|The start (photo by David Friel)|
Where to start? At the beginning or at the end?
Another epic weekend of WHW Race adventure with so many lasting memories created,whether by runners, crew or the vast team of race officials and support.
It's an emotional journey,right from the days you start to get involved in the race, years before you actually toe the start line, and continues even in the days and weeks after mid-summer weekend is past. Then it usually starts all over again for the next year....a wonderful spiral to be involved in, and maybe one you never want to get out of....
Reading all the updates on facebook this week you can't help but be touched by the camaraderie shared, and friendships, some of which were only created on the day, that will last a lifetime. Everyone goes through a lot on race weekend. Some of what happens will remain 'untold'....'what happens on Lairig, stays on Lairig' and all that....
So, here's the story of my weekend...
This year I'd decided to stay home on friday for as long as possible, so after a fairly quiet day (boxes had all been packed on Thursday aside from fresh stuff) Clark drove me through for arrival at registration at about 11:30pm.
The car park was packed, the atmosphere full of excitement and apprehension. We got one of the last spaces at the back of the car park and I scurried round the outskirts and into the church hall to collect my tag, wrist band and goodies...and the dreaded weigh in.... I wasn't at the weight I'd ideally wanted, but don't think I was much heavier than last year. And I'd eaten a mountain of steak pie for dinner.....
It was great to see so many folk I knew buzzing around, and a chat with John Kynaston who assured me most people set really good PBs the second year they do the race (uh oh...spoiler alert...).
|Photo by Trossachs SAR|
The drop bag wagon was being handled by Trossachs SAR who I was raising money for this year...after I tried to stealthily deposit my bag without fuss, they chased me across the car park for a picture! Thanks guys!
|Davie, Clark, me & Julie (Photo by Sarah Self)|
And then to the start! First tears of the night after some final hugs with crew, Clark, David Meldrum and Helen, and then some more tears as the countdown and cheer signified it was time to go.
95 miles, lets do this!!
|Just before the start (Photo by Clark Hamilton)|
Saturday 1am :Milngavie to Balmaha (19 miles, 4 hrs 6 mins, 151st place)
I found it hard not to blub as we trotted through the tunnel and up the steps and along Milngavie main street. It's an amazing feeling with the crowds whooping and cheering and calling out our names. A blur of faces and head torches. Through the arch and down towards the park, and it begins.
Helen had a dream a week or so before the race about missing the left turn a little way into the park....a whole heap of folk did just that!! They doubled back just as I got to the turning and there was a bit of congestion as these faster folk tried to get back into positions, but no accidents I don't think!
|Thru Drymen (Photo Christopher Cowley)|
There was a bit of congestion for a mile or so on the narrow trail near Glengoyne and we ran in convoy for a while with 3 guys kind of blocking anyone passing (so said someone in front of me...). Wasn't too concerned as at this point slow is the best pace! It was also really quite unexpectedly humid. Shorts had been a wise choice, and I started to get fluids into me from early on (starting with Tailwind in one bottle and water in the other). Was also eating little and often...some tattie scones/cheese and Nairns fruity oatcakes I think, along with my promised tub of rice pudding before Drymen!
It stayed dark much longer this year and the head torch was needed almost onto Conic. And it was only then that the cloud started to lift a little....just to show you the summit looming ahead! The tweeting chorus of the wee birds and insects in the open area just before the climb was beautiful - one of those things that makes you happy to be up so early! I went pretty slow up and down Conic...Minty flew past me as a teetered on the wet slab steps on the descent, scared of an early tumble, and I made it to Balmaha unscathed and a couple of minutes behind the 'plan' (broadly based on a finish time of 26 hours, similar to last year). Breakfast of croissant with jam and some decaff coffee, a wee sit down and a fresh buff...the crew were on fine form making sure bottles were topped up and I was good to go...walking along trying to eat more of the croissant as I went (the wildlife may have got some of it I have to confess...).
Balmaha to Rowardennan (26 miles total, 6hrs 6mins (2 hrs), 145th place (126 for stage))
I found this section quite tough. Not sure if I was remembering about last year (Rowardennan was where the tears started), or if it was just all the climbs as you closer to the checkpoint, which seemed to be steeper than I thought they should be. In hindsight I should have plugged a headphone in to distract me but I had planned I wasn't going to use the distraction until later on. There were no tears at the checkpoint though..and it was great to be able to reply to the marshal asking if I had a drop bag to be able to say 'No! I have a crew!'. I got a high 5 with John K (who seemed to appear everywhere!) here too. Once again I was topped up, fed and changed and out again without any fuss.
|High 5! (Photo by Pauline Walker|
I felt much better after Rowardennan, put one headphone in and kept eating and drinking. I was conscious I was drinking a lot more than usual but needed it with the humidity and didn't feel it was sloshing around. I remember saying to Clark at somepoint about feeling I was eating more than running, again I don't think this is a bad thing. I might have started on my sarnies at this point (sourdough bread, avocado, houmous, parma ham and cheddar) and was also interspersing with haribo, nairns salt & vinegar snackers. Oh, and baby food. On one of the descents I decided to have my Ella's Banana Baby Brekkie. Now, anyone who knows me will know I don't do banana's (unless in banana loaf) but maaaan, this tasted like heaven! I remember making an appropriately satisfied noise when I finished it and then some guy passing me and asking if I was ok! Maybe my interpretation of satisfied was more like pain...?
Inversnaid was manned by the Trossachs SAR team and my task here was to remember the whisky! I had minimal drop bag - coke, choc milkshake, haribo and snackers I think. I also snaffled some Lucozade from the 'leftovers' pile and ensured both bottles were full - I was still troughing through the fluids!
I passed Rhona (Red Wine Runner) on this stage (can't remember if it was before or after Inversnaid) and was surprised....I also gave her a row for not eating her mini cheddars (sorry Rhona) which were in her hand, as she looked like her head was down a little (and maybe I thought it might help....or maybe I'm an idiot...). Mike Adams went storming past me on the really tricky section here too. I'm losing some of my love for this stretch since the weather seems to be causing increased erosion...and this used to be my favourite part! Jeez, I'm going to start sounding like I don't love the route at this rate!
|Selfie at Dario's post|
Stopped to have a wee sip of The Macallan, take some poor photos (believe me, the view back down the loch from here was beautiful), and toast Dario by pouring the rest at the foot of his post. I'm sure he'd be chuckling away at the sheer nonsense.
And then downwards to Beinglas farm where I was expecting to only see Clark but was delighted to see Davie and Julie on hand too. My time for this section is about 13 mins down on last year (17 mins total) but the dibbing point was at the other side of the farm this year, so I did my refuel stop first and checked in on the way out... Ditched my jacket here and had a t-shirt change, and think I started on my chicken mugshots, along with the usual rank combination of assorted sweet/savoury/milky/fruity treats. And then off again...
Beinglas to Auchtertyre (51 miles, 12 hrs 47min (2 hrs 26), 126th place (83rd for stage)
Again I felt pretty good leaving the checkpoint and I marched on, and ran more chunks than I think I did in the Fling. Passed a few people who were clearly suffering (I hope they found their way out of it). It was starting to get hotter, and I was definitely feeling it. I did my best to keep marching on when I 'couldn't' run and just picked my way along to each mental marker point (this in my head was sorted much better than last year when all I could think about was the end stages!). Finished this section about 5mins faster than last year (and that's with the change of checkpoint place at Beinglas, so running time probably actually nearer 10 mins better?)
Cowpoo alley started to trash my feet though with the jaggy rocky terrain irritating what transpired was early trenchfoot from the earlier rain and humidity. Thankfully there were now cows and very little poo though!
|Post Weigh in (photo Pauline Walker)|
Kept eating (rice pudding, mint cake, haribo, baby food, oatcakes), kept drinking (one bottle NUUN and one Tailwind)...didn't want to be in trouble with the crew when they checked for empties and wrappers!
Into the checkpoint and time for new socks, and a smothering of sudocrem for the feet (ouch that stung for a good 20 minutes after...but was soooo good!). I was fine at the weigh in so all the fueling was clearly ok.
|Trying to get the shortest route to the crew car|
(Photo and fence assistance from Pauline Walker)
I hope one day she goes back to complete as she's one of the toughest people I know!
Auchtertyre to Bridge of Orchy (60 miles, 15 hrs 13mins (2hrs 26m), 108th place, 72nd for stage)
The race allows support runners from here (if you're far enough behind the leader....never a challenge for me, especially when Paul Giblin blew his course record out the water AGAIN this year for the 3rd year running!! 14 hours and 14 minutes!! WTF?!?), and I was really looking forward to meeting Lorna at Tyndrum. She's an epic runner (and very humble about her achievements) and was willing to run the whole final 42 miles with me. A very welcome hug, and an apology from me for being stinky...I was...it was rank... And then we were off up the hill chattering away.
|Lorna & I (Photo Colin Knox)|
And you also want to do justice to them giving up such a big chunk of time and effort to support you that I think (for me definitely) it makes you want to try and push on as best you can in the hope that they get something back for their efforts.
Still about 8 mins behind LY time but section about 4 mins faster.
BOO to Glencoe (71 miles, 18hrs 16m (3hrs 3 mins), 105th place (94th for stage))
|JBH with Peter Duggan and MtM|
(Photo by John Kynaston)
We also were with Andy O'Grady and his runner for a while as we climbed up Jelly Baby Hill to be greeted by Murdo the Magnificent (brandishing the promised green jelly baby, which I traded for a wee bottle of Macallan!) and Peter Duggan (a new addition this year, playing 'Scotland the Brave' on a wee whistle, to which I attempted a wee jig).
|Final Flags at JBH (Photo MtM)|
I love the scenery on this stretch across Rannoch Moor. I was struggling a wee bit with the heat as the sun had come out, and there's a lot of marching to be done on this section. Maybe I should've tried to MTFU and run some more, but it is what it is and at the time I felt I was trying hard.
It was great to finally reach the summit point and start dropping down into Glencoe, the views are spectacular and very truly Scottish! The path here is pretty rocky and you really have to concentrate.....and there's a nice boggy puddle just at the very end of the path with no bridge...and thankfully Lorna skipped across it and put a hand back to catch me from falling in.
About 19 mins behind LY now and 10 mins lost on section time.
And then the dreaded words from the checkpoint marshall....'full wet weather gear to be carried by all runners from here'.....cue the tears....first real big sobby ones....
This wasn't what I wanted to hear...I looked across to the Devils Staircase and the skies were blue right across it.....but who am I to question the rules....you certainly don't need disqualified at this stage (or getting cold and wet and needing emergency rescue putting yourself at greater risk...)
I was wearing a light waterproof and didn't want to put a heavier one on as it was still really warm....so into my pack, along with as much food as I could get in, went my waterproof trousers and thicker jacket (the former never saw it out of the bag again and the latter only got put on 3 miles from FW)...It wasn't much extra weight, but emotionally this was a big impact.
Saw Alan Doig and Sean McMinn at the checkpoint - both of whom theoretically should've been way ahead of me.
A few more tears, hugs and swapped Julie for Davie and off we set.
Glencoe to Kinlochleven (81 miles, 21 hrs 38mins (3hrs 22m), 93rd place (78th for stage))
|Leaving Glencoe checkpoint I managed to ruin |
what could've been a brilliant pic
(Photo by Clark Hamilton)
On the descent, we caught up with Carol Martin and her crew (she was running brilliantly having been injured earlier in the year) and then with Alan Doig and his support runner (Ian I think). Alan was struggling with an injury and was a bit bushed from the cocodamol...thankfully he was quite amenable when I decided I had to pee (and if you gotta go, you gotta go) and I sent Davie and Lorna back up the hill a bit to ask him to pause a minute as I couldn't t find a tree! Thanks Alan!!
I think on the descent I started my arm swinging shuffle - make the arms go fast and the legs will follow. I'm sure it looked bloody ridiculous but it felt like it was working...and the humour of having crew with wee legs is they had to often break into a wee trot to keep up! The arm swinging would continue to the end!
Midge fest as we got closer to KLL - this was definitely the worst section for them of the whole race. They were in our eyes, noses, everywhere and no escape! Thankfully I don't think I got any bites!
Into KLL without torches, and a big hug from David Hetherington before weigh in and repack, refuel, regroup and readiness!
About 6 mins slower than this stage last year and about 25 mins behind total time.
Kinlochleven to Fort William (95 miles, 26hrs 19min, 4 sec (4hr 41m), 81st place (63rd for stage))
|At the Lairig aid station - Wilderness Rescue|
(Photo by Jeff Smith)
I learnt a lot last year and tried to put it into practice. And also I wasn't needing 'forced' to eat as much I don't think. I struggled to swallow a bit for the first couple of miles but then it all came good. Peanuts, Mrs Tilly's wonder-fuel, mars bars, mint cake and started on the Red Bull (silver edition) after Jeff's aid post.
I remember passing quite a few people on Lairig (and that there seemed to be a lot of death marching going on), and feeling pretty good. Arm swinging, leg shuffling, and even 'running' some of the inclines (I think....!).
When you start to see the torches of the Wilderness Rescue post it becomes a strong focus to get there - torches, flags, and random fizzy pop, cheerfully dished out by Jeff and his crew.
Then the next focus is 'the corner' (which took ages coming...and plenty of headwind and rain before we got there) and then it's all about Lundavra.
We 'stormed' into Lundavra, to be welcomed by the marshal, and to find Clark asleep in the car. I told Lorna to just leave him, but she rightly pointed out he'd not know we'd passed and might miss us finish! So with a rousing knock on the window, he sprung into life, fed me some water, and then we were off! (Clark then apparently drove out of the checkpoint, forgetting Davie and Julie were also there...sleeping in their car....)
More people to try and pick off on the next section into the woods...Lorna had a wee motivational tale to tell me and RVB's it was....and that was it right to FW!
The rain was getting heavier and the wooden steps were pretty darned slippy. My headtorch then ran out (I'd been running it on airport landing light setting) but thankfully I had a spare hand torch which saw me up to the fire road and down to FW. The climb to the fire road was endless and I was chuntering to myself a lot...come on, come on, come on, come on...and Lorna again had a great wee mantra to help me 'If you can take it, you can make it'....and I bloody well knew I could....the top of that fire road is when you truly know you've nailed it and it was sooooo close!
We were there!!! And breathe......sh%t, this was really happening again....
I still had no idea how I was doing time-wise. I'd not looked at my Garmin since Balmaha, and other than seeing Clark's watch briefly at Lundavra, when it showed I wasn't a million miles off last year, I wasn't actually giving it another thought. Over this distance, terrain and conditions, to be still moving and near finishing is perfect enough for me.
A brief walk to catch our breath over the top of the wee slope and then it's down, down, down, down..... Had to stop and put the big waterproof on as it was getting colder and wetter (well, it was 2-3am in the morning!) but I think I managed a pretty good pace for longish stretches (I can't get my Garmin stats to download but I'm sure Lorna said we were doing sub-9 min/miles, which after 90+ miles I'm happy to take!).
Pushed on to Braveheart after overtaking another couple of people, and then had the incentive to not want to be caught!
|Through the finish line|
(Photo by Clark Hamilton)
Along the road and to the 30mph sign...nearly there, so close....and then surprised at the climb (I don't remember that at all!). Lorna checked the timings, and I think I checked mine..I'd missed last year's time, but Lorna wasn't going to let that be the end of it...'sub-26hrs 20m?'....and with a roll of the eyes, we were off.....400m to go seemed forever...and then into the carpark and through the finish!
Relief, exhaustion, tears, hugs...(and a finish photo this year!) . It's all a bit of a blur from there....a final weigh in, some hello's, more hugs, more tears, a seat, some tea and toast, dry clothes, bobble hat.......helped back down the steps and into the car....a wee drive back along the road to see if David M was coming (he'd been close at Lundavra apparently)....didn't see him but then remembered I'd not stopped my Garmin...ooops.... Back to the hotel....warm shower....clean bed.....achy legs....bed hogging dog...
13 mins FASTER on this section than last year but down 11.5 mins overall. I'll take it thanks!
Everything feels pretty surreal when you've completed. I always say to people 'things will never be the same again', and they aren't. Many people have posted this week about not knowing how to explain or talk about it to those who haven't been involved either as runners or crew and it's so true....to most people it is just unfathomable and often it's easier not to try!
|Receiving my precious second goblet|
from John Kynaston (and confessing I didn't PB)
(Photo by Clark Hamilton)
I did have a bit of a melt-down and had to step outside before the end (either that or risk puking mid-ceremony!) but thankfully it didn't come to anything. Just sheer exhaustion I think!
And so,I have goblet number 2!
There are so many thank you's to be said and hopefully I have managed to communicate them well to the people who I should've done. It goes without saying (but I will) that the race relies on the committee and a huge team of volunteers to make the magic happen, which they do, so thank you to each and every one of you.
And to the crews and supporters and other runners - to anyone who shared a 'well done', clapped, sent messages etc - thank you for caring. To the friends who got me through the year, listened to my worries and shared in my highs! Here's to the years ahead!
And most of all to my crew- you were just fabulous in every way. I hope I did you proud and you got some wee memories to last your lifetime, as I sure have a bucketful from my day with you all. I just cannot thank you enough for all you did.
And finally Clark...for motivating me in the dark times, putting up with me and my annoying habits when training (and probably in general)....and all the other stuff besides that....
'Acceptance' speech over....just thank you...and thank you some more..
Is that the end......I suspect not...... I love this race, the family....it's part of my DNA.