And so, with race weekend past, the mission firmly accomplished, and boy, when my life flashes before my eyes, there's some mighty fine new memories for it to play back to me!
I've been in 2 minds about writing my post-race blog. Part of me just wanted to say it's indescribable, and unless you've been there you couldn't understand. But then the reality is that I want to remember this stuff when I'm old and senile, and I know that when I was teetering on the edges of thinking the impossible, it really helped me to read the blogs of people that had been there and done it....so here goes!
|One of the kit boxes|
Registration day! I'd taken Thursday and Friday off work to try and prepare, pack and rest. These happened in varying levels of success, suffice to say on Friday morning I did some panic re-packing, just to make sure my crew could identify my kit easily.
As expected, I over-packed, catering for almost every possible kit and food situation...it's a good job the weather forecast was favourable as that at least allowed me to downgrade some of the 'storm force' options!
|At the church hall to register|
I'd decided to get a train through to Milngavie mid-afternoon to allow me to check in to the Premier Inn and get some rest. The train was ok...wee bit emotional as that was me really on the way. I got some rest, but no real sleep, and the clock seemed to be moving sooooo slowly. Eventually it got to 8pm, and I got ready to meet Sarah, one of my crew, for dinner, before heading to register. Weighing in, after a burger and chips, and 2 weeks or so of tapering without cutting back on my food intake, was a fright...but I just had to remind myself that I'd need that 'energy' over the next 2 days to see me through the most frightening thing I've ever attempted!
Wrist band on, race tag round neck, goody bag collected and some hugs and words with various race crew and it was back to the hotel for another lie down before getting my race kit on (I actually managed not to over-dress for a change, starting in shorts and t-shirt as it was a warm night, despite the 1am start) and heading up to meet Clark at the station.
There was an electric atmosphere in the station car park as nervous runners and excited crews thronged around. It was great to see so many friends, but I tried to keep a bit out of the way, sitting, trying to stay calm on the pavement near the back. It was hard to hear the race briefing, but we'd all read the detailed notes sent out by the race committee earlier in the week and felt prepared. Sean reminded us to remove any rings, as he didn't want to have to cut them off us later when we got sausage fingers....so I gave Clark my wedding ring to look after!
Saturday 21st June
And we're off! Headtorches blazing and cheers from the crowds as we set off into the unknown. I think I managed to not cry. I was concentrating so hard on not falling over, after stories from previous years of folk not making it past Mugdock. One girl fell fairly early on...I hope she was ok...there were already a crowd helping her up when I passed, but she looked pretty shaken.
It's a horrible time to start running...and maybe that's something I should have tried in training. I'm not sure how else you can set yourself up for the sheer brutality of it, and what still has to unfold.
I ran steady/slow...the pack quickly moved away....I tried to just focus on me, the path and breathing. My new headtorch was awesome ("like car headlights" someone in front of me said). I pretty much ran on my own all the way to Drymen, other than a wee chat with Fiona Rennie. It was quite a strange and emotional section. Just before the Carbeth Huts we could see the first shards of a promising early sunrise in the distance. And at Beech Tree, where Clark, Sarah and Cori were still waiting to see me through, after most of the runners had passed, I realised the enormity of just what I had asked them to go through over the next 2 days too, and I felt really really horrible about it.
Drymen came and went with some encouraging cheers and some wine gums and water!. I should've ditched the headtorch as I switched it off on the first trail after the road section and then had to carry it over Conic...
I almost tripped on the way down to the bridge before Conic and that gave me a wee jolt into reality, and made me more cautious on the descent than I am usually.
The climb was worth the reward - the view was spectacular....and I couldn't resist a quick picture!
Chatted briefly to a few folk on this section....was quite disconcerted that their patter was mainly "what are the cut-offs...are we going to miss them" (and actually this was quite common chat all the way to Bein Glas), when I was running according to plan. One chap also proclaimed that this was "the longest 19 miles" he'd ever run as we approached the Balmaha checkpoint....oh dear....didn't he know what was still to come?!?
|Approaching Balmaha |
(photo by Stuart McFarlane)
Bang on schedule into the midge-fest of Balmaha, and Sarah met me at the dib-point to show me over to the car. I'd ordered coffee and porridge and it was ready for me. I had some lucozade and some protein/whey drink stuff, gulped the coffee and set off carrying the porridge pot knowing I had the climb coming where I could eat. I was feeling a bit sicky at this point, and didn't really eat much of the porridge, ditching it at Millarochy (in the bin!). I was in the checkpoint for about 8mins.
The next stretch again was fairly quiet for other runners, and I think I stuck my headphone in. I started to feel the enormity of the day ahead and couldn't get thoughts of the huge climbs still come later in the day, and the miles still left to run out of my head. This was odd for me...usually my mentality breaks ultra's into manageable chunks, and I should've just been thinking about the next 7 miles to Rowardennan, rather than what was to come another 60 miles up the trail!
Rowardennan : 26 miles: 1hr 57m : Total Time 6hr 1min
Again, pretty much on schedule. I wasn't actually looking at my garmin at all during the race. I'd said from a while back I just wanted to run how I felt as I don't think you can predict how you're going to feel with something this monstrous!
This is where the tears started though - I saw Katie Hall (& someone?) at the dib point - they checked me in, said nice things, and who knows why that set me off. Just round to the car and I tried to keep it together, but think I sobbed to Clark "there's just SUCH a long way to go, it's just SO hard" (a phrase, or similar (insert swear words as appropriate), I was to use a lot later in the day).
This was to be the last time I would see my crew for a while, and maybe that had a part to play.
I changed my top and buffs (shame on you, doubters, who said I wouldn't use my entire buff collection....), and was force fed a couple of mini mars bars and some chocolate coffee beans while my water bottles were re-filled again. Out of the checkpoint in about 8 mins again!
Another tough section ahead...I'd passed Victoria Shanks and Nicola just leaving the checkpoint, and they caught me on the hill. It was nice to get some chat for a stretch, but then they pulled away when I needed a wee extra breather, and then I passed them a short while later when they had a blister stop. It was really warm, and my feet were noticeably hot. I was running in my road shoes with thick Drymax socks for cushioning, but perhaps in the heat these were too thick.....I started to worry about my feet...a lot.....this was the whole tricky lochside section where the feet needed to work, and I had no get out or change option for another 4 hours. I thought I could feel my toes blistering...and the whole right forefoot starting to burn....
I did a lot of water re-fills from the streams on this section, and was wetting a buff to wipe the midges and sweat off.
Inversnaid drop-bag point finally arrived. I drank most of a can of Ginger Beer, had a mini rice pudding and some cheese, and I think I ditched everything else. I should've eaten more. Mike Adams was just leaving, and I think I gave him my "this is just so ****ing hard" patter". It really was, and is. So much harder than the Fling..and we hadn't even got to Fling distance yet. I guess it's partly the mental aspect, and partly the start time. I was well trained, so getting to 35 miles shouldn't have felt so tortuous. There were still 60 miles left to run.
Usually I love the next lochside section with it's knarly roots and danger. Today wasn't that day though. I think I'd had some more coffee beans, and probably a couple of caffeinated gels...and some Nuun drink, with caffeine over the last couple of hours and these had started to take effect. I was like a space cadet. All over the shop and feeling out of control. It wasn't good. And my feet were still hot. Very hot. I thought a lot about falling and knocking myself unconscious...it seemed a way to get out of the torture. I stumbled a few times, but no heli-evac was required!
I passed Brian Garry...that shouldn't have happened...but he wasn't having a good day, and was to later unfortunately withdraw.
Heading towards the Angels Playground I had some more tears. I'd forgotten my "toast" for Dario. I cried all the way up the climb, and muttered away that it was his doing that I was here...he got me involved in all this nonsense....and it really was, really very ****ing hard.
Time for a selfie...
I passed a couple just after this, they were fretting about cut-off times. I didn't even know or care what the cut-off time was for Bein Glas....just ****ing run!!
I saw Stan just before the Bothy, and he pointed the dry path and said some nice stuff when I said I was having a wobble. Somewhere before BeinGlas, Karen and George were out too, and they also said similar nice stuff (and that I should've saved the caffeine overdose for later). I suspect I cried at both these points.....
|View of the Bothy|
BeinGlas : 42 miles : 4hrs 1m : Total time 10hrs 3min
|Did I mention this was really ****ing hard?|
(photo by Monument Photos)
Much excitement at this checkpoint as it was manned by Helen and John Munro, so I was subject to a proper amount of hugs (Helen), and abuse (John). (Ultra)Bob had also arrived, beefing up the support crew.
I'd text ahead to request a chair, a change of shoes and a heap of other things. I was told I could have a chair if Clark could have a new car (apparently it was in the race crew briefing that someone did once...), so I counter demanded an ice lolly (which I didn't get....(in fairness it was offered to send Bob running to get one)).
Thankfully they'd managed to get parked close to the checkpoint. Clark's got another slipped disc and gets another operation next week....crewing a race of this proportion while you can't walk, even with a stick, is something of a challenge.
I think the photo says it all. I was still apparently on schedule. I still didn't care. The task ahead was enormous. There were tears. I changed into my spare road shoes and thinner socks (well, Ultra Bob changed me), wanting to save the Hoka's for later. I fed most of the chicken wrap I'd been given to the dog and had some paracetamol.
Just after BeinGlas I saw the first instance of the 'WHW Challenge Race' checkpoints. I felt sorry for them and their poor little show compared to what I'd just experienced at mine.
|Focused! (photo by Amanda MacFarlane)|
Auchtertyre: 51 miles : 2hr 31 : Total time 12hr 35 min
Time to collect my first support runner, Angela. And get weighed in. I'd lost a couple of kg but this was ok.
I'd pre-ordered a chicken mugshot.....I got sweet & sour.....I ate some of it and had another sit down. Had a wee sob about how bloody hard the race is to anyone who might be listening. The logistics at this checkpoint have changed since my days massaging there and it seemed to be working a million times better. We set off at a wee jog, and then stopped for a delux pit stop at the wigwam toilets.....
Angela's job was to get me to Bridge of Orchy about 10 miles away. Her patter was much better than mine and she seemed ok that I was walking a lot.... We saw the others briefly at Tyndrum and the notes say I had some strawberry protein shake and a moan...I don't remember... I do recall I wasn't in a particularly great place in my head though.
I tried to run where I could, and we tucked in behind Mike and Mark on the downhill for a while. Also had to nudge a rude walker out of the way just before BOO, having asked politely several times that the group excuse us through. I text a request for my mugshot, a milkshake and my Hoka's.....waking Clark and Sarah from their nap.....apparently I was a bit earlier than expected....
Bridge of Orchy : 60 miles : 2hrs 30 : Total Time 15hrs 4mins
Tears. Big proper tears. This is "really ****ing hard". Sean laughed....and I probably said something unpleasant...
Another sit down, some casserole (I ate the veg and sauce not the meat as I couldn't face chewing), some milkshake/peanuts/flat coke. Interesting combination, but it wouldn't make any difference as I was still feeling quite sicky and knew I just had to force stuff in regardless. It would be a climb out of the checkpoint up Jelly Baby Hill to see Murdo and hopefully I'd digest (or vomit)... I brushed my teeth too and that made me feel considerably better.
Swapped Angela for David. I'm sure Angela would've been grateful to have some conversation with folk who would talk back. I felt sorry for David as I knew this wasn't going to be pretty. He coped admirably and his patter was good...I think.....I don't really remember too much of this leg, other than being fed peanuts and walking a lot. I love Rannoch Moor, it's so beautiful and peaceful, but when you can see that long climb up towards Glencoe...oooft!
|Me, David and Mike Adams. The look on Mike & my face|
is the "WTF is the checkpoint away up there for" look
Glencoe: 71 miles: 2hr 53min : Total Time 17hrs 57 mins
I was really pissed at the checkpoint being so far up the car park. And really emotional. I cried a lot here about how ****ing hard the race is and that it was still a long way to go. It was cold, and there were some big hills coming and it was starting to get dark. I also felt really bad for putting my crew through this.
Support runner Bob was ready, dressed for the hills, so I figured I should put something warm on and changed into a long sleeved thermal top and jacket. Wise move. I sobbed a lot and asked several times whether Bob had a torch for us getting caught in the dark.
I got my chicken mugshot here too and tried to eat most of it, but my hands were shaking with the cold and I think I poured some of it on myself and Bob. I should have eaten more here, and had a big blanket.
On the plus side, the Hoka's were still doing fine and Clark said my big brother and sis-in-law were on their way, but as I was earlier than expected they hoped to catch me at the Devils Staircase. As it happened they drove up just as we trotted off down the road and gave a big woohoo! I felt really bad afterwards for not stopping to chat, but had to run on.
Bob had the short straw. Getting me over the Devils Staircase and into Kinlochleven. The climb up sucks (the views are friggin awesome though) and the descent is pretty horrible too. And my patter, and balance, were pretty non-existent by now. And it was a bit cold. I remember being fed peanuts, and running out of water, and needing a hand down some of the really steep descent. And my Garmin died. Sad times, given I had 2 remote chargers. We just hadn't plugged in at any of the checkpoints for long enough.
I spent a lot of the descent thinking about quitting. Or having a sleep. I kept this mostly to myself, other than I think saying I was going to have a proper 'big stop' at KLL.
Kinlochleven : 81 miles : 3hr 16min : total time 21 hrs 13min
Dusk was upon us as we entered the community centre. I saw John Munro, my next support runner just as we turned the corner. He was dressed like a ninja and ready to run. My heart sank and I realised I wasn't going to get away with my "I think I'll just have a lie down" chat. In reality, that was why John was my runner at this point. He knew exactly what was wrong with me as soon as I got into the checkpoint and got weighed (I'd gone up slightly from Auchtertyre so that was ok), and sprung into action getting carbs into me. A cup of sweet tea arrived and Sandra, Donald, Ian, Julie and the Moonerty's all said nice things. I tried to cry but only half-baked dehydrated tears came out. I moaned about my Garmin, and was asked why did it even matter. And I moaned about the girl running with the dog...well, it gave me something else to think about.... I went to the bathroom and remember thinking about Elvis dying on the toilet and wondering if it might happen to me. I kept this thought to myself. Apparently I was ahead of schedule. I didn't care, I just wanted to finish, or die, whichever came soonest.
What happens on Lairig stays on Lairig
That's what we agreed, John and I. In fairness, he probably remembers much more of it than I did. What I'll say is that I followed instructions and John took complete control, and that was exactly what was needed. We left KLL and he said I had 4.5 hours. I asked if it was achievable and assumed this was to meet my 28 hour gold target. I think he said 'hmmm'....and then said lets try and finish in the dark. I had no idea anymore what time it was, but a vague recollection of dawn on Saturday being about 2:30am which didn't seem achievable.
|Photo by Wilderness Rescue - life savers on the Lairig Mor|
He told me when to speed up, when to slow down, what to think, what to look out for, when to eat and drink. I snottered a lot, sucked and spat salty nuts and Jaffa cakes, complained about the lack of coating left on the pretzels and tried not to cry. He didn't bat an eyelid.
It didn't seem to take long to get to the wonderful Wilderness Rescue Team marshal point high on the moor. The flaming torches shone from afar and it was like I imagine an oasis in the desert. Jeff fed me Tizer and took a photo.
We overtook a few folk. Not by speeding up, just a steady routine of trot, walk and keeping at it. It was brutal but each step was now really really getting closer to the finish.
|Lundavra. 7 miles to go|
(photo by John Kynaston)
Lundavra was next, where we knew there would be a great welcome from my crew (now boosted by Helen Munro, and my sister-in-law and brother) and John and Katrina Kynaston who were manning the bonfire. John told me the plan for hitting the checkpoint, and I think that's what we did.
I had a big hug from JK who asked me if I knew what time I was on for, and did I want to? I said no, but hoped that meant good things.
There were no hallucinations. Some of the rocks looked a bit odd, but then everything does when you've been awake since Friday morning and it's now Sunday. I struggled with the grass - it was all a bit 3D looking and I couldn't run on it. There were frogs, but I don't think I trod on any.
I let our a few tears on the final climb before the fire road. This was the point I finally realised I was going to make it!
Fort William: 95 miles: 15,000ft of climb : 4hr 54m: total time 26hr 7min 30sec
John gave me a plan for the finish stretch, and I think I did it. He left me just around the final corner to run the finish 100 meters myself. I cried. A lot.
My crew were all there. I gave Clark a massive hug and sobbed. I think he was crying too. No wonder, I'd put him through a whole heap of pain. Not just over the last couple of days, but over the last year of training. This takes over your life. It has to.
Sandra dibbed my chip for the final time. I'd made it!
Angela was there - having gone home after her support run, collected her dog and driven all the way back up. My brother and sis-in-law were still there. It was like 3am in the morning and I couldn't believe people had made such an effort for me.
I think I hugged people. I hope I said thanks. If not, then I do truly mean thank you!
|Sarah's crew notes, all stickered up!|
I went for a shower in the leisure centre and cried a wee bit more, especially when I caught my toe on the towel and thought my toenail was going to come off. I wanted a massage but by this point I was freezing and had to borrow an extra layer from Helen.
So Sarah, Bob, Clark and I went back to the Travel Lodge. David, Angela, my brother/sis-in-law went home (I feared for them driving home so early in the morning, and felt really bad that it was because of me they were doing it). And then I found out Helen and John kipped in the car (more guilt!)
Spent ages debating with the guy on reception which room was dog friendly while I tried not to keel over. And then pretty much had zero sleep. I guess when you've been running on sugar, caffeine, adrenaline and who knows what else for the last 2 days your body might not remember how to sleep well. I also developed my stupid post run cough. Which made me sick.
Sunday 22nd June
Got up and had another shower and crawled downstairs for breakfast. I really didn't want to eat. I wanted to puke. So I didn't really eat, but I didn't puke either. Everyone else that had run looked really sprightly and was tucking into full Scottish breakfasts..... I felt like I had the hangover from hell and went outside for some air. Met Lee Mac...I think she said nice things...I think I cried a wee bit...
Sarah and I walked along to the Nevis Centre for the prize giving and got some polos (that's my staple hangover cure). I could still walk, that was a good sign!
|Sean, me and John K. My precious goblet!|
The prize giving was as emotional as expected.
The standing ovation for Paul Giblin, breaking his own course record by something like 45 mins (14 hrs 20m) was incredible. To see Frits Van Der Lubben collect his final finisher goblet from Paul Giblin with such joy and enthusiasm (and then to find out later he'd almost quit at KLL!).
And to see Fiona Rennie collect her decanter and goblet for her 10th finish, overcoming significant illnesses to do so, was just amazing. Fiona's well documented motivations kept me going in many of my dark points during the race - "pain is a privilege for the living". As did something Paul Giblin's mum said on FB once about remember that you chose to do this, no one is forcing you, you wanted to do it!
I struggled to hold it together until it was my turn, 100 people in.....(of 157 finishers, 193 starters). There were some amazing performances from people I have run with or read about, and so incredible to see them all collect their precious goblet. There were also tears of sadness for those who weren't successful this time. Sometimes, no matter how good the training, it's just not your day.
|Card from Sarah in post today|
And it's taken until today to stop crying every half hour. I've only cried a couple of times today. Yesterday I just kept remembering the enormity of it all, and how much people had done to help me achieve something this extraordinary. And thankfully my body isn't broken. I'm incredibly tired and a bit achy, but nothing near what I expected in terms of damage. Some of it I suspect is well hidden though and I'll be giving myself plenty of recovery time!
|Front of my crew shirts Clark organised as surprise|
Hopefully everyone enjoyed the experience and will relish the anticipation of next year as much as I already am, whether it's with me, others or on their own.
I suspect this weekend will also have fueled further some of those individual dreams of completing the WHW race in years to come.
I should also say a big thank you to everyone involved in making the race happen - be they committee, crew, marshals, supporters....in fact, just everyone who was there in person or in spirit!
For now though, the goblet is mine!
And by the way, did I mention just how ****ing hard the race is?
Learnings so far
- Try to work out what best to do for the 1am start and how it affects your body clock and mood.
- Try not to think about the end, when you're only at the beginning
- Fewer food options might have made it easier at checkpoints. Especially when I lost to power of thought.
- Spending a little longer at the earlier checkpoints, ensuring I ate sufficient food would have benefited me on the middle sections that I found particularly tough
- Starting slow and steady worked for me again: I moved from 168th at Balmaha to 153rd at Rowardennan, 145th at Beinglas, 131st at Auchtertyre, 122nd at BOO, 108th at Glencoe, 102 at KLL, 100th at FW
- Don't over-do the caffeine too early on - it's harder to manage the highs and lows if you overdose!
- Listen to Clark.....
- Choose a good crew. I liked having multiple support runners who knew me well enough to get me through.
- And try not to worry about your crew. If they hadn't wanted to be there, then they wouldn't be there
- Have something in the bag for KLL - my secret weapon was John Munro who knew exactly what I was going to be facing and what to do about it, and he had some of his own secret weapons to help me that I wasn't expecting
- Have some things in your head for motivation - like Fiona Rennie's or Josephine Giblin's words, or those on my crew shirts. That helped me through some bad times. And expect there to be bad times!
- Take extra warm clothes for the end. The showers in the leisure centre are ok but not amazing. You might feel a bit cleaner but not warm enough afterwards
- Enjoy, as much as you can. You wanted to do this, you've trained for it.
Hopefully see you in 2015. 20th June. The date's in my diary!