This year my support plan was for my sister Gaynor to support me on the first half of the race to Auchtertyre then my friend Jamie and his wife Elaine take over. As it turned out Gaynor showed up at my house with my mum in tow. Mum had decided that she was going to do the support role from the start this year. Each year she does a little more, in 2008 she appeared at Lundavra, 2009 at Auchtertyre so I think in 2011 she might actually run it herself - go Moira !!
We arrived at Milngavie train station about 2300 hrs and parking was already at a premium. I registered, got my goodie bag, was weighed (83.5kg) then it was time to hang about until the 0030 hrs briefing. I took time to speak to a few people in the car park, had a lood catch up with Phil Tipping who wasn't running but supporting Ian Beattie. He was telling me about Ian's intriguing plan to only take water and Complan during the race ! I 've not seen Ian since so don't know how he got on.
Also saw Karen D who looked relieved to be running a race and not organising one. She was with George Reid who unbelievably had run the day before to the start from Ft William - madness ! And of course had a quick chat with John K who was looking very relaxed and feeling pretty good about the race.
As always time in that car park went pretty quickly and before I knew it the briefing was over and we formed up at the underpass. Instead of a minutes silence for Dario, we had a minutes applause, which I felt was a much more fitting gesture, especially at the start of 'his' race.
This year we had a countdown which we'd never had before, in fact on previous years I've never even head the gun / whistle / hooter or whatever's been used to start the race. I was right at the back with Mum and Gaynor and as last year was the last person over the line - did it take me 18 seconds to cross it ?!
The Start (photo © Flip)
Spectators lined the whole length on the pedestrianised area then bang, we were in the dark of Mugdock Park.
Milngavie - Rowardennan
As soon as I was in the park a reasonable distance I needed a toilet stop. As I was already near the back of the field I watched in frustration as everyone elses head torches disappeared into the distance and suddenly felt very lonely. Once I was running again I kept telling myself to take it easy and keep it slow. I know from previous experience that too many people go off far too fast so seeing head torches away in the far distance at this stage didn't phase me at all, I was pretty confident of catching them in another 50 miles or so !
The danger of being at the back is that you start to pass slower runners and I think this can probably subconsciously confuse & increase your pace as you pass. So again I had to hold myself back and run my own race.
It always surprises me how quickly the field spreads out and by Carbeth I was on my own. Running down to the old railway line that passes Glengoyne Distillery I heard an unmistakable scouse tone say hello, it was John K. I ran with him for the next wee while and we discussed how we both planned to run the race. The conversation we had still makes me chuckle as we both planned to take the first 50 miles easy then hoped to be strong in the second half. Only aft ultra runners would have this sort of surreal conversation, normal people just don't talk like that !
About a mile after Beach Tree John stopped to meet his support crew and I carried on, I was sure I'd see him again at some point. I then fell in with a group through the really annoying bit with all the gates. As we approached the road at Gartness I found myself running next to a short stocky bloke who was puffing away heavily as if he was belting out a 10k. I wanted to tell him my rule of thumb, that if your running so fast you can't hold a conversation then your running too fast, but how do you tell a complete stranger how to run. He was never going to make it at that pace, I've no idea who he was or how he got on.
My head torch was off about 2 miles from Drymen, which was a relief as I'm not that keen on running with it. I had planned to be at Drymen in 2 hours and not the 1hr 39min I'd done in the Fling ! In both my previous races I'd been there in 1hr 58 min, this year it was 2hrs 3min, but I wasn't worried.
I slowly inched nearer a group over Conic Hill then passed them. I was finding that as I passed people I felt that I was going too quickly, but I had to keep telling myself to run my own race and that I had no idea who these people were and what type of race they were running. It was a beautiful sunny morning by now as I walked off the hill as per usual and was joined by an older chap, who made the mistake of running off in the Fling so joined me in the walk.
Into the chaos of Balmaha car park, I had half a banana, some malt loaf and a change of water bottle. I didn't stop, Gaynor just walked through the car park with me. Then it was off again onto my favourite leg along Loch Lomondside.
Sunrise at Balmaha © Fiona R - shows just how good the weather was
As the road at Milarrochy came in to view I could see a couple of people in front, one was the long blonde pony tail of Debs MC, the other chap I was to later learn was Dave Troman. Again I caught them up at a glacial closing pace and ran with them through Sallochy. Debs cheekily pointed out that by this point (about 20 miles in) I'd doubled my monthly mileage !!
I think I went past Rosie Bell at the wee bunkhouse beside the bridge then plodded on towards Rowerdennan. It was about half a mile out from the checkpoint that Pete Duggan went past me, running up a hill, I remember thinking to myself "that guy won't last if he keeps running up hills" - how wrong I was !
I had a very quick stop at Rowerdennan arriving there in 4hrs 52min, 10 mins down on my 2008 sub-20hr time. I remembered to take my head torch off this time as I'd been running with it on but not using it since before Drymen - muppet ! But I felt really comfortable and was confident with my pace. Another half banana forced down my throat by my support, a muller rice and more malt loaf, it was a very quick stop, which I was happy with, then it was off again on to the never ending stage along the lochside. Ben Glas Farm, and my next rendezvous with my support seemed a long way away....
Rowerdennan to Auchtertyre
Debs must've just looked at her food, if she had any at her checkpoint, because as I set out from Rowardennan she was miles in front of me again. On the long incline after Ptarmigan Lodge Pete Duggan went past me again. I don't know how I'd describe his gait, I'm sure many have tried, it's not a walk and it's not a run, a plodding shuffle ? Anyway it's effective and he ran past me up the hill in the company of another who was running the hills that I think was Dirk Verbiest.
I arrived at Inversnaid at 07:20 am, I normally faff about there, but this year was much slicker, top up water bottle remove packaging from food and off, eating on the hoof. Went past a few people there who had stopped including one chap that was being patched up by the MRT.
I had come out of Inversnaid behind a group of 4 runners but soon found them a bit too fast so left them to get on with it. Although by the time I'd got to Doune Bothy I'd caught and passed them. I arrived at Ben Glas Farm and met Gaynor & Mum who force fed me another banana in an effort to stem any cramp, a change of water bottle then off again.
I felt great in contrast to how I'd felt there at the Fling, I can sometimes toil up Glen Falloch but this time it presented no problems at all. The last 2 years this stretch has been broken up by meeting my team at Derrydarroch or the old A82, but this year those points were banned so it was another long stage to Auchtertyre. As I walked up an incline Pete Duggan ran past me again showing no signs of flagging, it was quite impressive and I passed the comment that he was "just a machine on the hills"
Just after Derrydarroch I encountered 3 calves, 3 cows and a bull walking up the path in front of me. The bull wasn't bothered but the cows seemed a bit edgy if I got near the calves they held me up a good bit as it took me quite a while to get past them.
I ran easily along the track above the A82 remebering how I had been unable to even run the flat bits during the Fling a couple of months before. This gave me the confidence that the slow start meant I was getting my pace right this time.
I don't like Ewich Forest, it seems never ending and all looks the same to me so it was a relief to get out of it. As I headed towards St Fillans Priory I was Jamie & Elaine in their car. I thought they'd come to see me but were lost so Elaine got an awful fleg when I wrapped on the window ! I cruised into Auchtertyre feeling good in 9hrs 56min, and was now 11 mins up on my 2008 time.
Auchtertyre to Glen Coe
I was looking forward to my baked tattie at Auchtertyre, but this year there was none ! So I made do with my own salted boiled potatoes. My weight had gone down to 80kgs, but was well within the limits. Jamie and Elaine had arrived to take over the support role and in previous years I'd changed to my road shoes here but this year I kept my trail shoes on.
I'd planned to have a decent stop here, in 2009 I'd stopped for an age, but in the end I didn't need it so after no more that 5 minutes I was off again.
As I approached Tyndrum Debs was in front of me again - how had she done that ! ? Turns out she didn't stop at Auchtertyre and was stopping in Tyndrum. It was at this point that I was first aware of Marc Casey who was running just behind me. I ran over the Fling finish line 5 minutes faster that my finishing time in April, back then I couldn't have taken another step, yet here I was quicker to this point, and feeling good. Isn't the human body a strange thing ?
53 miles in and my support finally take a photo ! Jamie leading Marc & I across the road at Tyndrum
I climbed out of Tyndrum alongside Marc Casey, but we were both concentrating on the climb, and didn't converse. At the top the full force of the northerly wind hit and suddenly Bridge of Orchy seemed a lot further away. Marc was slightly infront then suddenly turned round and suggested we work together to reach Bridge of Orchy. Given the exposure to the wind and the sight of the track winding in to the distance I was in full agreement. Neither of us would be aware at this stage just how long this partnership was going to last.
Just before the path passed under the railway I felt my first twinge of cramp in my hammies. Marc reached into his bumbag and pulled out 2 salt tablets which he willingly gave me and I gratefully accepted. The cramp didn't come back till much later.
We kept each other going which made the miles to BoO much more bearable. Even though it's a stupidly long race if there's someone just infront of you or just behind you can end up racing them and put yourself off your race plan, so it was a welcome relief to work with someone instead.
A quick stop in BoO, the obligatory half banana, change of water bottle then off again. Marc was right behind me and we climbed together. On this leg we were passed by a runner (sorry I don't know who) who had been joined by his wife and 2 young sons for the short haul over to Inveroran, it wasn't rally pacing, but I bet it gave him a real boost.
A final stop at Victoria Bridge and a refuel of the water bottle, we gave Marc some water, then it was on to Rannoch Moor. I'd had no lows by this point and really enjoyed the race thus far, so was kind of expecting to be hit by one soon and was sure if it was going to be anywhere Rannoch was it.
Here comes Rannoch ...
It's along haul on to the Moor, the climb is gentle but lengthy so Marc and I would pick a target then run to it, then walk a bit then run, etc. We crested on to the Moor and could see a handful of runners that we started to reel in. The first was Jamie Aarons who was running really well but going through a bit of a lull, so we forced he in to running with us and she kept going.
On the climb up from Ba Cottage we caught Dave Troman (I don't know where he'd got past us) then we caught "The Machine" who was also experiencing a bit of a low. The run into the ski centre is pretty rocky and unstable underfoot so maximum concentration was required. I arrived there in 14hrs 17 mins. I always feel that once Rannoch Moor is out the way I'm almost finished, daft I know 'cause there's still 25 miles to go, but it's a massive relief.
Who says men can't multi-task. Jamie doing support AND eating a cornetto - what skill !
Last year I stopped for around 25 minutes at King House, this year I still felt really positive so took my half banana, but was now starting to lose my appetite and couldn't really manage much else. My right knee had been hurting a little to I strapped it up at this stop and it didn't bother me again. After no more than 5 mins I was off with Marc again. Jamie Aarons hadn't stopped at all, eating on the hoof and was now a dot in the distance.
Glen Coe - Finish
The last 2 years I have struggled between Kings House and Altnafeadh, but this year it was no bother at all. As we ran through the Kings House I was surprised to see Jamie's mum and dad there, they were spending a couple of days in Ft Bill so had travelled down to watch. Support Jamie ran out to meet us & took requests I asked for some diorolyte to stem cramps as I could feel them brewing. A change of water bottle then off up the Devils Staircase. The name's a bit of a misnomer, it's not actually that bad and if you just keep walking it's over surprisingly quickly in about 25 mins.
Posing for the camera and "pretending" to run up the DSC.
It's a surprisingly long descent into KLL and Marc was struggling a bit here so told me just to go on. I felt a bit bad leaving him, but he'd been running well and was sure he'd catch me up. I caught Jamie A just after the path hits the track, it must be one of the steepest tracks in Scotland and it quite difficult to run down. With hindsight I should maybe have walked the steeper bits to save my quads.
On arriving at KLL, in 16hrs 41min I was weighed - still 80kgs, so must've been drinking enough. Another half banana, then off towards the desolate Lairigmor. It's quite a climb up from KLL but I just kept plugging away, passing Jamie A again then just kept putting one foot infront of the other. I was starting to feel a bit weary here, but nothing too bad. I heard footsteps behind me and expected to see Jamie, but it was Marc. So we found ourselves running together again in to Lundavra.
About a mile shy of the checkpoint we caught Sharon Law, or the "Gibbering Midget" as Debs MC so affectionately calls her ! She was struggling but as ever incredibly cheery and was still going to finish in a good time.
Lundavra was only a quick stop, then we were off. As Marc and I entered the Nevis Forest I knew I was in trouble and was hit with cramp. I think I was paying for the descent into KLL, whereas Marc who had taken a bit longer was still going strong. I was conscious that I was holding Marc back but despite my protests he insisted on sticking with me.
As we neared the exit to the forest Jamie A appeared behind us. I told Marc to crack on and thankfully he did - with ease, Jamie also glided past me. Despite it being all downhill to the finish I really toiled as my quads were just shot to bits. I'd been at Lundavra in 18hrs 33 mins and knew that in 2009 I had a bad last leg but ran it in 1hr 25min, so I knew getting under 20 hours would be close.
Unfortunately my quads were shot and as much as the rest of my body was willing I just could not push it any harder. As I got to the Braveheart Car Park I knew that I was not going to get under 20 hours, I'd started my stop watch at the begining of the race, but just couldn't bring myself to look at it, because I knew I'd be agonisingly close. With hindsight I wish I had it might've spurred me on.
Anyway Gaynor came out a couple of hundred yards to meet me and told me how close I was closer to breaking 20 hours than I thought, so I sprinted the last bit down the road and across the Leisure Centre car park.
The End is in sight
My time ? 20 hrs 17s .... I was GUTTED, to run for such a long time and miss out by such a small amount. I think I would have been inconsolable if I didn't already have a sub-20 under my belt. It was sooo frustrating !
I'd finished in a credible 13th place, out of an eventual 109 finishers, an improvement on last year anyway. Marc had left me for dead, finishing strongly in 11th place and a time of 19hrs 51mins.
After the race Mum & Gaynor, who had stayed the entire day, headed back to Dundee and I had my massage (see the entry on my recovery for the story there). In 2009 I had a Steven Redgrave moment when I said, no video, that I was never doing the race again. Whilst getting my massage this year Jamie asked the same question and this time I felt a lot more positive.
The last couple of years I had camped and wasn't doing that again so this year we had booked in to a hotel. Jamie's mum & dad came back to the hotel and the 5 of us had an Indian carry out in my room, which Jamie managed to spill most of over my bed. I managed a couple of drinks in the bar then it was bed. The hotel had kindly given me a room on the second floor, and there was no lift, so it took a while to get there !
The next day we went for a swim in the hotel pool which eased the legs somewhat then it was prizegiving. It's absolutely right that everyone who finishes should be recognised by going up individually to collect their goblet, and it was a nice touch to have the winner present the last placed runner with their goblet. I was surprised by the number of 'no shows', but maybe some people have long journeys home.
Looking back I really enjoyed this years race, I felt positive & happy throughout and amazingly had no real lows at all. I don't know if it was because I felt I was running well that kept me positive or if being positive made me run well - chicken and egg I guess. I definately think running with Marc for the majority of the second half helped, I'm sure he'd agree, it's just a pity we couldn'tve crossed the line together.
Definitely planning on running 2011 and hope yet to run the Speyside Way and River Ayr Way races later in the year to qualify me for the SUMS. I learned quite a bit during this years race and will post a 'Learning Points' entry in the near future.