Well, that was quite a weekend.
It seems like there are a lot of wee stories to tell:
the solo drive to Tyndrum with Nirvana and Spacemen 3 blaring on the stereo;
meeting up with mrs s (briefly) and Julia and Christina before setting off towards Auchtertyre in the wonderful left hand drive camper van with no power steering;
the joy of seeing Ian heading up the trail looking really strong;
meeting the bundle of excitement that was HappyG back at Tyndrum;
the prescient words of Alan No Mates;
the shock of finding no midges at Bridge of Orchy;
Minty taking a power nap before setting off up "Murdo's Mount";
my relief that my leg felt fine on the descent to Inverarnan;
the weird colours on Minty's leg;
seeing new ground on the stretch from Forest Lodge to Ba Bridge and finally covering every part of the Way;
burger and chips and hugs from mrs s at Glencoe;
the beautiful rainbow seen from Altnafeadh;
the drive to Kinlochleven to get ready to support Minty to Lundavra;
and possibly more.
But all of that would just be a prelude to the events that happened on the Lairig Mor at some time shortly after midnight. The Lairig Mor doesn't often appear in anyone's "my favourite bits of the West Highland Way Race" list. It's an uneven, stony path with a number of small streams and a few puddles; fairly hard going at the best of times, difficult when tired, treacherous in the dark. Nevertheless, Minty and I were making decent progress despite wet feet and me almost walking off the path once. We had reached the corner and turned northwards, we could see Lochan Lunn Da Bhra in the pale moonlight, and knew we were about two miles from the bonfire at Lundavra where we would meet up with the rest of the team again. And then there was a small thump and I heard Minty say something along the lines of "ow! I've tripped and hit my head". And there he was, face down on the path with a grazed cheek and a bit of blood above his eye. OK, not a problem, let's get him back on his feet and take a proper look. Except that he was a bit wobbly on his feet so we sat down again and I decided to give him my buff to wrap around the cut which thankfully wasn't flowing much. And then, he took a turn for the worse and slumped a bit. Thankfully, some other runners had arrived up the trail and we got his feet elevated and tried to keep him talking to check how he was. Which wasn't great - he wasn't making much sense and at one point fainted briefly and was slightly annoyed to come round a few seconds later as we having such a good dream apparently. Of course, there was no decent phone signal there but one of the other support runners ran on ahead to get help, and I sent out an emergency text after we got Ian wrapped in a couple of foil blankets in an approximation of the recovery position. At which point he said (quite clearly) "I'm going to be sick" and retched a few times. His condition generally seemed to be improving so it seemed like a good idea to try and head up the trail, towards warmth and safety so we got him back on his feet (on the second attempt) and we resumed our journey, more slowly than before, with Minty holding on to me, shivering, and realising that he'd also bumped his leg. Oh well, I was thinking, another mile or so of this and he can get warmed up and taken off to the hospital to get checked over.
Next thing I know, my phone goes off - it's the police, following up on my emergency text, and happy enough to stand down when I explained that the injured runner was back on his feet and close to getting extra help. And shortly after that, George called to try and find out more information - I explained what was happening and as he conferred with Dr Chris at race control, the battery went dead so we just had to keep going and hopefully, we'd be able to better find out what was happening when we met up with the crew at Lundavra. By this time, Minty's head torch was blinking occasionally to indicate that the batteries were getting a bit low, and I was worried we'd have to stop and wait in the dark which would have been bad news as we were now moving at a better walking pace, talking a bit and starting to warm up again. So it was a great relief to see a head torch heading towards us and to have Neal Gibson join us, especially as he was able to donate a very warm jacket to Minty's cause, and to further raise our spirits with more chat. And very quickly, the certainty that this race was over dissolved and it became clear that Minty would want to keep going, depending on how things looked when we met up with Julia and Christina at the meeting point. And almost before we knew it, we arrived at the bonfire, and sat down to warm ourselves and come up with a plan. Communications with race control weren't very clear so it came down to the support crew to decide on the best course of action. Our runner obviously wanted to continue (and I'm not sure we could have stopped him if we'd tried), bleeding had stopped, he had been moving well, talking coherently, he was taking on food and drink, and he was just 7 miles from the finish. Christina was due to take over buddy runner duties but very sensibly said she wanted another runner as well. Julia wasn't keen to accompany them on that section in the dim light, so I agreed (in less than a heartbeat) that I would continue on foot with them. And so, we set off, looking forward to seeing the sunrise over Ben Nevis. The sunrise was less spectacular than hoped for, but we covered the miles in good time and in good spirits and we were soon on the final climb and getting our first glimpse of Fort William. Thankfully, there were no tears for me this year. And when Minty suggested we run down the hill, I was happy to break into a jog all the way down to the bottom. Even the road to Braveheart Car Park seemed shorter than usual and it was great to see Mike there and be able to congratulate him on his brilliant finish in 6th place. He then scooted off in the car to let Julia and everyone else at the finish that we were on our way. Julia came out to meet us at the edge of Fort William and we all ran to the finish together feeling relieved and elated. He'd done it! Minty would be collecting his crystal goblet after all. At least, he would be as long as he was out of the hospital which was where Silke told him he was going to get properly checked out.
I was exhausted, but decided to get a shower at the Leisure Centre so I could wait with mrs s for our friend, Wee Rhino to complete the race. It was brilliant to see her finish but then it really was time to get to the hotel for some sleep - we'd heard by then that Minty had got a couple of stitches and they were keeping an eye on him but he was doing well so we slept fairly soundly for a few hours before heading up to the Nevis Centre for the prize giving. Minty had been released from the hospital so it was fantastic so see him get his goblet along with the other finishers, all of whom will no doubt have their own stories to tell.
I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who helped us out - the runners who stopped and assisted, the guys that ran on ahead to get help, all the folk at the bonfire. You were all brilliant and your help was greatly appreciated by everyone in Team Minty. I also want to say that I was very pleased to be a part of the team; we all got on really well, had some fun, and got the job done. And finally, I want to say well done to one of the most determined, meticulous, kind-hearted, wonderful, and mental runners I know. Ian Minty, you are a legend.