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!



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