Wednesday, 26 December 2012

My Olympic Year 2012

What a year of sports it has been! Not just for all those Olympic and Paralympic athletes, the Games Makers, London, the UK, but also for little old me (and not to forget Tam).

I have completed my biggest sporting challenge to date, the WHW Race, proudly received my Goblet and raised over £1000 for Ardgowan Hospice along the Way. All this only made possible by the tireless efforts of my support crew.

I also completed the Triple Crown, finishing both the Highland Fling Race and The Devil O The Highlands in 2012.

I was awarded a Meritorious Award, the Harkness Challenge Trophy, by my club, Greenock Glenpark.

And to round off my sporting year, I managed to skate to a new PB of 1:38:33 at the Berlin Inline Marathon. I got under 1:40 for the 1st time despite a spectacular fall in the last 5 miles. And I had only been back on skates for the previous 4 weeks. What could I do if I skated regularly?!

I am sure Tam will blog himself, but I just have to briefly mention his great achievements this year. It was his most successful one to date, Scottish 100K Champion and Winner of the Devil O The Highlands Race. Can this be topped?!
There are so many fantastic memories from all these races, encounters with fellow runners and fellow supporters, the changing scenery, from the heat of the Devils to the pouring rain of the WHW Race.
But in my mind I often go back to the WHW Race. Strangely I seem to have forgotten that it poured non-stop for the first 14 hours! I remember how focused I was and how I knew it was “now or never”. How high my spirits were for most of the time and how my support crew did their best to keep them up. How I ticked off one milestone after the other, looking forward to the next meeting point. I remember my lengthy stop at Auchtertyre and my only little tantrum when my support crew could not find the exact shirt I wanted. The hike across the Devil’s staircase with Thomas when it was getting dark and he thought it was so romantic! The arrival at Kinlochleven in the middle of the night when all of a sudden you were in a buzzing place, lights, people, chatter before climbing up to the Lairig Mor. This is where my high spirits left me for a bit as the pain in my feet was pretty terrible. But Lundavra came and my whole support crew joined in for the last few miles. There was laughter, singing, chatting, hallucinations (only me) and a great sense of achievement from everyone! And I think this will be my lasting memory, how we all covered the last few miles together to get me to the finish.
And finally Thomas also managed to get the video clips from my finish uploaded. So here it is: My WHW Race Finish - my biggest sporting achievement in 2012. 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A Devil and a Crown

11 days ago I ran the Devil o The Highlands 43M Race from Tyndrum to Fort William. What a glorious day we had with fantastic views!
(Photo by Fiona Rennie)
I had been looking forward to this race for a long time for various reasons. It is my favourite part of the WHW, it was my very first ultra race in 2009 and this year it would be the grand finale of my ultra season and complete my Triple Crown Challenge.

As an added bonus my brother and his family would be there to get a taste of supporting an ultra race. So I picked them up from the airport a few days before the race. That did not leave me with much time to think about my own race so while Thomas was spending hours to make up his plan for Yvonne he got one for me too. It was a sub-9 hour plan and I really thought this was possible, given the fact that my previous Devil was 9:22 and 3 years had passed with much more running and training. On our way up to Kingshouse on Friday my brother got a crash course in driving a right-hand car, getting to support stops including Victoria Bridge and Altnafeadh, refilling bladders etc.

Race day came and I was overdressed with a rain jacket in my backpack and 2 layers on. Because I had put the number on my long sleeved HH top I kept this on in the end, to give me some protection from the sun (!) and the midges too, but in hindsight I should have probably changed it. I also forgot to cool myself down in between as I did not want to get wet feet and blisters.
(Photo by John Kynaston)

I started off with Katrina, but only for a few seconds as she was soon off into the distance. My plan was to try and run more of the inclines and when Victoria caught up with me on the way to BoO we both encouraged each other to do just that. We chatted about the WHWR and other things and we got into BoO right on schedule, 1:10. 
(Photo by Fiona Rennie)

Quick gel from my brother who had found a prime parking spot and quickly learned the benefits of the midge net. Change of backpacks at Victoria Bridge and off we went onto Rannoch Moor. We continued our journey together across the Moor trying to run more than ever before. Somehow though I was already off schedule by 10min by the time I got to Glencoe. Into Kingshouse where I knew my sister-in-law and 2 nephews would be waiting for me. 

As a surprise Lorna from the club and Bruce were there too and after a comfortable toilet stop in the hotel we had our photos taken. I got told off for that at the end by my coach who could not believe that I would pose for a photo in a race! I was also told that Thomas had come through in 2nd place and the guy in front was about “20 years younger” and “looked very fit” according to my sister-in-law!

I left Kingshouse on my own, it was very hot by now and I managed to run out of drinks on the stretch to Altnafeadh. I knew it wasn’t too far and I was looking forward to my first sip of coke there. Again my brother had parked right next to the way and my nephews were running out to me and enjoying themselves. 

High5s, lots of coke which my 6-year-old nephew John watched with envy. They were after the left-overs in my backpack that I had not touched, Jaffa cakes, nuts, brioche, snickers, anything really that was still eadible. New backpack on and up the staircase. By now I was 20min down on the schedule and really stopped even looking at my watch. It was a great day, the views were amazing and we were all enjoying ourselves. It took me 25min to get to the top of the staircase but I noticed that my usual fast power walking had slowed down. I think I was walking up faster in the WHWR! It was very hot on that stretch and half way up Fiona and Pauline were a welcome sight. I paused for a few seconds on the top to take in the views and enjoy the breeze. Down the other side and it was not long before I got a  text from Yvonne saying that Thomas had come through Lundavra in 1st place. I nearly cried. I was so excited and just wished him to keep going and win this race. I would have to wait and keep going myself before I would find out. I caught up Jonathan Mackintosh, also out on his quest for the triple crown and we ran into KLL together. Just before the pipelines another text and I stopped to get out my phone. YES! He won! I was so excited. Not sure what Jonathan thought about it but I managed not to cry there and then.

Into KLL where time didn’t really matter any more and I shouted to my brother that Thomas had won! Cheers all around. Bill Heirs made the mistake to wave at me and again I shouted “Thomas won”! Sue came down from Lairig Moor and she had to hear the news too. Though she thought it was slightly disheartening given the fact that I was still so far away! I did not really think so. I tagged on to 3 guys going up onto the Lairig Moor, again it was very hot. The water from Jeff Smith at the Wilderness Rescue Point was very welcome. He reminded me of the WHWR when I saw him and his dogs during the night.

Eventually Lundavra came into view, nearly an hour later than expected on the plan! Suddenly I saw Yvonne coming towards me, what a welcome surprise! She had come back from the finish together with Thomas to check up on my progress – or the lack of it! As I was told I was “strolling” into Lundavra rather then power walking, well that might explain my time. 

My nephew was there too running back with me to the car and enjoying the puddles and stones. Thomas couldn’t quite keep up, I wonder why! It was 2:20pm and Thomas was getting concerned that I would not make it to the prizegiving in time to see him receive his winner’s prize. It was at 4pm he said, I thought it was at 4:30 but he insisted it was 4pm. Well I better hurry then!

Off I went and pushed hard, as fast as I could I power walked and ran wherever possible. I caught up with Rob just before the last steep incline (sorry Rob, but this has become a tradition) and then ran down the road to Braveheart. I wasn’t able to run this in the WHWR due to my very sore feet so running down was a delight – although a never-ending one it seemed. Close to Braveheart I phoned my brother to make sure he had found the finish, then Thomas to say I was going to make it. He was surprised when I said that I was nearly at Braveheart and quickly made his way over from the Leisure Centre, but missed my finish! So much for telling me to hurry! I arrived at 3:47pm, 13min to spare until the prizegiving! I had done the last bit in 1:25.

The very slight disappointment about my time of 9:47 was due to the fact that I felt I had ran more and worked harder, I only had 1 longer stop at KH, but the times were still slower. So I don’t really know what happened there, I’m thinking that maybe my legs aren’t capable of going much faster, they are happy at a certain pace and that’s it. 

Anyway, the overall feeling on the day was happiness, joy and pride! I have completed the Triple Crown – what a challenge. My ultra season has come to a great end, I have become an official WHW Family member, have enjoyed 3 great races in the company of so many friends, supporters, marshals, organisers.

Chart by John Kynaston
Only 13 people completed the Triple Crown this year and I was 9th. On the way I raised £1163 for Ardgowan Hospice. Thank you so much to all of you who donated.

And of course I was so proud of Thomas to be the winner! He had promised his nephews to get a trophy and he did! Yvonne did an excellent job at supporting him to his first win!     

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Life in-between a Champion and a Devil

After last weekend’s excitement I am now only days away from the finale of my ultra season, the 43M Devil of the Highland Race.

Enough has been said and written about my fantastic husband who is now Mr Scottish 100K Champion! Though maybe just a few more words … As it really was a great performance… :-)

I was very happy to be back on support duty and was looking forward to the whole weekend. Well, apart from one tiny detail that had me rather worried. Debbie had suggested we should do a last long run together on the Saturday before the race, 20 Miles. Now while that was a good idea in general, I have never ran with a Scottish record holder, winner of the Grand-Union-Canal Race and now also GB 24h-team member! We started in Redwick where the 100K race would take place the next day and we managed to find the path to the coast with the help of a friendly villager. Out and back and onto the roads around Redwick. Eventually Debbie decided we would shorten the run to 18M. I guess she realized that our time on feet was already much more than she had planned and we were nowhere near 20M! :-) Well, that was fine by me and I think we both had a good time. Not sure if I will be asked again to join a long slow run though …

(Photo by Gail Murdoch)

Now to the main event of last weekend: Thomas had given me a plan, he had made up most of his drinks and I had clear instructions of what to give him when, and what to replace it with in case it did not agree with him. We had worked out and practised (much to the amusement of the others!) the best handover technique of 2 bottles at the same time without him having to slow down and without me running alongside as this was not allowed. Water (to cool himself) left hand, drink bottle right hand. If he needed an extra gel it had to be taped to the water bottle. We had bought 2 huge buckets for the Scottish team, one for sponges for cooling, the other one to keep the drinks cool with ice cubes in it. He actually never used the sponges himself but they came in very handy for every one else in the team. And a few other runners after looking at them enviously lap after lap plucked up the courage to ask for one themselves. We ended up having to collect the sponges from the road, clean them and use them again.
I still managed to give him the wrong gel at the wrong time and should have persisted in him wearing a hat. But there is always room for improvement …
(Photo by Debs M-C)
I knew he was feeling in good shape, he was in good spirit the day before and doing his Usain Bolt impressions. He went off fast, and Adrian told me to tell him to slow down after the first couple of laps. Now that was something I did not dare to do. I believed he knew what he was doing and must have been feeling good. So I left it to Adrian to tell him. When Thomas came round the next lap he told me to tell Adrian everything was under control! He managed to pull off a great race and I was so proud of him and am still so excited about it.

But enough now as promised!

Onto the Devil. This was my very first Ultra back in 2009 and this one is going to be my 2nd time running it. It is my favourite part of the WHW and I am really looking forward to it. We will have my brother and his family here to visit us so they will be part of the support teams. My coach tells me I should “risk something”. Now that translates into “run faster woman and walk less”! Maybe he still thinks there is a fast runner in me – he can always dream I guess. Seriously I would like to get under 9 hours (my previous time is 9:22). Theoretically that should be possible but you never know. My main goal is to finish the Devils and complete the Triple Crown. I will be so happy when I cross that finish line as I would have never thought that one year I would rise to this challenge.
In the process I have raised nearly £1000 for Ardgowan Hospice, mainly with the WHWR. But I will leave the sponsorship open until after the Devils.

So Devil here I come.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Goblet – I got you!

On the Wednesday before the race I went down to the Esplanade for my last run, 30min with a few strides. I came back home and said to Thomas I think I could run a 10K PB now. His face lit up and I could see that he was very pleased. I guess he realized then that his training and tapering plan for me had been spot on. I was ready to face the biggest endurance test of my life so far.

I had taken a few days off before to make sure I was well rested. Nerves were kicking in but I still slept very well right until Friday. The house looked like I was going on an expedition, boxes of gear everywhere, labelled bags, one of which was called “extreme weather bag” which came in very handy early on! Thomas was spending hours over my food and drink strategy, working out when I could be expected at support stops. Though I was certainly not chasing any time, he felt my support needed to have some idea of when they should start to get worried if I did not arrive. A finish and a goblet was all I was looking for, anything more would be a huge bonus.


When we arrived at Milngavie the place was buzzing, supporters, runners, marshals. I wished then that I was “on the other side” supporting as usual, but before I knew it I had been weighed and a number tag round my wrist. No turning back now!
I had stopped looking at the weather forecast by Thursday when I realised it was going to be wet. Armed with Thomas’ Montane jacket I lined the start. A few moments to gather myself and I thought, this is it. Here we go. And we were off and as if on cue, the heavy rain started!
And would not really stop until I reached Auchtertyre after 14hours!

I could not make out any individuals lining the High Street of Milngavie but it was great running past them cheering and clapping. Turning left into the park I saw headlights coming towards me, ah, some had already missed a turn and were backtracking! My legs were feeling fresh, as they should do, and I was easing into the run, being passed by a few people I know, exchanging a few hellos with Tim and Keith. Going through Mugdock I walked a couple of times as planned and it was then that I was passed by most folk. Suddenly I was on my own with only a few headlights in the distance. Coming out of the park over the small road and round the corner I saw a group in the middle of the path. It was Victoria O’Reilly and her friend Fiona with 2 other runners. Fiona had gone over her ankle and it did not look good. As there were enough people there I carried on and thought how unlucky this was for her! Then I was on my own again and I stayed on my own until coming down from Conic Hill.

I have very clear memories of this. Running on my own in the dark with only my headlight leading the way and a kind of tunnel vision, the rain lashing into my face. It was so eery. I love the section between the Carbeth huts and the railway path but really don’t like the flat railway path. Certainly not in heavy rain when there was no way avoiding the deep ice cold puddles. It was head down, hood up and follow the head light. I was meeting Katrina and Nancy at the Beechtree Inn, my first milestone. They looked rather uncomfortable in the pouring rain themselves but a quick exchange of Nathan backpacks and I continued. The plan was to have a quick exchange of Nathans at support stops, they were packed identical with emergency kit in both so that only my phone had to be changed over. They would prepare the next one according to the plan Thomas had prepared. I was using Nuun electrolyte drinks and Thomas had worked out how much I needed for each section so I was not carrying any excess weight. I was going to eat something every 30min as well as 1 SIS gel at every support stop. I then had to take between 3 or 4 items with me depending how long it was until the next support stop. I had gels and jelly babies with me all the time in case I did not feel like eating any solids. My Garmin (and later on my support runners) reminded me every 30min about eating and I faithfully stuck with it until the end! The only disappointment was that my beloved cheese mayo sandwich tasted awful and I had to spit it out as soon as I tried it.


I was so glad when I reached the tarmac road towards Drymen. At one point I let out a scream when suddenly my feet were immersed in ankle deep cold water as the road was flooded but with the darkness I had not noticed it. I looked up and saw 2 guys at the roadside peeing and wondered if they thought I had screamed because of them. I had my first toilet stop at the campsite before Drymen and it was so good to get out of the rain for a few minutes. I knew N+K were waiting for me along this road so I was looking forward to that. They were in the car but jumped out when they saw me coming and we exchanged Nathans, I ate a gel and onwards I went. I had feared the muddy field but it was not too bad considering.

Into the forest above Drymen now, I briefly met a runner whose name I have now forgotten and we exchanged a few words and on I went. As the rain was relentless I remembered what a club mate had written on facebook, God sends rain so that Glenpark Harriers can perform well. As we live and train in rain we also race best in rain. I had to smile and continued on my journey.

I reached what used to be the Garabandhan forest. Loch Lomond was in front of me. Suddenly it was light enough to switch the head torch off and like a miracle the rain stopped and birds started to sing. And my spirits were immediately lifted and I felt so good. The rain came on again 5 minutes later but it had given me a great boost. On to Conic Hill now which was treacherous and the uphill resembled a river walk as the water came running down the path. Coming down the other side I saw Fiona Rennie, Sue Walker and Robin Wombill negotiating the steep steps. I was so glad to see familiar faces that I shouted towards them, hello, so good to see you! They probably thought I was mad but after being on my own for the last 4.5 hours I was so relieved to meet them. It was Sue and Robin’s 1st attempt too but Fiona had already 8 finishes under her belt! I asked them what they were going to do in Balmaha regarding shoe and sock change as I was not too sure myself if I should do it here or in Rowardennan. They were planning on a change in Rowardennan, but when I met up with N+K in the car park they had already prepared the chair and mat and Nancy said, you need to look after your feet, lets dry them and have a look. And I was quite glad as it felt so much better afterwards. The only problem was I was already on my 2nd pair of trail shoes in Balmaha (and I only brought 2 and 2 pairs of road running shoes) and on my 2nd pair of Drymax socks. Thomas had sourced them for me in the US and I do think they are great but I guess with the weather as it was there was no way avoiding blisters really. Although I found out afterwards that you should use NO lubricant with them at all!


It was here in Balmaha where I started with hot drinks. Hot (herbal) tea had never felt so good. I left the car park and knew that it would not be too far to Anchorage Cottage where I would see N+K again. Met a few guys along that stretch, 2 going the whole way together, Steve and Angus and we chatted while I was falling in with their pace matching mine nicely. At Anchorage I got my 1st protein drink, vanilla flavour, very nice. On my way to Rowardennan I met up with Robin again who was having a difficult time and I felt helpless not being able to cheer him up. But he battled through and it was great seeing him collect his goblet in his kilt on Sunday! I remembered the Fling and thought of those who had passed me on this section including Richie and hoped he was doing well today.


I knew that at Rowardennan I would see N+K for the last time as my support team was changing over at Auchtertyre. So I prepared myself for our last meeting, they had done a fantastic job so far and I wanted to make sure they knew it. I had asked for soup and luckily the toilets had just been opened so I went in there to eat it. I was given my 1st caffeine gel of the day and took another one a bit further along. I also changed into a new top, thought of putting my rain trousers into my backpack but Nancy told me to put them on – which turned out to be a great idea. I was now using a bigger pack for the long stretch to Auchtertyre, another Marathon away!  I had in it an extra layer, socks and I took gloves. I had got sticks from Thomas for thinking about taking gloves but I knew myself that on a day like this they would be needed. N+K were impressed with how positive I was. I was just so glad to see them. I said good-bye to them and took on the loch side!

While running along I imagined I was running in Thomas footsteps. He had been there with Marco and Lucy on Friday morning running from Balmaha to Inversnaid. Sounds cheesy I know but it helped me along. I also remembered what Lesley had told me, be focussed and strong! So I kept focussing on the next bit ahead, just the next milestone to reach. When my mind wanted to wander too far ahead I tried to pull it back. Focus! The next stop is Inversnaid, not long now. Watch the path, don’t fall. Usually I like to take in the scenery but that was really not an option today as the rain kept falling and it was hood up and get on with it. I passed the ledge that frightened one of my club mates so much when we were out training for the Fling before a little further she actually fell into the waterfall! Today she would have been washed right down into Loch Lomond – even though I told her then that no-one has ever fallen into the loch. Why were there boats patrolling the loch side today though?!  I smiled to myself and waved to the guy in the boat who waved back.


Inversnaid hotel came into view! Yes! The waterfall looked spectacular and I stopped briefly next to another runner to admire it. Then I saw a friendly and familiar face, Karin, it was so unexpected but great to get a hug. I got my drop bag and sheltered in the tent that the Trossachs Mountain Rescue had put up. I opened my bag and followed the instructions Thomas had left: eat one gel, take protein drink, fill up your bladder to 1L and pick 3 items to eat out of selection. Well the cheese sandwich went straight into the bin but I had enough choices. I also noticed then that he had left a little message on the refill bottle and I nearly cried! I went into the hotel to use the toilet and it was so nice and warm in there! But I had other plans for today so I left.

On the next section along the loch I caught up with Caroline who was struggling with her breathing. I was slightly concerned and did not really want to leave her though I also know she prefers to be on her own at these times. So I stayed with her for a bit, tried my best to encourage her. And I remember breaking the next sections up for both of us really. It would be Dario’s post next, then Beinglas, then we both could be looking forward to meeting “our men” at Bogle Glen. I hoped she would tuck in behind me but she kept falling back a bit. So I decided to make sure she would get up to Dario’s post ok and then it would be an easier 2M to Beinglas where I was planning to use the toilet anyway. So I turned around at Dario’s post and as ever it was a magic view across the loch. I then run on on my own, caught a couple of guys before Beinglas, one was injured, the other one was really cold. I advised him to go into the cafĂ© right next to the path he did not know existed. I am not sure if he got going again.


I saw Rob at the checkpoint shivering badly. The marshal was going to refill my bladder up to 1L while I used the toilet but when I came back she said I still had 1.2L in it! Oops! I was obviously not drinking as much as planned but I knew I was not dehydrated as I kept using the toilet all the time. I had taken on protein shakes as well and lots of tea and soup which hadn’t been planned. So I was not too concerned. I had my first flat coke in Beinglas and it tasted great! Again Thomas had left a message on my bottle and I smiled.

I left Beinglas and was looking forward to meeting Thomas at Bogle Glen. What a milestone this would be. I was quite excited. But first to Derrydaroch Farm and Carmyle Cottage. I passed Rob who was having a hard time with the cold and wet weather draining him of all his energy. On  my way to Carmyle Cottage I saw some animal coming towards me on the path and I think it was a small otter dragging a baby otter next to it. Don’t think my hallucinations started that early!

On the steep steps up from the under path I caught up with Ivan who was impressed by my fast walking pace that left him behind! (He did finish 30min in front of me in the end though as he was still able to run when we caught up with him on Lairig Moor again so much later in the night.) And I do believe this is what got me to the finish – my very fast walking pace that I was able to keep up until later on when unfortunately putting down my sore feet onto the uneven rocks became the problem and slowed me down.

So I was looking forward to seeing Thomas. In my mind the next sections were broken into much smaller pieces as I would soon reach Auchtertyre, see my new crew of Heather and Yvonne and if required would be able to have a support runner. I knew I wanted to put in a good performance for them too, as they were giving up their time to support me. And they were excited about it too! After all N+K shouldn’t have done all the hard work only for me to falter now. And there was all the effort Thomas had put in to prepare me for this. In my mind it was now or never! I did not want to have to go through all the build up again, but wanted my goblet, so it was now!


Thomas came into view and he seemed excited to see me. Caroline’s family and support crew was also there and cheered me on. Neal said I should give Thomas a hard time which I jokingly tried. But I was far too happy to see him and too happy to have got there in one piece. And I know I have slagged him off myself in my reports but he has been incredible in getting me ready for this that I seriously think I would not have been able to do it without him. Mind you the idea would have never crossed my mind!


He had hot tea ready for me and I decided to have a complete change in Auchtertyre. He went ahead to the checkpoint to get everything ready. To my surprise N+K were there cheering me in, delighted to see I was still going well. They had decided to see me after this long stretch on my own to see if everything was still going well. Only then did they go to the B&B in Fort William for some rest! You are stars! I got weighed, John K was also there and pleased to see me. And I disappeared into the toilet for a complete change which took about 30min! More soup/pasta mug was on order and tea. Believe it or not but I arrived at 14:00 hours into the race which was bang on my predicted arrival time. I also saw Tommy, Victoria’s husband there and got a hug. I left Auchtertyre and had put on old road shoes which immediately caused some discomfort so at Brodies Shop I switched back to my wet trail shoes. On my way out of the farm Debbie and Sharon arrived in a car and I got cheered on and hugged. Thank you guys! I was told that we should take a detour towards the road and not wade through the river after the hostel and I was rather pleased by that.

Then at last I saw my new support crew, H+Y. They were waiting at Brodies and thrilled to see me. They had to spring into action straight away as I changed back into my trail shoes. From then on I stayed in those, kept the same Drymax socks but kept emptying my shoes of gravel and to put more Vaseline onto my feet. I left Tyndrum knowing this was the furthest distance I had ever done. Yvonne was going to join me at Bridge of Orchy and stay with me until Glencoe, so that was something to look forward to. They waved at me from the road as I made my way along. I caught up with Neil MacRitchie who had done the race 8 times before. I asked him if this was the worst weather he had experienced and he said yes! In a strange way it comforted me and made me proud that I was still going!


(Photo by Shelley Marsh)

I went straight through BoO after using the toilet (of course!) and Y filled me in with all the details of her friend’s wedding she had been to on Friday! Food, dress, flowers, everything. I love hearing about weddings so the time passed quickly. Then we reached Murdo’s Mount, the 100K mark, a well-earned jelly baby, a hug and lots of encouragement! Thank you!

Near Inverornan hotel I put more Vaseline on and also saw Chris, Caroline’s support who told us she was going well now that Neal was with her and not too far behind us. Great news!

Onto the Rannoch Moor after more soup/pasta/hot tea. We later (in Lundavra) ran out of soup as we certainly did not expect me to constantly ask for this, but by then it did not matter.
In true selfless supporter style Y gave me her midge net as they were really fierce there but I could not really breathe through it so she got it back! To be honest the midges did not really bother me at all apart from that short moment. I kept thinking about the 2 times Thomas had to pull out coming off Rannoch Moor and just now my focus was to get to the next checkpoint in good shape. I did not allow myself to think too far ahead. Anything could still happen to grind me to a halt.    


Over the Rannoch Y kept me up to date with everyone’s text messages and wishes which was great. We made good progress, it was dry and Rannoch as spectacular as ever. We arrived at Glencoe just after 8pm. Heather was ready and geared up to go with me to the bottom of the Devil’s staircase. She had been injured herself so we did not really schedule her in but she felt fine. 

As the road down from the ski lift is flat and downhill I managed to run, the legs were just doing their own thing. It was the uneven surface that caused the problems with the soles of my feet and a few blisters coupled with wet feet that caused the problem. We overtook Ada here for the 1st time. The views were in fact spectacular with Buchaille Etive Mor and Heather took a few photos. 

They got sent immediately to other club mates who would update facebook and so messages of encouragement kept coming in via Heather’s phone. Fantastic! I was overtaken here by a guy and H kept encouraging me not to let him get away. But by then I really did not care. Sorry! 

 (Photo by Melanie Sinclair)

I caught up with Fiona Rennie here which was a great boost. We chatted until we got to my support stop. Thomas and Yvonne were waiting, more Vaseline and Heather even massaged my terrible feet! I felt for her but it was soo good!


Thomas was geared up and ready to go over the staircase with me. Before we reached the bottom I heard someone shouting behind us and suddenly Caroline came storming  past encouraged not to stop running by her support runner. Incredible! I was so pleased for her.

Up the staircase now and we passed Ada who was hunched over due to severe back pain. The tough girl she is she got her goblet!

 (Photo by Rhona Mitchell)

As we walked up briskly (and I was rather pleased I could do that), Thomas reminded me of our honeymoon, our WHW Walk 7 years ago. By now it was time to put the headlamps on again and he thought it was all rather romantic! We caught up with Victoria Shanks, her husband and her support runner Rhona, she was still going at a good pace and we chatted for a while. T and I stopped at the top and looked around us, it was magical in a way. On our decent into KLL we met a few others and it was great seeing lights in front of you knowing that there were others out there too, on the same quest. It is here we passed Lesley Halstead I think. I continued to eat something every 30min but by now certain things caused a bit of nausea for a few minutes afterwards and I had more gels and jelly babies when I felt I could not take anything else. Thomas had brought a Snickers though and that went down well. Then his phone rang and it was Maya Lukas from Germany who had been following my progress throughout the day. As we walked down first Thomas and then I chatted to her and before I knew it we had reached the bridge. Thanks Maya! I reached the KLL checkpoint after 24 hours. 
(Photo by Heather Kangley)


 (Photos by Shelley Marsh)

What a buzz there was in the hall! Suddenly there were so many people, marshals, runners, support crews, it was incredible. Peter Duggan was there wishing me well for my last section. It was great to see him. John K was also there and excited to see me again. Caroline’s parents and support. And of course my whole support team had gathered. After resting a bit in FW Katrina was now going to “run” the whole last section with me, and Yvonne had decided to join her! Then for Lundavra they had decided everyone was going to come, even Nancy as I wasn’t going to be running but just trying to keep a fast walk going.

I got weighed by Julie, put another pair of longer trousers on, another upper layer too and kept my proper Goretex walking jacket on (which I had not taken off since Auchtertyre). Of course there was more soup, in fact I finished it off here. Nancy had been informed my feet were “a mess” but when she looked at them here she was not that impressed! Yes, there were some blisters, yes there was some trench foot, but the skin wasn’t coming off so off you go! We left KLL and made our way up to the Lairig Mor. It is this section that I found the hardest. It was dark, the path was so uneven that it really hurt and I was finally getting tired. At times I felt a bit dizzy and was not sure if it was a lack of energy, too much caffeine or just the lack of sleep. K+Y had more coke for me, reminded me to take something every 30min and tried to take my mind of my aching feet. We bumped into Colin Knox at the Wilderness Rescue point and were all gathered for a photo. It was lovely as the flares were giving off light and warmth. We continued and it felt a long way until we passed the ruins. My toes had kicked a few stones by then and I had felt new blisters forming. Y told me that some people stamp their feet to burst them! I thought the rocks would probably take care of that and did not want to do it myself. I could not wait until it became lighter but not yet! We passed the next rescue point. Then I could make out what is left from the forest. Katrina decided to run ahead to inform them of our arrival. Then at last it got light enough for me to take the head torch off. What a relief! And I could even still see a small fire burning, the famous Lundavra fire. A great sight.


Thomas had parked the car near the path and for the last time I sat in the chair, shoes emptied of gravel, Vaseline on, hot tea and everyone was ready to take on the last section. I was going to get my goblet!

In very good spirits we all left Lundavra apart from Thomas who had to drive the car back. We joked that he was probably glad not having to spend the next 6-7M with 5 girls. In fact not soon after we set off we caught 2 guys who turned round and said they had heard us from a far distance. They let us pass very easily glad to be out of our ear shot. By then some hallucinations had set in, I saw sheep where there were rocks, male statues (from behind!) where there were trees, a football, but I could not comply with Nancy’s demand to bring about a Brad Pitt hallucination. Maybe because I don’t like him! There was some singing, lots of laughing and we reached the forest section. I had taken a craving to Fruit Pastilles and ate all of Heather’s. Luckily Nancy also had some and I kept eating those. The steep steps by then were something else as I had to lean on 2 to get down as the pressure was so sore on my feet. I was still ok walking uphill at a good pace. Time passed quickly and I could see the final climb ahead onto the forest road. This was it!

Up that hill and suddenly we are at the top of the forest road. I can’t believe it. I had paused here only a few weeks ago on our training run and imagined me standing there during the race. Here I was. I had in fact (nearly) done it. It was then that I asked what the time was for the 1st time, 5:30 am. I asked Katrina if I could get to the finish in under 30min and she said No. Don’t spoil it now by chasing a time. Just enjoy. Great advice and I continued happily along. I really could not run downhill as the pounding was too sore but I could still walk ok. We turned a corner and saw 2 others in front of us. Heather was encouraging me to keep walking fast to reel them in. We turned another corner and saw 2 more. Come on, do it for us! What choice did I have? So on we went and caught up with John Duncan who had got injured but was still in good spirits so close to the end. At 6am we were above the caravan park in Glen Nevis where I knew a friend was staying and celebrating his last Munro and birthday. I had the idea to phone him and everyone was in agreement that it was a good idea! So I woke him up and we all sang Happy Birthday to him. He decided to come out of his bed and meet us at Braveheart. We turned another corner and I saw more runners ahead and feared I was told to catch them up too. Turned out there was no-one there, just another hallucination. I had 3 pee stops on this section alone and it was difficult to ensure we weren’t suddenly caught up again in a rather embarrassing situation.


Finally there were 2 real figures ahead, turned out it was Andreas who we had just woken up and Thomas. We were close to the car park. 

We passed George Reid and Karen waiting for John and were on the road. I could not and would not run but said I would run in from the roundabout. We passed the 30MPH sign. At the roundabout they all went ahead to leave me alone and I was falling into a slow jog. 

This is it. I suddenly see Marco, Debbie and Sharon running towards me and start to cry. They cheer me on, I try to keep it together a bit longer, into the car park, towards the steps, high 5 to John K, up the steps, touch the door!
FINISHED! Tears of course, lots of hugs, congratulations, last weigh-in and I sit down. I have done it! As incredible as it seems, I am here, at the finish. 29 hours and 34 minutes after setting off from Milngavie I have reached Fort William on foot.

Small video clip of my finish and prizegiving to come. So far we have raised over £500 for Ardgowan Hospice and more is coming in now that I have done it!
Thank you to everyone involved!


Sunday, 10 June 2012

Goblet – I am coming to get you!

In 2 weeks today I will be on my way to the prize-giving to collect my goblet. That’s what I dream about anyway and what I am busy visualizing! And visualizing is such an important part of preparing yourself I hear. So that’s what I am and will be doing in the next 2 weeks. I can see myself at various points of the route, the checkpoints, the meeting points with my crew, I can see myself running through Tyndrum and onwards to Bridge of Orchy. And I can see myself eventually on the last few miles down into Fort William approaching the finish …

My training has gone very well and all credit goes to Thomas. He has been a superb coach, keeping me calm when I wanted to panic, when the legs felt like lead especially during weekday runs after work or when other things got in the way of running. We had a general plan with higher mileage weeks pencilled in or scheduled around other events such as the fantastic Fling, but the motto was to listen to my body and adjust the plan accordingly, week by week to ensure enough recovery between my runs. And so most of my long runs were very enjoyable, I did quite a few on my own and then others in various company, the last one being the West Island Way on Bute last Saturday. This coincided with the Jubilee weekend, which I was using as a last high mileage weekend. It started off with 29M on Bute. These were a bit harder than expected due to the terrain so the next 2 days were changed with a rest day strewn in. Then I wanted to do Milngavie to Balmaha in WHW Race pace to ensure I was not getting too close to the cut off time at Balmaha if I took it easy. So all in all I managed to cover 85Miles in 6 days, my highest mileage yet!

And now the taper has truly started. Yeah! Long lie-ins and lazy afternoons at home to get the all important support crew lists and any other details typed up and ready for my support crew meeting next week! In fact since Thomas has been given an additional spot in my support crew he has taken it on to configure lists and schedules that previously were only in my head. I don’t think I would have bothered with too many schedules but as we kept arguing about what and when who of my support crew was doing, even though I had explained it to him, he came close to being banned! I guess he has had it really easy for the past years, just me and Nancy, if the schedule said he would arrive at 10:28, that’s when he would arrive, +/- 5min. Well, be prepared for improvising team! I am very glad though that he is not running himself as I am not sure how we would have survived race week with two of us getting ready for it. And now Thomas can concentrate 100% on me and if he thinks I am unreasonable I just need to remind him how he used to be during the weeks before the race and he keeps stumm!

I am getting excited about the race and I know I will be very nervous in the days leading up to it. My biggest worry now is to catch some stupid viral infection of a patient or anyone else for that matter and I am seriously thinking of working with a face mask and gloves, but I guess that would really scare people off! I love those kids that want to show you how bad their cough is and before you know it they have coughed right into your face and over your desk.

My crew will be briefed next week with Nancy and Katrina doing the 1st shift up to Auchtertyre. Thomas will join them on Saturday morning and meet me at Bogle Glen and will then be there until the end. From Auchtertyre or Tyndrum depending on my arrival time Yvonne and Heather will take over with Thomas as back-up as they have never supported before at the WHWR. Katrina will then join me later again for the last stages after having had a rest in the B&B in Fort William. They are all ready for it and I hope I can do them proud and put in a good performance. It feels like such a luxury to have everyone just look after me. We have the added bonus of raising money for Ardgowan Hospice, Greenock and already I have had so many people supporting this great cause! So many well-wishers and people wanting updates on the day, it is quite overwhelming but I am sure a great motivation to keep going when it gets tough! And after Debbie’s adventure in the canal even a fall into Loch Lomond would not count as an excuse to stop!

I think I am as ready as I can be. For me it is a great adventure, a bit like an expedition covering 2 nights to get to your “summit”. It will be a journey that I can’t wait to start! I will share it with some of you at some points and I am sure at other times I will be on my own, concentrating on my own pace and the way ahead. But in the end we will all meet in Fort William to collect our goblets. What a moment that will be!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Highland Fling 2012 – my 2nd affair

It had been 2 years since my last Fling and in fact my last ultra race (this being only my 3rd), but I was very excited about this year. This had more to do with the fact that I knew a number of people running it for the 1st time including Katrina and Lesley, but also Jude, Thomas’ friend. And then there were 3 Glenpark relay teams entered! I could not wait to see how they would all get on.
For me the Fling was part of a bigger plan this year, it was a milestone in my preparation for the WHW race in June. And to be honest I had not looked beyond this.

So with 10 days to go severe taperitis started, something new for me. I suddenly had a severe stiff neck and could hardly move. My calf was suddenly tight and uncomfortable with 1 week to go, also something new. It all eased off in the last 2 days. My training had gone very well with a couple of long runs up to 30-32M on my own on the WHW with the last one 2 weeks before the race when I finished really strong. On that day I had also discovered the power of coke! In fact my training had gone so well that I was waiting for something to go wrong, reading other people’s tales.
I had briefly looked at my times from my 1st Fling but did not make up any splits or schedules. I will include these in my report though as Saturday’s splits and the comparison with my previous ones have given me a lot of information and were really interesting if not spooky! 

So off we went on Saturday at 6am. I ran with Nina from Manchester first, on her 1st outing over this distance, chatted to Lesley, also on her 1st attempt at this distance. I had done a long training run with Lesley last year and it was great chatting to her. In fact I caught up with her another 2 times later on which was really good. Before Drymen I noticed that I wasn’t really very relaxed, I felt some nausea starting and thought about the things I had already eaten (nothing I had not tried before), a toilet stop was required and I continued on my own into Drymen. Where the Garabandhan forest used to be Thomas came storming past, which gave me a huge boost and I caught up with Fiona, Pauline and Sue. I then noticed my right shoe was not laced up tight enough, my feet were wet from all the puddles and I noticed a small blister starting. Not good so early on! I walked up Conic Hill chatting to Fiona and tapping into her enormous experience. The views were fantastic, so clear! 

Arrived into Balmaha and met Helen and little Daniel for the 1st time – so cute – got a little cuddle! Got my dropbag, it was opened for me and Janet Cornall was going to help me refill my bladder. Only we could not unscrew the top so had to zap into one runner’s energy and with all his strength he eventually got it open! Thank you! Bladder refilled I left the carpark only to notice all my energy drink was running down my bottom! O no, my race is over, a hole in my bladder. I stopped and must have looked around me in panic, a girl went past me while I blurted out my bladder is broken, but luckily Robin Wombill came to the rescue. He stopped, helped me get it out to inspect it and it turned out I had not screwed the top on tight enough. Phew!
By now I could feel a blister on my right foot and I thought, well then, this is turning into an equipment test and could hear others saying to sort out problems when they appear. So I decided to stop at the public toilets to inspect and put Vaseline on. My feet looked like trench feet and I applied plenty of Vaseline. Paul Giblin’s support were there and they made the mistake to ask how I was and I told them my latest problems. I am sure they did not want any details but I did feel better once it was out. I went on my way again but felt that I somehow was not getting into the run. My thoughts were occupied with these problems and in particular went to June and I started to ask myself what I had let myself into! If there are issues like these so early on, what will it be like in June? Do I really want to put myself through all of this? Running along the road section I suddenly heard cheers from a car and it was the Glenpark men’s team on their way to Rowardennan. That picked me up. Soon after I was overtaken by David Gardiner and we exchanged a quick hello. A while later Richie came past. Then back on another road section I caught up with Victoria and Fiona. And then Debbie and Marco waved from the car already returning from Rowardennan on support duties for Thomas today. This all distracted me nicely and the miles passed. 

Shortly before Rowardennan I came across the injured Ellen and stopped to see what I could do. Nothing much really as there was no way she could be moved without “gas&air” but at least I was able to give her the strong painkiller Sandra had and wasn’t allowed to by the 1st aider. Best wishes for a speedy and full recovery Ellen!

I ran on into the carpark and was met by Alan from Glenpark who ran in with me to the checkpoint while Stephen, also in Glenpark’s relay team got my dropbag, refilled my bladder and off I went. That must have been my quickest turnaround! A quick word to Hazel, Jude’s wife, who unfortunately later pulled out at Rowardennan due to a pre-race groin/hip problem that played up.
I left Rowardennan and realized I had passed the half way point! I also started to realize that I have had no further food problems, I had forgotten my blister (for a while) and was admiring the views across the Loch. And I was still feeling fairly strong. In fact I told myself to just pretend I had started my run in Rowardennan. I caught up with Jon Cornall who unfortunately struggled and he waved me on after a few words. I then caught up with Lesley again which I was really pleased about and we chatted for a while. She also told me to keep going as she had a difficult patch. Then Stephen from Glenpark came zooming past us up a very steep hill! Fantastic! His speedy legs helped to get 2nd place for the men’s relay. Superb! I realized that I was still going well and had to chuckle to myself at the thought that it had taken me 26M to settle into a run! How crazy is this?

On my way to Inversnaid I met Norrie from Falkirk on his 1st Fling. He had never done a marathon before, had longstanding foot problems and when I looked down to see his shoes he wore the oldest pair of trainers with big holes at the sides! But he said these were the most comfortable ones. His family were in fact waiting to see him at Inversnaid and they were so proud of him when he got there. He did finish and they were even prouder! Well done!
In Inversnaid my 1st coke was waiting for me and some caffeine gels. I applied more Vaseline to my blisters, saw Victoria and Fiona and Colin Knox coming in and set off. I again caught up with Lesley who was now running well following her husband who had started 1 hour later. So we “skipped” over the bolders together for a while until he set off and I later on passed Lesley for the last time. She also finished her 1st ultra on Saturday! Well done!

I stopped at Darios post and had my picture taken and admired the views across the Loch. Then I was on my way to Beinglas looking forward to meeting all the Glenpark relay girls and guys and getting another coke and some peanuts. The cheers were huge and I became emotional. I told myself this was not the finish yet and to get a grip. They were waiting for the 3rd leg girls to come in. And I was excited as I thought the 4th leg girls would catch up with me and drag me with them to the finish. They never did though as they had to wait for another while and I was still going well myself. At Carmyle Cottage Andreas, a friend who I had run my 1st ultra with (the Devil) was waiting for me with more coke. Another Vaseline application to my sore and blistered right foot and off I went. 

In the forest above Crianlarich I started to overtake a number of men including some that had started at 6am with me! I was still stomping up the hills and in fact thought I could get in under 13hours. But my Garmin had given me a wrong distance and in reality I knew it was further than it was showing but I still kept up my pace. Just before the A82 crossing I caught up with Fiona, Pauline and Sue again and we ran together into Auchtertyre. On the very last section now and I was still running and passing people who were walking. I could hear the piper and was filling up, got myself together and could hear cheers from Thomas on the bridge, Glenparkers near the gate and so many others I could not make out. And there I was at the finish! 13H:01Min:45Sec Brilliant!

Here are my splits from my 2 Fling races and a few key points:


                                 2010         2012
Drymen                    2:16            2:19
Rowardennan          5:52            6:06
BeinGlas                  10:02          10:02
Tyndrum                  13:23          13:01

How spooky is it that I arrived in Beinglas at exactly the same time, after 10:02 hours?!
I knew I was going slower in my first 26M on Saturday, I did not feel I had settled into the race until Rowardennan for various reasons, I could hear people before the race saying I’d be faster this time as I had done much more training etc but somehow it did not feel that way. And I had discussed this with Fiona going up Conic Hill earlier in the day.

So looking at my times from Rowardennan is really interesting for me as it shows that in fact I had become “faster” and had a really strong 2nd half. It took me 14min less for the section to Beinglas and another 22min less to reach Tyndrum than in 2010. I was feeling better and stronger than 2 years ago and I would go as far as saying my last leg from Beinglas was the best. If you look at my positions for the individual legs I was in position 202 for my last leg compared to 338 in the 1st, then 341, then 282 to Beinglas. So I was working my way up the field! :-)
So a real confidence booster for the WHW race you would think? Well my initial reaction after the finish was I am not sure about it any more. I think the enormity of it all had hit me. I had not looked past the Fling before but as the Fling was done & dusted now, the WHW was right there now. And I got scared!
But having had a couple of days and having looked at how I did the Fling, it really is a confidence booster and I am well on course for my attempt of the WHW Race. So yes, of course I will do it!

A huge thank you to all who made this race possible! You were all brilliant!


Thursday, 22 March 2012

32m WHW Solo Run

Yesterday I managed to spend a great day out on the WHW running from Tyndrum over and across to Rannoch Moor and back, altogether 32M. My running time was 7h:15min and I was on my feet for 7h:35min but decided to have a couple of stops as it was just too nice to rush past especially near Ba Bridge and Bridge of Orchy so I stopped the watch then.

It nearly did not happen due to work but I guess you've got to get your priorities right! I had been asked to swap my day off from Thursday to Wednesday but when I checked on Tuesday I realized instead of being off one day I was down working on both! Well I was not pleased at all. I had set my mind on doing a long run and the weather forecast was for a dry day. And I had originally planned to do a long run with Karen R at the weekend but then felt unwell and there was no running at all for a few days. So I was very keen to do this run. I did offer to come into work half-heartedly but was told "If you want to..." - I certainly did not and as there was no expressed pressing need I decided to stick with my planned run.

My "coach" has been really great in making sure I don't panic when the loose training plan he has made for me must be changed and adjusted if and when required so when I could not run last week he just reassured me to get over the virus and take it from there. So by Monday I was feeling much better and made up my mind to do a solo run. It actually turned out I had done the same distance on the same route on my own exactly 2 years ago to the day when I trained for my 1st Fling. Spooky or what?

So I filled my backpack with far too many goodies, fluids and other items I might need and set off with it weighing 3.7kg! Won't happen in the race but I was out there on my own after all. Met a few nice walkers and chatted. Took photos, had a wee picnic, tried out a few food items, got a text from MtM just when heading back up from Inverornan over to BoO! Where were the jelly babies?! Ah, I had some in my bag and took them passing the top!

I arrived back in Tyndrum and immediately took my recovery shake as instructed by my coach and after a prompt reminder from him after my finish! Nice vanilla flavour - only afterwards my Pizza and chips cravings from hours before were gone... Thanks! Thomas is a firm believer in these recovery shakes and he has started to convince me. Today after work I did 4 easy miles and it was not too bad.

Tomorrow is a rest day, then we have a 10M Club Handicap Race and I hope to do another 20M on Sunday to give me another higher mileage week.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Exciting times ahead

We have just returned from a fantastic warm weather training camp (or should I say holiday) on Gran Canaria. In 6 days I covered my highest training mileage ever, 72 miles and 16.000 feet ascent. My legs have felt fine throughout - surprisingly! Thomas thinks it was due to the recovery shake he made me drink as soon as we were back at the hotel. Or maybe the beer later on in the evening?! In any case, this should set me up nicely for the times ahead.
We are well into March now and the Fling is getting closer, but before I turn everything to all things "ultra" I am planning to run a flat 10K on Saturday. I had 5M PBs recently so I want to see what I can do with my 10K time.

After that I will be concentrating on the Fling. I am really looking forward to it. Next Sunday will also be the next Glenpark Fling Relay training run, Rowardennan to Inversnaid and back. Then a number of back to back runs at the weekends should see my weekly mileage increase steadily to a peak. We are having visitors over Easter so I will have to build up to a peak around this.

After the Fling we will be off to Skye for one week in May, i.e. 5-6 weeks before the WHWR. I will be attempting the Cuillin Ridge Traverse with a friend (and a guide). This should give me plenty of time on feet, lots of ascents/descents and hopefully a great adventure with an overnight bivvy on the ridge as we plan a 2-day traverse. Thomas will stay at base camp due to his fear of heights! :-)
My highest mileage peak will then coincide with the Diamond Jubilee weekend 3 weeks before the WHWR when I will be joining the West Island Run on Bute. After that it will be tapering down for the race.

Apropos WHW Race. I have decided to fundraise for our local hospice in Greenock, Ardgowan Hospice. I was asked by a number of people if they could sponsor me for my WHW Race. It had crossed my mind before but I felt a bit awkward about it. But then I thought it really is a huge challenge for me and my support crew, so why not using this team effort to also raise important funds for a very important charity here in Inverclyde. So, please click the link on the right side of the web page if you would like to donate to Ardgowan Hospice. It will take you to my sponsorship page.