Brenda and I weren’t running nor supporting not marshalling, but we realised close to the WHW race that we wanted somehow to be involved. We didn’t want to take up a valuable parking space or get in the way of support teams so we hatched a plan to head for Inversnaid on Saturday morning. 5:30am is stupid o’clock to get up, and even at that we knew it wouldn’t get us there in time for the fast kids, but we hoped to see most of the runners and take some photos. And that’s what we did.
Yes, it was wet, wet, wet. It’s the sort of rain my mother used to describe as stair-rods. On occasion it was so heavy that the autofocus on our cameras chose to focus on it rather than the person we were pointing at.
Hugging not choking
I’m not generally a huggy sort of person but a number of people got my arms flung round them whether they wanted it or not. Hopefully it didn’t affect anyone’s race too badly. I presume Colin did manage to breathe again before he left Inversnaid.
Who was that masked man?
I posted both my and Brenda’s photos on picasa. Click here to see them.
There are a few decent snaps in there but some of the shots are out of focus, too far away or only show someone from the rear and there’s at least one with missing body parts.
What can I say? I’ve never claimed to be David Bailey. Help yourself to any photos you like. I uploaded them all at minimum resolution but if you want a higher-res copy then please email me at karinsmiles0atgmaildotcom and I’ll be happy to send it on.
This is my favourite photo:
Look about you
I noticed almost everyone stopped for a second to look at the waterfall. There was an incredible amount of water pouring down it but the best view was from down at the jetty.
This is not madness…
We know there a touch of insanity in the WHW race family, but I’m not at all sure what to make of the few lonely souls on the Loch Lomond cruise that passed the hotel.
The guys and gals from Trossachs Search and Rescue were amazing – welcoming runners in, smiling all the way through heavy rain and midges, finding everyone’s bags quickly and dishing out banter. They mention their support of the race in their June newsletter and it’s a lovely read.
I even got a 20-yard jog in myself.
Congratulations to everyone in the race, whether or not you made it to Fort Bill. It was great to share your day. Same time, same place next year?
Filed under: running
…or what I learned from running at the back of the WHW race 2011.
- Soak up the atmosphere at Milngavie. You may recognise some faces and wonder what on earth you are doing in that company but you have done the training and you have every right to be there. Enjoy it and ignore the fact your stomach is turning somersaults.
- Don’t miss the chance to pass time with people you meet on the way (some of them are whw race legends) – but be mindful of the checkpoint cutoffs if you slow down for a chat, you don’t want to end up charging down the hill to Auchtertyre worrying if you’ll make it in time.
- Don’t rely on keeping in touch with your support team by phone. My team worried when they got a very late text from me saying I had just left ‘Invrsnfn’, in fact I had passed through Inversnaid hours before and the text was hovering in a black hole somewhere.
- Look around you – you’re travelling a long way through stunning country and there are always things to see, even when it’s pouring rain. I still have images of bats flitting round my head, rainbows at Rowardennan, early morning mist over Loch Leven.
- Don’t fear the sweeper – there’s no shame in being at the back, though the spectre of being caught can help get those legs moving again when you’re flagging.
- Stop and look back when you get to Dario’s post. I never met Dario, I wish I had, but the fact that you’re running the race at all owes a lot to him – and the view back along the loch is special.
- Believe in yourself – it’s been said before: running 95 miles is simple, but it certainly isn’t easy. Never doubt that you’ll finish, pick off the miles one checkpoint at a time and keep moving forward.
- You’ll be running in the dark for a second night – one good point of this is that the headtorches show more people round about you than you may be aware of in daylight. It’s a short night – I expected to get a boost when the sun came up but FW suddenly seemed a long way away. Just be prepared for a drop in spirits at any time. It will pass.
- Don’t hang around too long in the checkpoints but make sure you pick up everything you need. Kinlochleven is a safe haven that’s particularly difficult to leave, but the quicker you get going on that last stretch the quicker you will be in Fort William.
- Smile. Think of the people you love. I pinned a ribbon of photos on my rucksack strap – photos of family and people who inspire me – and I touched it many, many times throughout the race. It sounds cheesey but it helped whenever my mood was falling.
- You won’t get time to sleep between touching the leisure centre doors and the prize giving, but although you’ll be tired (!) you’ll probably be buzzing too much to sleep right now anyway. Plenty of time for sleep later.
- Make sure your support team have an opportunity to rest – they won’t get any sleep before Sunday afternoon either. They have to suffer the torment of midges and they worry about what’s happening to you between checkpoints. And they don’t even get a goblet. Make sure they know how much you appreciate what they’re doing for you. It’s a big deal, a really big deal.
- Say thank you to everyone you can – it still astonishes me how many people give up their time to help you complete this one, ultimately selfish, challenge.
- Collect your goblet with your head high and a massive grin on your face. Savour the moment, you deserve the applause.
- Take time to recover after the race. You may feel superhuman but your body has taken a hammering and needs time to repair. Remember you were out there for a lot longer than the actual supermen and superwomen at the front. Eat, sleep, rest and then eat and rest some more.
Good luck to everyone running next week whether at the front, the back or somewhere in the middle. May the weather be kind and everything go to plan. Above all enjoy it.
First rule is Don’t Talk about Old Crocks Club!
Since high hamstring tendinopathy (amongst other things) brought my running to a halt, I’ve become aware of a covert group at my work. Each member has a chiropractor or an osteopath or physio whose fancy holidays they are financing. They have a knee or a back or an ankle or a shoulder, but they share a detailed knowledge of the actions and side-effects of every NSAID and know at least as much as their medical professionals about their own particular injury. There are no formal gatherings of the club, but two members meeting at the coffee machine will trade knowledge of supplements (‘Have you tried Devil’s Claw?’), tales of how little their GP cares and a recommendation for swimming, pilates or yoga.
Without ever asking, I seem to have joined the club though I am a lightweight compared to the hard-core members.
Second rule is Don’t Talk about Old Crocks club!
There’s no whining, no complaining. In fact this group seems to have a propensity to laugh at themselves more than most. You’re more likely to hear ‘What on earth have you done to yourself now?’ than ‘Oh poor you, that’s too bad’.
So the old crocks are a lovely bunch of people; jolly and smiling in the face of adversity … but I’m moving on.
The hamstring tendons seem mended. My posture isn’t perfect but I look at lot less like a dried-up spider than I did and I’ve been enjoying walking in the Pentlands at the weekends to try and rebuild some muscle.
A month ago I started swimming lessons. My physio has been suggesting it for ages, but I protested that I wasn’t comfortable in water and that I could just about get from one end of the pool to the other with a ‘granny’ breast-stroke. But she nagged. Now when I said ‘uncomfortable’ I actually meant shit-scared, but I’ve been getting one to one sessions with the ever-patient and good-humoured Neil and last week I actually enjoyed it.
So, Tuesday was a good day. I’d cycled to work for the first time in months, I had my swimming session at lunchtime and while my legs were tired on the way home, they weren’t sore. Unfortunately, I had a close encounter with a wheelie bin about half a mile from home – I caught it with my handlebar when I took a corner wider than I planned – and I inevitably hit the deck, taking my weight on my outstretched arm.
Third rule is No-one Leaves Old Crocks club?
So apparently I have a radial head fracture. I’m lucky, because it isn’t immobilised, and while I can neither bend nor straighten my elbow fully, it’s not actually restricting me that much (can’t carry shopping, can’t do ironing, can’t do gardening ). What I’m worried about is that it might be some kind of warning -’It’s your elbow this time, but next time we’ll have your kneecap’. Once an old crock, always an old crock. How did that wheelie bin get into just that position on the footpath?
A footnote : I just want to wish huge mega-congratulations to awesome Debs for the GUCR, a hearty good luck to everyone running the WHW race this year and a swift and complete recovery to everyone whose running is currently limited by illness and injury.
On Sunday morning Bill and I heard a steam whistle. We’re both of an age that we instantly knew what it was and I did a search on the internet to see what steam train might have been running on the Edinburgh suburban line. I found this site that showed there was a tour whose second day was from Edinburgh to either Fort William or Inverness. I had a bit of a detour admiring images of locomotives, looking up arcane abbreviations and reading through some fascinating discussions on a signalmen’s forum.
From there I had a quick look at the BBC news, including a report that the Stromeferry road had finally re-opened since it was closed by landslide in December. The ferry Glenachulish had been used to cross Loch Carron to help avoid the 140-mile detour caused by the road closure, and that led to a chat about the Ballachulish Ferry which Bill had once been on during a trip to his auntie’s in Kinlochleven in the early 1960’s. It couldn’t have been this one because it was built at Ailsa shipyard in 1969, which I discovered in another side trip round the history of the Glenachulish (used on the Kessock crossing at Inverness before the bridge and now operating on the Skye crossing in the summer between Glenelg and Kylerhea).
That led to a discussion about the bridge at Ballachuilish. In 1986 we did a supported bike ride from London to Skye. Two puzzles remain about the trip – both Bill and I remembered that the Ballachulish bridge was one-way only, controlled by traffic lights, and the traffic caught up with us in waves after we crossed – moments of calm, empty road followed by convoys of forestry trucks and caravans almost forcing us off the road. It was many years before either of us had cause to cross the Ballachulish bridge again(we usually approach Fort William by train) and it has two-way traffic and clearly always has done. So if it wasn’t Ballachulish then what bridge was it?
With the help of google maps, we retraced the route and realised that we hadn’t continued up the A82 but had turned left at Tyndrum to cycle on the A85 via Dalmally and Taynuilt. I’m not sure why we didn’t do this sooner (maybe too busy going out running or something like that) but obviously the bridge we remembered is the Connel Bridge.
That solved our other puzzle – somewhere on this trip between Lochearnhead and Fort William, we remember crossing a closed and condemned railway bridge to save a detour of 6-7 miles but couldn’t remember where. Well, it’s Creagan Bridge, since replaced with a brand spanking-new concrete affair.
Last detour was to see if the guy who organised the bike trip was still around. I found John’s Bikes in Bath fairly quickly. John Potter is still running the shop and is still involved with the Natural Theatre company who punctuated the whole trip with unexpected appearances in the middle of nowhere.
Edinburgh to Fort William via Bath by bike and rail, all in the space of a morning! This is what people do when they’re not allowed to use their hamstrings.
I went back to work on the Tuesday following the WHW race, because I didn’t want to waste annual leave if I couldn’t get out and run or walk, and there were bragging rights to be claimed. I had to wear my crocs because they were the only footwear I could get on and and I borrowed a box of paper to put my feet up under my desk. On Tuesday I went to see Magic Ray and he smoothed out some of the kinks in my muscles while I talked non-stop about the race. Apart from my feet, everything else just felt a bit abused and I started to think I could maybe start jogging into work the next week.
Unfortunately on the Friday I could barely get out of bed. My hips seemed to have seized up and my back and shoulders were sore. I put it down to compensation injuries from walking oddly and assumed it would ease off in a few days, but it didn’t. In fact if anything it got worse. I couldn’t bend down without stopping to think about it, and sometimers not even after thinking about it. After dosing on ibuprufen I managed to get out for a 3 mile run in week 2 but it didn’t feel good.
I kept waiting for it just to feel better, but it didn’t look it was going to without help, so in week 3 I decided to go and see Magic Ray again. Ray wasn’t available but I did see Magic Peter, who said that the muscles round my hips didn’t feel particularly tight or knotted, but he did feel a lot of tension in my back which he worked on. My right leg felt considerably looser afterwards and I think even the change in my mood made a difference and I consciously tried to relax at my desk, on the bus and sitting on the settee. But it didn’t last
I don’t think I ever expected to feel unscathed after 95 miles and 33 hours, but other people were talking about running within a few days and some even racing (though I am aware Kate Jenkins is superhuman), so the odd gentle jog didn’t seem unrealistic. I still had an entry open for the Clyde Stride, though as each day started with me taking about 5 minutes to shuffle the 3 yards from the bedroom to the bathroom, it was getting unlikely without some sort of miracle recovery (but then again I still believe in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy). And I did go out with Bill on a couple of recces for the Stride because once I got warmed up the pain in my hips went away … well mostly.
I finally saw sense and withdrew from the Stride and I had a good day supporting Bill, though I proved that I’m no use either as a navigator or as a photographer. I think Bill was supposed to be in this shot:
I’m now seeing a physio who is working his way round everything that’s seized up and he thinks it will take a few sessions yet to free everything. In an effort to keep moving, I’ve dug my commuting bike out after two years languishing in the garage. It was creaking a bit too but a liberal dose of lube got the chain and gears working smoothly again. Does WD40 work on hips?
I have no idea how other people get their reports up so quickly. For me it takes a long time to write, edit, revise, illustrate, re-write and a fair bit of angst deciding whether it says what I want. So I thought I might post something like this:
But that doesn’t come close to doing justice to the journey, so it’s an epic tail even after the edits.
The station car park at Milngavie was buzzing. Loads of WHW luminaries walking around and a tenseness and excitement in the air – and it had stopped raining. I tried to stay calm and conserve energy by sitting quietly in the car but when 12:30 came and Sean gave his briefing it was impossible not to feel part of something huge. I reminded myself one last time that I had done the work and I did deserve to be there and then we were moving through the underpass and up the steps (though I don’t do steps!).
The torches snaking ahead began to string out as we came out of the woods and as I passed Craigallian Loch I stopped to look at the skeins of mist hanging over the water in the pre-dawn light. The rest of the journey to Drymen passed quite quickly; I laughed out loud when I was buzzed by bats coming down the road to the little bridge and I think I found the worst possible line through the muddy field so my new silver special-K gaiters got muddy (Brenda made them, one of them has a K for karinsmiles, the other also has a discreet F and G).
As we went up through the forest Karen Robertson caught up with me but we only managed to share a few words because I was hunting for a place off the path with a bit of cover. I was starting to feel a bit wabbit at this point and I’ve found that somewhere between 15 and 20 miles seems to be a low point in every run I do. It rattled me in a couple of races because it seemed too early to be feeling tired, but now I accept that it’s no indicator of how I’ll feel at 30, 40 or 50 miles.
The midges were out at Balmaha where Ian had a friendly word for everyone coming down into the car park and I took a longer stop to re-fuel and re-stock my pack. I don’t think I waited as long as I planned, but in fact I never timed any of my stops so I have no idea whether I stopped for 5 minutes or 20.
I met Ray McCurdy on the path up to Craigie Fort and we managed to get confused about the path back down (I would blame his influence but if you’ve read any of my other posts you’ll know navigation isn’t my strong point). Not far before Rowardennan I met the legendary Jim Drummond and we passed a bit of time in WHW stories, then he completely freaked me out talking about an 8am cutoff. I was almost certain there was no cutoff at Rowardennan but I stepped up a gear all the same, just in case. I gave Bill, Brenda and Elli big hugs because it would be some time before I would see them again.
It was beginning to look like it might be a nice day, though I guess you don’t get rainbows without rain
I enjoyed most of the next 23 miles of the support-free zone, especially meeting Fiona Rennie on the forest track from Rowardennan. Running behind Fiona was like being in a masterclass, watching her switch seamlessly from running to walking and back again over the more technical terrain. I felt good just spending some time with her, her positivity is infectious. I traded places with Susan Donnelly and Rob Apple quite a few times along this stretch as Susan stopped to take photos of the full torrents falling beside the path (just trickles of water a few weeks before) and they never failed to give a couple of words of encouragement in passing.
I caught up with Caroline Gibson not far before Dario’s post and it was clear she was digging in a bit with pain in her hips and knees. I hoped it was just a bad patch and the smiley faces at Bein Glas would give her a lift but it was more serious than that and sadly she pulled out there. Mags Turnbull was lovely, offering smiles, advice, good humour and tape for my toes already bruised and battered. And here I picked up the second of the motivational notes Brenda had put in my drop bags. They were brilliant, I carried them the rest of the way and I’m keeping them (Bill thought they were scrap paper when we came back but I managed to retrieve them from the bin).
I thought I was still feeling quite strong to Crianlarich but I must have been slowing down. I met Ray again at Derrydarroch and we chatted away. Ray is incredible. He does all these races with minimum technical kit – Ron Hill tracksters, plastic ponchos, carrier bags and his answer to restoring muddy socks is to buy 3 for £1 so you can throw them away if they’re wrecked (Sport socks, er yar sport socks, 2 forra pound). He’s still talking about going back to shorter races next year after he completes his 100th ultra. It will be a real loss to the ultra community if he does.
I moved ahead as we got to Bogle Glen and here I had a bit of a crisis. I suddenly realised that I was going to be much closer to the 4pm cutoff at Auchtertyre than I intended and Bill had planned to meet me on the path and he wasn’t there. I couldn’t afford to stop so I tried to call Brenda on the run but Crianlarich is a black hole for mobile reception. Eventually I managed to get through to her voicemail and leave a message but Brenda and Bill were having a crisis of their own. I sent a text from Bein Glas so they would know when I left, but it didn’t get through until after 3pm, they were worrying that I didn’t have a hope of making the cutoff and weren’t sure whether to sit tight and wait or try and find me. I meanwhile had ramped up the pace, unsure of how far I had to go, and that’s why I looked a bit stressed as I got into Auchtertyre at 10 to 4.
I shed my soggy, muddy Cascadias that had been shredding my toes for the last 20 miles and changed into the slipper-like comfort of my Lunarglides. Unfortunately my toes had swollen up enough to make even the ‘glides nip so I had to resort to my well-worn Asics road shoes. Thank goodness I brought them, in fact they were only thrown in as a last resort. It was a short and easy run to Tyndrum, where I warned Bill I was going to want company across Rannoch Moor, and then I was off again to Bridge of Orchy. I didn’t see anyone else on this section until almost at the station but I knew someone passed through Auch not far ahead of me because the dogs set up a frenzied barking. They must have had a fun day; they probably had sore throats by the time I got there.
Bridge of Orchy
I put some more clothes on at Bridge of Orchy and I thought I might have overdone it but the Lord of the Bridge reckoned I would be glad of it before I got off the moor. I ended up with tights over my shorts, waterproof trousers, a thermal long-sleeved top, hat, buff, gloves and my heavier jacket. I changed socks yet again – 6 pairs had seemed overkill when I packed them – and we climbed up the hill. At the first flat/downhill bit, I broke into the most inefficient, ungainly jog (much as I’d been doing since Tyndrum) and Bill was immediately 10 yards in front of me. He fell back to try and match my pace and after a few steps he changed to a brisk walk, which was still faster than me. That decided it. Power walking was definitely faster and it felt stronger and more like I was making good progress.
Murdo was out on the hill with a huge saltire and we stopped to chat for a few moments. This is what makes this race different – the people who do incredible things to make it happen for what’s quite a small number of runners. Marshalls, committee, supporters – all losing sleep, being eaten alive by midges,worrying about the runners, waiting and watching forever in all sorts of weather. And all with a smile You don’t get that at Edinburgh Marathon!
I felt a little bit guilty because Bill had expected to be running, albeit slowly, and I had hoped I wouldn’t need him before the ski centre, but I wanted his company across the moor in the rain, so he was now committed to doing 37 miles with me. However it was his first trip across the moor and foul weather or not, it is spectacular. Sean must have run up and down from the white corries countless times checking on the last of his charges and he stopped to offer a few words of encouragement each time. We reached the ski centre as the last of the light went and I prepared myself mentally for going out again in the dark.
Karen and George came into the ski centre while we were there. I thought we were now right at the back and I expected them to catch us up before Altnafeadh but we were still on our own. I don’t much enjoy the section from Kingshouse to the Devil’s Staircase in daylight but it was OK in the dark, other than that I thought we were being haunted by a very slow moving car off to the left and I only realised it was a bridge on the A82 when I stoppped and stared at it.
The climb and then the descent felt a long slog. There were three or four pairs moving at a similar speed but stopping to eat at different times so we kept seeing the same people. As the day started to break we could see a big bank of cloud over Blackwater reservoir and the lights down below in Kinlochleven. I’ve done this bit often enough to know it’s still a long way away but it was re-assuring all the same. Finally, onto the landrover track and a yomp down to Kinlochleven where the amazing Julie was waiting. Julie’s blog is a fantastic read – enthusiastic and entertaining and I always finish it with a smile on my face. I still can’t quite comprehend why people give up their weekend (including their sleep) to support this race in the way they do but I’m very grateful that they do.
I was tired when I got to the checkpoint (really? after almost 80 miles and two nights without sleep?) and I found it a safe haven that was particularly difficult to leave. When I went inside for a comfy seat to change my socks I found Lesley waiting for a lift and Dr Chris came over for a chat, so I think I stayed there longer than I intended. To the two guys who I mis-directed, thinking we were on the main road, I’m truly sorry for the extra quarter mile you did, but asking a runner probably wasn’t a good move.
The ascent was s-l-o-w, but when we came out onto the Lairig Mor the sun was illuminating broad stripes across the hills on the other side of the loch and it was beautiful. When I stopped, experiencing weird visual aberrations and feeling a bit sick, Bill asked how long ago I had had real food and I think I snapped back at him. But sugar was the answer and both problems (all three if you count being crabbit) went away as soon as I had something to eat. Why is it that your brain conspires against you and you can’t recognise the symptoms of low blood sugar in yourself?
The Wilderness Response Teams out on the Lairig Mor broke it up into manageable chunks and the guys were still really cheery despite having no sleep themselves. Bill was calling the track the ‘yellow brick road’ and that is what it looked like with the early sun on it, and the Emerald City waited ahead in the form of the Leisure Centre in Fort William.
The bonfire was well down at Lundavra but Brenda was waiting there, and she’d managed to grab an hour’s sleep since Kinlochleven so she was looking quite fresh. We didn’t stop long because now I just wanted to get to the finish and for the first time since the lochside I took my jacket off. I was calculating and re-calculating what my likely finish time would be, and keeping up as brisk a walk as I could. At the top of the forest, some wonderful person had a flask of hot sweet black tea and nothing has ever tasted so good.
We yomped down the track, just trying to maintain the pace, and passing two guys on the way, so when we met Brenda and Elli at Braveheart Car Park, I barely stopped for a hug because I didn’t want to be passed again. As everyone knows, the last bit is the longest stretch of road ever. Bill ran ahead to get photos and then finally there was the Leisure Centre, a bit of a zig zag through the cars and it was done. The sun was shining, friends came over to congatulate, I got a huge bear hug from Donald (despite his horribly swollen shin) and kisses from Elli.
Yes the day, and the night, and the next day, went well.
Filed under: running
The last time I attempted the West Highland Way I didn’t finish. In fact I gave up at Rowardennan after only two days walking; but that was 30 years ago, in fact I’m not sure the route had been opened officially, and I was young and naive and it sounded like a fun holiday.
Bill and I had beautiful new matching Karrimor Jaguar V rucksacks (still being used every week to carry shopping) and a lovely little Robert Saunders lightweight tent (also still in use), but we filled the sacs with piles of heavy unnecessaries and hefted them on to our backs in Milngavie with no idea at all of how much they weighed. Nonetheless, we started out with a spring in our steps and looking forward to the whole adventure. The myriad clangy, spring-loaded gates along the old railway line didn’t exist then and I remembered the stiles as huge ladder stiles that we initially clambered over without a thought and latterly stopped to take our packs off and drag ourselves over them unladen. However the photos I’ve found tell a different story (though I’m still glad they’ve replaced them).
Amongst other things (books, jeans, trainers, kitchen sink) we were both carrying SLR cameras with several lenses so I’m surprised at how few photos I can find, but I think we were rapidly too tired to care to take the cameras out. So here’s a few scenes we did think worthy of recording.
We camped at Drymen, in the field below the main road with the funny wee hill in it, got out our two (TWO!) stoves and cooked something before heading off to the pub. I remember pitching the tent as the light was going but we took this photo of a football match and the pubs shut at 10, so it probably wasn’t as late as I recall.
Billy Connolly was apparently in the public bar (his local at that time) but I was so knackered I refused to leave the comfort of my seat in the lounge. I remember feeling completely done in and I would like to think it was tired but happy, but again the pictures tell a different story.
Here’s our super wee tent – and both rucksacks appear to be full though the tent has still to be stowed. If we had kept our old canvas Vango we probably wouldn’t have even got past Carbeth.
There are a couple of photos from day two
We camped at Rowardennan, got eaten alive by midges in the evening and again in the morning, and called it a day. We used the excuse that we were going to run out of food around Crianlarich on a Sunday, with little prospect of re-stocking, but we both knew that in truth we had stuffed far too much in our packs, it was still a long way to Fort William and it was meant to be FUN!
We took a ferry across the loch, got a bus to Arrochar and then a train up to Rannoch Station and spent the rest of our holiday staying with my aunt and uncle in Bridge of Gaur and had a fabulous time there.
So my second attempt at the whole WHW is just a day and a half away but I’m fitter, stronger, more prepared and definitely more thrawn than ever I was then. I’ll just go and add a couple of books, spare trainers and my laptop to my sac and I’ll be ready