The Deer Runner

The Deer Runner

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

West Highland Way Race 2012

We did it - my support crew kept me warm, dry, hydrated, fed and motivated enough to finish in position 115 out of 119 with a time of 32 hours 55 minutes 19 seconds. Even though I've already thanked them on a previous post I'm going to say a great big "thank you" on this post as it just wouldn't happen without them.

I knew the forecast was bad, but not that bad. On Fridays drive to Milngavie the sky got darker and darker, eventually thunder and lighting started and the roads flooded quickly. We were glad to check in at Bearsden to get some rest, hoping the rain would ease a bit for race start. We ate at the Burnbrae restaurant where nerves were getting the better of me. I managed to finish my food but the weather and countdown to 1 am were making me unsettled. I tried to get some sleep back at the room but it was impossible, my head was buzzing and I just couldn't switch off. At half past ten I got ready then made my way to registration along with my family. Unfortunately my daughter was not feeling well, it was going to be a long evening and early morning for her.

The railway station was as busy as ever with runners, supporters, camper vans, mountain rescue and spectators. After checking in and dropping off the drop bags we sat in the car waiting for the big start. Coach asked how I felt - "I want to have a sleep" was my reply, a great start. I decided then to let my family go back to the room for much needed rest. I know they missed the excellent start of the race but they both needed some sleep before meeting me at Balmaha, I would wait for the start under cover of the railway platform. The rain wasn't too bad leading up to the start, giving false hope of easing off for the race. At 1230 we got the race briefing then it was some idle chat and banter with runners before a blast of the air horn at 0100.

Milngavie to Balmaha.
What a start! Rain didn't put off support or spectators as we were cheered through Milngavie. I kept towards the back of the pack knowing pace was critical for this race. Most around me ran in silence, I was happy with that as I was contemplating the distance and what lay ahead. It was raining hard now, this mixed with heavy drops falling off the trees made a very wet start. After a couple of miles I came across a group standing round a runner. "Oh no" I thought as the running shoe and sock was removed and showed a swollen ankle. It's not good seeing a fellow runner struggling, especially so early in the race. The knee support I carried was put to use for the ankle. Unfortunately the runner had to withdraw from the race but not before running for another 10 miles. It wasn't long before I found myself running alone. I've run this route twice before in daylight but running with a headtorch in the pouring rain changes the goalposts. I came to a junction at one point and didn't know which way to go. I had no choice but wait for the runners behind to confirm the route, this was frustrating. Further on I was convinced I took a wrong turn and was on the wrong path. I fought the urge to turn back, all this in the first section of the race. I ran faster than I would have liked on the flooded footpath but I wanted to reach the road to Drymen to confirm I was on the right track. On reaching the road I could see torches ahead, I was catching up on runners. Further on, every dip in the road was completely flooded from one side to the other. My headtorch failed to illuminate the flooded sections and before I knew it the water was above my ankles. With soaking feet so early on, blisters were going to be a problem for me. Through the muddy field to Drymen then on up to the forest where I had my first conversation of the day. It was good speaking to Martin who has done the race a few times before. We would pass each other a few times up to Rowardennan. As we ran through the forest it was light enough to switch off head torches. Conic Hill was even more of a challenge, most of the rocky paths had turned into streams. On reaching the peak, Loch Lomond was in a bad mood, no spectacular view today but grey and shrouded in mist. Extra care had to be taken on the descent to Balmaha, I didn't want any mishaps so early in the race. It was good to see coach waiting who helped me change into dry kit and get something to eat.
When I was ready to leave, the car park was remarkably empty, I was at the back of the race and began worrying about cut off times. I panicked at this stage and told coach there was no way I would make it to Achtertyre between 1300 and 1400.

Balmaha to Bienglas Farm.
I was feeling a bit queasy as I left Balmaha and lunch was being served for the midges. My legs were covered in black dots with red patches where I had been bitten. I swiped them off but there was always reserves waiting to take their place and carry on the munching. I caught up and ran with Martin on the way to Rowardennan, passing and being passed by a female runner who was keeping a steady pace. At Rowardennan I sat down and tried to eat my usual drop bag fare, cold beans and sausages, rice and chocolate milk which was even less appealing in the pouring rain. I spend a lot of time at checkpoints and this shows on the results but I needed a comfort stop and used the facilities at Rowardennan.
I felt much better even though I lost a lot of time. The lochside section was coming up and I was going to embrace it, even in the slippery conditions. The rain was making things miserable but the bonus was waterfalls. The trail between Rowardennan and Inversnaid was nothing short of spectacular as waterfalls were in full spate on their way to the loch. You could hear them way before you came across them, mesmerising with their power and beauty. It was at the huge water fall at Inversnaid where I got chatting to the female runner who happened to be Silke. Inversnaid was the last time I saw Silke and was glad to hear she finished in under 30 hours, a cracking result. The mountain rescue people at Inversnaid took good care of us in terrible conditions, making sure we were okay and topping up water etc. I left Inversnaid feeling good and couldn't wait to get stuck into the lochside assault course. I was feeling good and upped the pace, passing runner after runner. Something kicked in here where I just hit the zone and couldn't put a foot wrong. Maybe the Hoka shoes are perfect for this terrain. I knew I was going too fast but didn't care, I was enjoying flying along even though I would probably suffer later on. I spent a minute at Dario's post to take a last look at Loch Lomond before pushing on to Bienglas Farm. Dry seats under a Gazebo greeted runners at Bienglas checkpoint and this was much appreciated. There was also a massive amount of food left by previous runners. I dumped my drop bag and started taking my pick of sandwiches and crisps which was a fine change from cold beans and rice. It was hard to leave this place of comfort but I eventually had to get into the rain and make my way to Auchtertyre.

Beinglas Farm to Auchtertyre.
I don't know the name of the river that flows at this section but it was powerful today. Rushing water is all I could hear as I made my way up to the crossover under the A82. A runners phone had packed up on this section, another casualty of the heavy rain. I gave him my phone so he could arrange a rendezvous with his support. On the way to Crainlarich, the streams were high where stepping stones were submerged, I had no choice but run straight through. On entering the roller coaster forest I realised a duff time had been given to my support crew. I told them I would be between 1500 and 1600 at Auchtertyre. It was 1345 when I phoned Coach who was at Loch Lomond on her way to Auchtertyre. It was my fault, I said not to hurry and I would just wait if I arrived too early. Coach and daughter made it to the checkpoint before me and after I weighed in did a sterling job getting me warmed up, dry and fed so I could take on the next section. This was a crew changeover where my parents relieved Coach of support and would see me through to Glencoe. I must have spent around an hour at Auchtertyre, I was aware of the long crew stops but they were needed so I was comfortable and ready to take on the next section.

Auchtertyre to Bridge of Orchy.
Typical, getting fed up of being wet all the time I changed into my full waterproof jacket. The rain stopped. Sun peaked through the late afternoon clouds. I had the wrong kit on and began to overheat. At Tyndrum a couple of runners ahead took a wrong turn, or so I thought. I continued past where the Fling finishes and looked at the trail ahead. The river was high and I could see no way of crossing without wading in. Not wanting to get disqualified, I was about to make my way to the river when a chap came out of his house and asked if I was in the race. He told me a diversion was in place and runners had been directed to the main street. That will do me as I'm not a swimmer I thought as I thanked him for his help and headed off to Tyndrum. I can't remember who, but someone calls this section the motorway of the WHW. I know why, a great long downhill section to Bridge of Orchy which I had the pleasure of running most of the way. Little did I know it but that would be the last "proper" run I would have of the race. I checked in at B of O and found my parents. A pot noodle was on order but a mix up between support meant we had no cutlery or cups etc. This must be the first pot noodle stirred and made ready by a packet of Trebor mints :-)
I made the disastrous choice of not changing my socks at this point as I thought my feet were fine. I would pay for this big time later on. I spent about half an hour here before heading onto Rannoch Moor.

Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe Ski Resort.
I felt okay as I left B of O and headed up the hill but something was not quite right. I don't know if it was the poor diet which caught up with me or that I was just physically done in but as I walked on this turned out to be the worst part of the race for me. A jelly baby from Murdo standing by his Saltire lifted me a bit but not for long. Even the spectacular rays of evening sun shining on the surrounding hills did nothing for my mood. I tried to break into a slow run but had no energy. I walked the whole section with DNF starting to chase me. I was low in energy and spirits and couldn't believe thoughts of chucking in the towel were going round my head. For eight months I had planned this race and the wheels were coming off the wagon.The soles of my feet were burning with blisters and it was here in daylight I began hallucinating, thinking there were off road vehicles ahead and I must be close to Glencoe. The track could be seen miles ahead, a cruel reminder on just how far I had to go. Eventually I arrived at Glencoe and not feeling great was an understatement. Coach spotted I wasn't quite right straight away and there was a big fuss around me to sort things out. I lay down on the back seat of the car while Coach patched my blistered feet to the best of her ability. As I cooled down I began shivering in the cool breeze blowing into the car. At this point it crossed my mind to pull out but my support runner was ready and bang up for the next section, I couldn't let her down as well as running for Clic Sargent. I recalled a conversation I had with a runner on the Cateran Trail, she said when it starts getting tough just take a seat in the car for half an hour and that's what I ended up doing. A cheese and ham toasty with hot chocolate was ordered from the cafe as I sat in the car. I got dried off, changed into fresh kit and put on my Saucony trail shoes. The toasty arrived and I managed to spill salad all over the car. I could only manage a wee bit of toasty but the sweet hot chocolate went down well. After getting warmed up and a quick comfort stop I felt much better and was ready to take on the devils staircase. Before leaving I went over and introduced myself to Karen where I wished all the best recovering from injury.

Gencoe to Kinlochleven.
Glencoe was another long stop for me, around an hour. It felt as if we were last to leave but there must be more runners to come through. A slow shuffle, that was it, that was all I could muster as we made our way to Kingshouse. It was good to have an accompanying runner. Conversation makes time go by fast.
We managed to miss the track at the hotel and had to double back, not a good start. Soon the evening light disappeared and it was time for head torches again. We reached the bottom of the staircase in the pitch black and could see a couple of head torches high up ahead. My runner is a Zumba instructor and personal trainer, she took on the role of support as if she had been doing this for years. Sure footed she led the way, pausing to light up the path if I was falling behind. She kept my spirits up with good conversation and knew instinctively when to eat to keep energy levels up, a massive thank you from me. We reached the summit around midnight and took a couple of pictures before descending the rocky, stony path towards Kinlochleven, the ghost town. This descent was not easy in the dark with only head torches and some day I would like to do it again in daylight to see the layout of the land and why Kinlochleven is so elusive.
We cross a bridge with a raging waterfall underneath before zig zagging once more towards the town.
My feet are on fire at this point and I am hoping there is someone to treat them at the community centre.
We meet the rest of the crew in Kinlochleven before making our way to the hushed checkpoint.
Inside there are a number of runners, some eating, some sleeping and some getting treatment. I make my way into the hall before taking a seat hoping for attention. I didn't need to wait for long before the nurse asked if I needed any help. My feet were not in great shape but a mug of tea and some proper dressing was absolute bliss which put me in good shape for the last section. I'm sorry, but in the fog of exhaustion I forgot the nurses name but if you ever read this then thank you very much. After treatment I said goodbye to my support crew who needed sleep apart from my support runner for the last section, my youngest brother.
The only thing left to do was a power nap, I had exactly 15 minutes sleep before being wakened by my brother, ready to take on Lairig Mor.

Kinlochleven to Fort William.
No need for torches, it was light when we departed Kinlochleven on the climb to Lairig Mor. The scenery was spectacular as mist hung half way up the hillside, the lights of Kinlochleven still shining and the water of Loch Leven still and silent. My brother does run and accompanies me on some training sessions, he knew the pace to set and encouraged me up the steeper climbs. We soon came across two mountain rescue guys who must have been on the hills all night, the background work that goes into this race is astounding. We had a quick chat and got our photo taken before moving on. I was getting very tired by this point but I knew we were on the way to the finish and the famous goblet. We walked the uphill and flat sections and I would kind of shuffle/run the downhills to try and make up time. Eventually smoke could be seen rising into the air, I knew this was Lundavra checkpoint and we would soon be in Fort William. We didn't stop at Lundavra but pushed on for Glen Nevis. We could see Fort William in the distance so I did my shuffle/run most of the way down to Brave Heart car park. At this point I was exhausted and began to get a bit grumpy, my poor brother would have to keep things calm all the way into Fort William. I looked at my watch and decided I wanted in before the 33 hour mark, don't ask me why but that seemed important at the time. This stressed me out as I ran, walked, shuffled all the way into town. At the roundabout I found the energy to run properly and jogged all the way past my support who were cheering me on in the street. In my quest to reach the leisure centre doors before the 33 hour mark I ran past and ignored the very people who helped make this happen, what an idiot. I apologised at the time and I apologise again through this blog, that was my only regret of the weekend.

I had two hours to freshen up and get some sleep before prize giving and receiving my crystal goblet.
John Kynaston presented my goblet which is quite fitting as it was Johns blogs and information I read on discovering ultra running.

I am also proud to have raised over £1000 for Clic Sargent, thank you to all who sponsored me.

So, thank you to the race organisers, marshals, volunteers, rescue teams and medical teams who all make this wonderful race happen. Will I be back next year? The fact I've tagged my pictures with "2012" means yes, see you all on the 22nd of June.

Thursday, 21 June 2012


Before we head down to Milngavie tomorrow I would like to use this short post to say thank you to my family, friends and colleagues for sponsoring me. Running for a good cause will spur me on so this is much appreciated.

As I type this blog rain is beating off the window and the forecast is not too good so looks like it will be a character building race but I'm still looking forward to it regardless of the weather.

Hopefully I'll have a crystal goblet in my possession this time on Sunday.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

22nd week done.

During my short taper runs this week I have been reminiscing on how I have ended up about to run the full WHW race on Saturday. It's strange to look back and I feel I have been in a vortex, unable to escape as I get sucked more and more into the ultra world. It all started in 2009 when chatting to a colleague, proudly telling her how I had done the Edinburgh and Loch Ness marathons. "Marathons? You need to do the Comrades in South Africa, now that's a race for you" she said. Out of that conversation the seed was planted. I'd never heard of an 'ultra' before but a couple of hours spent on Google brought me to Scottish ultras and an entry to the Fling in 2010.

I stayed at the Premier Inn at Bearsden prior to the Fling and a chance encounter would seal my fate in the ultra world. It was late evening and I was sitting in reception when I got chatting to none other than George and Karen. "You should do the Cateran, it's a good all round ultra race" they said. That conversation planted the Cateran in my head which I ran 13 months later.

I came across the WHW race a few times but thought "that's for the real expert runners". The fact you had to have an ultra race history, driving and running support, not to mention running 95 miles in 35 hours put me off. But it wormed it's way into my head, the ultra vortex started spinning faster.

After the 2011 Cateran I lost my way a bit, without a target my running became erratic and sporadic. I needed something to aim for, an exciting challenge, something which would scare me, the WHW!
My decision to run the WHW just happened to be early November, the very month for entry, my fate was sealed.

Now, I want to thank my support in advance for giving up their weekend to help me reach my goal.
Coach and daughter for following me on another ultra adventure.
To my parents who will provide checkpoint support on Saturday.
To my youngest brother (who will run the last section with me) and his partner.
To our friend, a Zoomba instructor (who will run the second last section with me) and her family.

Today was packing day, I think I have packed practically everything I own to do with running.
All I have to do now is sort out food.

Good luck to all the WHW entrants, see you all in Milngavie on Saturday morning.

Tues 3 miles  Wed 6 miles  Thurs 3 miles  Sat 3 miles  Sun 3 miles. Weekly total 18 miles.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

21st week done. Taperitis.

Joint pain, stiff muscles and lethargy. Symptoms of the dreaded taper and I was suffering. This weekend I was climbing the walls, not being able to put in a big run was "dein ma heed in" as they say around these parts. The WHW race has taken over my life and the house and garden are the victims. I don't have the motivation for DIY or gardening as all my attention is on the big race.

I wanted to run the last section of the WHW today (Kinlochleven to Fort William) as for me this will be done in the dark. I was packed and prepared to do this despite a 7 hour round trip and 1 hour bus ride. When the alarm went off at half six I saw sense and didn't bother to get up, it was a foolhardy plan with no support if things went belly up.

So time to hit the hills and once again Bennachie was the training ground. I didn't take a water bottle as the run has plenty of freshwater springs.

From Rowantree car park it was straight up towards Mither Tap.

For the romantics - the story of Hosie's Well.

My first water stop on the way up.

I bypassed Mither tap and descended toward Mill Stone Hill.

Mill Stone Hill with Mither Tap in the background.

Onto the Gordon Way and my usual watering hole.

The third water stop, dark and peaty, just how I like my whiskey.

Up to Oxen Craig which was shrouded in mist.

Down to the back o Bennachie and my fourth spring of the day.

A stream flowed down the track on the way back to the car park.

A good, easy couple of hours completed which alleviated the symptoms of taperitis.
That's it now, no more long runs or hills until race day. The Hoka shoes are now broken in and will be my number one choice for the race, they are great once you get used to them.

Mp3 of the week "Touch" by Noiseworks.
Wed 6 miles  Thurs 6 miles  Sun 10 miles 2.09.48  Weekly total 22 miles.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

20th week done - A Swimming Stag

A camping weekend at Fochabers was the ideal opportunity for a couple of tapering training runs. With miles of track and trail as well as the Speyside way nearby, a couple of 2 hour runs were completed on Saturday and Sunday.

The trails are on the campsite doorstep.

 I kept to the forest tracks as the Monster Mountainbike downhill trails are off limits to walkers and runners.

Overlooking the new Fochabers bypass.

Outskirts of Fochabers through the trees.

I reached the Speyside way and followed the river through Fochabers.

Care had to be taken on this section as exposed tree roots could turn an ankle.

Soon I was running alongside the river overlooking people fly fishing.

At this point I was soaking up the atmosphere when a Deer broke cover on the opposite bank and waded in. I couldn't believe my eyes as it swam across. The river is quite wide here and it took about a minute to reach the other side. Not only are these creatures masters of the land but seem to be very strong swimmers as well. It can just be made out in the photo above.

After watching the Deer crossing it was back through Fochabers and past the cricket pitch on the way to the campsite.

On Sunday I crossed the A96 to the forest on the other side. A couple of miles uphill brought me to a memorial cairn overlooking the Moray Firth towards the Black Isle. I then ran down to a section aptly named The Winding Walks. A path is cut into the side of a small forest gorge allowing about a mile of twisting roller coaster running. It was here where I went over the right ankle once again.
The recently recovered tendons started hurting once more so I walked a few minutes cursing and swearing at my stupidity, luckily I had the forest to myself. As it didn't seem as bad as last time I decided to carry on with the run and carefully made my way to Fochabers. I reached the Spey once more and ran up river to a point called the Intake. Fochabers had Hydro electricity in the early 1900's and the Intake is where some of the river was diverted to power the scheme. I ran through the same forest tracks as the day before to return to the campsite.

So, two good sessions and a lucky escape with the ankle, probably due to the wide footprint of Hoka. I'm not sure what else to run during taper but I'll certainly have to look after the ankle.

Tues 8.74 miles 1.43.58  Thurs 6 miles  Sat 2 hours  Sun 2 hours  Weekly total approx 30 miles.