Tuesday, 11 July 2017

West Highland Way Race - Support Running


We were a last minute support crew. A ‘caught-up-in-emotion’ during Rock DJ at a Robbie William’s concert kind of support crew. Some people get emotional over Angels but I’m a different type of person. The type of person you would like to run with over the Devil’s Staircase as the sun is going down. And that was Alan Crawford’s thought too. So Scott and I hired a car and with two weeks to go, we didn’t bother with any other preparations.

The main success of the weekend was that I drove part of the way from Edinburgh to Tyndrum. I did not drive us into a loch or up the rear of a tour bus. My first attempt at UK driving may have got off to a jerky start but it was successful in the end. Much like Alan’s West Highland Way race this year to be honest.

Alan and Terry were running together and had the combined force of their Susans and the Gang of Giggling Ladies looking after them. When we joined the crew at Auchtertyre; they had the Love Bus full of coffee and cheer. Alan had been vomiting up the Lochside, leaving Terry to hold his hand. When they arrived into Auchtertyre, they were already one hour down on their target time of 24 hours and just going for the finish. Terry lost 2kg off his petite 62kg frame and had instructions to eat. He’d been unwell for a month with a virus, and although he was still a good looking bloke, you could see in his face that he wasn’t too well. Alan was feeling ok by then but did spend a considerable amount of time faffing with his feet.

The boys did not need my support running skills for the next section as they were still sharing their opinions on each episode of Love Island. Once they reached Bridge of Orchy, they decided it was time for my excellent chat. Fortunately, I had only consumed the one beer at the pub and was still able to find the trail. Terry was slow up the hills but could run the flats reasonably well. Alan was strong up the hills but ran slower on the flats. If we went as slow as the slowest runner on the hills and flat, we were going to be out for a long time. Both were feeling an amount of pain that resulted in whinging.

And then there was some weather; howling wind, sideways rain, freezing rain. I ran in the 2012 race which was a very wet year but I did not remember it being this cold along Rannoch Moor. I met Terry that year for the first time as I was lost having to take a diversion into Tyndrum. We then ran to Glencoe pretty much together before I threw a tantrum and stormed to the finish.  This year I was fortunate enough to be in long tights and be wearing a non-waterproof waterproof jacket. The boys had jackets of varying waterproofability (can you believe that word is not yet in the dictionary?!) but no trousers on. Everyone was well cold. It was important that they moved as much as they could. Alan went on ahead and Terry dropped back; throwing his toys.

I ran between the two, providing little support to either. Basically, I just ran back and forth keeping myself warm. There was a beautiful rainbow amongst the wild weather. Terry told me where I could shove that. He’s actually a really nice guy, he was just in quite a bit of pain. Alan enjoyed the rainbow; which was a lovely start to what would be a long night on the Way.  Eventually I went ahead to deliver the runners’ orders to the crews. They both needed a change of clothes and to get warm. Terry also wanted a sleeping bag to sit in. And he wanted someone to sit in the sleeping bag for him until he arrived so that it would be warm. I also delivered the message that Bill Hiers may have to do some talking to Terry to keep him going. There were a lot of painkillers being consumed.

As I entered Glencoe, Keith Hughes came running towards me looking for Matt Stoner. Matt was on for his first goblet and had been running between Terry and Alan. Like the boys, I knew he was cold and not moving too fast. But he was in high spirits and after getting warm would make it to the finish.

Leaving Glencoe was hard as we left Terry wrapped up in the Love Bus. He was in great hands but I was worried as I had never seen him like this before. Alan was crying that he had deserted Terry and was worried he wouldn’t continue. Don’t worry folks, we would later hear that Bill and Susan got Terry in for a sub-30 finish. The long term consequences of this were unknown at the time of the blog’s publication. Thanks to Lorna for checking up on all the runners at Glencoe!

As neither of my waterproof jackets are waterproof anymore, I opted to wear two for the next sections. As I had changed into dry gear (no one wants the support runner being a liability by getting cold and I’ve already got a cold and chesty cough - I hope Alan doesn’t notice), I was now wearing tights and long-sleeve tops that I had reserved for my pyjamas that night. Never mind. I changed in the backseat of the car; ripping my merino pants and eating pizza whilst pantless. Living the dream. I made Alan wear his waterproof trousers and he’d stolen Susan’s rain jacket. That poor lady stood in the rain for FOUR hours earlier waiting at Beinglas.

Alan had a solid run to the bottom of Devil’s Staircase. He was a bit dizzy on the way up the Devil’s; hot then cold, hot then cold butt he made good progress. The paths leading down into Kinlochleven were essentially rivers and all the good paths were taken by water. Fortunately, I’d predicted this and carried an inflatable dinghy with me. After making all the runners blow it up for me, I floated into Kinlochleven drinking a mulled wine. Unfortunately for the competitors, their presence on the dinghy would have been deemed as cheating so they were left to make their way by foot. We did make it into Kinlochleven before it was dark. Congratulations to all the runners who came down there in the dark; top effort indeed.

Just before Kinlochleven I floated past a number of runners; including Bob Allison who was very spaced. Again, he made it to the finish. Alan just wanted a very quick stop here which I was in full support of. Weigh in, bathroom and fill up bottles. He was drinking coke, Irn Bru and eating a few sweeties. I didn’t push the food intake, he would make it to the finish on coke and Irn Bru alone if he needed to. It turns out, that he did just that. I, on the other hand, stuffed in more pizza and then started eating Alan’s sweets. There wasn’t a lot of chat going on but I did have to ask about the white Skittles. Ultrarunners are weird but to have a fascination with just the white ones? Odd. Turns out, they were released for Pride. Fun fact for the weekend.

Climbing out of Kinlochleven, Alan starts leaping over frogs. Hallucinated frogs. The trail itself is actually frogless. There is a giant log covering the path, so we take the path that has not been deliberately blocked. I have been on this section twice before; both were five years ago and during the day time. It is now dark and I need to be careful to lead us in the right direction. Keith Hughes on the other hand, has completed the WHW ten times and later leads Matt on the wrong path. Looks like Alan chose his support runner well. I’m not too sure what to do. How much chat does he want? How much should I push him? I opt for, running on the flat and downhills. Walking any inclines. If I can get away with running up a small incline, I do.

It is dark and wet underfoot. Sometimes it rains, sometimes it doesn’t. We have enough layers, we are not cold. Alan pees every three minutes and 26 seconds. We look back and see a line of headtorches coming off the Devil’s staircase. It’s a nice sight and reminder that we are fortunate to already be on Lairig Mor.  I lead at the front; setting the pace and only occasionally hearing a sad whimper from behind me when Alan couldn’t catch up. In the dark I would use exaggerated marching arms for when we were walking and an exaggerated high bounce for running. Alan doesn’t complain so there are no stern words. Walk. Jog. Walk. Alan thinks that this is the fastest he has done this section. It isn’t but I am giving him a ton of positive reinforcement so he feels that he is going faster.

Although we have been on our own since Kinlochleven there are now some head torches behind us.  They stay behind us until we are running down the fire road (aka, spiral of death). With two miles to go, Alan decides that he needs to take off his waterproofs. My suggestion that maybe he could wait until the finish is not supported. He sits down on the fire road and we make a meal of getting his waterproofs off. His jacket weighed a ton. For maximum waterproofness, he had worn a giant cycling jacket since Glencoe.

Alan is now peeing every two minutes and 41 seconds.

I have not been looking at the time as I knew that we would not finish for under 24 hours so did not see the point in worrying. Plus, we were having a blast. It is now that back of 3am, 26 hours into the race. I ask Alan for his worst time, hoping that I would not be the one responsible for creating it. It turns out, we are on for his second best time! Whoop! So Alan runs solidly (albeit a little slow) and we pass a runner and his support coming through Braveheart carpark. Earlier in the race, there wasn’t much difference between the runner and the support runner, however, now there is quite a big difference in the leg movement!

The road to the leisure centre was a little longer than I remember. I am pleased that I didn’t have to run 95 miles, 30-something has been quite enough. Big Al enters full sprint across the line to take the race in 26 hours and 22 minutes. Quite a finish for 3:30am. A huge congratulations to him and a big thank you to the Love Bus and Susan for looking after us and keeping Scott company.  Thank you also to their pals for letting us crash at their apartment. My sleeping bag still stinks from crashing in it without showering. Ewwww.

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