Sunday, 25 April 2010
At the start of the race I had donned a protective cap of denial to ease my fears. Am I here setting out on a 53 mile race? Silly old me. It was dark to add to the unreality of it all, and a bit misty. Julia and Andrew Henderson were there in the dark in the car park to take the drop bags for Rowardennan. Peter came along earlier than he needed to to see me off and to my surprise Robert Kinnaird and John Pickard had also come along an hour early just to wave me off. I was disappointed in myself that I had nothing to say.
It was good to get going and right away the going was pleasant, through misty woods on soft piney tracks. My mantra for all of the early part of the race was "Don't race, don't race, don't race." Having to be so conservative takes some of the fun out of the racing, although it also takes the pressure off. The trouble is once you take the pressure off you discover you're really quite sleepy and still not quite recovered from a hectic and irritating week at work. Still, we'd eaten so much the day before that we really had to run 53 miles or sign up for weight watchers immediately.
The runners seemed to spread out after Drymen (Ironicallyh it was raining at Drymen) and I ran on my own most of the way to Balmaha. I enjoyed going up Conic Hill. It wasn't bad going at all and it was nice to emerge from the mists just about the time the sun was finally coming out. On the slippery and steepish descent I caught up to a tall guy in yellow who was making rather a meal of it. I said something or other to him and after a long pause he said "What?" as in "Do you mean me?" I realised from his accent he was foreign so I asked him where he was from. "The Netherlands" he told me, which explained his downhilling.
"What is this hill called?" He asked. "Conic Hill" I told him. "I think its the only hill."...Well people only ever mention Conic Hill. Oh the poor man. I hope he dropped out. In my mind's eye I can see him struggling up the many ups and downs to come muttering "only one hill, only one fucking hill, she said there was only one hill." As it turned out there was quite a lot of hills. Especially in the latter stages. Which I really don't mind. Its just I didn't know.
Anyway. Balmaha marked off the 1st nearly 20 miles and it was a relief to have taken this chunk off the total. I was still making a point of not thinking anything like "Only 33 miles to go". I felt okay. Not great. Not terrible either.
Richie Cunningham flew in just behind me at Balmaha which meant he'd taken about 2 and a half hours for the 1st section. He looked strong and cheerful and only spent a few moments getting stuff out his drop-bag and from that moment to the end of the race I was convinced he had it won.
The next section I perked up a bit and chatted for a while to another runner called Bobby. Bobby had done the race before and he believed firmly that you should walk the uphills and run the downhills. I'm stronger on the uphills and I did try but it felt like a waste of time. I could feel such a sense of disapproval off him when I did run the uphills that I got a bit ahead just so's he couldn't see me.
At Rowardennan (about 27 miles) I saw Andrew and then Julia again, and it was good to have made it half way - though still, I was trying not to contemplate the real meaning of that, because "only 26 miles to go" could go wrong in your head. As in "you've just run a marathon - why don't you run another one?" There are so many reasons why not. I had a bag of Doritos as an experiment at this stage. They were enjoyably salty but may have added to the wind problem I had for the next section of the course.
The running was kind of complicated root dodging along the edge of Loch Lomond. I like running in the woods and I like a bit of undulation so I was enjoying myself - just pottering along and trying not to trip over the edge into the cool water below. Just before Inversnaid (35ish miles) there was a kind of crashing through the undergrowth and a lot of shouting and this turned out to be Peter and Graham Henry just behind. They were going at an unbelievable rate, having whipped each other into a frenzy. I let them past assuming I'd not see them again til the end, so was surprised shortly afterwards, at Inversnaid aid station, to see Graham having a lie down on the grass and Peter's drop bag nearby so clearly he hadn't gone through yet either. Graham told me he'd just been pacing Peter and was going to slow right down after this. He's had a hard week and wasn't ready for a fast fling. I begged a bit of a caffeine drink from Peter and this gave me a powerful kick. I had a Lucozade Shot in my drop bag at Beinglas Farm which was meant to give me a boost for the last unimaginable 12 or 13 miles to the end - but I wanted something sooner.
I was in a much better mood after this, my previous longest run being 35 miles I was now in new territory and I felt like I was now living the race rather than storing up my energy for the future. I was pretty happy from Inversnaid to Beinglas. In this time, Graham dropped back, Peter went on, Ben Kemp came past at a canter. I was feeling good and passed a fair few bods. All was good til about 45 miles where I thought I was nearer the end than I was. (The Garmin died at 36 miles, I knew it wouldn't make it to the end.) I asked someone in the passing how far they thought it was to Tyndrum and they said "8 miles". I tried not to let it bother me but the thought of how long it would take me to get there - of Peter hanging about waiting...At about 36 miles I did an unspectacular leap from one rock to the next and I felt something minor go just above the ankle of my take-off foot. If I'd run maybe another 3 miles on it then I'm pretty sure I wouuld have felt it as a weakness for a couple of days and then it would have disappeared - but by now it was beginning to really hamper me. The route was getting increasingly steep uphill and downhill. The uphill was okay on my foot so I welcomed it although I was tired and moving at a shuffle by this point. On the downhills I often had to walk because it really hurt this ankle thing if I dug my toes in. On and on it went. On and on and on and on with nothing to do but keep moving. I caught up to a couple of sweary blokes who were obviously having an equally bad time. "I've got plenty of grub in my bag if you want some mate.", one said to the other. "I've got Chicken Dhansak and a cheeky fucking little beaujolais.", he said, and they both laughed. I passed them and the road finally, mercifully, flattened out. I stepped aside to let a guy in black and white who was moving faster than me through at a stile. "How are you?" I asked. "Wrong time to ask!" he barked. "Everytime I make a false move I get cramps everywhere."
There was something in those last few miles making people mighty angry. Maybe bad nature spirits. I wasn't exactly ebullient either. It was the thought of being injured. Anyway, I wasn't over-joyed about it but sub 12 hours now looked doable so I get plodding on as best I could. Did I mention it went on and on and on and on? I hope it builds character. If it does I have a character like a brick fucking shithouse my friend. Although I kind of think you gain character if you do it but you lose character if you moan about it like I'm doing now, so good-bye character, it was nice knowing you.
Eventually I turned a corner and it was the By the Way cottages, and a little further on Peter at the corner of a field, and then, "You're kidding me on, all the way over there!" Another field and stream to cross and then the piper and the Run and Become finishing gate thing.
When you've been running that uncomfortable for that long the pain doesn't stop when you do. My front of ankle hurt like the dickens and I could hardly walk. Cramps shot up my legs. I was cold and hot. I downed my much thought about beer as quickly as I could hoping for its relaxant and anaesthetic properties to kick in.
Peter was in a great mood and Ben also. They'd both done really well. Lucy gave me a hug. It was nice to get in. I'd had a party planned in my mind, drinking beer and telling lies about my race with the best of them but once I got into our hotel room that was pretty much it. I had a shower and then got into bed to warm up and lay there feeling feverish and ill and moving every 4 minutes to accommodate new bouts of cramp and my aching leg. Happily Peter was in better form than me and very kindly went and got me 2 kinds of painkillers and strapped up my leg and poured me Highland Fling white fizzy.
When I got out of bed this morning I couldn't walk right away - it took working on. I was relieved to find I could drive however, and we enjoyed a post-race analysis on the way back in the car. We stopped at a road-side cafe for a big second breakfast and it was handily equipt with ramps and handles on the wall at the steps up to the toilet, presumably for the aging coach holiday customers.
Now I have a compression bandage on my damaged leg and it feels more stable and I'm just subject to more normal horror-doms.
I need to say that The Highland Fling is brilliantly organised and I was met with huge encouragement and warmth at every stage of the race and I had a lot of fun. The goody bag is massively generous. We all got a bottle of fizzy white and a Montane t-shirt that is properly technical and properly fitted, free stovies and free beer and £4 off a meal in The Real Food Cafe. It is a fantastic race. And when the pain wears off that is all I will remember.