Friday 25 June 2010

Still alive after ninety-five

I know it's been nearly a week. I know you've read more than your fair share of race tales and I know JK has blogged 12 times, produced a video, slideshow, results spreadsheet and an updated all time list...but here's my version.

We arrived in Milngavie just before midnight. I registered, got my weight card and met with Kas, who had "volunteered" to do the nightshift.

The race start is quite an experience. It's only once a year, on the longest day, that the sleepy suburb of Milngavie is awoken to the sights of a kilted-man standing on top of car shouting instructions and rules to hundreds of people in skin-tight clothes, knee-high socks and startled eyes under head torches.

Bang on 1am, we were off. 95 miles over rough terrain in the Scottish Highlands. Senses alert. Eyes firmly focused on the dimly lite trail ahead. The smell of fear and apprehension. The deafening sound of silence, with only the faint muttering of a few nervous runners and the swishing of bottle packs and rustling jackets.

The first section definitely sets apart the men from the boys, so to speak. The latter go tearing off, frantically weaving. With the slightly more sensible smug in the knowledge that it's not going to last. Running through Mugdock Park, there was a bloke on my left shoulder panting like he was hyperventilating. I wanted to tell him that he was possibly going off too fast, but couldn't. I'm not sure whether I didn't want to come across as arrogant or I didn't want to ruin my chances of putting him into the ground later. I never did find out who he was.

A few miles later, I ran with Jason for a while and then Rosie Bell - last year's second female - trying to keep as steady and easy as possible. I know I'd gone off too fast in The Fling, which is ok (ish!) for 53 miles, but would be detrimental for 95.

I had bought a new head torch a few days before the race. A Petzl Myo. Obviously because I only used the one I bought last time (Petzl Tikka) three times and I hadn't quite spent enough money on the race!! But wow, what a purchase it was. I was even using my torch to help light the way for Rosie.

At the 10 mile mark, Helen Johnson caught up and the three of us chatted and enjoyed the pending sunrise before arriving in Drymen just before 3am. I waved off a top-up of supplies and kept going. I felt quite bad getting Kas to meet me there, but we both knew it was only for emergencies.

I passed a few and lost a few runners on the way to Balmaha. Including a Dutch guy who was already annoyed with the hills. It always bewilders why so many Dutch people (from the land no hills) come over for the WHW. It must be the national form of self-harming. Or many it's corporal punishment.

I continued to chat with Jason and we passed Drew. Boys will be boys and they hooked up and pushed each other on up Conic Hill. I took it easy on the uphill and more so on the downhill. I couldn't afford to take the same tumble I did during the Fling.

Quick top up in Balmaha and it was on to my second least favourite section of the race. Thankfully I had company to keep me entertained. And lots of cheers from Team Kynaston to keep me going.

Regular readers may remember the drama when I "nearly died" when I got lost in waist deep snow earlier in the year. Well, I was following kicked-steps. Sonic had met the step-kicker (a more equipped runner) en route to save me. And that random runner was Dave - who appeared behind me en route to Rowardennan and introduced himself. Fours hours later and he probably wished I had died on Conic Hill, as I was close to killing his ears. Hey, anything to take the focus off the legs.

I really enjoyed the section from Rowardennan to Beinglas. It was a gorgeous morning and the views over the loch were amazing. It wasn't without drama though. Before Inversnaid, I noticed there was a stream of blood down my shin and attached to that stream was a little black slug-like creature. I flicked it off and more blood spluttered out. Could there really be leeches in Scotland?

I was glad to run into Beinglas Farm. The stargate of the WHW. Reaching the end of the bridge is like stepping into a new world. Life always begins after Beinglas, doesn't it? Even though it's not even half-way. I replenished supplies, changed my shoes and headed up and up and up.

At the previous checkpoints I'd lost Aileen (last year's third place) at Balmaha and Rosie (last year's second) at Rowardennan, but I had no idea whether they were in front or behind. In the back of mind, I was still chasing them. When heading towards Coo Poo Junction (near Crianlarich) I saw a red and a yellow top (colours both donned by aforementioned girls)in the distance. That certainly put a spring in my step. I passed seven blokes - two of thom overtook me again later - and discovered the colours I was chasing was neither girls.

Heading towards Auchertyre, the sun was coming out in full force. I reached the farm and was greeted with lots of cheers. After getting weighed (I'd dropped 0.5kg) I changed back into my road shoes, as the inside of my foot was aching with the lack of support. I didn't want to stop as I wanted to take some time to meet the girls who were taking over from Kas in Tyndrum.

(Heading into Tyndrum with Dave and his sore ears!)

Food wasn't going down so well, so I put in an order for smoothie and cold Irn-Bru. Yep, you can take the girl out of Glasgow, but not Glasgow out of the girl.

Out of Tyndrum the headwind was quite forceful. I was starting to walk the hills and run the downs. I could feel a nice blister forming, but knew I'd scheduled in a sock and shoe change at Bridge of Orchy. I was pretty much on my own for this section, apart from a hiker who insisted on telling me about his double hip transplant. Charlotte had run up to meet me, but I was paranoid about support runner rules, so sent her on.

I checked in at Bridge of Orchy and tried to deal with the burning blister. Kas was in charge of plasters and asked me where the blister was, to which I replied: "Eh, the one you can see from space!" which she greeted with a slap round the back of my head.

Into my third change of footwear - my trail shoes - and it was up the Orchy hills. It's just a short two mile section, so it was nice to run with just a bottle in my hand - free of a belt. Mark was still there tagging on, and I apologised for the fact that he had to stare at my butt for so long.

At the top of the hill we were greeted with a smiling Murdo, who was flying a flag and dishing out jelly babies. He told me I was in 23rd position and 5th lady.

I usually love running off the hill down to Victoria Bridge, but this time I had to take it quite easy. Not because my legs hurt, but because my brain hurt. I couldn't get my eyes to focus and register on the path ahead. Mark went hurtling ahead and I sauntered on down to meet my crew.

Loaded up again and with my ipod for company, I embarked on the Drover's Road up to Rannoch Moor. I had downloaded three new albums for moments like this, but then discovered I forgot to transfer them from itunes. Doh!

I passed Mark again, following the JK attack of hills. I ran for 50 breaths and walked for 20 all the way up to the Mor. I was bursting for an overdue comfort break, so I had to gain some distance on the slowing Mark and the fast-approaching Kenny. I managed to find a big rock and spare everyone's blushes.

Although I had eaten quite regularly since the start, I knew I wasn't taking on enough. Just small flapjacks, tablet and mini bars of chocolate. All of a sudden I was ravenous and bonking. I only had a few miles to go until the ski centre checkpoint, but the hill out of the Moor took everything I had. Charlotte and Jill had run up to meet and a mumbled something about bonking/need food/anything. Charlotte - who had become the team go-for, well that's what she gets for earning herself an elite women's place in London Marathon! - was off like a shot.

Quick refuel at the (unnecessary detour!)at the ski centre and Charlotte the Go-for ran down with me to the A82. My lovely midwife, Lesley was cheering me on. I still find it quite funny that her husband is part of this scene. It doesn't seem that long ago that she was cheering encouragement for a completely different reason.

I passed through Kingshouse and on to the Devil's Staircase. I could see two white t-shirts (one of which was Dave's) and a dark one in front of me, but as usual I lack the competitive steak along with the inclination to care.

Heading into Kinlochleven, I was fading rapidly. I had to shout a runner who had gone off in the wrong direction. He started ranting to me about lack of signposting and I somehow wished I'd left him! The cheers through the town really pulled me together. Although I could have done without another detour to the checkpoint.

Arriving, I met Peter Duggan. Forget the race camaraderie, he nearly fainted when he saw me. Apparently he thought he "buried" me 50 miles back. Pah! You were confusing ambition and capability there, Pete. I thought I felt bad, but he bent over and gaunt like Gollum! Mentally he was razor sharp and hell-bent on beating me. Shame I didn't know about this driving force until after the race.

It was lovely to see the Pacepushers at the checkpoint and slightly nerving to see Dr you-will-die Ellis. I had to whisper my request for painkillers, whilst devouring the best sandwich I'd ever tasted. I probably hung about a bit too long - although I was prancing about to stop my legs from ceasing - as I was dreading the Bermuda Triangle that is the Lairig Mor.

Any then it was on to my FIRST least favourite part of the West Highland Way. The dreaded Lairig Mor. Even before I started the climb, I was exhausted by the mere thought of it. The ascent wasn't so bad, but I stumbled across like I had been shot. My muscles felt ok, but my ankles were suffering on the rocky path. But hey, it was always going to hurt. It's a very hilly 95 mile run, not cocktails on the beach.

I was half-heartedly using JK's splits throughout the day. I was sitting somewhere between 20 and 21 hours, but losing time rapidly. Thankfully Lundarva appeared quicker than normal (or maybe I just think that now). I passed a runner, who was resigned to walking and then the beautiful vision that was my crew came into view. I shouted ahead to get my road shoes to discover my voice was breaking, which was a bit of a shock. Charlotte the Go-for was charged with getting my shoes from the car, whilst Kas screamed at her to hurry up, Emma snapped with the camera and Jill expressed her delight in seeing me in daylight and on the same day.

Just seeing the gals lifted my spirits and hearing their cheers spurred me. Up the hill, round the corner and there was the mighty Ben Nevis. Despite numerous training runs, I always love the sight of the (even in June) snow-patched mountain. Although I can never get my head round why - if Fort William is at sea level - the route still continues to climb.

My ankles were a mess, but I just ran what I could. A few days before the race I had read in a book from my extensive running library that if you feel unmotivated or need to dig deep during a race, you should tell yourself you are a warrior. I know I will regret saying this, but going through the pine forests and onto the track I was hobbling and muttering "I am a warrior" over and over again. I know, WTF? Anyone catching a sight of this would think Pete was quite sane! :-)

I was continuously checking my watch , trying to get my brain to work out the distance and time. Just before Braveheart Carpark (which again appeared quicker than normal) Charlotte the Go-for appeared. I muttered a few expletives as a shuffled/jogged it in. In my best pathetic voice I told Charlotte: "I really want to get under 21 hours, but I caaaaaaaaaan't". Just before the entrance to the carpark, She just looked me straight in the eye and said in a matter-of-fact way: "You can do it". The rest of my crew were waiting as I'd asked them if we could all run the glory leg together. I'm not quite sure where it came from, but something snapped and I had a massive surge of energy. I was totally numb and focused, much to the amazement of my crew who were SCREAMING at me. Passing cars were were even beeping.

The funniest bit was Kas shouting that she couldn't keep up as she had been up all night, shouting "track" to Athole to get out of the way and Charlotte continuously reminding me the finish wasn't at the sign. I ran straight through the roundabout, along the pavement and into the carpark. My legs were moving too fast for my brain to register the parked cars, but I made it in time. 20 hours and 58 minutes and 36 seconds.

The female field was awesome this year, with the top three being under 20 hours. The Gibbering Midget was fourth (first last year) in 20:12 and I was 5th female. 20th overall.

It's all the support! Love my gals to bits.

Huge congrats to all who finished and all who postponed their success for another year. Sonic finished in 5th position in an amazing time of 18:47. Ritchie finally finished in pole position. The Crazy German FINALLY made it to Fort William on foot and finished just behind Sonic. Looking at the splits, I want a supply of whatever drugs he took in Fort William. JK had a brave fight, but has probably spent more time blogging than it took him to run. Thanks to everyone who put up with my drivel - Jason, Rosie, Helen, Gavin, Dave, Drew, Mark, Kenny and anyone else I've missed. Thanks to the committee, organisers, stewards, supporters and anyone who has made dreams come true.

I don't think I'll ever get another ten hour PB, so I'm just going to bask in this one for a moment...before sucking it up and getting into training for the Devils race in six weeks.

Ps: I pinched the first two pix from JK.

Monday 21 June 2010

WHWR 2010

Report, full results and pictures to follow...but in summary: Finished 95miles in 20 hours and 58 minutes. 5th female and 20th overall.

Monday 14 June 2010

Pre-race rituals anyone?

I usually just take two days off before the race. Hey, if it's good enough for Paula, then it's good enough for me. But prior to the last two good races (Devil's and the Fling) I've run the nine-mile circuit of the Kilpatrick Hills the weekend before. Given this morning's torrential rain and grey skies, I was tempted to just stick to the roads. But would that be tempting fate? A ritual is a ritual after all.

So off I went. Me, myself and I. Zero visibility and even less in navigational skills. As I set off into the mist, I promised myself that if I started to get a bit sceptical about the route, I would turn back. I know I've done the circuit a few times, but it's amazing how disorientated you can become in the mist. And lord knows I could do without the drama this weekend.

Being overly cautious about every step, kept me quite steady. Although the eeriness of it all made me want to push on. Even the sheep were freaking me out. When two runners appeared through the mist, I nearly keeled with shock. More so because they asked ME for directions.

Thankfully the faint path is more prominent than I remember. There were a few brief moments of panic, but all and all it was drama free. I was sodding wet and pretty cold, but at least I wasn't lost. Bonus.

So Kilpatrick Hill run? Tick. Now I just need step reps as my final session, a sports massage and two days of nothing.

What are your pre-race rituals?
I know JK does The Braes, WHWRunner and the Crazy German drive their long-suffering wives insane and Sonic (suddenly) develops a lactose intolerance - although he hasn't quite worked out that biscuits have dairy, but peanut butter doesn't.

Thursday 10 June 2010

The next step: Sobriety.

That's me on the final leg of the taper. I've been on the wagon since Sunday. No more sanity-saving vino until after the race. Life may seem a little uninteresting, but I suppose sobriety is ok in moderation - for a cause.

Since our last chat, I've had two cracking runs on the WHW.

Kingshouse to Beinglas - Monday, May 31
30.8 miles. 5:25hrs.

Last Monday I was out with the Gibbering Midget. Kingshouse to Beinglas. We got the bus up and ran back. It was a lovely day, possibly a little on the hot side, and very busy. I always find running in the opposite directions to hikers a little disconcerting. So many eyes and not enough people to sneak up on.

The run to Bridge of Orchy was great, but I bonked on the way to Tyndrum. Not sure whether it was fuel, heat or pace, but it's quite nasty going the other way. At Tyndrum we chatted with a bloke who was walking the full distance from Landsend to John o' Groats. With all his gear. And a full charity collection box. That was my cue to TTFU. I gave him all the money I had, which forced The GM to buy my supplies of tablet and sports drink :-) Bing! After that, I was back on form.

We ran, walked, chatted, stop for sheep herding (obviously) and were generally quite chipper all the way over to the A82 crossover.

We embarked on a stomp up the steep hill, briefly chatting to the oncoming hikers. Until one unsuspecting fella said: "Should you not be running?". The GM half-jokingly tore half his ear off...and then went on about it for half an hour. Thereafter, anytime we saw hikers, she made me run up the hills. I was glad to get to the top of the Crianlarich, as I was burst.

(me using the photo opp as an excuse for a breather!)

Great downhill all the way to Derrydarroch and then it was back up again. When we hit the steep ascent, I suspected the worse when I saw a group of guys lounging on the grass verge. At the incline the GM slowed to a stomp, to which I said: "Phew! I thought you were going to go for it then." She replied: "Hell no, none of them were good-looking". Fair play. Hail! Hail! The ugly boys.

Arriving at Beinglas, we stopped to buy some water (again, courtesy of the GM) and walked over to Drover's Inn. I remembered my sports therapist had been banging on about leg raises after runs, so I promptly lay at the side of the road with my feet on the fence. I encouraged a reluctant GM to do the same. Little did I know she was going to sit on nettles. So within minutes so was jumping about, squealing and yanking at her hotpants - much to the enjoyment of passing motorists.

Kinlochleven to Fort William Saturday, June 5

This was the annual Garscube WHW relay race. The GM and I were doing the last leg in final preparation for next weekend's race.

It was a bit of a scorcher and I had watched the previous leg runner burst in the heat, so I was a bit nervous when it came to my turn. Did I tell you I don't cope well in heat??

The intial climb up to Lairig Mor was quite taxing - but the GM went off like a rocket. After a few miles I got into my rhythm and kept pretty much the same distance all the way to Lundarva.

I expected the Way to be packed - with hikers finishing after starting at the bank holiday - but it was empty. Only four rubbish mountain bikers that I kept passing on the ascents.

I struggled from Lundarva to the woods, as I had run out of fluids and was suffering in the heat. It was a walk/shuffle all the way until I hit the shade of the pine trees, when I got my second wind. Unfortunately this allowed the GM to really widen the gap. She finished in 2.25 and I was 2.33. I felt great and (in the words of JK)really enjoyed my run.

So that's it folks. I did a wee tempo and some reps this week. Club run tonight. Possibly 10 miles at the weekend and some steps at the beginning of next week. Then it's game over. In the meantime I will continue with my sobriety. It's just a bit rubbish waking up the morning and knowing that's the best I'm going to feel all day :-)