the energy to sing it in my head, all I could manage was "Hold on, hold on". Once in the trees, I knew Lundavra was getting nearer, Val had walked out to meet us, then shot off to get the coffee ready. At last, Lundavra the home straight! (Well, ok not that straight, 6 miles of ups, downs and twisty spooky woods). My head went up, I could smell the finish. I had put on my checkpoint demands coffee and a kick up the bum at Lundavra. They were going to have to catch me first. In fact Val had to put in quite an effort to get back to us. Pauline headed back to the car and Val was now in charge, she was just as forceful as Pauline making me eat, if not worse. She would have made an SAS sergeant seem like a nursery school teacher; so much so, when I dropped my flapjack I quickly picked it up, dusted it off and ate it before she could reprimand me for throwing it away. She made me stop to drink the coffee, I took the opportunity to remove the jacket, fleece and waterproof trousers, right it was time to work, the sleeves were pushed up and I was off. Val was very good at keeping me under control; I was going at it like a puppy with a rag-doll between its teeth, running on pure adrenaline (and a flapjack with sprinkles) I didn't have energy to waste. At the Braveheart car park Val phoned in my imminent arrival. Lynne had finished ages ago with a massive PB too, around five hours off her previous time.
The last mile, head up, shoulders down, hips forward, hands loose, lengthen the stride, work and breathe, past the Nevis Bank Hotel, I could see the Leisure Centre. I promised a sprint finish. Arms pumping, legs following, blisters popping, spit flying. I'M COMING HOME. The door into the Leisure Centre remained on its hinges as Simon held it open for me. I came in with my arms above my head and a euphoric scream. 31 hours and 20 seconds, a PB by 8 minutes, one of the seventy runners to finish in this year's race.
I was surprised that I didn't cry the whole last mile, knowing what it meant to me. It was the last tick in the box of my recovery. The emotion of my achievement did grab me round the throat and blurred my vision a couple of days later. I go back to hospital around October for a scan but I don't have to wait for doctors to tell me something I already know. I am recovered, fit, well and stronger than before. Those bits I thought were missing, well, I've found them. I am a complete nutter. My plan now is to join the ranks of Jim, Jim, Alan and Adrian. They have completed the West Highland Way Race ten times or more. Now to tell my support crew they're not allowed any other plans or holidays in June for the next seven years, at least!
This year's training started terribly, I put my back out on New Year's Eve, what made it worse was I wasn't doing anything daft and was sober too. So January 1st the day I normally start to focus on the race wasn't what I'd planned, I ended up with two weeks off work and £200 on a chiropractor but money well spent. If I'm going to have a month out I suppose January was the right one to pick! So in February I got back into my schedule, running slowly but able to cover the distance and as the months progressed so did my training with no more mishaps.
The week before the race I felt calm, prepared, and ready to go. But the weather reports on the race website forum were not good, I had no plans to check the weather, because whatever it was I would cope with it. There is no such thing as bad weather only bad clothing and I planned to have at least three of everything in my arsenal. But it doesn't matter how good your Gore-tex, it wouldn't be much use in a flash flood carrying boulders in it's path, I was starting to panic, how would I react if the race was stopped for safety. I emailed Bob Allison my concerns. His voice of reason told me to stop worrying, I'm more than capable, get my head down and nail the 30 hours, just go for it! He was right, I calmed down; of course I'll do it,
On Friday I just ate or slept while waiting for Pauline and Val to pick me up at 10.00pm with enough gear to kit out an army. At Milngavie greeted the old faces and some new ones with best wishes for this year's race, Steven King, making his debut, looked absolutely petrified. At the race briefing I was right at the back and couldn't hear, but managed to catch something about the weather, we might get thunder and lightning but if we do it will be in the early stages and in daylight. That's fine I can live with that.
At 1.00am after the obligatory team photo, we were off, all 104 of us. After all the preparation and waiting it was good to get going. I was still smiling at Bob's challenge, last week I'd set Bob a quiz (a Munro bagger with the full set) I emailed him a photo of me sitting on top of Blaven, a Munro on Skye, offering him a Mars Bar as a prize if he knew where I was. He won it easy and promised to give me back the Mars Bar if I broke Russell Adams time of 28 ½ hours from a few years ago. I was confident of knocking an hour off my previous time and getting under 30 hours but Russell's time? We'll see. Kept it nice and easy in the dark, staying relaxed, as I turned into the field at Drymen, I was careful not to tread on the hedgehog trundling across my path, I phoned Pauline to say I was on my way, I wasn't stopping just swapping the rucksack for the bum bag, I forgot to tell them I wasn't slowing down either; I was running up the road trailing my rucksack in one hand waiting for someone to take it. "Come on, hurry up!" They soon got into gear and I had my bum bag. I had a wee panic when I came to a sign that said "West Highland Way Closed" and a big arrow pointing down hill, I didn't like the look of the diversion because what goes down must come back up, also I couldn't see the couple of guys that were just in front so I decided to stick to the proper path, my rationale being that the path is closed for forestry work and at this time in the morning any tree-chopper-downer will still be tucked up in bed. The rain was heavy and there was no sign of it letting up, went over the stile where there used to be trees, looked to my left, Conic hill wasn't there, it was totally hidden in clouds, oh well, no view from the top this morning then! Plodded on and over the top to be cheered on by the Scouts who were there to see the sunrise, then magically a big hole opened in the clouds and I could see up the loch. Wow! The view! It made climbing the hill in the rain worthwhile. Took the descent gently, complicated by my phone ringing, but I was able to tell Pauline and Val I would be going straight through Balmaha, have my coffee and rice pudding ready also my Gore-tex jacket, the one I was wearing wasn't quite up to the job. Val had a hard task chasing me up the road with my mug; a wee tip, next time put the lid on! Pauline had to walk up the hill with me as I enjoyed my caffeine hit, passed Pauline my mug and banana skin, see ya at Rowardennan.
Rowardennan was where my support came into their own, I sat in the big foldy chair as Pauline and Val grabbed a foot each and like a mirror image they worked together, wet wipes, Body Glide (stuff like Vaseline but better) fresh socks and trail shoes, "Val, I thought you didn't do feet!" A quick squirt of Skin So Soft, refuelled rucksack and I was off within 6 minutes. I'm not a numbers junkie and I run to my heart and soul not the watch, gadgets and gizmos but I wanted to know how I was doing. I was told I was 19 minutes ahead of last year's time. Righty-ho! A good start, 27 miles in, that's the warm up done, time to keep a good effort without over doing it. Took a mental note to reprimand my crew, when they filled my drinks bladder, I only wanted a litre in it but they didn't squash the air out. My juice was sloshing around like an old washing machine!
I had quite a lot of company along the side of Loch Lomond, a few race virgins, I felt for Shirley, she had lost the path somewhere after Rowardennan and found herself in thick bracken and couldn't retrace her steps, she ended up wading up the loch for around 20 minutes until she could get back on the track. Trying to find a silver lining for her I commented that at least the cold water would be invigorating for her legs! Also Derek and Stephen Morley, who blame me for them ever running this race, a few year's ago I was running with them at Glenrothes 50km and said something about a great wee race they'll need to do. I think this is their third WHW. This was the only section of the race I hadn't covered in training this year, but it was indelibly etched on my memory, took it nice and easy, I wanted both legs intact to be able to run again when I got onto easier ground. I did well hanging on to my ginger jam sandwich when my toe got caught on a root and I fell over to my right, it wasn't much of a fall, but a sharp boulder found my right shin. Once I was up I didn't look at it, wasn't sure what I'd see but my leg took my weight so must've been ok. Picked up some juice and a chicken roll at the checkpoint in Inversnaid, I drank some juice and put the roll in my bag, I wasn't going to eat it until I felt secure in the knowledge that I didn't need both hands for hanging onto rocks or trees to keep me vertical. This section did seem to take a lot longer than I expected but was relieved to reach the flat grassy stretch that signalled the end of the dodgy terrain, hurray! I can get my roll out now. The legs were strong and moving well, making good time to Beinglas Farm where I changed back to the bum bag and ate a rice pudding, I asked about my time and was told I was still ahead, they'll tell me exactly by how much at Derrydaroch Farm. I tootled off up the path approaching halfway doing a wee stock take of how I was feeling. I was surprised and delighted to realise my legs were supple and strong, I had to repeat it to myself "My legs are supple and strong!" just to make it sink in how good they felt. My stomach was happy, the only thing I had to show for forty odd miles and lacking a night's sleep was that I was scrunching my eyes up, the sun wasn't shining but looking at the path I found it too bright. Right, ok, just my head was tired! That's fine; you don't need a head for running. Chickens do it all the time! With that thought I had a little chuckle to myself and headed into Derrydaroch Farm where they had the big chair and fresh socks ready, they must have been a bit tired too, it took them seven minutes to do my feet, find my sunglasses and tell me I was now forty minutes ahead.
On the path along to the forest above Crianlarich I had William for company, a first timer from Nottingham, he'd seen Val and Pauline working on my feet and thought it looked nice but he didn't dare take his shoes off. We blethered through the steep climbs and dips where the rain came back, propped the sunglasses on my head in poser mode and pulled my sleeves back down, didn't bother with a jacket, it wasn't cold. After crossing the A82 Pauline met me in the field, she had walked out from Auchtertyre Farm with my soup, I decided I was wasting a good running stretch walking on the flat road and started to run but soon gave up, it was too hard trying to eat a portion of Mrs Baxter's best Scotch Broth and phone home to report I'm still alive and well, I do deserve a wee breather occasionally don't I? It was good having Auchtertyre Farm as the checkpoint because I've always felt Tyndrum took ages to come in although only a further three miles away, so happily trundled off, fed and watered knowing Pauline would join me at Tyndrum (53 miles).
At Tyndrum it took me ages to cross the road, didn't mind being a headless chicken but didn't want to be a dead one, where's a lollypop lady when you need one! Now seventy minutes ahead, I've got my hour but how good can I make it, my head had woken up, legs still bouncing along and even better, my feet were in excellent condition, in the past at this point I've had more plasters than skin, I was buzzing, there is no way I'm letting this go. Pauline had fun with my new digital camera also nattering away with Neil MacRitchie and his support the section to Bridge of Orchy whooshed in. Now at Bridge of Orchy I felt as if I was in the eye of a storm while the tornado whirled around me, I was sat calmly in the big foldy chair, (giggling to myself again) with Pauline at my feet, throwing my shoes and socks over her shoulder as she did my feet, changing to fresh socks and my second pair of trail shoes, Val was one handed preparing my rice-pudding with honey and a mug of hot chocolate, George (supporting Steven) had taken this moment to phone. All this mayhem was over in six minutes; Val and I were walking up the hill as I drank my hot chocolate. Pauline shouted "See you at Kingshouse."
"Oy! Hang on! You'll need to come up the hill, I'm not carrying my mug all the way to Kingshouse!" When Pauline returned a guy was helpfully clearing the road of all my debris, he gently kicked it closer to the car for Pauline to tidy up, her task after that was to drive round to Kingshouse with Val's brand new car, a clever one that knows all by itself when to put lights and wipers on, all Pauline had to do was point it in the right direction and not hit anything, not like the support driver I saw early in the race on the B821 where the WHW crosses over at four miles in. The driver was moving up the road slowly with the back near side door wide open. I wondered if he knew. Oh, he does now; it's just hit a tree!
Val and I had a good steady pace along Rannoch Moor, discussing what clothes I'd take with me over the Devil's Staircase. Decided since I'm still moving well, I don't think I'll get as cold as last year so I'll just take the tracksters then heard what we both thought was thunder, ok, I'll take the Gore-tex trousers. Kept a strong pace up and over the hill, Kingshouse now in sight, usually what happens when you hit hard tarmac after a long trail run, your legs die a horrible death (if the wheels don't fall off the bogey they at least turn square), after descending the rough path and down on to road at Glencoe Ski Centre I still felt amazingly good, I lengthened my stride to give my legs a stretch and cruised down the road I could also see how well I was doing, the sun was still high above Buachaille Etive Mor last year it was going down behind the Devil's Staircase then I heard a stern voice behind me "FIONA, EASE UP!" Val had slowed to phone Pauline with instructions but couldn't get a signal; she had to work hard to get back to me, she continued her reprimand, "You've a long way to go yet!" I had to explain I wasn't pushing, only stretching my legs, honest. Val was concerned, and wasn't going to let me work too hard too soon. After crossing the road Val put a sprint on into Kingshouse to find Pauline with a change of instruction, with me being ahead of schedule, she wouldn't have my pasta ready. Val had suggested I wait for it. Ha! Not on my list of options, I'll just get it at the bottom of the Devil. At the car Pauline had some clothes ready for me she also shoved in my mouth a great huge chunk of chocolate (Yorkie It's Not For Girls, we now know why it's not for girls. On the "Things not to tell your runner 'til later" list Pauline admitted that she couldn't break the chunks apart and had to bite the piece off for me, I didn't notice the teeth marks.) Also a ploy to stop me shouting at her, but it failed "No, not that fleece, the blue one and my Saltire Buff scarf and the clear glasses". After getting the fleece on Pauline told me to bugger off, she would catch me up with my refuelled rucksack and Val will drive along to Altna-feadh to prepare my pasta. I was now 1hr 52 mins ahead of last year's time.
Enjoyed my pasta walking up the Devil's Staircase, Pauline taking loads more photos on the way up. The top and it's still daylight, what a boost and a novelty! What a difference it made being able to see and so much easier to pick a route through the rocks and on the steep descent managed to run well finding that fine line of running well but not going too fast getting out of control and having to use my quads as brakes. Into Kinlochleven with another confusing diversion but I followed this one as it was marked WHW Race, I thought the checkpoint had changed but you came out at the usual place only going round the back of manky factories instead of the nice path through woods, oh well, got there anyway. Kinlochleven was heaving with midges, they were getting under my glasses, a close fitting wrap-around style I wear specifically to keep the beasties oot ma face! I skooshed Pauline in the face with the Skin So Soft as she changed my socks for the last time, drank my oxo as fast as I could went over to the checkpoint in the Health Centre and announced "That's number two in and number two out!" relieved to get out of that heebie-jeebie inflicting pit. Val soon caught me up. Right this is where I'll start making an effort, fifteen miles to go, in the past I've found this section the toughest, struggling slowly along while the Lairig Mor maliciously laughs in my face as it winds on and on throwing stones at my toes, biting my bum and slapping my face making me think death could be a pleasant experience. It's not getting me this year, I still feel good, legs still supple and strong, stomach happy, only a blister on the ball of my left foot and there's no way that will slow me down, I'm now 3.15 hours ahead and moving well, Val set a fast pace and I kept with it. The light was going but still didn't need torches we could see a light in the distance, it wasn't moving, it couldn't be runners, didn't puzzle over it for too long. I looked up, whoa! My fourth WHW and my first real hallucination, I can see a car parked on the Lairig Mor… Aw! Wait a minute, there really is a great big 4X4 sitting there, an extra checkpoint since there is now access up and a phone signal at this point. Oh well! Disappointing but puzzle solved. I put my torch on, it still wasn't too dark but it gave me something to follow, as it got darker the path seemed to get harder, stopped running, but didn't slow too much it just used less energy to walk with a good long stride over the stones and puddles but broke into the odd stagger as my feet skittered over boulders, Val gave her ankle quite a sore one but she carried on regardless. I kept pointing my torch up the path looking for the trees; although it's good it was no searchlight, but eventually I could smell the forest before I saw it, (why don't pine air fresheners ever smell this good).
At Lundavra Pauline gave me my last mug of coffee and took over the reins for the last push. Val went off to find her black car abandoned by Pauline on a pitch-dark track somewhere between Lundavra and Fort William. Both Pauline and Val had been good at reminding me to eat and drink along the way but it wasn't difficult, my guts were good, possibly something to do with the large quantity of crystallised ginger I've munched all the way. We kept a good pace through the spooky woods, I'd given Pauline permission to shout, bully and do whatever it takes to keep me going and not to slow down on the last 10km but I was on a high the whole way she didn't have to say much. When we were going over the Devil's Staircase she gave me a pep talk, "When it gets dark you might take a dip in spirit and energy but get aggressive and fight it." It never happened, I was still giggling to myself. I stumbled across the stones and let out a yell. "Yike-arroonies!" What kind of aggressive, fighting talk is that! I thought. Pauline never commented or looked round, just as well, don't know what she would of thought of the manic grin on my chops. Over the stile and onto the wide forest track, Pauline looked up and noticed there were torches just behind us. "That's ok they can go past me if they want. But they're going to have to be good to do it." Earlier in the race I had considered changing my shoes at Lundavra going back to the road shoes I had worn up to Rowerdennan but I didn't bother, nothing was going to help or hinder my sprint finish. On the steep downhill of the forest track I lengthened my stride, pushing a hard 10km effort breathing my lungs inside out. We caught and went past another runner who was walking a good pace, it was Alan Young one of the race's fore-fathers who did most of his WHWs before the archives began coming out of retirement to celebrate a birthday. Goan yersel auld yin! (If the Brechin Boy ever reads this I'll get a cuff roon the lug fur ma cheek!) Carried on down the hill. Pauline shouted at me, "Your posture's going get your head up!" I was struggling to see the path in my torchlight and said as much. Pauline replied my torch looked bright enough to her. She was right, I took my glasses off they were steaming up. "Here, you have them." At the Braveheart car park Pauline got the phone out to let Val know we were on our way in, "Don't bother, there's Val." She was waiting in the car park. Onto the road and into street lights for the last mile gave Pauline my torch, didn't bother to switch it off, she can deal with it. Wasn't sure if I would manage to wind it up much more for a sprint finish, I was going as hard as I could already. I went past a runner but didn't have breath to acknowledge her at least Pauline had the manners to do so. Where is the Leisure Centre, I can't keep this effort up for much longer. At last, I can see it. Pauline sprinted ahead to get a photo, I giggled to myself again and thought, "You're going to have to go faster than that!" as I wound it up a smidgen, she failed. Luckily Val was there and caught my moment of glory. Number two finished in 26 hrs 14 mins 48 secs knocking 4hrs 46 mins from last years PB. What a race! I don't think it could have been any better; I must be a proper loony to have laughed all the way round but I really did enjoy every minute.
There are no words adequate to thank Pauline and Val for their support and ability to adjust as I constantly surprised them as I arrived in every checkpoint ahead of schedule. My total stop time was 20 minutes and the longest being 7 minutes. I do get to return the favour for Pauline when she runs for GB in Canada next month. (I think twins do make excellent support for each other, we've been poking each other in the eye since before we were born, and I won't have a problem watching her hurt as she attempts to break her own Scottish 24 hour record.) Val, any time you need me for a daft adventure I'll be there.
Bob congratulated me and handed over the Mars Bar, he asked what would I do for a whole box full. I answered sub 24. But just a box of Thornton's Continental will do it. So Bob, you'd better be standing at the Leisure Centre at around ten to one in the morning on June 22th 2008 with my choccies!