I'm up early, been for a walk, and other than red hot feet burning through my socks I feel better than I thought I would. I'm typing this and watching the start of the Flora Londo Marathon. I ran last years race and thought, at that time, nothing would ever come close to that experience. As soon as on-line entries opened my application was in, and my wife started looking forward to her weekend in the UK capital. Two weeks later, that is to say a year yesterday, I was picking up my club-mates who were running the Highland Fling, and spending the day supporting them and when some were timed out at Beinn Glas, spent the next couple of hours in the Drovers car park massaging feet. NOT A NICE JOB. By this time I knew that London and the Fling were on the same weekend this year, and the Fling looked like a possible consolation prize if my London entry was unsuccessful. Fast forward a few weeks to the full West Highland Way Race and I'm running the final few sections supporting Jim Robertson and thoroughly enjoying the experience. The presentation and the obvious camaraderie amongst all particpants, whether runner, supporter or race official, was inspiring.Come August my entry went in and I also entered the Fling in order to justify my entry for the WHW race. Now of course I was praying for a rejection from London and wondering how to explain to my better half, Mairi, why we wouldn't be going to London if it wasn't! (It was rejected, thank goodness!) Preparation started immediately and my training routine's changed to take in more trails and other off road runs. I even ran one of the club cross countries for goodness sake!
Suddenly it was April, and as can be seen from my pre-race blog I wasn't terribly confident that my preparation for the Fling was sufficient. Wee niggly things had caused me to pull back on training a bit and I missed one of the preparation runs (42 miler) due to illness. Had I done enough?
F-day arrived, my wife and son (Andrew) struggled from dreamland. They were my support for the day and dire warnings had been issued. They were helping and I wasn't to shout at them or they were off and I was on my own! We arrived at Milngavie and I registered before walking around saying "Hello" to friends I had met in the past year and to some I knew only by blog and reputation! His Subversiveness Dave Waterman, Lee, Tim, and Geraldine all came into this category and it was great to meet them all. (Mind you having read of the moment when Geraldine met Mark, eyes meeting at Race Control in Kinlochleven, there wasn't much chance of me stealing her as when I got to meet her, at Beinn Glas, I wasn't at my best and she told me I looked terrible. No romance in her soul at all!)
Soon it was 6am and the ladies and the "Auld yins" (over 50... that's me) lined up to start with a few "Good Lucks" to friends I met on the start line and off we went.An hour later, the "young yins" would start and an hour after that the relay runners. Over 300 runners would take part in one way or another a fantastic achievement for a race only in it's fourth year. A tremendous feat of organisation and all for a tenner!
A nice bright morning and I contrasted it with last year when the photos I took in Mugdock park were badly under exposed due to the dark clouds. Debbie taking photos from the wall at the entrance to the Way wouldn't have any such problems this morning. Into the park and I found myself running near George Reid,veteran of many ultras and who better to stay near to ensure a sensible pace? Wrong! Although a nice comfortable pace, and soon settling into a "walk the hills" routine it turned out we were way too fast. The first three miles were done in 29 minutes, no worries I thought, Garmin on right wrist would keep me aware of what I was doing. Keep the heart beat in my chest, and judge breathing to assess pace. Doing fine. The miles were passing quickly and easily and when we came into the checkpoint at Drymen we had taken only 1hr55. Far too quick, so much for George! Speaking to him later, he admitted that that pace was a lot quicker than he had intended. Put it down to the god conditions! I had intended stopping and changing my shoes to my trails for Conic and did so before checking in so my time is recorded as I left as opposed to arrival at Drymen. What to do now? Keep running as hard? Not really an option on this tough section so I decided to take it even more conservatively than I had intended and try to take some recovery. As I climbed towards Conic Hill, shrouded in mist, I ran very sparingly trying to save my legs for later. As I got closer, a fluttering Saltire marked the viewpoint of Murdo McEwan who had posted his intention to watch the race fro Conic and somehow you knew that it was he. A quick hello and I started the descent. Still ahead of the young yins, but that didn't last too long as suddenly a pack of four went flying past, followed by a few others just off the pace including Marco Consani who was, as usual off to a flying start. Although I had managed,with a luckily soft landing,to fall up the hill, I managed to stay upright on the descent and came into Balmaha in good time. Until now I had been eating regularly but I now started to have difficulty in chewing and swallowing and started to feel bagged up. I changed back to road shoes and set off via the loo, where nothing happened! Came out in time to see Joe Sheridan passing me and soon after the ascent of the knoll Thomas Lohendorf passed.These guys were,of course, near the front of the field and Thomas was on his way to a terrific time, passing Marco who would suffer for his early pace and finishing in 8.20. Thomas is hereby christened "The Not So Crazy German!!" By now the younger starters are starting to come by with greater regularity as did the relay teams, identified by coloured sashes. Those sashes are a Godsend as it would have been utterly demoralising for me not to know that the runners flying past me were only running 12 or 14 miles! A few were not so obvious though, tucking them inside vests or wrapping them round wrists. Please, please, please wear them in a visible manner next time! Just before Rowardennan I was passed by Gavin MacKinlay another blogger I hadn't actually met before. He had had a knee problem a few months ago and I had e-mailed him with an exercise to correct the tracking of the patella. As he passed he asked me to e-mail him another exercise for his hamstrings. But his knee is alright!
Garmin (more later) showed exactly 5 hours for 25 miles; 12 minute miles and probably my idea of a reasonable pace for that section. Rowardennan in 5.15. Bang on what I thought I was capable of, although I was careful not to have specific targets. I switched from bum bag and bottle to Camelbak and set off with some trepidation on the way to Bein Glas, knowing this would be the worst section of the race. Walking most of the climb after Ptarmigan Lodge and a good run down the hill, things slowed a bit on the rough last mile before Inversnaid. Passed at this point by Davie Bell, having a bit of a struggle but not I think as bad as I was starting to feel. Drop bag at Inversnaid introduced me to a new nutritional delight. In a plastic bag I had some PB & J sandwiches and I had put some grapes in beside them that had squashed into the bread. Delicious! But the last bit of food I'd enjoy. Off again, and the bit I dreaded. Those of you who know me will know I'm not the lightweight, nimble type and I have difficulty trusting my nervous system to connect my brain to my feet. I was overtaken by so many runners that I lost count. I'll gloss over the details but I absolutely hated this section and even where it is possible to run I had difficulty raising even a canter. The heat was also taking it's toll.
I eventually reached Beinn Glas in 9.07 3 hours 47 after leaving Rowardennan. "215!" I said. "Davie!" Trish Duffy, a Millie who had had the benefit of my massage last year and was officiating with aforementioned Geraldine at The Farm. She hardly recognised me and soon told me how dreadful I looked. Geraldine agreed and I was given a seat, told to eat drink and recover and not leave until I was feeling better. Mairi and Andrew fed me liquids including a large tumbler of full fat Coke and water. Eating was out of the question, I hadn't peed since Carbeth, and was starting to worry about over hydration/exercise associated low sodium/hyponatraemia. Now I wouldn't have known a lot about that before I started this ultra lark, but I'd been to the the WHW information night and Dr Chris Ellis's presentation was starting to worry me! Mairi and Andrew had been briefed about keeping positive thoughts in my mind and give them their due, despite G and T's best efforts they continued to encourage me.Two other things of note here; Tricia gave me a packet of crisps to try and eat something and get some salt on board. They were Salt and Vinegar and by God they were horrible! I also realised that my Garmin was about 2 miles out and probably had been for a long time. I was actually covering the ground even faster than I thought!!! After a visit to the loo, successful No.2 no No1 (sorry), and after spending half an hour resting I'm off to Carmyle Cottage, for more coke and water and then off up the hill. Suddenly I'm a new man, overtaking quite a few on the climb to Ewich, not even giving my normal mental v-sign to the farmer who works so hard to keep the path well fertilised, and catching up to Tim Downie with whom I'd exchanged places a few times during the race and shared some time as we both rested on the chairs at B.G. The agonies of the last downhill section of the race were somehow muted as I reached the railway bridge and meeting Andrew and Mairi at the A82. Andrew agreed to run the last few miles with me and whilst I had a short walk on the approach to Auchtertyre (where I had a can of Red Bull) I got into a decent rhythym and believe it or not Andrew started to struggle to keep up with me! Into Tyndrum and Silke (race doctor and wife of the Not so Crazy German) was asking for numbers. 215. What's yours, she asked Andrew. "215 Junior" I replied for him!Even my sense of humour was improving. Now I can see the finish, flags fluttering and inflatable marking the end of the 53 miles, and I'm sprinting! (ok relatively speaking). Not quite London-sized crowds, but far more welcoming, the applause for the guy finishing in 222nd place (including relays, I'm referring to the provisional results here!) was very much appreciated and I was delighted to have the energy and mental faculties to gasp out "Thank Yous" to everyone. Clubmates and club runner's families had turned out in force to watch the finish, much appreciated. Dave Waterman was first to greet me when I crossed the line in 12hrs 32.10.
Then a cuddle from Mairi and a hug from Andrew, who proceeded to drink my sponsor's Coors! Handshakes from lots of people, and I hope I managed to convey my thanks to everyone for their tremendous support. My first food since Inversnaid was a bit of Elaine's homebaking, I think it was lovely but I'm afraid my mouth wasn't capable of procesing it and it became a gooey mass. It went down eventually.
Back to the car to change and reaching it before the keys I had a bit of time to myself and Emotions took over. Tears of, what; joy, relief, I don't know, but this guy was in pieces. Changing was fun, and revealed to some, I couldn't get down far enough to see, feet that had been in better nick! Christine, who had also been a beneficiary of that 2008 massage, was asked to reciprocate but decided a photo would have to do. Se moved in close enough to omit my feet.
I walked back to the finish in time to see the presentation, meet some more friends (do I really have so many?), and drink some more coke. Thomas picked up two prizes as Male Vet (3rd?) and 2nd team for Kilbarchan. And a huge cheer, 2nd biggest of the day, for Jez Bragg who extended his course record, or should I say demolished it, now a phenomenal 7hrs 19.09, over 5 minutes faster than last year.Sarah Ridgeway,another blogger whose blogs have more photos than words, (unlike mine!) took !st lady and my wee pal Sharon 3rd lady. Murdo's presentation was muted a bit by announcing no FV55's had finished, but a little later someone advised him the first was about to finish. Cue the biggest cheer of the day before said lady was ushered straight to the podium Grand Prix style. I'm not sure she knew quite where she was!
So, what now? I have an entry for the big race in June, but I have my doubts as to whether I'm capable of it yet. The advice given to me when I entered, that my lack of experience could be a problem, was probably accurate but my bullish nature made me go ahead. Typing this, I actually feel not too bad, but I'm leaving it till after my holiday in May, where I need to keep my training going to justify running 95 miles. Failing that, there will be other ultra's this year and maybe next year.....
Finally, a huge thanks to Mairi and Andrew, without whom I'd never have finished. Not only did they keep me fed and watered, the thought of letting them down after all their support made it not an option to DNF. The only thing that would have stopped me would have been a broken leg. Mind you, if Mark Hamilton can run on one anyone can ;-)