Tuesday 24 June 2008

West Highland Way Race - 95 miles over 15,000ft

Well, I did it. I don't know how, but I made it to the end. Just. I will never know where I found the strength. I've always known I was a stubborn wee bugg*r (to quote my Mother), but I've taken it a whole new level.

OK, seen as I've resigned by myself to a non-productive week, I best start at the beginning. Just for the record, this entry had taken me longer to write that it did to run ;-)


I met up with the first part of Team Debs just after midnight. Sharon and Sara were my back up from Milngavie to Rowardenan. Then swapping with Jill and Kas at Balloch - who were taking over from Beinglas.

After registration and picking up my new race merchandise, Dario gave us a race briefing and safety information. Well, as much safety information as can be provided for people about to embark on a 95 mile run through the Scottish Highlands. Dario pointed out that there were four married couples taking part in this year's race. Some were running together. Some not. We were definitely within the latter.

Milngavie to Drymen.
The journey started at 1am with sea of headtorches making their way through Milngavie town centre and onto the start of the West Highland Way. Some started off quite frantically as nerves took over, but I settled back into an easy pace. A brief chat with George, Ellen and Alyson and I was on my own. It was a very surreal experience. Although there were 100+ people around me, there wasn't a mutter or whisper of chat. The only sound was the scuffle of feet on the track.

The only downside to this section was, as there were so many people about, I had to make a detour for a comfort break. Twice. Maybe the 14 pints of water that I had sunk during the day wasn't such a good idea.

Heading over the hill into Drymen, I was just willing the sun to come up. Running in the dark always seems to make things worse. The crowds waiting in Drymen brightened things up though. Even if they were just silhouettes standing chittering with their arms folded. Then I heard Sharon's dainty worse "Psst. Debs. Over here". The aim was to drop off, pick up and move on as fast as possible. Sara threw a bottle belt and sports bar at me and sent me packing.

Drymen to Balmaha
I often find this section quite tough, as the continuous ascent is quite deceiving. But the sun was rising quickly and promised some fabulous views from the top of Conic Hill. I kept an easy pace and dropped back to a stomp on the hill. As predicted many boys passed me on the way up, as they chased each other. Boys will be boys ;-)

My foot started to ache, which really worried me. I just had to bide my time until I got to Balmaha and put the arch support in my shoe. On the descent into the carpark I was greeted with Sharon and Sara's smiling faces. And somehow the pirate entourage of Dave Waterman seemed to stand out.

Balmaha to Rowardenen
The arch insert sorted out my foot pain pretty much instantly. Initially I had an energy lull in this section, but I put it down to a lack of caffeine. I picked up after a few miles and passed a few runners. I spotted Gavin Melville in the distance and shouted "I'd recognise those legs anywhere".

The views over the loch were breathtaking. So still and peaceful. I'm sure that's what the campers who had chosen this spot had thought. Little did they know that they would be woken in the early hours by a stampede of ultra runners. Mind you, given the usual standard of camper in this area, they were probably so full of Buckfast and hash that they wouldn't have woken until Tuesday ;-)

The route on this section twists in an out along track, lochshore and the main road. There were plenty of stewards out ensuring that everyone followed the correct course. Or more to the point didn't cheat.

The arrival at Rowardenan was a mixed emotional one. I was glad to tick off another section, but I knew I was entering a midge hell-hole. Plus I knew I wouldn't see my support team for another few hours. And I was heading along the dreaded lochside. But the other end marked half-way for me.

Sharon and Sara were finishing their stint and taking a rest. Before the left, they filled me food, covered me in skin-so-soft and excitedly told me in Sonic was in first position. Oh no! He's just a boy at a bad age.

I met Ian Beattie at the Visitor Centre. I had to take a double-look. I'm used to seeing Ian on the WHW, but no within striking distance. And definitely not in his civvies. He had decided to call it a day. A very tough decision for someone who has the race in his blood. It goes to show that regardless of experience, people have their good and bad days. It's a long way to just hang in there. Ian's a trooper though and he'll be back with a vengeance next year.

Rowardenan to Inversnaid.
Heading off I encountered a brief moment of disorientation. Thankfully the Beatties were hanging out their car, pointing and shouting "that way Debs". Thanks, folks. I should blame the midges in my eyes, but my brain was a little pickled.

The midges didn't disperse. It was like running into thick black smog. The little blighters were in my eyes, ears and mouth. And I was eating them along with a peanut butter sandwich. I was using baby wipes to scrape them off my skin by the handful. It was the worst I have ever experienced. And it was pretty much relentless all the way to Inversnaid. I chatted with Tomo Thompson for a short while, before pushing on. He was having a major melt-down with midges

Inversnaid to Beinglas
Finally the waterfall at the hotel was in sight. The beautiful sound of gushing water and the beautiful realisation that I’d reached the half-way house. I jokingly tried to trade some jelly babies for a midge net with one of the rescue team, but I doubt he would have parted with it for the winning lottery numbers.

I was informed that Sonic was in second place and looking good.

I caught up for George Reid again. And then the notorious Dave Waterman. We've been blog mates for a couple of months, so it was nice to finally meet him. Stuart and Andy also caught up. I was gibbering away to Stuart when I slid down some jaggy rock faces on my backside. Given that I was wearing Skins (which are a bit of the thin side) I was worried I ripped the ar*e out of them. Could you imagine running the section with your cheeks on show? Thankfully the material's a little sturdier than I anticipated.

I know most people hate the lochside, but I actually quite enjoy it. You get the chance to relax and drop the pace. There's no pressure, as there's no point. Plus, it was a great incentive knowing that I was going to see Kas and Jill at the other end.

Beinglas to Tyndrum
The new crew piled me up with food and off I went. I was told Sonic was in fourth postition and the boys were happier about that. I was planning on eating whilst walking up the hill out of the farm. I was goosed by the time I got to the top, but picked it up again whilst heading into Derrydarroch. The walkers on the Way forced me to stay composed. You can't show weakness after all. I couldn't help but laugh when I saw the gals in their club sweaters and midge nets. Giggling on approach I said the looked like "Garscube's latest Muslim recruits". Kas muttered something about me not losing my cheekiness.

From Derrydarroch to the A82 I had another low point. Maybe it was because the food hasn't got into my system. When I climbed over the first stile, I placed my foot at the wrong angle and twisted my knee as I pulled my other leg over. Although there was an instant sharp pain, I didn't think too much of it. Or so I thought. Watch this space...

I met the girls at the A82 crossover, grabbed a bottle and quick team huddle and headed up the hill. I could see Phil Robertson catching up in the distance. I was desperate for a toilet stop, so willed him to hurry up. Met Graeme McClymont, who probably didn't realise, but he saved this section for me. Just the brief social interaction really perked me up. Caught up with George Reid (yet again) and I told him I was sick of looking at his back.

I arrived at Auchentyre 18 minutes ahead of schedule. I was quite surprised, as I really took my time over that section with frequent walking breaks. I grabbed a cereal bar, jumped on the scales and headed off.

Jill ran with me from the farm to Tyndrum. She was highly amused when I opened my cereal bar and dropped it in the dirt. Doh! Jill's considerably faster than me, so it must have been torture for her. Couldn't have been that bad, as when we got to Brodie's she decided to push on to Bridge of Orchy.

The last I heard on Sonic's plight, was he was 8th leaving Bridge of Orchy but had a low point at Victoria Bridge. He was patched up and sent on though.

Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy

We left Tyndrum along with George and his support crew. George had rediscovered his mojo, so it was the last I saw of his back.

Unfortunately it was this section where my race plan went t*ts up. The previous twist of the knee was now a throbbing pain. I could walk, but running was agony. We played a mini-fartlek game for a couple of miles, but it was really taking its toll. I had to hobble in to Bridge of Orchy like a deflated balloon.

At the checkpoint, the steward did a quick assessment and told me I was compos mentis enough to go on. That was until Kas decided to give me a leg message. Sweet lord I nearly shot over the Orchy Hills. Now, Kas isn't the most gentile of ladies so when she started pummelling my knee and quad with her thumbs I was trying to kick her off whilst screaming "Kas! Nooooo!". The surrounding support teams must have thought I was being murdered in the back of the car.

Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse
I started on a slow march up to the top of the hill. Usually I love this section, as I like flying off the other side down to Victoria Bridge. Not today though. My knee wasn't going to let me go anywhere. I phoned ahead and asked the gals to make an emergency stop at the Inveronan Hotel. Sara and Jill were back on the team now. Looking back, watching Jill's black VW fly rounding the corner and girls jumping out like the A-team was quite comical. I was pushed on to a chair as they applied various ointments and strappings. At no point did they suggest calling it a day, which I will be eternally grateful for.

I hobbled round to Victoria Bridge and then pushed my way up the Drover's Road to Rannoch Moor. Jill and Kas were out for a run, so they joined me. They wanted to stay with me, but I urged them to go on. Only because I knew I needed my own emotional moment. After a tearful session, I knew I had to resort to plan B. Whilst I could still put one leg in front of the other, I knew I couldn't give up. I'm a fighter. Albeit a slightly unhinged one.

Kas had text me to say that I was call if they needed me to come back. I texted back saying "Thanks. I can't quit though". To which she replied: "Bloody right you're not. What am I supposed to tell me boss?" Kas had previously told me how he didn't think a girl couldn't do the distance in the allocated time. *?£$%&£$%. You can fill in the blanks.

I stomped across the moors and managed to catch up with the gals, who had abandoned their idea of running and we're sauntering along gibbering. The rain had started and we were all beginning to freeze. Walking is really tough when you've got loads of energy to run, so the ascent out of the moors and descent down to the ski centre was relentless.

Kingshouse to Kinlochleven
When I arrived in Kingshouse I was slightly broken, cold, wet and very emotional. I was amazed that the hotel's chimney was on fire, but no one seemed too notice. Support teams were just scuttling about meeting the demands of their runners.

I added a few layers, put on my waterproofs and demolished a Snickers and half a packet of ginger crunch biscuits. The best thing about the race was that I got to eat lots of lots of rubbish. A novel experience for a control freak like me.

Sara was accompanying me on this section. She had never done the Devil's Staircase, so it was a bit of an adventure for her. I started by saying that I wasn't going to be much company, but we ended up gibbering like budgies the whole way. We chatted about her wedding plans and house renovations and reminisced about our days on Kilimanjaro. Up to this point in the race, I was adamant that nothing was as tough as summit night on Kilimanjaro.

When we reach the top of the Devil's Staircase it was starting to get dark. But the rain had stopped. Even on the whole descent, we didn't bother with headtorches. There's something quite magical about the moments before total darkness.

Kinlochleven to Lundavra

We arrived at Kinlochleven just after 11.30. I entered the checkpoint with the words: "A broken number 114 reporting for duty". Dario looked shocked: "Broken? You're NOT quitting are you". Huh! As if. There wasn't much left in me, but I'd have to drop down first.

Before stepping on the scales for the officially weigh-in I did warn them that I had a acquired a few more layers, just in case I was whisked off for retaining fluids. Dario told me he thought I was the most lucid person he’d seen all day. Gawd, the rest must have been bad.

I received a few texts from Sonic who finished in a fabulous time of 20:47. Sonic was made for this kind of race. Now he's got his first one under his belt, I'm sure he'll go on to do great things.

Sharon had the lucky job of accompanying me to Lundarva. The comment of the event was when she announced to everyone that she had: "done two all-nighters, without so much as a sh*g or a bottle of wine".

The weather had really taken a turn for the worse. Gail force wind and torrential rain combined with the dark of night. Just what you need after 80+ miles. I should be thankful that the wind was behind us, but every gust pushed me forward and gared my knee. Plus my balance had gone to pot, so I was in danger of being thrown off. My knee throbbed and feet felt like every bone had been crushed. The enthusiastic walk had turned into a shuffle, so I was also in danger of being pushed off ;-) Poor Sharon was freezing and doing her best to keep me pushing on. Still going into the second night was taking its toll. I adopted the everything-will-be-better-when-it's-daylight mentality.

The worst thing about this section is there are very few landmarks and everything looks the same. The descent into the woods couldn't come quick enough. And Duncan's campfire (verging on forest fire) in distance was the most beautiful sight of the day.

Sharon ran on ahead to wake up Jill and Kas...but I really think she wanted to get away from me. She took great delight in banging on the car window and scaring them half to death. Kas mocked Sharon because apparently she was adamant she was going the whole way in. But seven miles later she volleyed Kas out and car and said: "you HAVE to take over".

I decided to change my socks and shoes for the final leg. Bad move. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Lundarva to Fort William
After discovering the two huge blisters on the bottoms of my heels, they now affected the way I walked. If I hadn't seen them, they probably wouldn't have bothered me. I practically finished the course on my tip toes. Or maybe I just thought I was on my tip toes, as I was completely away with the fairies. I don't even know where to start with the hallucinations. Trees become zoo animals, rocks became cats and owls. The coloured pebbled specks on the trail flashed up faces of smiling little people. And all the time I felt there was someone standing behind me.

I don't know where is came from, but Kas had the patience of a saint. What was a shuffle was now more like the funeral march. If Kas hadn't been there, I would have crawled up in some moss and gone to sleep. I think she knew that, as she kept checking I was vertical and was determined to keep me right beside her.

The long track down into town wasn't even a welcome relief, as I knew we still had a couple of miles to go. I couldn't wait to see Sonic. And I was starting to well up just thinking about the finish. About half a mile from the Braveheart Carpark, Kas ran on to tell the troops I was on my way. The A-team had now become Charlie’s Angels. Kas and Jill ran up with some coke. Sharon went to collect Marco. And I nearly lost the plot willing the carpark to appear. Why is it always longer than you think?

I didn't stop in the car park for long, as I was in danger of becoming quite emotional. Another two runners past me on the road to the leisure centre, but I really didn't care. When I told them I'd walked from Tyndrum, they even asked if I "was still in the race?"

At the time I didn't realise that Sharon and Jill were walking slowly behind me - trying to keep out of sight. Later I told them I kept looking back and seeing two old men ;-) Anyway, they were highly amused at me stoatin’ all over and off the pavement.

I passed the end of WHW sign and headed for the leisure centre. And there it was. My oasis. With the lovely Dario's face smiling at me.

And then it was over. Against the odds, I made it. After 30 hours and 45 minutes,my character had been well and truly built. I can hold my head up and say I completed the WHWR. Even if I had to walk 40+ bloody miles of it. Initially I felt a bit of a fraud - even if I was well within the 35 hour time allowance. But hey, when the plan went out the window, I had to change gear and plod on. There was no way I could give up. I just couldn't. It wasn't just about me. It was important to everyone who had helped me, trained with me, listened to me going on about it for months and gave up two nights sleep for me. And there was no way I could home with only one goblet. Chances are I'll break one dusting, so we need a back up. And then there was my poor Mother who had zero sleep sitting waiting for a phone call. But more importantly, I'd bought loads of race merchandise and couldn't possibly wear it with a DNF against my name ;-) Te he. Really I did it for Team Debs. They never let me down and couldn't let them down. Kas - I hope you gave your boss the two-fingered salute? ;-)

I will never be able to thank Sharon, Jill, Kas and Sara enough. They were absolute troopers. I'm sure they wanted to strangle me on numerous occasions, but they were there for me 200%. I could not have done it without their support, motivation and inspiration. They went over and above the call of duty.

I've still got loads more to post...pictures, times (where it all went wrong), more thanks and some more general thoughts...but I better post this before you think I've died.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic. I loved reading this. So very well done - both the race and the report xxxxx

Anonymous said...

Debs you're a trooper. Great, great effort. Sometimes I think people like yourself deserve more credit than those that post times of 17 hours (or whatever). I was in a warm cabin listening to that wind and rain and my heart went out to those still slogging away. Your goblet is well and truly deserved!
Well done! see you tomorrow night for too much beer!!!!!

John Kynaston said...

Well done Debs. I've been waiting all week to read that and I wasn't dissapointed. A great report and that was one great effort.

I hope your knee is feeling better and I look forward to seeing you and Sonic tomorrow at the bbq.


Tim said...

I've done the WHW the slow way and the faster way and it's definitely easier the faster way! I take my hat off to a fellow pig-head, just too stoopid to know when to quit. ;-)

Subversive Runner said...

Top girl, Debs.

You were crackin on when I saw you by Lomond. Sorry I missed your slip on the wet rock!! Great to meet you then and afterward at Nevisbank.

Here's to WHW 2009.

Subversive Runner said...

Top girl, Debs.

You were crackin on when I saw you by Lomond. Sorry I missed your slip on the wet rock!! Great to meet you then and afterward at Nevisbank.

Here's to WHW 2009.

Davie said...

Great report, Debs. Looking forward to MYRACE in September. Disc of photos ready for you. I'm working a lot but I'll drop it off if you email your address. I emailed photos of you and Marco and Jim but I think they may have been sent to your work address. If you haven't already got them check there.

Anonymous said...

was it worse than that african hill?

Anonymous said...

Well done! Phew!! The agony of it all; and to think that you have to come back next year to post sub 30:00. :-)))

Brian Mc said...

I doff my hat to your perserverence and tenacity, and to your blog writing skills. Well done, I hope the knee has recovered.

allybea said...

Absolutely fabulous achievement. Great report on your race.

It was lovely to see you yesterday. And thanks for my Running Widow mug. It made me smile drinking my tea this morning :)

Ali x

Thomas said...

Great report. As always. But what a race you had. You must have gone through hell to get the goblet. But you did it! Stunning performance. I hope you recover from this 100% and be back stronger than ever.

Graeme Mc said...

Debbie very well done ,superb strength of character,great report and above all lovely to meet you to.Hope to see you next year.Graeme McClymont.