Sunday, 29 June 2014

Crewing for Johnny Fling: West Highland Way 2014

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Divas such as Johnny Fling (aka, John Duncan) require crew of the highest standard for big races. Naturally, Scott (aka, Mr Antonia) and I were the chosen ones.
I wasn't actually too excited when he first asked as I didn't have much crewing experience. I also knew that I would definitely get insanely jealous of all the runners on the course who hadn't spent the last six months moaning about the cellulite on their bums and then consuming pizzas (for dinner number one of the evening) as a way of comforting said cellulite. John also has a roaring temper which was only going to get elevated once the sleep deprivation kicked in and I struggled to colour coordinate his running outfits.

As the race date got closer we found out that we WERE the crew. Now that was an honour. Johnny Fling knows people so I felt pretty chuffed to be chosen. It also meant that I could unleash my whipping and organisation with only Scott to contend with / piss off. And I could write all the lists. Lists with neat handwriting, appropriate sized bullet points and coloured sub-headings. It was to be a glorious weekend.
The week before, John came through to Edinburgh to discuss his feelings while he subjected me to the torture that is 'hill reps.' They were my first ones so I think that we can now call this years training a success. Apparently they are hill reps because we were on a hill and therefore not farktechnics. Makes sense really, clearly a farktechnic is when you are running on a fark. Or maybe it's called a fart? I don't know, I haven't learnt those ones yet. But feelings were discussed nonetheless. I'll also fill you in on a wee observation that I noted during dinnertime; John ate less pizza than me. Now maybe that is part of the secret to his success, or maybe that is just why I have cellulite on my bum. We may never know.
On the Friday after work we drove across to John's man cave in Ayr where we found him in the kitchen surrounded by plastic drawers with beautifully handwritten labels. I thought that they were brilliant and they were a big talking point out on the course. We were charging other support crews for a glimpse of the well-organised equipment filing system. There's no denying it though, that boy does not travel light.
We discover our first error before departing for Milngavie. We have forgotten the generator for the Nespresso machine. John is not impressed.
With me being crew leader, things were being done my way. This started with John skidding into registration at Milngavie just before it closed. He's excited but nervous. Understandable really as there's likely to be a lot of photos taken of him today. That's a long time to remain looking on top form. I just want to get to Balmaha so that I can eat a bacon roll.
The hooter goes off and they trot through the tunnel. I took a video. It's probably rubbish but I've posted it on anyway. John's not even on it. Karen Donoghue is though, sweeping up the rear.
We have a stop at Drymen where John has instructed us to have a drinks belt ready to swap. We arrive in the dark and I set the alarm to allow for a 20 minute snooze. This attempt was unsuccessful however as Noanie's crew were nearby making an awful racket. I didn't want to tell them off though as they had scaffolding in their van. You just never know when you might need a bit of scaffolding.
There's two runners tearing down the road. Already? I don't know anything about splits but they seem awful speedy. I can't tell who it is at the time but find out later that it is Paul Giblin and Robbie Britton also eager for their bacon rolls in Balmaha. This is surprising, mostly because Paul is vegan.
Even with the head torches on it's hard to see who people are. WESLEY! That's John screaming. He flings his bottle belt and a handheld in my direction while taking the new bottle belt from me. His aim isn't great. Thump. The bottle hits Joanne Thom, knocking her flying. Amid the chaos, John yells that he wants a change of shorts at Balmaha. He needs his red shorts and his black shorts available DIVA. Plus, have you seen the length of those red shorts? Indecent.
With everyone patched up and now bitching about John, we drive to Balmaha. It's so quick. I'm pleased that I didn't know that when I ran the race as it is a depressing thought. As I go through the Balmaha checklist, Robbie comes through followed by a runner on the other side who I assume is Paul but can't see. This is probably because he is very slim and fast. I haven't even had my bacon roll yet and I drove here!
In 2012 John and I came into the Balmaha checkpoint together. I went on to smash him by about seven hours. I'd blame his 2012 crew for that. They didn't have the right ground coffee in the caffeteire. When John comes in we are ready for the shorts changeover but he doesn't want them now. Turns out, neither pair was going to match his vest! Or rather that the wet shorts he was wearing had dried. I thought he wanted to change them for chaffing but he'd actually fallen early doors in the race and spilt his handheld all down his shorts. Wish someone had got that on video.
With another quick transition completed we escape from the midgies and drive to Rowardennan. Sorry, did I say escape? I meant drive right into. They were in full force. Pesky buggers. We did run into Stevie Gildea in the Team Nathan van though supporting Paul. He's comfortable we're told, a few minutes behind but settling down after a fall on Conic Hill. Maybe that's the trick to a quick decent off Conic; rolling. I set the alarm for about 30 minutes and aim for a nap.
The alarm rages and we dither about trying to find a strategic spot for the CHOICE BOX. Yes, John has a choice box. Did your runner have a choice box? As a Kiwi would say, it was choice bro. John has a list of what he wants here which we have already organised and packaged up. The choice box is also to be at hand though, in case he also wants something from there. The choice box has two sides; one for equipment / first aid and the other for food and drink. There's one of almost everything in that box so whatever he asks for, we can get it for him.
Unfortunately, the chosen place is in the middle of a congregation of midgies. But we tough it out in our midgie nets because that's what an A Team sort of crew would do. John flies in. He wants midgie spray, both types. And beetroot juice. Just a swig though. All these items are in the choice box. I scream at Scott to get those items and follow us and we start tearing through Rowardennan carpark. I hand John a tub of pineapple, biffing the lid as I go. I am carrying his newly topped up bottle belt for swapping. I look behind to see Scott running with the entire choice box. I grab the Beetroot juice and hand it to John whilst dropping the empty pineapple punnet. At some point John throws off his sweaty bottle belt and takes the replacement from me. Scott still hasn't found any midgie spray. I intervene (I know the contents of the choice box like the back of my hand) and spray the extreme midgie stuff into John's eyes and mouth. Prime targets for midgies those parts are. The banana that I put in his bottle belt pocket has gone. I ask if John took it. No. The banana is somewhere in Rowardennan carpark. No problem, there's another one in the choice box of course. I run after John in my wellies to find him ripping the piss with a mock sprint.
Once John is safely out of the checkpoint, we clean up the chaos that we have left scattered around Rowardennan carpark and drive onwards and upwards to Beinglas. From here on there's no set food and drink at the checkpoint and instead we'll need to find out what he wants as he comes in, organise it and get it back out to him. I'm anxious and set up a backpack, bottle belt and handheld for his arrival. I hoot when he arrives so that he knows that it is me under the midgie net. Espresso? Yes. Now? Yes. I faultlessly (obviously) open the can and hand it to him. He also wants his handheld. Check. The good handheld. What? They are not the descriptive words we decided on as a team. I have the big yellow handheld prepared. Yes, that's the one he wants. Well, check then. Waffle. Yep, got that covered too and you'll be taking a gel and some trail mix. Understood? He understands. He's probably spent hours thinking about something else instead but I have a forceful tone and he decides not to mess with me. Leaving the checkpoint, he still has his bottle belt on. I tell him that I need it. He takes it off and throws it on the ground. Spoilt brat.
We head out pronto before the midgies eat my second hand off.  In Auchtertyre, I compliment Debbie M-C on her tan which is met with piss-taking on my accent. I always thought that it was my 'e's that were most problematic? Matt Moroz runs past as fit as a fiddle after a whimpering incident earlier on. Carrie Craig comes trotting through asking for a cider. It's probably still morning. David Simpson is my marker for John as he has been coming into the checkpoints just ahead. When I see him coming in I get a shock to see a half-naked man running just behind him. That's John, deciding that although the foil blanket is still mandatory kit, clothing is now optional. And he wants an ice bucket. Prepared. And out he goes. I don't even look at his weight on the weighing card, I know he's looking strong and running well.
Coming out of Auchtertyre is a relief. Over half way with no major hiccups. John has come through each checkpoint in a good mood with no noticeable injuries or slowing of pace. From now on, I am expecting tears and diva tantrums at each checkpoint as things unravel. But they don't. John flies into Bridge of Orchy, too hot and shirtless but flying nonetheless. Scott and I have met up with John's parents, Ena and Matt. They're good fun. Not sure where John got his temper from. We're all at the checkpoint offering an array of coffee, homemade shortbread and soup. He wants a gel, sandwich and suncream. He gets the gel and suncream. I forget the sandwich.
Glencoe is a bit of a nightmare.. The carpark is mobbed due to a downhill riding event and relay teams forever standing in the middle of the road blocking the traffic. In the car I made a list of things that John might want here to help him stay cool. I even bought two different options of ice lolly. The chilly bin in the back of our car was enormous. I could have got ice lollies for every runner in that bad boy.
At each checkpoint I was taking a rough note of the time so that we knew when to expect him into the next checkpoint using some splits that Ian Minty and John Kynaston had made based on previous results. Up to this point John had been running at about 23 hour pace. I looked at the 20 hour pace (the fastest one we had) and worked out his eta. Ena had some app which gave her estimates. These young folk are so good with technology. With the combination of estimates, we sat back and enjoyed the view (and coffee and shortbread). It was a bit chilly for us (snow on the hills above) so I brought out John's clothing box and sat it alongside the CHOICE BOX which now contained a fresh sandwich (lucky guy). Our marker people were Carrie, Keziah Higgins and David Simpson - none of whom had come through.
Of course, John comes in, catching us all napping. Well not quite napping but not exactly on high alert either. He wants a bunch of things that the choice box can offer and his gilet. Seriously, who calls it a gilet? And how do I pronounce that anyway? It's really just a sleeveless jacket. It's in the clothing box but John has to find it himself. I forget to offer him the ice lollies but at least he gets his sandwich this time. And then he's off. John's brother has to meet him at the bottom of Devil's staircase because he's come through too fast. We are relayed stories about John screaming at him for more water and then him having to chase John up Devil's staircase to deliver it! Fortunately, we never saw that side of John :) I don't think that he would have dared with me!
Ena and Matt are coming to Kinlochleven too. This crewing is addictive stuff. John is going to make it now. None of us had any doubt that he wouldn't but so many things can go wrong on a long race like this. Elaine and Donald Sandeman are in good form at Kinlochleven. They'll need to be as it's a long shift. Fionna Ross comes in. She looks strong still but is having problems with her stomach I think. Someone has made her some soup. Scott and I are still trying to get our hands on some of that Malteser tray bake of hers. It looks delicious and if she's not feeling well I am sure that she won't mind... While Fionna is about to leave the checkpoint she gets told that she can have a buddy runner now as it is four hours since Paul came through. She's going to finish it without one though. I like that.
Meanwhile, somewhere in a van Paul is probably sleeping having finished the race in 14 hours and 20 minutes. What kind of time is that? Not even comprehendible.
John comes powering in for his red bull. He wants his ice bucket. It's in the car. Scott runs to get it whilst John runs out of the checkpoint with me. Scott's chasing behind. He can't catch John. I tell Scott to throw the bucket, see if some can get John and cool him down. Scott trips, sending the ice all over me. Mess. John strides on, oblivious to the chaos.
Scott's nervous about driving to Lundavra so the original plan was for me to run ahead of John with supplies for Lundavra. We didn't want him to know this though as we didn't want him stressing or just taking me as a buddy runner because I was there (we'd talked before the race about how we all wanted John to run the whole thing on his own unless something major happened). Ena checked her estimate for when John would now be finished. I think it works out just on 20 hours. What?! We must drive then, we can't risk the Lundavra plan throwing him off being so close to a sub-20. It's getting exciting!
On our way down the windy road to Lundavra we see Debbie and Sharon coming towards us. They stop at the top of the hill to let us come by. They are waving frantically as we go by. We can't stop because we are going up the steep hill. What if they were trying to get our attention because John has already been through?! Oh no, we are now panicked. I pack my bag ready to chase after him to Fort William. I know that they would have looked after him if he had come through but he may have wanted something that they didn't have.
At Lundavra we are relieved to have Katrina and John Kynaston confirm that John has not been through. Makes sense really, Fionna was probably an hour ahead at Kinlochleven! I ask JK what time John would need to come through to still be on track for a sub-20 and get ready to give John a pep talk. He bounces in well ahead of the time needed but I am not about to take any risks. I tell him that he is doing well but needs to push on. He knows he is doing well and is going to get under 24 hours. I confirm that this is true but if he can just push a bit harder then he can do really, really well and be very proud. He's still got some left in his quads. Good boy. He's actually got a bit of a tear in his quad at this point but he's hiding it well so we are not aware.
He runs straight through. I chase him with a fresh water bottle. I also offer him an ice lolly. His response? RAM IT. Err, pardon? RAM IT. I'll not ask any further questions there then. He won't need his headtorch, it's still light for hours. Now our racing job is done, John will be on his own to the finish where we will anxiously watch the clock. Again, we know he can do it but I worry that anything can happen. I want to go to Braveheart carpark and cheer for him but I also don't want to miss him at the finish. With a powerful last section he tears through the finish line, still half naked, in 19 hours and 35 minutes. Thank you John, that's an early night for us all. And he's absolutely fine. Probably should have gone faster.
At prizegiving the next day I find that Keith Hughes beat my WHW time. Needless to say, I'll now need to run it again next year. Andy Millard came over from New Zealand to run one minute slower than me. Oh, if only he'd known!
Thanks to John for being such a superstar runner to crew for. He just kept running stronger and was a pleasure to crew for. Thanks to Ena and Matt for their good company and humour. Thanks to Scott for doing all the driving between checkpoints and letting me be demanding. Thanks to Eleanor and Phil for driving me back to Edinburgh on the Sunday afternoon and putting up with my nonsense chat and snoring.


  1. Great write-up!! Sounds like you had a lot of fun - but the big question remains: did you ever get your bacon roll at Balmaha??

  2. Sarah - We had a bacon and egg roll at Balmaha, followed by more of the same at Auchtertyre :)

  3. Hi Antonia, I'm trying to locate the video of your talk about crewing for John at the inspiration night last year. Would you have a copy of that or a link perhaps? Thank you! Claire X

    1. Hi Claire, I do not have a copy although it may he podcast 76? I see the inspiration night listed here as a mp3 download although have not tried it myself. Alternatively, try this Vimeo link which I found under WHW race tweets. Hope one works and that my accent is not too annoying!


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