Sunday, 25 November 2012

Grampian Mountain Challenge 2012

Last weekend I teamed up with mountain marathon rookie, JRitchie, in the Grampian Mountain Challenge (GMC).  It was a tough but enjoyable event, the weather played kind with clear skies and good visibility despite the bitter cold.


The view from Wolf Hill
JR at the first control thinking
"what have I let myself in for?"
We kicked off the first forest section (on 1:10,000 orienteering maps) just as the sky was getting light and had a decent run through the forest with only one real navigational slip up and were soon onto the 1:40,000 mountain section where we eschewed a longer route on a decent looking track, hoping to pick up a sheep run through the heather. Wrong choice as tired, scratched, wet legs soon were telling us. Oh well, at least we found all the controls without too much trouble, had a nice chat to a group of walkers on the top of Mount Battock, and made our way to the mid-camp (via the final control on Wolf Hill despite J's idea that we should just miss it out - not sure how serious he was being!).
The top of Mount Battock

Mid-camp sets the GMC apart from other mountain marathons I've done - once we'd got our tent up and changed into warmer, dry clothes (that we hadn't had to carry with us :-) ), we made our way to the marquee where there were croissants, hot water for coffee, tea and hot chocolate, and a seemingly infinite supply of hot soup. Add to that the company of the other competitors, maps showing the routes taken by the leaders, alcoholic beverages, and heat and light when required, and we had all the makings of an enjoyable afternoon turning into an enjoyable evening with beer and pasta! It was really good and even the chemical toilets were fine - these were borrowed from 1st Daviot Oldmeldrum Scouts and although I'm not sure how long these things last, I'd like to think I was sitting on the very same loo just a few years ago (!) at camp. By about 9 (I think) it was time to head back to the tent after an open-air pee under the stars (a strangely enjoyable experience) and to try and get some kip before the next days efforts.

Hill of Edendocher
No idea what he's thinking here
This being the GMC, we awoke on day 2 to a cold frosty world, but after bacon rolls and porridge we got packed up and set off across the river - nothing like an early morning foot bath to wake you up. Again, the days controls were found with no major cock-ups and although the going was slow, it was a good day with splendid views in all directions. We found our way to the map exchange, and from there back through the forest without too much trouble except for more wet feet including a step into a huge boggy puddle right before the finish.

It was nice not to come last, but it wouldn't have mattered if we had. The main thing was that we had a good weekend in the hills and completed the event without falling out, getting seriously injured or getting lost. I may not set my standards too high but that ranks as  success in my book! Big thanks to Ali, Sean and the rest of the organisers and helpers who made this such a good event, and huge thanks to JR for his company.

NB Other pictures can be found from the main link above, which also has a link to Routegadget, that fantastic web site that allows you to see the maps, compare routes, and shake your head while thinking "shanksi, what were you doing there?"

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Looking for piles of rocks

Cairn on Mongour with TV mast
Near the top of the slug road, on the way from Stonehaven to Crathes, near the Durris TV mast, there's an exposed hill top with a cairn on the top. Having spotted this hill quite a few times, I became curious as to what it was and how to get there. After identifying it from the map as Craigbeg and noting that there was another cairn on nearby Mongour that I'd never seen, I decided to explore.
Starting at the car park near Spyhill cottage, I followed the route of the Durris mast race route as far as the benches on the top of Mongour and then continued East past a small stone shelter and along a wee track through the trees which then came to a wee clearing containing a substantial cairn, larger and better built than I was expecting.

The entry to the "tunnel of doom" - not today!

I kept on the track down to the access road for the mast where I was able to rejoin the race route just where it heads off the road through another fire break and across the stony gully. At this point the race turns left and enters the "tunnel of doom" but my path kept me going forwards onto a heather covered hilltop, devoid of any obvious paths or signs that anyone had been there in some time - it was hard going but before too long, I reached the cairn, next to a stunted tree, from where there were fine views across to Cairn mon Earn and back down the valley towards Stonehaven. To get back to the car, I dropped down to the North East, quickly found the track going round the hill and followed it back to the access road and then back down to the car park.
Looking towards Cairn mon Earn from Craigbeg

As "long" runs go, 5 miles in 1hr22 doesn't sound too impressive, but at least every time we drive over the slug, I can point up at the wee cairn and say "I've been there!". mrs s will never tire of hearing that, I'm sure!
Approximate route taken

Saturday, 30 June 2012

WHW Race - a supporters tale

(note: in the time it's taken me to write this, both Vikki and Rhona have written blogs, so there won't be many surprises in here. This is my personal account. After all, it's all about me, isn't it?)


Well, what a weekend that was. One with many ups and downs, both literally and figuratively, with tears and laughter, lots of hugs, with tea and cake and chips and beer, with winding paths that stretched and distorted both time and space. And rain. Lots of rain.

To be fair, the rain was expected - all the forecasts had been indicating a wet weekend - but what had been unexpected was the pain in my leg (somewhere on the outside about an inch or so below the knee) which appeared on Thursday morning, throwing my role as support runner into some doubt. Nevertheless, I achieved goal 1 (get Vikki to the start line in plenty time via registration and short kip in the car) despite the sore leg and my general desire to wander around the car park chatting to all the fabulous people who were there to run or crew or whatever.

And they're off

  
Vikki and Dave at the start
1am arrived and the race started, the runners disappearing off through the underpass, the supporters more slowly heading back for their cars, and I felt a few pangs of worry as I felt the rain fall and thought of the long long trail Vikki was setting off to follow. A chatted to a few more folk, and then headed back to the car and got the stove on to make some hot chocolate for myself, Rhona and Graeme (the other members of our team). They were going to head directly to Tyndrum and try and get some sleep - meanwhile I was going to meet Vikki at Drymen so there was no hurry, at least until I realised I was needing the toilet so I decided to make a stop at the Beech Tree Inn where I was able to stand under a brolly and watch the runners go through, chat to some of the other support crews and to Neil and Conor from the sweeping team, and get a bacon roll. What I wasn't able to do was go to the toilet but I found a wee side road on the way to Drymen which did nicely.
Drymen was wet - again, lots of support crew huddling under umbrellas waiting to see their runners through safely and see if they were going to need anything for the section over Conic Hill. All V needed was a quick kiss and off she went, leaving me to drive through the rain up to Balmaha where I had plenty of time to enjoy a cup of coffee with George, Karen, Joopsy and Siouxsie in the Oak Tree Inn (who had specially opened the pub and the shop for the race) before heading out to the car park in time to get a phone call from the top of the hill requesting dry clothes to be laid out and a cup of tea. There was a bit of a faff getting V into new clothes, but the tea seemed to keep her happy and she was soon off again in pursuit of Dave_K and Johnny Fling who had both left soon before her. Dave H and his crew were right next to us so I had a quick chat with them and then headed off to Tyndrum. The rain was belting down, there were huge puddles over the road, and I was a bit tired so it wasn't the greatest driving experience - still, I was probably a little more comfortable than the runners making their way up the other side of the loch.

MTFU about that knee, shanksi

Heading for BoO
I got some sleep (probably not as much as I'd have liked) in the car at Tyndrum and woke up to see the lovely Lorna walking past the car so I wound down the window and had a chat with her while also checking text messages to try and catch up on all the race news. Rhona and Graeme came over to say good morning and we decided to head over to the Green Welly for breakfast and to chat about how the race was going and what the plan would be. I'd heard from Vikki and she was doing ok but her ITB was hurting a wee bit so it was likely to be a march to the finish from now on. My leg was throbbing a bit (and there was a new pain at the front of the knee) so I said I'd probably just walk with her from Auchtertyre to Tyndrum to see how it felt and would hopefully continue to Bridge of Orchy but it would depend how sore it was. We killed a bit more time, chatted to Carolyn and her parents for a bit, then jumped in the car via The Real Food Cafe for some take away tea which would hopefully still be warm when Vikki reached the check point (it was).
It was great to see Vikki again and she seemed happy and full of beans - ready for the long trek ahead, although not before a change of clothes and a Pot Noodle.
It turned out that my knee was quite comfortable with the pace we set to Tyndrum so I was able to keep going and we had a nice walk, chatting about the scenery, other runners, how the race was going, and how all our friends were getting on elsewhere on the course.

A bit of a grump

Inveroran 
At "Midge of Orchy", Graeme and Rhona took over buddy duties and I took the car round to Inverornan and headed back up the hill to meet them so I could give Vikki her gloves and to take in the view. Back at the car, Vikki said a hot cup of tea would be nice, so I whizzed round to the car park at Victoria Bridge and got the stove going. Unfortunately they were past me before I could get a decent boil going in the windy weather so no tea. I was annoyed at myself for forgetting to bring a flask as we had planned, and got more annoyed when I  found that the entrance to the car park was partially blocked by a parked car - the same parked car that had partially blocked the entrance on the way in, but who had reversed further in when they saw me coming but had obviously then rolled forward again (presumably so they could talk to the people in the van next to them through the window) before exiting the car. I had to bump over a couple of wee stones to get back on the road - I wanted to have one last chat to the team before they set off towards Rannoch Moor but just missed them at the wee lodge so I was in a fairly grumpy mood on the drive up to Glencoe. My mood lifted a bit after I parked up and had a wee chat to George, and could see the cloud drifting away from over the Devil's Staircase. I even glimpsed a strange blue colour in the sky - perhaps we'd be lucky enough to get a dry night which I was sure the runners would appreciate after their soaking on Saturday morning. I realised I was hungry so headed up to the cafe for some lovely chips, checked the schedule to see how long I had to wait and decided to head back up the path to meet the team coming the other way. My knee was still a little sore so I jogged/limped/walked up the path. Great to see Dave K and Colin Knox and quite a few folk I didn't know still going and looking forward to reaching the checkpoint. I met Vikki, Rhona and Graeme at about two miles and we were soon joined by Jonathan and M1nty - spirits were high, and why not? After all, Glencoe had a proper toilet and the cafe was serving hot food.

On a high

Jonathan and M1nty
Vikki asked me to get some take-away chips and some coffee for her and I decided that a bottle of cold beer would be just what I needed - spirits were even higher as we headed towards Kingshouse and we picked up the pace again, which unfortunately meant pulling away from J and M as we approached Altnafeadh. Rhona had taken a wee break to get some food but met us there. Graeme had taken over driving duties. As we started the climb up the staircase we passed Ada who was having some trouble with her back - to her great credit she showed amazing courage and finished the race but needed a wheelchair to get to the award ceremony. We also passed some time with Silke and Thomas who were having a nice romantic stroll in the dusk, Silke on the way to get her first goblet, supported by Thomas who already has a small collection. It's not often I'll get the chance to beat him to the top of a hill (probably never again) so it was fun to set a good pace up to the top (yes, I know I'm a bit sad!). Night was falling as we made our way over the top and head torches were coming on - little pairs of light ahead and behind, reassuring to know we weren't alone.

Down in the dumps

The descent to Kinlochleven took a lot longer than expected, partly because we were a bit slow and partly because I'd completely forgotten about a large chunk of path. I had also started to notice a rubbing around my ankles. Moods were darkening like the night around us and (I'm disappointed to admit) there were a couple of tetchy exchanges. It was a great relief when we finally reached the town and headed for the warmth and comfort of the community centre where Graeme was waiting to get us whatever we needed. But first, Vikki needed to be weighed and she'd gained 2kg since the start of the race. This is a bad sign and Julie asked her to go to the loo and report back on her pee colour before any decisions were made, but it looked very possible that she'd be advised not to continue. So near (well, 15 miles to go but you know what I mean) but so far - all that to go home without a crystal goblet, I felt awful and I'm sure V was worse.....until she reappeared with the news that her pee was quite normal and that she had just realised that her previous weigh-ins had been without her hoody or waterproof trews. Big, big relief but I still needed to sit down for a few minutes and take the weight off my feet. I looked over and Vikki had lain down on a sofa after feeling a wee bit faint - more panic in my head but a few biscuits later, more sips of tea, and we were good to go again. We left KLL along with SueW, her infectious good mood gave us another wee boost and we made pretty good time up the steep hill to the Lairig Mor where we spotted some flickering orange lights. They turned out to be torches set out by the Trossachs Search and Rescue guys who were up in the hill keeping everyone safe and providing good cheer and encouragement (and doggy hugs if you like that sort of thing). We'd spotted the torches from the hill on the other side of KLL, from where they'd been a vague orange glow and it was a good moment to look back and pick out a few white spots from the head torches of some other runners. The Lairig Mor is a long and rocky path through the hills and it drained our spirits again but it was good to share some time with others: SueW gave us some caffeine tablets which, washed down with irn-bru, got Vikki going again for a bit;  Lesley Halstead hobbled along, obviously in a lot of pain but determined just to keep going. The sky was lightening as we turned the corner but the path to Lundavra still stretched ahead and V was getting sore feet, tired, needing the toilet, generally just needing to get to the end. A stone in her shoe, normally a minor inconvenience, became a major problem and the air would have turned blue if it wasn't so bloody grey. A clump of trees made an acceptable toilet but was also home to a huge herd of midges which were busy swarming around me and trying to get some breakfast when Jonathan and M1nty went past again to my great surprise - I thought they were ahead of us as they'd been in and out of the KLL check point very quickly but had loitered in their camper van for a while.

The last push

All downhill from here!
When we finally reached the "roaring fire" at Lundavra, Rhona decided she wanted to drive to the finish with Graeme, so the last stretch would just be another romantic walk in the woods for the married couple. Well, it might have been romantic if we weren't both sleep-deprived, sore, and taking uncomfortable alfresco toilet stops. The ups and especially the downs through the woods were hard going and both of us found it tough. V was practically asleep on her feet - some more caffeine helped a bit but I was getting genuinely worried that she was just going to lie down and simply go to sleep. I knew J and M weren't far behind us (M1nty was delighting in waving his bright green hat whenever I turned round and caught sight of them) and I was picturing the situation where I would need their help to keep going until Rhona or Graeme could get back up the trail from Ft Bill to meet us. It was therefore with an amazing sense of relief that we reached the top of the hill at the finger post with views to Ft Bill in one direction and Ben Nevis in the other. Just three miles to go. We were going to make it. I took a photo. Another runner took a photo of us both. Vikki had a short cry. I cried. Actually, I couldn't stop crying and we had to set off down the hill with me trying to keep my feeling under control and stop the tears streaming down my cheeks. It was just as well that Vikki had picked herself up because I was in a bit of a mess. I felt like all the stress of the last few hours that I'd been holding back had just burst forth and I was stumbling along, tears flowing, feeling a little bit cold and feeling like an idiot. J and M passed us, looking good and happy to be on the final push to the finish. And then they passed us again, having taken a wrong turn and let us get ahead of them. The path to Braveheart car park seemed much much longer than I remembered but we got there eventually and were really chuffed to see Siouxsie and Joopsy who were happy to dish out some big hugs. By this stage, Vikki could easily have gone on quicker without me but sacrificed a few minutes (and probably a sub-31hr finish) to stick with me. Seeing Rhona and Graeme in Fort William was brilliant and we covered the last short section to the leisure centre together to applause and hugs.

A bit vague

Everything seems a bit vague but I remember getting some hot sweet tea and sitting down to chat to M1nty for a bit before Sean (race medic and really nice bloke) came over and told me I was looking a bit pale (I've seen the photos - I looked a mess frankly!). We had a chat about how I was feeling and he suggested I might be best lying down under a foil blanket and getting some rest. The invitation to lie down was too good to pass up so I let Sean lead me round to the casualty area, lay down and spent the next 40 minutes or so feeling variously hot, cold, sleepy, tearful, faint, hungry, nauseous, thirsty and generally wiped out. The medical diagnosis was that my body temperature had dropped through the night, and I was suffering from a mild hypothermic shock sort of thing that my brain had somehow decided not to notice for as long as possible but had then all hit me back at the top of the hill. It was all very strange, something I'd never felt in the same way before, although with some similarities to the coldness I felt at the LAMM this year. I was disappointed that I wasn't awake to see Dave K finish but pleased to hear that he'd made it to the leisure centre - news I heard from Carolyn who very kindly was checking on how I was doing. Eventually, I was able to sit up without feeling faint, but then it was time to face the next issue - the smelliest, evil socks and shoes were still on my feet and I was scared what might be underneath. My ankles felt like they'd been rubbed raw by the cuffs of my shoes, and my toes felt like they'd been flayed. Of course, I'd woken up thinking I wasn't going to do any running because of my sore leg but had ended up walking about 40 miles (I think) without taking any care of my feet - no lubrication, no taping, no blister prevention, nothing. I peeled off my socks dreading what I was going to see, but to be honest, they weren't as bad as feared. Some of the skin was rubbed away and sore and they looked a bit raw but there wasn't much actual blood and the soles were surprisingly intact. Yes, they stung in the shower, but really I was relieved that they weren't much worse. The pain in my knee was back, but I could walk. Things were looking up.

Ordinary people doing an extraordinary thing? 

Vikki getting her goblet from John K
We made our way to the awards ceremony where I applauded and cheered for every finisher because they are all amazing, except when I was nodding off (in the front row, just a little embarrassing). It was wonderful to see everyone collect their crystal goblets and, several times, it almost set me off crying again. I felt so proud of Vikki as her name was called out and up she went - 95 miles completed in some horrible weather, 31 hours non-stop including 2 nights, it's a remarkable achievement however you look at it. After all the awards were presented, we mingled for a while and caught up with other finishers and support crew as well as some friends who didn't finish this year but had the good grace to come and show their respect for those who completed the course. I know that many of them will be back next year, some lessons learned maybe, hoping for better weather and no injury problems, but determined to complete the course, whatever nature can throw at them. Will I be among them? It's a question that was asked more than once over the weekend, and Colin would seem to think that I should be considering it (I'm flattered).  Originally, when Vikki first said she was going to enter I said I'd support her this year, and she could support me next. However, I'm not sure I've got the desire for it at the moment, and I think that unless you are completely dedicated, you're just not going to reach the finish line. It's an arduous race and anything less than 100% determination is not going to be enough. Furthermore, a good friend (who was also a support runner this year and is mentioned above) has said that he intends to run the race and I may just have blurted out an offer to support him - it would be a pleasure to do so and I'll be there for him if he wants me. The year after that could be the year of the Red Wine Runner, and I may well volunteer to be part of that crew (although she might have other plans and it's a long way away). So, basically, it looks unlikely that I'll be running this race in the next couple of years and I've currently not got a burning desire to do it. That said, it's one of those things that gets under your skin and I've got a feeling I'll give it a go. Probably. Maybe. Some day.
"Team mrs shanksi" - job done!



Tuesday, 26 June 2012

No Sleep Til Fort William*

* Sung to the tune of No Sleep til Brooklyn by the Beastie Boys
Warning: this blog contains content that some readers may find TMI, but as Mike Raffan said "We're ultrarunners, the poop is all part of it" (or something like that, I can't remember exactly). In fact there may be factual errors in this due to sleep deprivation! And it's a bit long. But then, it was a long race!

Milngavie 01:00 Sat 23rd June

Me and Dave K at the start
I was very pleased to make it to the start of this race after my ITB issues earlier in the year. I think I made the right decision to defer the Cateran Trail Ultra and instead I took it really easy and only ran 47 miles in the whole of May. I had two wonderful sports massages and did lots of foam-rolling and stretching so I was feeling good and was raring to go. My crew were ready: husband Iain (although he woke up on Thu morning with a sore knee :-(), Rhona Mitchell, and her boyfriend Graeme McKinnon. I got registered at 21:30 and then I went back to the car to try and sleep til 00:00. I managed to get some sleep despite the racket of the torrential rain on the car roof. The alarm went off and I quickly got changed and we all stood and listened to Sean (race medic) give the pre race briefing. He said I think there might be rain. At 00:30 it was warm and had stopped raining so I decided to run in shorts and pack the waterproof trews. I met up with Dave Kiddell as we had made a pre-race pact to run together at least until dawn. That turned out to be one of the best ideas I've ever had as not long in to our run the heavens opened and the deluge began. Visibility was very poor and it was a struggle to see much with the headtorch. I ran at Dave's pace and basically kept looking at the back of his legs! He really kept me going as I already felt a bit worried at times because I got drenched. We passed the Beech Tree Inn where I hadn't thought I'd see anyone but Iain had decided to go and he said hi.

Drymen 03:15 ish Sat 23rd June 12 miles

Dave's fiancee Carolyn wasn't meeting him at Drymen and I had taken enough food to last til Balmaha so it was a quick hello to shanksi and on to Conic Hill. By this time I was really desperate for the daylight to come as it was quite a struggle to run to the light of the headtorch with the weather so bad. The rain started to ease and the daylight came on the way up Conic and this lifted my spirits, although the path was like a river running downhill. I was looking forward to meeting Iain at Balmaha (Rhona and Graeme had gone straight to Tyndrum to try and get some sleep). I phoned him from the top of Conic Hill to tell him I needed a full change of clothes ready and a cup of tea. Dave said he was taking it easy coming down Conic but I couldn't keep up with him! I was being v cautious as I didn't want to fall.

Balmaha 05:03 Sat 23rd June 19 miles

At Balmaha

Got a change of clothes and a cuppa here. Saw a few familiar faces including Dave Heatherington and Darren Barnes. I took quite a long time getting changed by I'd already decided that comfort came before speed and my mission was to finish in time for a crystal goblet so it didn't bother me to take a wee while. I think I was here for 25 mins. I put on my long tights and waterproof trews and felt a lot better. Dave K was ready quicker than me so I set off on my own. Iain then drove to Tyndrum where he would try and sleep and I was now running on my own most of the time until Bein Glas.

Rowardennan 07:30 Sat 23rd June 27 miles

The rain was much lighter now but that meant the midgies were out in force. And where was my midgie net? In the car at Tyndrum... I walked the many hilly bits of this section but ran the flats and downs and I felt great. I met up with a few folk including Dave Heatherington and Louise Jones who was not too happy unfortunatley. I gave her my pep talk, told her to imagine the award ceremony and all that. She got in to Rowardennan just when I was leaving and I followed her but Loon Dod told my I was going the wrong way. I said but Louise is going that way, you're winding me up. He said no, she's pulled out :-(. Totally gutted for her. I remember speaking to Minty at Rowardennan and he said Jonathan was doing well.

Inversnaid 09:16 Sat 23rd June 34 miles

John is quite happy to be at Inversnaid!

Got my drop bag and stocked up my rucksack with the new food. I enjoyed my Irn Bru. This next section at the lochside is quite technical and not that runnable for me so I just tried to enjoy the journey. Met up with John Duncan and had a chat with him. Also chatted to a few other random folk. I could see Dave in the distance a few times and I shouted on him but he went on ahead. The Inversnaid Hotel seemed to appear quicker than expected which was nice and I got my drop bag and took it inside the hotel as it was raining. Went to the loo and saw myself in the mirror :-o shocking hair!! I definitely had the worst hair of everyone in the race!!

Bein Glas 11:22 Sat 23rd June 40.5 miles

The section between Inversnaid and BG is even more technical and it was the trickiest conditions I'd experienced (apart from when icy) as all the waterfalls coming off the hill were torrents. I had to hold on to the rocks quite a few times to stop myself falling in the loch.

Auchtertyre 14:20 Sat 23rd June 50 miles

Finally caught up with Dave again at the BG checkpoint and asked him if he was trying to run away from me?! He said he thought I was ahead of him so that's why he didn't think it was me calling his name! We then ran together almost as far as Auchtertyre. My ITB pain came back but it wasn't as bad as during the Fling although I didn't run that much more after BG. I could fast walk with no pain so that's what I did. I phoned Iain when I got to the main road crossing so he could get a cuppa sorted for me and some more clean, dry clothes. Was brilliant to finally see all my crew again :-). I got weighed and I ate a pot noodle and got changed including putting on sealskin socks and my hiking boots since I figured they might be best for walking in. Iain walked the next section with me to Bridge of Orchy and it was a lovely part of the race, I made good progress, although quickly decided I'd prefer to wear my roclites. Met Rhona and Graeme at Tyndrum and I changed back in to my roclites.

Bridge of Orchy 17:40 Sat 23rd June 59 miles

Was great to see The Lord of The Bridge (Sean Stone, race medic) at Bridge of Orchy. It also signified the furthest I'd ever run :-). Went to the loo at the hotel and saw that my period had started :-o. Blimmin' awful timing. I was feeling a bit bleugh about that but nothing I could do about it. Rhona and Graeme were by now wanting to stretch their legs so they walked the next section with me to Glencoe.

Glencoe 21:03 Sat 23rd June 70 miles

On the way to Glencoe we met Murdo McEwan sitting under a Scotland flag, handing out jelly babies :-). He asked me my number and I said 9, he said I must've been keen to do the race to have such a low number! I said yes, I entered on the first day entries opened. I reminded him that he'd told me to enter the race when he met me at the end of last year's when I was crewing for Mike. The sun actually came out while we were on this section. And it was a lovely surprise to see Iain. He had run up the way from the Glencoe car park and met us with about 2 miles to go. By now I was fantasising about the chips (with vinegar) that he was going to buy me :-)

Kinlochleven 01:14 Sun 24th June 81 miles

Me, Iain, Graeme, and Rhona at Kinlochleven
Glencoe was my favourite checkpoint, the chips were awesome and I had a coffee too. Minty and Jonathan were there and we walked with them to Altnafeidh. They shared my chips and we had a good laugh, took some photos which led to singing Paul Simon songs since someone mentioned a photo opportunity - "You Can Call Me Al". Things were stating to get weirder. I remember shaking the takeaway box full of chips at a few folk including Jonathan to spur him on! He told us about his tummy troubles :-(. Good to see him still in the race though. We'd heard of a few friends DNFing including Fiona MacDonald and Sandra McDougall :-(. Graeme had taken over the driving at Glencoe, Rhona had a rest with him and they met us at Altnafeidh. Saw Ada Stewart at the start of the staircase and she was in agony with her back. We offered her painkillers but she had them already. The three of us went over the Devil's Staircase and met Silke and Thomas Loehndorf so we had a chat. I also enjoyed listening to them chatting to each other in German, it was soothing for some reason. I was definitely getting more and more tired by the time we were coming over the other side of the mountain. The lights of Kinlochleven appeared and disappeared and I was hating the pointy stones on the road down. Legs were aching, and my mood was darkening and I was sure we'd gone the wrong way. Of course my sense of direction sucks on a good day so not surprisingly I was annoying Iain and Rhona at this point. It was dark again and this did not help me. Finally after what felt like 1000 miles KLL appeared and we walked in to the community centre. I got weighed by Julie and she looked all serious and said I'd gained weight :-(!! She said I should go to the toilet and see what colour my pee was. So I did and it was ok I thought. Then I remembered that I was wearing my thick hoodie and waterproof and had my phone in my pocket and I bet that added at least a couple of pounds. I went to tell Julie and she asked me the dates of birth of my children. I told her them and I think I got them right as she said I would be ok. I felt a bit dizzy though and decided to lie down on the sofa. Carolyn was there and she is a nurse and so knew what to do and got me to elevate my feet. I lay there for a while but I thought I am not sleeping! I have to finish this damn race! Part of what spurred me on was that nearly everyone in Stoney knew I was doing it and I'd had so many lovely messages of support that I didn't want to let folk down. After about 45 mins we were ready for the final push!

Lundavra God Knows What Time Sun 24th June 88 ish miles

Now the climb out of KLL was hellish. I remember saying it was like a mountain of rubble. It was still dark and it was very wet and midgie infested. Was better when we got to the Lairig Mor section. Although I was getting so hacked off by then it wasn't pretty. One low point was coming to a gate with a stile that must've been 2 foot off the ground, it was agony to climb over. Then Sue Walker strolled up to the gate and opened it... I was fuming with Iain, why didn't he open the gate for me? Was quite pissed off but tired as well. Sue came to everyone's rescue with pro plus caffeine tablets. Iain forced them down my gob and I perked up :-). Sue meanwhile waltzed passed looking great and smiling away! Where the hell was Lundavra? Where was the lovely bonfire and the blokes from the Wilderness Support Team? I could see orange lights in the distance and it turned out to be some of those nice guys but not Lundavra yet. I was desperate for the loo again which was also making me miserable, and it makes it hard to walk fast, don't know if you've ever tried it? Of course they've only gone and cut the trees down just to annoy me ;-). I waited ages for one and eventually did it outside (which I absolutely hate) and I couldn't even do it right as I peed on my trousers and the poop did not come :-( :-(. Cue lots of crying and shouting, asking for it all to END NOW!!! Rhona looked upset. Thankfully Lundavra came and she saw Graeme and made a swift exit ;-). Bonfire was a bit puny when I got there but I couldn't see very well for the tears. Sniff sniff ;-)

Fort William 08:06 Sun 24th June 95 miles - 31 hours 6 mins 55 secs later

Finally at the finish in FW Leisure Centre

Final, final push just me and Iain now, him almost dragging me at times. I didn't want him to let go of my hand. I was hallucinating that the stones had writing on them. It wasn't saying anything, just a mixture of letters and numbers. Finally managed to poop but there were no trees and I saw folk in the disance but I had to go :-(. Felt better after that :-). The folk in the distance were Minty and Jonathan and I asked later if they saw me and they said no but they might just be being kind! I remember telling Iain I was just going to lie down in the woods and have a sleep. He didn't let me and he also remembered he had more pro plus tabs so he gave me some and I perked up again. Turned a corner and saw Fort William and burst in to tears! Then Iain burst in to tears and he wouldn't stop crying! Now I had switched back to being in control and took his arm and we slowly walked the last three miles down the hill to Fort William. Minty and Jonathan overtook us along the way. The about fifteen minutes later they overtook us again?! Turned out they'd taken a wrong turn off. Saw Nick Dunk and Susan Gallagher near the finish :-). I felt like a sprint finish but Iain was not feeling up to it, he said his feet were sore and he was still all emotional. After what seemed like an age we saw Rhona and Graeme and held hands and made our way to the Leisure Centre door to be met by Ian Beattie. Huge smile from me, I did it!!!!!!! Thank goodness that it was over!!!!

Aftermath

Rhona, Graeme, Me, and Iain with the goblet

The folk at the Leisure Centre were stars and brought us tea and toast and cake. Sean the medic thought Iain was looking a bit pale and thought he should have a lie down so he ended up under a foil blanket for 45 mins :-(. It turns out he had let his body temp drop and he was going in to shock and that's why he was crying. I felt really guilty as he hadn't meant to walk over 40 miles with me but I really needed him. After getting his pulse taken a lot and having tea and toast he felt better. We all got showers and changed and saw a few more folk coming in. Then it was time for the awards ceremony at the Nevis Centre. There were many hugs and much clapping :-)

The crystal goblet and the race garment
It was all very emotional. I loved seeing everyone get their goblets, everyone did so well, especially with the terrible weather conditions. I couldn't believe that the course record had been broken too! Mike came 8th with a huge PB and so many friends finished for the first time :-). I have been saying it was my first and last time and I am taking a break from ultramarathons. At least til next year anyway! The after-effects were not too bad, my feet and ankles have been swollen but I can walk fine and the ITB is not too sore now. I'm looking forward to another massage then I will take it easy for a wee while. This race was the toughest thing I've done in my life, it was more painful than childbirth and lasted longer than all three labours added together! But I'm glad I did it.
Thanks to Rhona, Carolyn, and Karin McKendrick for the photos

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

LAMM 2012 - Ben Cruachan

I do like a mountain marathon - the fresh air, the beautiful scenery, the teamwork, the challenge of navigating across difficult terrain. It's just that I haven't had a huge amount of success so far.

The LAMM 2012 was based in the hills around Ben Cruachan, a monster of a mountain with its very own power station hidden away inside like a James Bond villain's secret lair. The event centre nestled near a wooded stream nearby - perfect midge country as we found out when we got there with clouds of the wee beasts causing a great deal of itching, rubbing, choking, and swearing all over the camp site. Switching on a torch was like witnessing a Brownian motion experiment with the wee blighters seemingly randomly weaving around in the beam of light. Nevertheless, registration was concluded, tents were pitched, food was eaten, drink was drunk, and it was off to bed.
Getting ready for the off!

As usual I didn't sleep that well so was already awake when the piper started up. We had a start time of 8:40 so plenty of time to relax, get up, go to the toilet, get breakfast, and organise our kit before heading off to the start area where we were given the map and directed to the bus which was to take us to the start area. The start area turned out to be at the dam, a quite spectacular spot with views across the reservoir towards the mountain in one direction, and over Loch Awe in the other. The temperature was warm (possibly a bit too hot but not bad), visibility was good, and we were in good spirits as we headed across the dam, marking up the map with the day's controls. At least, I was in good spirits. Ian probably wasn't feeling 100% and struggled a bit to catch his breath on the first steep climb. We reached the first control with no problems and headed off round the mountain. (If you want to see the route, check out Course C on routegadget).
1st Control
Glen Noe
Control 2 was another 2.5km of picking our way round the undulating hillside and Ian was struggling - it was obvious he'd picked up a bug or something but we both hoped it would pass before long. Unfortunately it didn't and after picking up control 3 in the lovely Glen Noe (a place I can't imagine many people ever visit which is a shame), he was finding it increasingly difficult as we headed up the steep hill to Lairig Noe. By this point he was sweaty, nauseous, cramping, out of breath and lacking in energy, but we had a go at control 4 before deciding to take a break, make up some soup, and take stock of the situation. The decision was taken to follow the track down, return to the event centre and retire from the event.
Dalmally Hospitality
Of course, we had got a lift down with Rhino and Gillian who were still out in the hills somewhere so we had two options: camp overnight in the midge infested "ghost camp", or find a way home. I was able to look up the train times (got to love smartphones sometimes) and found we could get a train from Dalmally to Glasgow in time to get the last train back to Stonehaven and arrive just after midnight. Even better, one of the organisers, a very nice chap called Dave (I think) offered us a lift to the station. Sorted. And with plenty of time for a drink or a coffee or something. Except that the hotel was "Closed for Winter". In June?
Ah well, at least the train turned up on time and we were on our way home before the rain came in. But the adventure was far from over. The guard who sold us tickets warned us that there would only be 10 minutes to make the connection at Glasgow and it was good that he knew we were on the train but that we should be OK. Unfortunately it turned out that there was some sort of over-long train in the system that was causing some scheduling problems and it became clear as we sat at Tyndrum that there was no way we were going to get to Glasgow in time. Just as I was getting extremely twitchy the guard turned up and told us that he'd spoken to the powers that be and there was a good chance they would arrange a taxi to pick us up at Crianlarich and take us to Stirling to meet the Northbound train. And that's exactly what happened. Except that the taxi wasn't there when we disembarked (the extremely helpful guard actually got off the train to say that he'd just spoken to the taxi firm and they would be there in a couple of minutes - I can't praise this guy enough, he was just brilliant), and when it did turn up it seemed to have trouble staying still but kept inching towards a collision with a wall. It turned out that the driver was having difficulty working the automatic hand brake as it was the first time she'd ever driven that particular car. She managed to get out of the car park without hitting anything and confidence was restored once we got out on the open road and demonstrated that she was in fact a very good driver. Not surprisingly, after all the excitement, I dozed for most of the journey to Stirling.
By this time I was getting peckish but there was no cafe, just vending machines, so I sulked and we settled down in the waiting room until the train arrived. Bang on time again, and this time there were no delays, and I even managed to be awake and not miss the stop, although it was a close run thing. Ian's wife, Julie, even met us at the station and gave us a lift home so there were no further incidents.
So, all in all, a less than satisfying experience. On the other hand, a road trip with friends and a good few hours in some of the finest countryside there is. I'm sure I'll be back on the Mountain Marathon circuit again, although I have a small worry: in 2010 I completed the Grampian Mountain Challenge, in the 2011 LAMM I retired during the 2nd day, in the 2011 OMM I retired at the start of the 2nd day, and now this. At this rate, I won't even reach the start of the next one.



NB More pictures here.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

A Retrospective Round-Up of Running (and other things) in May

As usual, recovery and tapering between the Fling and the Cateran Trail race meant that May's miles were lower than previous months but I still managed over 100 miles. Looking back, I would say it's been a pretty good month, with the following highlights.

Orienteering

Two Friday evening sprints plus a Wednesday evening summer series event. Lachlan joined me for the two more local ones, so it was never going to be fast (not that I was that fast on the one I did myself either) but nice to have a bit of a jog round the forests after work and get some map/compass practise in.

Improvers Cup

Our club's monthly timed 5k (ish) race returned to Thursday this summer so I was able to take part in the first one. Very pleased with 22:59 (for ~2.95miles) despite a slightly tight hamstring, and especially pleased with the final mile where I was able to pick up the pace slightly and overtake Elaine.

Durris Mast Race Recce

Like last year, I decided not to run the race because a) it was two days before the Cateran Trail race and b) someone has to look after the kids. I did however go on the recce the week before the race and it was, as usual, much fun splashing through the mud, slogging up the ups and flying down the downs. Sometimes I think these club runs often end up being more fun than the races themselves as they tend to be more sociable and less lung-busting, although they miss that competitive edge which brings its own excitement.

The Great Drumtochty Challenge

I think I heard about this mountain bike orienteering event a couple of years ago and had thought it sounded like fun, especially as they had a parent + offspring category to encourage family participation. I ended up teaming up with Lachlan (for someone who isn't normally thought of as an outdoors active type, he's done a fair bit recently and seems keen to do more - really chuffed!) and, after a bacon roll at registration, we set off into the woods with the basic plan of just seeing how it went. And it was good fun - we had a bit of good luck when we passed a control point that I had somehow not marked on the map, and some bad luck when I got a puncture and lost some time changing the tube in the cold drizzle. We ended up finishing with 25minutes to spare and a respectable points total so felt pretty pleased and I reckon we'd have picked up one or two extra controls if hadn't been for the puncture. Very keen to do this again next year.

Cateran Trail Ultramarathon

The Cat probably deserves a blog post all to itself, but it's not getting one, so hopefully I can keep this bit reasonably short and sweet. Basically, we had a lovely weekend up at the Spittal of Glenshee - having the race start and finish at a hotel who do a great deal for the weekend creates a really nice atmosphere, and Karen and her team do a great job of organising the race. Great RD, great marshals, great scenery, great race.
I ran a lot of the early part of the race with Minty and Alan, chatting so much we missed a turning which added about .3 mile onto the route and allowed Jonathon to catch up with us and run with us for a bit. Minty felt he was struggling a bit further on, at about the same time as J found some extra speed, so I ended up on my own for a long stretch. It was lovely to get to Alyth, as I'd been looking forward to seeing Vikki and her team for a few miles, but I didn't want to linger too long at any of the checkpoints and pressed on reasonably quickly towards Blairgowrie where Sandra was acting as a lollipop lady and dishing out big hugs in the middle of the road. I was feeling some tightness in my hamstrings by this point and felt like I was starting to slow down a bit as I headed for Bridge of Cally and on from there towards Kirkmichael. A few other runners caught me up over this section which was a bad sign but I managed to tag along with Jo, Debz, and Rob for a while which helped keep me going. A couple of miles from Kirkmichael, a runner joined us from the woods on the left - I thought it must have been someone who'd stopped for a call of nature, but then realised it was mags who I would have expected to be way way ahead of me. She'd taken a wrong turning thanks to a broken sign and added about six miles to her race - she was also in a bit of pain at this point so we continued together at a fairly slow pace into Kirkmichael where Vikki, flip, Anna and Lorna were keeping an eye on things. Alan caught us up at Enochdhu and the three of us set off up the last big climb. It was nice to actually see where we were going this year after last years low cloud and rain and it made for a fairly pleasant walk up into the hills. By the time we passed the lunch hut and started the last wee climb, my legs were feeling quite a bit better and I was starting to look forward to the final descent. The sight of another two figures behind gave me further impetus to keep moving. It was good to see Neil who had come up from the hotel and then we were at the gate and could see the roof of the hotel. There's a sign there that says "Glenshee 20 minutes" but I'm pretty sure I made it down a lot quicker than that - felt great running down, brilliant to see Minty on the hill and to hear the cheers from everyone at the finish. Hugs and handshakes all round as I crossed the line, just magic.
Vikki tried to shepherd me towards a warm shower but I wanted to wait a bit and see Alan and mags cross the line first. And then, time for a shower, but first a quick chat with Jonathon, Leanne and Minty, and a drink seems like a good idea, and maybe some food first, then a shower. But then Ray was finishing to a huge ovation and before I knew it, it was time for the presentations to the finishers so I ended up receiving my quaich still in my running gear and probably starting to smell a bit. Then it was finally time to go get a shower (well, after the penalty shoot-out of course) and put on some fresh clothes before returning to the bar for drinks and chat and singing (by Conor, not me, you'll be thankful to learn if you've ever heard me sing).
Thanks to Karen for organising such a great race, to all the marshals who give up their time to allow the race to go ahead and are so supportive and helpful to the runners, and to all the staff at the hotel who make everyone so welcome for the weekend.

Thirsty Thursday

The month ended with an interesting club training session with some steep ascents and descents, a bit of beach running and some fence climbing (electric and barbed). It was great fun and followed by the traditional trip to the pub. Just about the perfect way to end the month if you ask me.

Looking Forward

June is going to be a busy month, in many ways the climax of the year as far as running goes.
This weekend I'm off to... well, actually I don't know where, for the LAMM which promises to be another challenging but fun event. We find out where we're going tomorrow lunchtime.
Then it's a trip to Ellon for the Ythan Challenge which ought to be good fun.
And then the West Highland Way race, 95 miles of gruelling trail running. For Vikki. I'll be driving around, drinking cups of tea, eating cake, and chatting to lots of lovely people. Should be a ball.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

"You're Better Than You Think You Are"

That was Lintie's pre-race pep talk to me - words that came back to me several times over the following 13 and a bit hours as I made my way up the first half of the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Tyndrum in the 2012 Hoka Highland Fling. Inspirational words from someone who I think has always had more faith in my ability as a runner than I have myself (and I don't think she's the only one). Strangely enough, my other inspiration came from a book I haven't even read, but just the title of "Relentless Forward Progress" popped into my head a few times and kept me putting one foot in front of the other until I was across the finish line.
Overall, the race was a pretty good one. I started comfortably, running for short periods with Joopsy, mamemeister and Tommy, jonmackintosh, and for a lot of the time with Dave K. I love the views in the first section where you can see all the way up towards Conic and Ben Lomond and it's like the hills are inviting you Northwards. We reached Drymen in 2hr07 - possibly expecting to see my friends Jackie and Jane but they were still having breakfast I think - which was perhaps a little fast, but I'm not convinced that me taking it any slower to that point would have made a difference later on.

As I was enjoying the lovely views from the path through (the heavily de-forested) Garabhan forest, the leading runners (Ludo and Terry I think) went past at what seemed like an incredible speed. They were soon followed by Scott Bradley and so started a trend I was to get used to and had to be careful not to get disheartened by - quicker runners appearing from nowhere and overtaking me. The views from the top of Conic were as stunning as ever and I was careful to take my time on the descent rather than do my thighs in or risk falling with a quick descent. It was nice to arrive at Balmaha and know I was feeling so much better than last year, and to see a few familiar faces including Donna and Carolyn. Also spoke to Lapsed Athlete (who we'd had a very enjoyable dinner with on Friday) here and soon after passed Centu-Ray McCurdy, on his way to complete his 100th ultra. I also got hailed by the Top Dogs relay team as they passed in a car - thankfully I was jogging at that point and so avoided a ribbing for taking it easy. My next encounter with the relay team was a bit further on where the trail runs along the road (after Cashel I think?). This time it was 2nd leg runner, Rob, who ran past me almost as if I was standing still - good to see our lads in the lead, a position they would hold to the end. A little further on, I was making my way slowly up one of the steep climbs before Rowardennan and I was overtaken by the Under Dogs' Kyle who bounded up the hill like it was nothing. We exchanged greetings before he sped off, cheerily informing me that he possibly needed to visit the lavatory. As far as I can tell, he actually set the fastest time over that leg in Fling history - despite taking a short stop to study the flora just off the trail somewhere!
Shortly after, I trotted past two guys who told me to watch out as there was a fallen runner ahead. I expected to maybe see someone sitting at the side of the trail, so it was a shock to see a runner under a silver blanket with shoes sticking out - and the same type of shoes that mrs s wears - and with santababy and a couple of medics looking after her. Of course my first thought was that it was mrs s, so then relief when it wasn't, and then I felt awful for Ellen, and then even worse because of feeling relieved - it's probably what everyone goes through if they think something's happened to a close loved one, but it just felt so selfish. There was nothing I could do to help so just plodded on feeling somewhat selfish and helpless as I approached Rowardennan. I'm pleased to have since heard that Ellen is recovering well despite breaking her shoulder.
As I ran through Rowardennan car park, I was well aware that that's where last year's adventure had finally ended for me, so it was good to look at my watch, know that I was making good time, and that I was feeling pretty good, considering. IanS and LorraineS were there waiting for JammyLu to hand over the relay baton so I stopped for a few minutes to chat, try and find out how other runners were doing, and to make sure some food went down. As I was preparing to set off, Dave K came in and I considered waiting for him, but guessed (correctly) that he'd catch me up on the climb and set off with my crisps in hand. In fact, Dave K was far from the only person to catch me up on the next section. It seemed like a lot of the 8am starters, and a large number of runners from the mixed and female relay teams overtook us which had certain benefits - I mean of course the chance to say hi to a few different people. Unfortunately for me, as we descended back down to loch side, Dave was running much more strongly than I was, and I dropped off his pace - I didn't see him again until the finish so I was mainly running on my own, although there were still runners passing me at various intervals to break up the run. As expected, the technical section before and after Inversnaid was very slow going - even slower as my legs started to feel a bit sore and I couldn't descend easily because my toes were hurting. It took me at least half an hour to realise that the sore toes were at least partly because my feet were sliding forward and maybe I should tighten my laces a bit. Duh! I'd also forgotten just how tricky the terrain North of Inversnaid is, not having been on that section for at least a couple of years, but didn't get frustrated - I knew it would be slow going but also that I had time and just had to keep going and I'd get there in the end. That said, I was pleased to get out to the grassier bits, and even more pleased to see Dario's post (the first time for me since it had been put there) and a number of supporters who had come up from Bein Glas to see their runners which meant it wasn't far to go to the next checkpoint. Ju1ia and Alison were there so I stopped and had a quick chat to them before heading off again, briefly stopping to say hello to Robin and Ann on the way. I checked my watch here and knew I had over 4 hours to get to the finish which was just as well, as there wasn't much more running going on. My legs were getting sore and heavy but I knew that I just had to keep going - walk if needed and try and run a few steps every so often when I felt up to it.
I really get the feeling that farmers round this bit don't like having the WHW going past their farms and have even less desire to see runners using the way. Why else would they put feeders right on the trail so that you have to warily pass huge beasts whilst stepping through what cows are well known for. There's a section of the path marked by a plaque noting that it was renovated thanks to money raised by the Caledonian Challenge (or something) - what it doesn't say is that after that, the farmer fed and watered all his cattle rounded them up in this narrow stretch and scared them senseless so that they would empty their bowels to maximum effect. It's generally known as Cow Shit Alley to many of the runners.
Anyone, relentless forward progress and all that - up past Bogle Glen to Hendo's bench where I finally decided to do something about the small stones that had been rubbing inside my shoe for the last couple of miles (note to self - sort things out straight away before they get worse) and then on into Ewich Forest with fantastic views to the snow capped Ben More and it's less easily remembered neighbours. Much as I was, I'm sure you'll be relieved to know we're getting near the end now, and just as well as the clouds are threatening rain so I put on my windshirt for extra protection just as I'm passed by a guy with no shirt on. I recognised him from a previous race as he has form for this sort of exhibitionism. And after just a bit more trudging, I'm past the old lead mine, and soon after within earshot of the piper. I decided to make a bit of an effort to run in the last wee bit and it was great to see first Jackie, then the crowds at the finish who were all cheering and applauding and one or two even calling out my name as I stumbled across the line to get my medal and several hugs from so many very special friends - Dave K and Carolyn, jonathon, the relay guys (Steve, Rob, Neil and Kevin), santababy, Lapsed Athlete and others who I will no doubt remember about later and feel awful for not mentioning now. Huge hugs from mrs s of course, and Liliaicha and from Lintie (thanks for all the encouragement) and from Dod who was handing out the beer - seemed like a particularly appropriate job for him. It was also great to see Angus - his race hadn't gone well thanks to a sore foot, but he was still there cheering people on and handing out crisps.
It was already pretty late by the time we got to the pub, and although it was good to have a wee blether with Wee Rhino and Jo and dave_m and Al and Tommy as well as many of the aforementioned people, I was shattered and needed to get to bed after just a couple of beers.
It was a really good day, and I was pleased to finish - my time was 13:22ish which wasn't particularly important except that it was under the 14 hour cut off - and to have had a good day on the trails in the company of many lovely people. I'll be looking forward to some more of those in the future, hopefully at races and maybe just on training runs or mini-adventures if schedules allow.
I know most of the people who will read this blog, and so I know that Lintie's words apply to most of you guys as well. With a little training and the right attitude, YOU can run further, faster, more fluidly than you probably realise.

We are all better than we think we are!

:-)




Monday, 13 February 2012

Scolty Hill to Stonehaven

So, the mrs and her pals came up with a plan that involved driving multiple cars to Scolty Hill so they could run there and drive back. My modified plan was to meet them there then for me to run back. A nice 21 miles through the forest which for some reason, I decided to document by recording video. The result is fairly rubbish but here it is.....




video


Update: Now with sound!