Sunday, 23 June 2013

West Highland Way Weekend

Just back from crewing the 2nd half of the WHW race for Ben Kemp. We went up to Tyndrum on the Friday night and were at Bein Glas Farm for a little after 7am. We knew this time was optimistic for Ben but you can't really take the risk that your runner gets to a checkpoint before you.
We really thought we were in for midges and pouring rain all day. It certainly looked like it at Bein Glas. There were clouds of midges flying round our heads and crawling on our clothes like lice.

Ben arrived at about 8.30, looking tired and with a mosaic of dead midges on his forehead but otherwise showing his usual fortitude. He had a cup of tea and some other bits and pieces, told us he'd probably have a shoe change at Auchtertyre and moved on through. We had filled up flasks of hot water at the hostel that morning so it was easy to get a brew together.

On the drive over to Auchtertyre the clouds lifted a bit and the sun shone through. It seemed like a good omen. Maybe today wasn't going to be as relentlessly wet and miserable as it had seemed. There was a bit more of a breeze at Auchtertyre so we were no longer plagued by midges. The farm shop was selling bacon rolls so Peter had one of those. Things were looking up.

We were making noodles for Ben so we had to predict when he was likely to be coming through in order to have them ready in advance. Peter did all this. Having done the Fling recently he had the distances pinned in his head much better than me. Ben came in a little later than predicted but his noodles were still warm! It seemed likely that he would slow down and we were prepared for this. Ben's a great runner but he has been massively busy with a young family and a very demanding work schedule and he has just not been able to train like he would have done a few years ago. He was looking like he was going to go through Tyndrum in about the same time he had taken to run the Highland Fling a couple of months back, so was clearly setting an ambitious pace. I think we both thought he would just slow people do in this race.

At Bein Glas he had been in 11th. By Bridge of Orchy I think he was in 9th place - thereabouts. We had assumed that Peter would be running with him from here, and I had a plan to get down the road quickly once I'd left them and go to the ski centre so I could get a run in myself. Ben's time was too near the leader's time however and couldn't have a support runner yet! I was kind of glad because it gave me company for longer. Looking ahead he would have to be at the ski centre after 3.33pm if Peter was to run with him from there. As it stood, he was a good half an hour ahead of this schedule and it seemed unlikely - but we primed him anyway. If it was marginal and he had the choice of pushing or taking it a bit easier then it would probably be wise to time it so he could have some company.

Peter and I took off and went for a run back along the WHW from the ski centre as I'd planned. I'd planned to do 5 out and 5 back, but as we ran we both started to get the feeling that Ben might be getting close. We were getting a bit paranoid that if he appeared it would look like we were supporting him and we were afraid of getting him DQ'd, so we had a plan if we did see him we'd take off immediately back to the ski centre. Peter could easily out-pace him at this stage, but I wasn't so sure about me. I had anticipated an easy, low-pressure run and didn't really want any dramas. At 4.5 miles into our run though - sure enough, the tall figure of Kemp appeared round a bend and we had to turn around and belt it back. In a way it didn't matter all that much. If Ben had of caught me, I could have dropped back and Peter could have run ahead, so maybe it was pride at stake. I had to out-distance the guy. He had, after all, about 70 miles in his legs. To my relief we did slowly pull away and to my surprise, later on, found out Ben had never seen us and didn't know we were there.

He came into the ski centre check point about an hour ahead of the time when Peter could have joined him - so it looked likely now that he would be flying solo the whole way. He was having a lonely race having seen almost no-one since the start. Peter bemoaned how much he'd been stuffing himself with toffees and treats as he had been anticipating getting a good 30 or so miles in! It didn't stop him continuing to fuel up though.

The drive to Kinlochleven was nice. The sun was out, lighting up the rhododendrons. I remembered driving this way on my own a few years back when we were supporting Richard for his WHW race. At that stage I'd been up for a good 24 hours and I felt very nervous of the huge drop offs at the side of the road. It was good to have company. At Kinlochleven Ben arrived a little ahead of when we'd predicted again and he was looking damn determined. We heard that a new record had been set for the race, the leader winning in 15 hours and 7 minutes. We realised that, barring disaster, we would be finishing in daylight and would even be in time to get an evening meal before going to bed. A cheering thought (for those of us who hadn't been stuffing ourselves with toffees.)

There had been sporadic downpours during the day, punctuated with spells of quite warm sunshine. As we saw Ben off on his lonely journey from Kinlochleven, the skies darkened again and it started to bucket down. We couldn't help but feel guilty, sitting in the car, listening to music, dry and comfortable and looking at the dramatic views all around us. Ben had been cheerful but clearly uncomfortable. It seemed unfair that in our team Ben got ALL the pain and we couldn't share it at all. Nothing to be done though but to get ourselves round to Lundavra and to will him on over the hills.

The sun came back out again for Lundavra and the check point people had a good fire going. This is such an atmospheric spot, it feels to me like the most far-flung point of the race. The only signs of civilisation are the roads themselves and the Telegraph poles marching up the hill, looking absurdly similar to the tall limbless trees in the foreground. It looks like one turned into the other at some point in their evolution.

The first of three runners who had been around Ben appeared and the guy who was manning the checkpoint and keeping the fire going produced a surprise. The theme to Rocky blared out across the desolate hills! It was a comical moment, and the runner coming towards us rose to the occasion and managed a bit of a dance, even though he had just run about 90 miles.

The next runner in was also not Ben and we were a little bit worried for him.

We needn't have worried because here he came, still running. He was looking in pain and like he was having to focus but still moving forwards quite convincingly. By now we had all realised that sub 20 hours was looking very likely. That was something we would never have predicted at the start of the day. Ben's chief concern was that he would take a wrong turn somewhere because he was so tired and didn't know the terrain well. All we could do was try to reassure. Some of his fear must have got into us because, even though we KNEW, we checked twice exactly what the directions would be from BraveHeart car park to the finish. It was pretty simple....straight down the road... We even measured it on the car's milometer. I had erroneously thought it was about 2 miles but it was actually pretty much exactly one mile - so we had this to tell Ben when he arrived.

He arrived looking pained and determined. Again I felt a twinge of guilt driving along in the car to the finish - so painless, so easy!

At the finish, Alison, Ben's wife, and their two boys and Alison's brother were already waiting/ We gave him a huge shout and cheer as he finished. It was quite a moment. 19hrs and 16 minutes!

He had left all his running out there and looked very wobbly for a while. I wouldn't have been at all surprised to see him pitch over. I saw him to the gent's showers door and had to leave him there - but Peter and Alison's Brother went in and hung around just in case. Fiona Rennie was at the finish so I went and chatted to her and she told me it wouldn't be unusual for a runner to drop after they'd finished running this race. Ben is just so tall though - you really don't want him keeling over.

So things got a lot more comfortable for us after that. We had a very welcome curry and some beer to drink and caught up with Alison's news after Ben had gone off to bed.

And today I am very tired and Ben was looking a whole lot fresher although his walking wasn't great!

It has been an exhausting but rather fun road movie of a weekend.

There'll be lots more photos and a whole other story over at Peter's Blog in due course!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

7 Hills Challenge

Another year - another 7 hills. Looking back over the results I realise I've done this every year since 2004, except 2010. Don't know what happened that year.
I woke up at 5am this morning but managed to doze til 6am and then just had to get out of bed out of boredom.

I'm being stalked by Radiohead at the moment. This is difficult to prove but their songs are playing through my head all the time. Difficult to prove and difficult to police. I felt dubious about what kind of job I was going to make of the 7Hs under the circumstances. Still, I was looking forwards to getting involved in the Porty thing for once and being out and about running with others.

The first few miles went by fine and I was by no means flying but I was enjoying it. The sun beat down and by Craiglockhart I was looking forwards to the scramble up the bank just to get out of the sun and under the trees. I've got newish pair of Nike Pegasus trail shoes and they've got really quite good grips at the toes, so going up the bank was a cinch. (What is a cinch?) 2/3rds of the way up I passed a girl in pink who was really flailing. She'd got to the blankest part of the bank and then frozen I think. Her shoes were pedalling away on the surface but she didn't have her weight over them so they weren't helping her. I decided to effect a rescue. I was near a nice sturdy little sapling so I got a good hold of it and then got her to hold my hand. I thought that would be enough to help her get back on her feet but I think she'd lost it a bit by then. She was now on the slope backwards, with her feet skidding ineffectually under her. I had to be quite stern with her in the end and say "Come on, PUSH, I can't hold onto you forever." At that she shot to her feet and made it to the tree. I felt like Graham Henry.

The march to the top of Craiglockhart was taxing and I was ready for water and raisins by the time I got there. I had a minute and got my breath back and then really enjoyed the descent on pine needles through the trees down the other side. I continued feeling pretty good until after the scramble up the 2nd bank at the Hermitage my legs decided they were now empty. It was a strange feeling, usually something else gives up before my legs. I got them jogging again on the downhills and flats though. The pull up to Arthur's Seat was hard work and my ascent of Arthur's Seat was kind of laughable. I was deeply grateful for the scrambling bits because I could use my arms and give my legs a break.

I was wearing a heart-rate monitor which had been telling me that my heart-rate was pretty  high all the way round - usually 165-168. I was enjoying myself and not feeling rotten though, so I just ignored it. At Arthur's Seat however it dropped to 44 and then to 00. That was a bit alarming. I took a moment and took my pulse manually and it was fast but steady which was reassuring. Then I put the damn HRM off.

I enjoyed the descent of Arthur's Seat all the more because a bunch of people who were just ahead of me took the wrong path down. A better person would have called them back but I enjoyed my advantage. As I ran down the Dasses, Radiohead finally broke out of my mouth and I started singing "I'm a Creep!". But then I stopped when I saw a bunch of guys lying chatting on the grass.  Pity.
At the palace and the parliament the Race for Life was in full swing so the 7h runners had to dodge in amongst a sea of pink clad walksters.

Then just that last short bit up to the top of Calton Hill and it was all over. I was done in and could hardly face my quiche. The apres race chat was fun though and then we went for a quick drink with the Dundee Injury Twins Michael Geoghegan and Melanie Henderson.

Back at home I discover that not only was today's run a post-op pb. (We expected that) But it was not even a pw. I ran 7 seconds slower in 2005 when I'd run the marathon the weekend before and died a death half way through. So that's a new landmark. My first non pw of 2013. Hurray!

I should mention there was great support all the way round. And at Blackford Hill where there was a sea of HBTs their cries of HBT changed to "Keep going Mary!". I was very touched.

Oh and I should also mention that my excellent friend Amanda was 2nd lady, Porty Ladies won the team prize and Peter took home the prize for 1st older gent.

I don't know what the next race is. Nothing soon I don't think, but this one has left me with a nice warm glow.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Traprain Hill Race (Spectate)

I went out an 8 miler round Arthur's Seat in the morning and felt the best I have out running in quite some time. I was going to do 10 but was cutting it a bit fine to give Peter a lift to the race so missed a bit. I'd be delighted with my run but a few extra heart beats from time to time this evening make me cautious....
At the start of the race, long tall George Armstrong was sitting on the grass so we exchanged heart tales for a while. He seemed to be in good fettle. We chatted about how runners just get obsessed and they don't know when to stop...

Willie Jarvie was along spectating too, taking time out to heal a sore foot, so we went a wander along the river to take photos of the runners. We found a nice spot just where the runners cross the river on their way out and waited for their return.

One runner appeared to be waving his arms at me and I shouted to him (thinking he was joking) "No mucking about now, this is a serious business" or something like that. When he got closer I realised  that he wasn't deliberately waving his arms about at all and he looked very pale and unsteady - but then he slowed down to a walk. I felt worried about him but he was still on his feet as he went round the next bend so I forgot about it and got back to the business of taking photos. After most of the runners had gone through Willie and I set off back along the route and when we got under the trees came across the same guy lying on the path with a Carnethy runner beside him. He was conscious but feeling really sick and very hot. Willie and I stayed with him so the Carnethy runner could get back. We knew help was on the way. He turned out to be Andy, a Harmeny runner. If we got his story right it was only his 2nd race and looking back over the photos he was right behind Peter at the beginning and Peter says he was still there at the top of the hill. An impressive effort for a 2nd race! I told him there were some people that could dig deep enough to really hurt themselves and I thought he was one of them. He smiled weakly at me.

After a while Keith? from Carnethy came back with a first aid guy so we said goodbye. Andy had asked me to let his dad know what had happened. He would have a golden lab and be next to the artic lorry. I tried to see someone like that - but the lorry was away when we got there and there was a man with a golden retriever. I tried him - rather desperate thinking now I look back on it - but he was not Andy's dad. I would really like to hear that he's alright. If you're out there and you know Andy leave me a comment and tell me he's fine!

Back at the park and East Linton Gala day was in full swing. I had almost forgotten that I had Neil Jones's car key and all Peter's money on me! Anne Hay had kindly bought Peter an ice-cream so he was okay.

Prize-giving came around and Stewart Whitlie, who was first 50 was also 1st over all, so Peter sneaked the 1st V50 prize and Anne Hay was first LV50. And to think 50 used to be old. It isn't anymore.

And so the glorious days of sunshine continue. It's like a whole other country isn't it? Great fun talking running all day.