The Deer Runner

The Deer Runner

Thursday, 30 April 2015


I get up and look out the window, a vintage tractor is parked next to the stable.  For fifteen years it's sat idle, slowly succumbing to nature.   The stable is attached to an old wooden garage, built almost twenty years ago.  I make my way downstairs, the kitchen lights take a while to light up.  I switch on the oil boiler and fill the kettle, water is supplied from a maintained well.  Dull eyes look back as I shave over a white basin then step into the shower.  Hot water cascades over my head, a large glass partition keeps the spray in check.  Dressed and dazed I make a coffee and wake up Lynne, we have a journey ahead.  Lynne exits the house first, I then step onto the stone chippings.  I observe the grass, it needs the first cut of summer.  I walk to the driveway, our old Land Rover is here, stuck and desperate for attention.  I click the remote to my car, the tow bar catches my blurry eyes before I step in and start the engine.

It's a prerequisite requirement for running most long distance races.  All runners need it, from the sharp end to the back of the field.  When the chips are down these are the people that see you through.  They go out of their way to look after someone they care for, in some cases someone they love.  Long distances are travelled and time is sacrificed to ensure the safety and well being of their runner. Feeding, hydrating, encouraging, allowing the runner to complete their challenge and realise their dream, in some cases dreams.

The weather is fowl, silence takes over the car, it's not awkward, there's nothing to say.  We're heading south, around an hour.  I've been dreading this journey for a while and now the time has come.

Iv'e been supported during numerous races over the years, for the purpose of this post I'm concentrating on the two West Highland Way events I have done.  I've been lucky enough the have family and close friends support me on the WHW, the first of which was 2012, the wet one.  Most people have a one or two shift system for support.  A one shift is for the insomniacs, particularly if supporting someone at the back of the field.  The two shift system allows a half way change over, easier on the crew.  My support was a sort of three shift system.  

We pull up outside the house, a knot is in my stomach.  We enter the house and I make my way to the living room.  There's a bed in the corner, it's empty, I feel empty.

Lynne and Skye took me to Milngavie then returned to the hotel room.  They slept a few hours before meeting me at Balmaha and returning to the room.  Auchtertyre was the next meeting and crew change, an important one as my parents (shift two) were here after driving from Aberdeen. This was a long way to come, a crucial role to support me while Lynne and Skye checked in at Fort William and got some rest.  Despite not being in the best of health, my father did the eight hour round trip to see me through to Glencoe.  This was the dedication and interest he took in my ultra running, always asking how I got on and when my next race is.  As I've already mentioned, 2012 was the wet one, I was well aware how late I arrived at Glencoe, it was getting dark by the time I was ready to continue to Kinlochleven.  I shook hands with my father and bid farewell before he departed for Aberdeen, shift two was done, time for shift three.  I was worried about him driving home alone in the dark, but not only did he get home safe and sound, he went online and followed the remainder of the race via live updates.

It was a long and valiant fight which taught me a lesson in grit, determination and changing targets. My father was diagnosed with lung cancer early last year, the word terminal made it even tougher to sink in.  At first the diagnosis was only words, life went on as normal, it was easy to blank out and not think about the future, what was coming.

West Highland Way, 2013.  I was back with the same three shift support system.  Once again my father made the long trip to support at the same three checkpoints.  This time I was having a much better race, I shook hands and thanked him at Glencoe, giving him daylight for the trip back to Aberdeen.  Once again he returned home and followed the race to the end online.        

Everything changed at the end of November, my fathers mobility deteriorated rapidly, from one walking stick to two then zimmer frame then nothing, paralysis.  "Close the pit please George", chilling and awful words to hear.  Over the last 30 years we had worked in his garage on many cars, One or both of us in the pit cursing and swearing, welding and hammering.  I walked numb into the garage where one by one I replaced the boards across the pit, knowing we would never work on another vehicle again.

"A second lease of life", that's what my father called it when he was measured for a wheelchair.  We didn't know how long he had but he rose to the challenge of living paralised.  Proud and independent, he went about single handedly converting his house for manoeuvring in a wheelchair.  
I was in awe of his attitude towards the changing circumstances he found himself, making adjustments that would allow him to live as independently as possible.

As the illness got progressively worse, my father never tired of asking how my running was going or when my next ultra was.  It was a crushing time where I just wanted to give him a hug but this was a no no.  It was typical of his generation, not to have physical contact, apart from hand shakes, or show emotion.  I had a plan though, every departure I would say to my daughter to give her Granda a hug.  He thought it was hugs from Skye but it was really hugs from both of us.

My father passed away in the early hours of 19th April.  It took a few days after for me to realise, I didn't just loose my Dad, I lost my best friend, leading light and number one fan.  I continued to take part in the Highland Fling even though I was grieving, he would have wanted me to carry on and race.

I'm going to finish this post with four simple words, words I didn't have the courage to say when my father was alive.  I'm going to post them so they are here for eternity - I love you Dad.

Week ending 19th April - Tues 4, Wed 10, Sat 6.  Weekly total 20 miles.
Mon 2, Sat 53.  Weekly total 55 miles.

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