Like 146 others who started the race on Saturday morning I am now realising that the human brain is extremely capable of letting you know just how little it appreciates the effort required in running the 95 miles from Milngavie to Fort William. Nerve receptors are receiving loud and clear messages, whether it is the sting of raw soles, the constant ache of the achilles or the sharp objections to any kind of movement.
There is however one way of displacing the pain. Turn your head to the right, slowly now.... look at that glass goblet on top of the cabinet yes the one beside the Highland Fling bubbly (unopened(!)), and wipe the tear from your eye!
Take a couple of weeks off work, get a glass or mug of whatever is your pleasure and a comfy seat. It's a roller coaster ride!
If it were up to me I would be in the car park at Milngavie at 7pm to savour the build up, but my wife and son, Mairi and Andrew, are more circumspect and we eventually left the house around 10pm. One mile along the road and I asked "Where's my wallet?" Home again I searched in the usual places, only for Andrew to find it in the car boot!
Off again with a stop and a strop at ASDA where Mairi wanted to pick up face wipes and, of course we ended up filling a basket with a few extras. Then we went to the self checkout. You know, the one that speeds you through, saves time, and gets you on your way in quick time? Cue Davie in a show of temper and frustration as everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. I'll spare the details. The language is censored anyway!
Arriving at the station car park in Milngavie I started to see many of those runners, bloggers, legends and assorted nutters whose wit and wisdom has become a part of my life. I had a wee prezzie for one of them. A Holland and Barrett "Wallaby Bar" had been purchased with Keith Hughes in mind. If I knew then what I know now, I would have had him certified. Not content with running the race in under 24 hours, he kept going! He's still on tracker as I write this....in Fort Augustus.
Blood and urine donated, weight checked and I'm nearly the fattest B****d in the race although not quite! A blether with a few friends,(nice to meet Rachel for the first time), best wishes exchanged with everyone and then the registration area emptied for the pre-race briefing at the underpass. A quick bye-bye to Mairi and Andrew and we were called to the start.
Milngavie to Rowardennan
I started near the back with fellow Milburn runners Geraldine,Brian,Jimmy and Jim; a nice steady first mile, but found myself getting uncomfortable with a short stride necessary to stop me from clicking Jimmy's heels, so moved past them. A short time later and I had moved away, although I didn't feel myself getting any faster. Quick blethers with various people before I found myself with Keith. He had been sweeper last year, but kept going for a finish and I had a lot of time in his company when I ran with JR at the end of his race to his 12th goblet. Past Carbeth and he moved away and, for the first time, I found myself pretty much on my own for a couple of miles. My head lamp and hand torch were doing a good job lighting the path in the grey, overcast, moonless night. The first time I saw Andrew was at Beechtree where I swopped my drinks bottle. I had ensured I was well hydrated prior to the start, and was relying on small, assorted energy bars to keep my sugar levels up until I got to Drymen where I would take a break. After Dumgoyach and the Beechtree we came to the section where there are an interminable number of gates. I have always disliked this part due to the "after you Claude" manners displayed. Not that I'm rude you understand but I just think it slows us down. I fell in with Davie Hay whom I knew would run a sensible race and he was a "sensible runner" marker for me. Eventually he went away but only after stopping a couple of times. He wasn't to finish so he may have been having problems very early. Next to have the pleasure of my company was the amazing Chris Moon MBE,double amputee having lost his lower right arm and leg in a minefield. I introduced myself and had a blether about his Edinburgh Marathon(4.02). At this stage of the race he was running with his "blade" prosthetic. It looked unstable on the road but he was flying on the downhills.
In the Fling I reached Drymen in 1.55 and suffered. My aim today was 2.30 and not to see any (George Reid) of those I had ran with in April. Tick the box!
As I stood with Andrew the twins Pauline and Fiona went through and as I climbed up into forest I caught them. At the Edinburgh information evening they stole the show with their infectious humour and Fiona related the story of how she was enjoying herself so much on the final stages that she started to sing to herself. The song? "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen. We had a blether about our mutual interest in JogScotland and their forthcoming Commonwealth Championships in September.
Onto Conic Hill I pulled away from them only to be caught and passed by Karen Donaghue. Well if I wasn't to see George, I had to see Karen. The first signs of a problem came in my right foot. I was wearing my usual Mizuno Wave Riders with the insole replaced by my orthotic inserts and I started to feel discomfort on the outside of my foot just forward of my ankle. I think the orthotic was being pushed outwards by the trail surface. My feet were also swelling and may have been a contributory factor. At Balmaha I made my first mistake. Coming down the hill I was passed by club-mate Brian, and then, when in the car park getting fed and watered, Jimmy and Geraldine came in. The competitive instinct kicked in and off I went to get and hopefully stay ahead of them. And I forgot to loosen off my shoes that by this time were getting tight in the "lace" area.
My last talk with JR had been on Wednesday after training and his advice was not to chase anyone, or race anyone. One mile, later I had to stop to re-tie my laces and made a pigs ear of that as I pulled the wrong way and knotted the laces. I lost 5 minutes re-tying but, going again,felt the better of it although the swelling would return soon than I liked. The roller-coaster ride that is Balmaha to Rowardennan was going fine, better than the Fling anyway, due to the more sensible pace. I spent some time in the company of The Subversive Runner and his mate Martin Hooper, pointing out across the Loch the village of Luss where I spent four years as the village cop. Contrast that with Dave's current career as a fire fighter in "Lahndon".
I reached Rowardennan in 6.16 and promptly took 15 minutes to refuel and rest my feet in my chair. I saw the twins go past me (again)and spoke to Jimmy who was going fine. This time though, when they (he, Brian and Geraldine) left, I let them go, and concentrated on food and drink. My main energy source was Honey Stingers, Brunch Bars and rice puddings,PB and J sandwiches, grapes and bananas. Until the latter stages I was able to eat regularly and well, although some of the drier stuff was difficult to chew. Liquid-wise, water from my camelbak, mixed coke and water, gatorade kept me well hydrated.
Rowardennan to Auchtertyre
As you leave Rowardennan the Way is on probably the best continual surface of the entire course. It's a lovely run, or, on race day, walk, with spectacular views west. I really enjoyed this section although I don't recollect seeing too many people. What was worrying me that due to race rules and the impossibility of access I wouldn't be seeing Mairi and Andrew until reaching Carmyle cottage, a lonely 5 hour gap. Throughout the race, or at least until the Devil's Staircase I was able to maintain a good walking pace, strong confident strides eating up the miles. And doesn't time fly when you are enjoying yourself. My head only had one tune in it; Live and Let Die. Fast strides, slow strides, medium strides, there is a pace in there somewhere!
Even when reaching the rougher bits south on Inversnaid I was making good progress and guess what? I caught the twins just as we reached the hotel. I stopped though, they never! Chris passed me as I was munching, going well. How would he find the next bit I wondered? Rucksack replenished, nutrition taken and I was off again, on what used to be my least favourite part of the course. That title is now held by the Kingshouse to Kinlochleven section; every last millimetre of it!
Today however, I was fine although I was starting to realise that I should have changed shoes at Rowardennan as my continually swelling feet got sorer by the hour. I gradually caught up with Chris and Dinah, who was just behind him and whom I had met on one of the Glee Club training runs. We also share a Jogleader role, she in her Argyllshire village. Any worries I had about Chris were put to rest as he flowed over the terrain, and when I passed him at an appropriate place I realised he was doing so carrying his carrier bag in his artificial hand! He assured me his eggs were already scrambled! A water refill at Bein Glas Farm campsite was all we were allowed due to objections from the landowners regarding the access to the area by supporters. I was suddenly disheartened. Don't tell them, but I was missing Mairi and Andrew. In the Fling I reached here totally out of it, dehydrated and exhausted, forced to take a half hour rest. Today my legs were fine but I was worried about Mairi being worried about me! I knew she wouldn't be happy until she saw me again as she was shocked by my appearance on the Fling. I had done my best to ensure no repeat and hoped that this would re-assure her. Mark passed me somewhere around here, looking forward to meeting up with his four-legged training partner Molly. Unfortunately, although I recollect seeing them later in the race at one of the checkpoints, he doesn't appear on the finishing list. Next time, Mark!
Glen Falloch has always been one of my favourite places, but some of the climbs were taking their toll and my feet were fit to bursting. My rucksack was also causing me some back pain and I couldn't wait to get to Carmyle where I'd change shoes and get back to a bum bag. A great welcome here from Murdo and the other stewards and supporters. A smile on Mairi's face as she realised I was still going strong despite the ever gaining distance. I changed my shoes, pulling on my Salomon Trail shoes for the rest of the race. I benefiited from the better stability, but eventually blisters became a serious problem, of which more later. Quite a few came in to Carmyle as I was eating and when I got going I realised that, for once, I was getting out of a checkpoint ahead of them! They were becoming important to me as Fiona's target time was 25.59.59(!). I thought at that time it was a decent pace to set, allowing myself a fair drop off in the latter stages to finish with respectability. Although I had never set myself a time target other than a rough 3 hour period that I thought was achievable, I now realise that my good progress to here had started my brain working (never a good thing) and I was starting to look for silly targets. Off up the hill, unusually dry as I remember, perhaps the coos are constipated. Into Ewich Forest, a roller-coaster to end roller-coasters, meeting walkers on a more regular basis, buoyed by their encouragement. I love this section, even the uphills! There's something about being in the forest that gives me a good feeling. Racehorse trainers say that horses run faster passing trees. Maybe it's the thoroughbred in me!
Andrew refreshed my bottle at the A82 crossing and I knew I didn't have far to go before meeting the rest of my support team and supporters at Auchtertyre.
Regular readers of the blog will know that I had good reason for completing the race. Darren Cousar, 5 on Friday is my nieces youngest son. He has a condition known as Tetrasomy 18P and I was using the race as a means to raise some money to fund any of his future needs. He was meeting me here, and I was filling up at the thought. As I ran towards the wigwams Darren's dad, Ian, and brother, Jack, met me and ran in with me to the checkpoint for a family re-union. My sister Anne and her husband Grant, their son Ally, my 2nd support runner and his sister and Darren and Jack's mum, Sarah Jane, the daughter Mairi and I never had! Don't tell her I wrote that!
At the checkpoint I was weighed and had a massage in an effort to ease my back. as a qualified sports massage therapist I think I'm able to say that guy knew what he was doing! Unfortunately, I only managed a few more miles before the problem re-curred. I also introduced myself to the Strathaven crew who were running the checkpoint, inclding Mrs Mac's mum and dad. Then the lady herself appeared as if from no-where. She heard me and got out of the car where she had been preparing to go looking for her soul-mate the Subversive Runner who was still behind me (and would remain so as he struggled to the end and a goblet to slay the dragon of last year's DNF. Well done,Dave. As I was eating in the car park those twins went past again. I wouldn't see them again until the presentation. Time for stage 7.15, cumulative 13.31.
Auchtertyre to Bridge of Orchy
After a long break I went off again to Tyndrum where I had an appointment with a cup of coffee from my Magic Mug refilled (again) for free at the Real Food Cafe, sponsors of this and the Highland Fling races. And an unexpected pleasure of several Millies, Steph, Pat(and his son Daniel and his son) Ali and Christine and Chris. (apologies if I've missed anyone). A pleasure too, to see Julie and Jimmy from my JogScotland group. By this time I was spending a lot of time in the checkpoints, but felt that a) the additional rest would do no harm and, b)I was enjoying and appreciating seeing everyone. Mentally it was a spur; tiredness was setting in badly and I knew that every step I took from this point was a step further than I had ever run before.
I like the next bit. Open paths with few technical problems, stunning views and it isn't far! Overtaking plenty of runners, and being overtaken by a few,progress was good. Chris had gotten past me, probably at Auchtertyre, and as he approached the railway station I thought he was staggering about the road a bit and worried about him passing the scrutiny of the race marshall, the Lord of the Bridge, Sean Stone.
I was to find out later that he had actually been fine at that point, the reason for him taking up so much of the path was down to the pain in his stump.
Into the checkpoint at Bridge of Orchy in 3.03 for a cumulative time of 16.34. That included my time out in both Auchtertyre and Tyndrum, so I was pretty happy with my pace, especially the speed at which I was walking the uphill sections.
Again some time out and found the Subversive Runner's backup team included a masseur, so I wangled a back massage again. More soothing than the first one but, again, got the seal of approval!
Bridge of Orchy to Kinghouse
Knowing I had the Rannoch Moor to cross, I arranged to meet my support briefly at both Inveroran and Forest Lodge but I had an unexpected bonus as I ascended out of Bridge of Orchy when I met Steph and his dog. They had walked up the hill with Jimmy and they were kind enough to turn right round and do the same for me. That helped and Steph was good at saying all the right things about the progress I was making. At Inveroran and Forest Lodge I took on fluids prior to starting the climb over the Moor. No matter that I've been across there several times in the past year, I am always caught unawares by just how far it is! I was very much alone here. The two Americans, Sue and Rob were always in sight but even though I was catching them I never did and eventually they went away from me. A very few walkers on this section as it was getting late and suddenly I was overtaken by tiredness and backache necessitating a seat on a bridge parapet. Only a couple of minutes but suddenly I had a new lease of life and pounded on at a fast pace knowing that at Kinghouse I would have the company of either Andrew or Ally for the rest of the race. Still, the first sighting of Kinghouse Hotel seemed a bit further than I remembered. Stage time 3.58, Cumulative 20.32.
Kinghouse to Kinlochleven
It didn't seem long before I was off again, keen to get as much of the quickly disappearing light as possible. I was also spurred on by the knowledge that Geraldine was only five minutes ahead of me when I came into the checkpoint. I couldn't see her there, so wrongly assumed she had left ahead of me. Only when I caught up with the two groups ahead did I realise she had remained at the checkpoint. Ally had opted for the first section of my support, Andrew the second, and whoever survived best, the third. This section was the only section I had never ran or walked either in training or whilst supporting Jim last year. That was a mistake. It would almost end my race, but my thoughts soon after the race were that if I had climbed it before I would never have started! Hopefully that memory will fade.
After first overtaking Sue and Rob, they re-took their place and then we passed a group of four before starting the ascent at Altnafeadh. This I found to be a long arduous ascent. Enjoyable when fresh, I'm sure. But 70 odd miles into the race it was a real struggle and seemingly never ending. Ally was in his element though. 17yrs old and a keen walker he was amazed by what he saw around him in the gathering gloom. Good company and never allowing me to get too negative, even though he was finding his uncle had a few more words in his vocabulary than he realised. I struggled to the top and, only as I reached the top, realised I had nearly twice as far to come down to sea level. Oh joy! And the terrain in the dark was worst than anything I'd seen previously. Worst was to come. Just after the first steep section my left knee suddenly became extremely painful. On the outside just on the knobbly bit and I realised my ITB had decided to say it wasn't having fun. Progress suddenly became very slow and painful, my knee buckling under my weight and the blisters that I had been ignoring starting screaming at me. The lights that proved to be Kinlochleven seemed too far away to be reachable given the mileage on this section and I became more and more disheartened. Then I saw a small sign that promised salvation. Remote rescue were just around the next corner and one of them had an elastic knee brace that solved the problem for my knee for a long time. Thanks!!
They told me I had two miles to go, but either he was completely wrong or I was going so slowly that I was doing about 25 minute miles! Even when I hit the truck track below the power station it seemed an eternity before I got to Kinlochleven. On the way down we met a support runner coming up looking for Chris Moon. I hadn't seen Chris since Bridge of Orchy but his support runner had left him at Kinghouse to drive a car to Kinlochleven. Rather than wait there, he decided to walk up but was extremely concerned that the terrain would prove very difficult. We advised him of the Remote Rescue point and we continued down. Caught by two runners on the way down from the summit and another four just as we entered Kinlochleven, the field was extremely spread out, We had seen lights of about six or seven groups below us as we reached the summit of the Staircase, and I wondered where they had all gone.
I reported into the surgery and got a huge cuddle from the lovely Geraldine MacInnes. A nice surprise that had my family a bit stunned but not as much as when her mother who was assisting realised, when she saw Andrew, that two of her best friends were in fact, my mother and father-in-law! A small world with one small problem..... DQ and I are closer than we thought!
Stage time 4.03 Cumulative 24.35
Kinlochleven to Lundavra
Andrew took over support and we set off up the hill towards the Lairig Mor, a climb I was not looking forward to as memories of last year's downpour came back. It was indeed a hard climb but my knee was holding out although the heat in the soles of my feet was getting unbearable. I had decided not to remove my shoes to examine them, choosing to try and block out the pain with the help of my wife's painkillers. Doc Ellis had offered some but I'm sure the one I was using would have been a bit iffy for him to prescribe!
Then we crested the final rise and the Lairig opened up before us, a white-ish ribbon in the darkness. Weird, that in the darkness with no moon, the luminousity of the surface allows it to shine out. It was a long trudge, but again Andrew was a brick, no negativity, and tons of encouragement. We were a team so much so that we started seeing the same shapes in the rocks and grassy tussocks. I had been told all sorts of stories about hallucinations, from sheep to tank regiments. Mind you if I saw a tank I'd only think that Dave Waterman had arranged a taxi home!
A quick chat and a drink from the rescue coverage at the ruined farmhouse (together with another wonky distance estimate - I wonder how these guys measure the fish they catch?)and off to Lundavra with not another soul in sight. The gathering dawn brought even more figments of my imagination, including the second ruin looking like a ship or landing craft. How long is the run to Lundavra? I bet I'm not the only person asking that, but that road sure does go on and on. And still no-one behind us. Surely we should be losing ground at the speed I was walking.
Eventually getting there in 3.33 for 28.08 cumulative. Now I was really struggling, but I was met at the checkpoint by Grant and Ally as well as a lot of other support waiting on their charges. Red Bull didn't give me wings, but Ally joined Andrew and I setting off on the last leg. And on the first hill disaster struck when my left knee went again. I tried massaging it, and it was a painful process, as I'm sure anyone who has had an ITB rubbed will attest. I slowed to an absolute crawl and getting over stiles was a nightmare. The only light moment came when I saw a man standing with his dog just off the path. I pointed him out to Ally and Andrew and both of them agreed that was what it was. No. Another hallucination,but we were such a team we were having the same hallucination! Down into the forest where some of the descents were torture. I ended up walking with my arms round the shoulders of my two buddies and somehow we ended up at the top of the last hill. I remember last year when JR reached this point, (which has changed in appearance due to new road construction and is sadly spoiled a bit)he had a smile as wide as the Clyde on his face as he realised it was all down hill from here. I didn't, as going down was worst than going up! Suddenly two runners came past. At a speed. I thought they might be some of the support runners or elite runners out for a training run. Then I saw the number on their back! Where had they been? No way should anyone behind me be capable of such speed. Sleeping in Kinlochleven, that's where. Turned out they were knackered by going too fast earlier and now, rejuvenated, had decided to completely demoralise me by flying home. I sent Ally ahead to warn the others that I was struggling down and kept plodding on. I tried a run, well OK a shuffle and that seemed to ease things a bit for a while. Then I saw Anne walking up the hill with Ally and knew we weren't far from Braveheart. Unbelievably, I pulled my jacket and fleece off, then the T shirts (not a pretty sight) and pulled on my Milburn L/S tee before turning onto the home straight. Mairi stayed in the car, I thought sleeping, but she didn't want to see me in the state I was in. Sarah Jane and the boys who had gone to the caravan for a sleep after we left Bridge of Orchy were there too, and as they drove past me on the way to the leisure centre she shouted "You're looking good" as per race support instructions not to be negative. Then she said "Only a mile and a half to go!" What? No it can't be. Please. Pretty please?
On my own again as the entire crew went on to give Dario the shock of being invaded, I broke into a shuffle. Then realised that Fort William gets up early to either run or applaud idiots that run all the way from Milgavie. Tears streaming, I stopped at the roundabout to wipe them away and then rounded the last bend into the car park to grab wee Darren's hand to cross the line with the only person in the world for whom I'd finish the race in that state. Not that I wouldn't have gone as far as Braveheart for all of the rest of them!
Stage time 2 hrs 46.49 (felt like more) Finishing time 30.54.49
Finished! And was I glad? Well I wasn't turning somersaults, but after giving blood, a shower and a cuddle from Mairi I started to feel a bit better. The only problem was that Geraldine was still out there and they hadn't heard a dicky-bird from her, but eventually word got back that she was on her way in. I was still in the reception area when Chris finished, tired but happy. An amazing guy who is an inspiration. He had struggled but like 121 others he had succeeded in achieving the Holy Grail - a goblet.
Finally I managed a pee for the doc and headed off for some brekkie at the caravan, a 10 minute nap and a look at a paper. Then off to the presentation.
Now I was seeing some of those who have made the past year such a pleasure. Some high with the elation of success others circumspect after such a challenge and some deflated by their experience. All I could do was moan about how sore and tired I was!
Full of poor me's rather than being chuffed to bits. A note on my previous post from Ian out that in perspective.
I enjoyed the presentation and took plenty of photos to go with those taken by Andrew and Ally during the race. I'll get them sorted and uploaded tomorrow.
I managed to speak to Mark (DQ) and Dave (subversive runner) afterward, as well as posing for photos with my support team. I also had the pleasure of showing off Darren and I'm sure he has a few new fans. Several of the West Highland Way family passed on donations for the fund, and for that I am extremely grateful.
As we left the hall my sister-in-law and two nephews gave me a cuddle, having travelled up just for the presentation. A lovely gesture. Thanks guys. Unfortunately, lack of sleep and the desire to get home before the roads closure at Ardlui kicked in, we had to give the post-race party a miss. Maybe next year. Next year?