The Deer Runner

The Deer Runner

Friday, 4 August 2017

West Highland Way Race 2017 (support)

I've known Wilson for a while, not drinking buddies as such, or running buddies for that matter, we never quite managed to meet up and run despite living comparatively close to each other.  Our paths crossed at the SUMS awards last November while waiting to be served at the bar.  Wilson said he had applied to run the WHW race, his name was in for the ballot.  I said I'm available to support and something just clicked, we shook hands on what would become an incredible weekend in June.

Out but not out

The WHW ultra is so popular it uses a ballot for entry.  More and more people are putting their names forward during the month of November.  While popularity and the rise in participation of ultra events is a good thing, the more hopefuls in the draw, the less likely your name is coming out.  Early December is a nerve wracking time, if you're serious about giving the race a good go your training has already begun, despite the possibility of not gaining a place.  Yes, you've guessed it, Wilson Dornan was not confirmed as a starter for the race, a disappointment that is difficult to hide in these days of social media.  All was not lost though, Wilson did get on the waiting list, he would get in if runners failed to confirm and pay for their place.

Good news bad news

Wilson kept me updated, he was quite far down the waiting list, eventually the iphone alerted me to the message "I'm in".  Excellent news, I knew what I would be doing in June and could imagine myself supporting Wilson then getting to run some of the West Highland Way.  Regular readers (about 10) of this blog knows what happened in January so no need to go into detail on this post. Eventually I had to advise Wilson I can't run but will still support the whole route, I felt I had let him down and was worried he would struggle to find a runner.

Ultra Fame

It didn't take long, another message from Wilson advised he had a couple of runners, not just any runners but Sarah Louise Grigor and her partner Chris.  I knew we were in for a tough weekend but hearing Wilson had arranged the back-up and expertise of Sarah and Chris meant his chances of completing the ultra increased significantly.  Things were looking good for team Dornan.


I was unable to train with Wilson but was glad to see Alan Cormack accompany him on hill runs as reported on social media.  I was at the Cateran where Wilson crossed the line in just over 14 hours so the miles were being done and he seemed on target in getting ready for the race.  The hurdles to overcome and take part in the race would come from elsewhere.


Nothing is guaranteed, life throws in some ups and downs for us all.  Wilson was no different, during the months leading up to the race I began to doubt if he would make the start line.  Both parents ended up in hospital at one stage, I knew the race was approaching and if still on he would need a meeting with his support.  I didn't want to be the one to suggest a meeting, I wasn't sure if all was well or if he would be running.

Game on

Wilson messaged, all was well so I suggested a meeting, we needed to get a plan together.  I met with Wilson and his partner Hazel.  With no motor homes allowed till after Bridge of Orchy, my camper van would be Dornan HQ until Glencoe.  Hazel, Sarah and Chris would be at Glencoe, ready to support till Fort William.  I passed on some hints and tips to Wilson and asked for a detailed plan which duly arrived a few days later.


I didn't have spare days to take off work, we planned to drive to Milngavie on the Friday evening.  Wilson took the day off however and used it to rest before taking on the WHW race.  I picked Wilson up along with his son Jak who would assist during the weekend.  We stopped in by the hospital on our way, Wilson needed to visit his mother before making our way south.  We were up against time but managed to stop for some food to make sure the fueling got off to a good start.  The evening was fine, I knew sunshine, showers and high winds were forecast, little did we know how bad it would get.

Registration and selfies

I'm writing about Wilson as if you know him and if you're in the Scottish ultra scene you probably do. He is the type of guy who posts on FB and gets hundreds of likes and lots of comments.  He knows a lot of people, registration consisted of Wilson saying hello to just about everyone he bumped into and getting some great selfies including one with last years winner James Stewart.  Jak must have felt like the paparazzi following Wilson and taking pictures with his phone.  It wasn't long before it was time for race briefing which included the famous line "there will be weather".  This got a small cheer from the crowd who probably didn't realise just how much weather was coming their way.  Jak and I bade farewell to Wilson and made our way to the High Street.

The European Cup

Jak was tasked with taking a video of the runners coming through.  He'd been playing a lot of football on his phone, at one minute to one I advised him to get ready.  I've only got 1 % of my battery left he said, but all was okay, his team were in the European Cup semi final.  I used my phone to capture the runners coming through and heading off towards apocalypse.

What? No midges?

Where's your midge net? I asked.  I haven't got one Jak said.  Pffft, wait till we get to Balmaha I said, you won't believe what it's like, I've got a spare net.  We set off with me following the sat nav.  There was no hurry, the Oak Tree did not open it's doors till 0200.  We found a space in camper van city and had a roll and coffee, I do like sitting in the Oak Tree with fellow support teams in the early hours of the morning.  We got some rest, I set my alarm in plenty of time for Wilson arriving at Balmaha.       The alarm chimed, wearily I got up and put on the midge net expecting the onslaught.  Tentatively I opened the camper door and looked around.  Not one net was being worn by support crews, the high winds kept the biters away.  The first checkpoint is always a bit of a worry, Conic Hill is in the way and your runner needs to exit it safely.  Wilson arrived at 0520, I was glad to see him, 40 minutes before cut off.  I was perfectly happy with that.  I followed the race plan, fed Wilson what was advised on the sheet and said farewell, until Bienglas Farm anyway.  He was in good spirits and looked in great shape.  Wilson had a drop bag for Rowardennan which meant quite a long stretch before he would meet his crew again.

A phone call

After a rest at Balmaha Jak and I made our way to Bienglas Farm.  That was when the weather started to close in, the wind started to rise, we could only just glimpse the other side of the loch as we made our way north.  Race organisers request support crews arrive at Bienglas Farm roughly at the time their runner comes through.  We arrived slightly early, enough time for some breakfast and a seat in the bar.  Jak answered a call, I was not sure who it was so didn't take any notice then the phone was handed to me where I saw "Dad" on the display.  My heart sank, was he injured?  Has he taken a tumble?  He's went through a rough patch, didn't feel great between Balmaha and Rowardennan.     He picked up a bit but he was not sure of the mileage to Bienglas Farm, he was getting different distances from runners and was sounding down.  I asked if he was at Inversnaid yet, no was the answer, he was about 33 miles in.  I advised him to keep going, don't worry or listen to other runners, just keep going and get to Bienglas Farm where his crew would see to him, there's plenty of time.  

A close shave

1300 is the cut off at Bienglas Farm, not a minute more.  Jak and I stood waiting at the checkpoint, watching and cheering runners through.  The checkpoint emptied to just a few support teams.  I had left the phone call saying there's plenty of time, I was now eating my words.  1230 passed, now I was getting worried, I strained to see back down the trail, looking for the familiar orange jacket.  At 1240 I was seriously worried, I wanted to run down the track, meet him and escort him back before 1300.   I couldn't remember the race rules and how far support could meet their runner outside the checkpoint.  Was it 200 yards?  Half a mile?  In desperation I asked one of the marshals who wasn't too sure.  Two minutes later, sure enough orange appeared on the track much to his support crews relief.

No time to hang around

Considering the phone call Wilson was in good enough shape.  He needed all his time though so we gave him a quick 5 minute turn around and gave him some stats - 10 miles with just over 3 hours to cut off, keep it steady, see you at Auchtertyre.

The weather gets worse

Auchtertyre is an exposed field, the rain meant support vehicles needed pushed out of the mud.  I manage to park away from the mud right next to the checkpoint shelter.  The wind was strong, the direction it was gusting meant runners were travelling straight into the gale.  Sporadic showers came and went.  Crew sheltered in the lee of vehicles to service their runners, it was cold.  Jak watched a film while I sat and watched runners check-in, weigh-in, see their support and leave.  It was so bad outside I prepared the van for an indoor service, Wilson may need a change of gear.

Another close shave

It was getting to be a familiar feeling, sitting in the camper van willing Wilson into the checkpoint, this time a 1600 close off.  I had binoculars and found myself looking through them down the open field hoping to see the bright colour once more.  There were plenty of yellows and blues, mostly walking into the wind but I had to wait before Wilson appeared, he was running at this stage, something very few were doing because of the strong wind.

No time to hang around

Again he was in pretty good spirits and shape, he was dry so didn't need to change, his jacket was fine for the conditions so we fed him and gave him another relatively quick turn around.  We gave more stats - 10 miles to Bridge of Orchy and 3 1/2 hours to cut off.

A surprise for Wilson

With nothing better to do, Jak and I decided to meet Wilson at the crossroads in Tyndrum.  There was good news, Hazel and Sarah managed to find a parking space on the outskirts of Bridge of Orchy, (unfortunately Chris couldn't make it), reinforcements were in the area.  We parked at the Tourist info and walked to the road crossing. Rather than stand and wait, we ran / walked back along the way to meet our runner.  At the large gate we met up where Wilson was suffering with a tight hamstring.  We gave Wilson the good news that his support were at Bridge of Orchy which gave him a lift.  I left them to make their way to the crossroads while I ran back to the van for freeze spray.  Treatment was administered at the crossing before Wilson departed for Bridge of Orchy.  Jak and I drove up the hill, parallel to the West Highland Way, tooting the van horn at every runner we could see, including Wilson.

The Deer Runner versus Rannoch Moor 

It's a beautiful landscape, a vast wilderness, but we have history.

Back to 2012 and my first WHW race, another wet one.  I arrived at Glencoe - cold, wet and broken after enduring 12 hours of rain and hallucinating on the Moor.  It took my support a lot of work to rejuvenate and get me going again.  That race was a draw - 1 each.

I returned to the race in 2013 and had a ball, cruised all the way over the Moor and into Glencoe feeling great, the score was now 2 - 1 in favour of the Deer Runner.

2016, not so good, I took a beating over the Moor, after suffering with high temperatures all day, the setting sun and the Moor destroyed me, I withdrew at Glencoe exhausted and bordering on hypothermia.  The Deer Runner 2 Rannoch Moor 2.

So, the score was 2 each, all square but I was concerned.  I knew how desolate Rannoch could feel and I knew this was the stage which Wilson had not done a recce on.  This part
 of the race can play with your mind, it can undermine you and make you want to withdraw.  Not only that but Wilson was going to be heading onto the Moor in what was probably the worst conditions the race has known, I couldn't let Rannoch Moor win, no way did I want Wilson to feel the way I did and withdraw from the race.  I considered leaving my van at Bridge of Orchy and accompanying Wilson over Rannoch Moor but with my ankle I would be a liability to the runner and the race

Plans over coffee

After meeting Hazel and Sarah, team Dornan were at full strength, Wilsons dream of completing the WHW race took a step closer.  I discussed my Rannoch Moor concerns with the crew over coffee in the hotel.  Sarah decided she would be ready to run from Bridge of Orchy if required, Wilson would have to make the decision on whether he wanted company over RM when he arrived at the checkpoint, it was his race after all.  The rain was pouring down when we made our way to the checkpoint gazebo.  Hazel went to meet and escort Wilson in, I heated a portion of Hazels famous Mac n Cheese on the stove.  It wasn't long before Wilson arrived, no cutoff concerns this time. Wilson was fed the warm dish then asked if he would like Sarah to accompany him over Rannoch Moor.  I breathed a sigh of relief when Wilson said he would love Sarah to accompany him over RM.
It was quite a long stop and it was needed.  Sarah got ready to go, Wilson changed into gear more suited for adverse conditions including a more suitable jacket and waterproof trousers.  At seven o'clock Wilson and Sarah left Bridge of Orchy and headed into what would become known to Team Dornan as Storm Bastard Rannoch.

Mac n Cheese at the Ritz

We were at Glencoe, it was feeding time for the rest of the crew.  I named Hazel's motor home the Ritz. It was freezing outside, some after race reports said 2 degrees and it felt like it.  Hazel, Jak and I sat in central heated luxury and ate M & C with garlic bread.  I returned to my van for some rest, listening to the howling gale and heavy rain outside wondering if the weather was going to give the runners a break.  It was getting dark, just after 2200 I decided to get out the van and wait for their arrival.  I couldn't wait, I started back along the trail willing to meet them at every turn.  I passed David Searil who was struggling and determined to walk the rest of the race.  Not long after I was relieved to meet our runners, in good spirits despite the stormy conditions and head on wind.  For obvious reasons this was another long stop, we needed to make sure Wilson was changed into fresh clothes, fed, warmed and given first aid to aches and pains.

Night lights

Wilson was very stiff and sore when he left the checkpoint, something I can relate to.  Hazel and Jak departed for Kinlochleven to get some kip, I decided to stop at Altnafae.  I wanted to give some support before they tackled the devils staircase.  I wasn't expecting problems but would be available if any arose.  I found a space in the layby but couldn't settle.  Vehicles passed with their lights dazzling my mirrors.  I decided to get out into the strong wind and rain, it was way too early, I wasn't sure when they would come through but didn't want to miss them.  I stood with my brolly and a torch, peering up the trail.  Some runners had very bright torches, I knew Sarah had a powerful torch, I convinced myself every bright torch coming my way was Sarahs.  The wind tried to relieve me of my brolly, David Searil came through and I wished him well, other runners and support came and went. Finally they arrived, all was well, I could hear Sarah encouraging Wilson every step of the way.

Lost but not lost

I drew into a space at Kinlochleven community centre car park, set my alarm for 0400 and settled down for some kip.  The rain was relentless, beating on the camper van roof, the runners were getting no respite.   My alarm went off and I was looking forward to a coffee in the community centre.  I exited the van into the rain and made my way to the entrance.  Hazel was standing in the street, looking worried and on the phone, my heart sank.  I was dreading bad news, Hazel approached, advised they were lost then handed the phone over.  It was a rude awakening, with blurry eyes I looked at my watch, 0415.   Sarah was on the other end, they hadn't reached the water pipes and thought they took a wrong turn.  Before this a runner was ahead, Sarah and Wilson tried to warn them they were on the wrong track.  I needed to think, it was four years since I was last approaching Kinlochleven and now getting lost threatened our race, the clock was ticking towards the 0500 close off.  I advised them I was not aware of a wrong turn, it just goes downhill towards Kinlochleven, I'm running up to meet you.  In a panic I set off as fast as my ankle would allow, our race couldn't possibly end here, it would be a massive disappointment.  Through the streets I ran, onto the trail and up to the large water pipes which were so elusive to our runners.  My heart was in my mouth, conscious of the time, looking ahead and willing them to be there.  Much to my relief they appeared following the pipes downhill.  They were never off trail, the pipes were farther than expected, a new forest road across the valley added to the illusion of being lost, the WHW dream was back on.


Wilson weighed in, a coffee was made in the community centre but it was easier to do the pit stop in the Ritz.  Our runner got fed, hydrated and a fresh pair of socks.  He was suffering with a sore leg so took paracetamol.  Hazel asked if I was going to Lundavra to which I answered no, I didn't want it to be an option for Wilson to pull out of the race.  Wilson exited the motor home with Sarah, ready to take on the final leg.  The final runner, they walked up the street as signs were being removed. Wilsons gloves were found in the motor home, I ran and caught up to hand them over.  Wilson looked in pain and was limping slightly, I was concerned, I was going to Lundavra.
Bad dreams

Hazel and Jak got some rest at Kinlochleven, just in case they were needed by Wilson, I would drive to Lundavra.  I've never driven to Lundavra before, I left  after getting directions from Graeme (first roundabout in Fort William, turn right, keep going till the road runs out), and what a steep twisty road it was for an old camper van.  I didn't dare take the van off road, opting to park on a grass bank just below the Lundavra checkpoint.  After a quick visit and chat to the marshals (who have been there since around Saturday lunch time), I returned to the van for some sleep.  I had to set the alarm, after some thought I settled for 0830 figuring they would come through around 0900.  My sleep was unsettled where I dreamt every scenario going, what if he comes through at 1000, two hours to do six miles.  If he comes through at 1100?  What next?  Keep going?

I woke at 0825, 5 minutes before the alarm went off.  I began to get ready to go the the checkpoint. There was a knock on the window.  It was Melanie who shouted "Wilson is here"!  I asked Melanie to tell Wilson to keep going but he wanted to see his support.  I jumped out of the van and scrambled up the hill. Wilson was standing with his hands in the air.  I'VE BEASTED IT! he shouted, IV'E PASSED TWO RUNNERS ON LAIRIG MOR!  That's when I knew it was job done, six miles from Fort William on a rain soaked moor nothing was going to get in the way.  Sarah advised me to catch up as they pushed on, I ran onto the WHW and put my arms around them both announcing I could greet.

Fort William

Back down the twisty road to Fort William, I headed for the car park looking for the Ritz forgetting they were camped up at Kinlochleven.  In a moment of panic, I phoned Hazel who just happened to be a few miles from Fort William.  The Ritz was parked at the leisure centre before making our way to Brave Heart car park.  We walked up the Way to meet our runners, take pictures and escort them back to Brave Heart.    

34 hours 24 minutes and 09 seconds after leaving Milngavie, Wilson Dornan realised his ambition to complete the West Highland Way Ultra and crossed the finish line to applause from all in attendance.


To the race organisers, marshals, sweepers and volunteers for yet another epic race.

To Jak for your help and company in support of Wilson.

To Hazel for bolstering support of Wilson and Sarah and looking after team Dornan.

To Sarah for taking care of Wilson through awful weather for a longer than anticipated distance.

To Wilson Dornan for allowing me to share his epic journey.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017


I have a new routine.  I put on running kit and head out for a test run.  Ankle pain shows up right at the start, struggle through whatever mileage I decided to do (anything from 2 to 5 miles), leave it for another week and repeat.  It's the same every week, I have no expectations, medial pain makes it's appearance as soon as I strike off to run.

My right leg has thrown the toys out of the pram.  It's the weak leg and I've asked it to step up to the mark and get me running again.  Fat chance, it now complains along with my back muscles.  I have no running form and as for core strength? that fled the sinking ship long ago.

The 3 miles home from my work has become a chore, I've finished the D33 in better shape than my commute, stumbling through the door broken, wheezy and sore.  11:40 minute miles was my average pace during a recent 5 miler and that was as fast as I could run.

I've turned alternative and wear a magnet inside my sock.  I take glucosamine tablets to speed up the healing.  I don't think I have been rehabilitating the ankle enough, a few exercises now and again has not been sufficient.  I use an elastic band and wobble board every now and then and have started exercises to strengthen the tibialis posterior tendon after consultation with doctor Google.

On the plus side I have marshaled, both at the Highland Fling and Cateran.  Missing my favorite ultra was painful but Karen and George allowed me to join the team last minute where I had a great weekend helping out.

Future events - needless to say, my East to West challenge is out the window, for this year anyway. Looks like I'll have to withdraw from the Hardmoors 60 in September which is disappointing.  Not getting back to running means there's no way I have time to get fit enough for the 60.  Both Lynne and myself are signed up for the Glenmore 24 and if I'm still the same? sod it, I'll walk it instead.

The Glen Ogle 33 opened at the weekend,  I entered it to give myself a target and inspiration to get training again.  I would also like to get back to the Cateran and run the 55 miles solo which may well be mid winter, here's hoping.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The long denial

A three mile hill run confirmed I wasn't ready, it was a test run before my physio.  I went to the appointment, it seems the soft tissue has heeled but there's pain on the inside of the ankle when I run. This is on the opposite side of the ligament damage, the conclusion being this is bruising to the bone inside the joint.  It's going to take time to heal so we tried taping the ankle to see if this would alleviate the pain and allow a slow return.

Every day walking is fine, but when I run it's the impact and pushing off that's the problem forcing my body to compensate.  The ankle was taped and I attempted a run but aborted after 50 yards, the pain was still there.  My physiotherapist advised another two weeks cross training before attempting another run, did I heed the advice?  Nope.

Sunday saw Lynne and I head for Bennachie, it was time to get Lynne fit for the G24 in December.     Lynne would run while I walked but once again I couldn't contain myself.  It was such a beautiful day we ended up hiking and running for 5 miles, this was considerably uncomfortable on the ankle.

Wednesday saw a work colleague, Lynne and I head for the Braes o Gight, another denial run and uncomfortable eight miles with no lesson learnt.  I kept thinking the next run will be the one with no pain and a return to normal.

And so to this past weekend, a recce of the G24 route in the Cairngorms and another eight miles, it's all I could muster as the ankle swelled up.

The Fling is less than three weeks away, I still have not pulled out but it's inevitable.  I also need to heed the advice from my physio, lets see what this week brings.

Week ending 02nd April - Sun 05.  Weekly total 5 miles.
Wed 08, Sun 08.  Weekly total 16 miles.


Sunday, 26 March 2017


 With fine weather and blue skies over the weekend, my Facebook feed was full of fellow runners sending photos from all over the country.  A visit to the physio is booked this Wednesday so it was time to test the ankle once more.  Brimmond Hill was the destination, time to pull on the trainers and give it a decent go, the first time since the 24th of January.

For those that don't know Brimmond, it has a car park at the base and a tarred road used by service vehicles to the top.  It's not too long nor very steep but would be quite sufficient for the test today.

I was accompanied by Lynne, she wanted to get training for the Glenmore 24 in September.  Once out of the car I advised a wee jog around the car park to bring our heart rate up before ascending the hill. It quickly became apparent the ankle was not going to play ball, with stiff shooting pains I decided to walk up the hill while Lynne ran ahead.  I couldn't contain myself though and jogged some of the uphill regardless how my ankle was feeling.  I couldn't help thinking, am I doing myself damage running in pain or is it time to tell the ankle this is how it should be, time to get back to normal.

When I say jog, I don't mean a normal jog.  The body compensated to deal with the injured ankle which meant my right leg was doing most of the work.  I was subconsciously protecting the ankle from striking and pushing off.  Uphill was the worst but I was thankful to be out and getting some sort of exercise regardless of the circumstances.

Once at the top, we decided to descend to the rear of the hill and return.  This was trail and I didn't have my ankle strapped up.  I took it real easy, baby steps while Lynne ran ahead.  At one stage I decided to go all out, just to see how the ankle responded and yelled out as the ankle protested.  that put the brakes on, even though going downhill was much easier.

Run / walking back up reminded me just how unfit I was as I struggled for breath.  Lynne was now way ahead, reached the summit and was making her way back down the tarred road as I shuffled behind.  I had a chuckle to myself as Lynne turned around and started running back up towards me, doing hill repeats with a grin on her face and enjoying being out in front, the audacity of it all.

Never the less, I managed to jog back down to the car, an estimated 3 miles completed but at what cost.  Today was either a turning point and time to get going again or a setback with the ankle needing further recuperation, at this point I'm not sure which.  I'll find out when I visit the physio on Wednesday.

Sunday 03.  Weekly total - 3 miles.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

D33 - Marathon Man

I had to pull out of the D33 but that didn't mean I couldn't take part.  I volunteered to marshal and at such a late stage didn't expect to be called upon.  A road crossing at Peterculter required a marshal, a post I was perfectly happy to accept.

And so I found myself at Duthie Park on race day, it felt strange helping out rather than getting ready to run.  I didn't hang around for race start, I wanted to drive to the road crossing and get ready for runners coming through.

Station Road East has a small car park - runners, cyclists and dog walkers are using it for access to the Deeside Way.  The road crossing is seven miles into the race and as it is an out and back just happens to be exactly marathon distance on the way back.

I wasn't sure what time the leaders would come through, so I took up position  in plenty of time.  The trail exits to the road and turns downhill for a short distance before a left turn then runners rejoin the trail on the right hand side of the road.  From where I stood I could just see where runners rejoined the trail.

I stood in position, nervously waiting for runners to come through, chatting to inquisitive locals and letting them know about Aberdeen's premier running race.

It wasn't long before the escort push bike came into sight, closely followed by race leader.  I clapped and cheered all runners through while watching for traffic and warning motorists.

I was into the swing of things, "well done, keep left, downhill, rejoin the track" I repeated as runners passed.  Some obviously knew the route and arrows were spray painted on the ground but I mainly tried to keep runners to the side of the road.  All was going well until one runner came through, I advised the directions but made an error, instead of downhill I advised down the bottom of the hill.

The runner was on her way before I could rectify my instruction.  I could just see her, hoping she would turn onto the track rather than run to the bottom of the hill.  Oh no, she missed the turn off.  I asked the next runner through to shout after her.  I kept an eye on the turn off, there was still no sign of the runner coming back up the hill.  Another two runners passed through, I asked them to keep an eye out for a wayward runner wearing purple.

After a couple of minutes there was still no sign of the runner, there was only one thing for it, I sprinted downhill to look for her.  My left ankle complained straight away, between having to run and wearing boots.  The road led the a tee junction, I turned right and was dismayed to see the road disappear into the countryside.  Blast.  There was a dog walker coming towards me, "have you seen a wayward runner"? I asked.  "Yes, I've given her directions to get back onto the track" I was relieved to hear.  I sprinted back to my marshal post with an unhappy ankle, my decision to pull out of the race was the right one.

Once all runners were through I returned to the camper and had something to eat.  The weather had changed with quite heavy rain falling.  A soaking wet and bedraggled runner appeared in the car park, I thought it was someone pulling out of the race, I jumped out of the van to assist only to be told she was a local who got caught in the rain.  She enquired about the event and shook her head in disbelief when told the distance before getting in her car.

Brolly in hand, I took up position for the runners returning to Aberdeen.  I watched for runners appearing and running up the hill.  I slowed local traffic down making sure nothing happened to George and Karen's participants.  The front runners ran through fast, muddy legs showed the course was rather wet this year.  It was fascinating cheering all runners through, some walking, some running but all putting in gritty performances.  There were some carrying injuries, the camaraderie was a breath of fresh air as runners teamed up with each other, another left freeze spray for a runner who would come through limping.  Sure enough, 10 minutes later the spray was used by the limping runner before continuing on his way.

I didn't realise I was standing at 26.2 until a few runners mentioned it passing by, with one calling me marathon man as he crossed the road.  I was having a great time, "beer this way" I would call out, pointing to the track leading to Aberdeen.  Haribo sweets were offered, I enquired after tired looking runners, making sure they were okay as they continued.  Most had passed and continued on their way before I got the message to stand down at 1500.

I returned to Duthie Park and watched runners cross the line before helping to dismantle the marquee. Unfortunately I had to leave and missed Julie, the most determined and gritty runner of the day cross the line.

Thanks to George and Karen for allowing me a part in their race, it was a pleasure to marshal for runners that were polite and said thank you as they passed by, both out and back.  

So marshalling is very satisfying, which is just as well, I might be offering my services to the Fling.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Aspiration versus reality

I envisaged a good winter training schedule leading to race season then taking on a personal challenge.  All this planning and race entries did not take into account life, work or injury.  The growing popularity of ultra running means races fill fast, forcing participants to enter months ahead of race day.  I had a race schedule worked out to bring my fitness up using the tried and tested SUMS ultra calendar.  Events are used to build strength and stamina, I was so confident in having a good season I threw in the Hardmoors 55 as well, a relatively high mile race for me during March.

As previously posted, it went belly up on a run home in the dark, a pothole brought me to my knees. A physio appointment put paid to the Hardmoors but gave hope in running the D33.

I was advised to cross train and get on the bike.  I did, 30 miles on my old mountain bike which felt like 3 hours of torture, I'm not into cycling.  I have a rowing machine, another torture device which I don't like.  I do sessions on the rower in fits and starts, only doing a session when I can be bothered.   I should have been on the rower, but decided to sit and update my blog instead.  As for swimming?   Difficulty fitting time in for swimming and a dislike of water means no visit to the public baths for me.            

It's safe to say I struggle with cross training and always have.  The result?  After six weeks of very little exercise, I feel as if my fitness has ebbed away.  In such a short time, my midriff has expanded thanks to a lack of running, bad diet and alcohol consumption.

The ankle kept swelling, but I was still on track to do the D33 after a second visit to the physio.       One more visit was required where I would be shown how to strap and support the ankle. Unfortunately I was unable to make this appointment which has been postponed and with ongoing ankle problems pulled out of the second race of my year.

The Fling is fast approaching which is now in jeopardy.  My rescheduled physio appointment is over a week away and although the ankle feels like it's getting stronger, pain stops any sort of running whatsoever.  Obviously this is going to have a knock on effect, not only is the Fling and possibly Cateran under threat but my personal challenge as well.  With no running and racing, there's no way I'll be fit enough for my east to west.

The next couple of weeks is going to determine how my summer running will go, I'm going to need a rapid improvement in ankle recovery.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017


Only one 15 minute session on the rower is all the exercise I've had during the last three weeks.  It was too soon, my ankle did not like the stress placed on it and let me know by swelling up again.  Last week I walked about a mile after which a lump appeared on the left hand side.  I had resigned myself to being out of running for quite a while.

I made an appointment with my sports physiotherapist and made my way to the appointment with trepidation, fully expecting confirmation of my self diagnosis.  After a thorough examination the news was much better than I expected.

After around 10 days (cross training which I have not been doing), exercises and another visit I should be able to tape the ankle for support and resume running.  Great news, I didn't expect that.  I then presumed I'd have to withdraw from my first two events of the year, the D33 and Hardmoors 55.  Not necessarily, as the D33 is flat with no hills it should be doable with the ankle taped.  Unfortunately that's not the case for the Hardmoors 55, with rugged terrain and hills, that one is not going to happen.

Running the D33 will let me know exactly where I am, it also follows a bus route, so if things go belly up I can jump aboard the bus.  So now I have a target to rehabilitate the ankle and get fit for the Highland Fling at the end of April.  I withdrew from the Hardmoors 55 and entered the Hardmoors 60 which takes place 16th September, I'm going to have to wait a bit longer before my first "foreign" race outside Scotland.  

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Oops, I did it again.

January was going okay, nothing spectacular, mileage down on what's required for 2017 in 2017 though.  A 10 mile hill run was completed on Bennachie with plans to do more in future.  It was Tuesday night when I decided to run home from work, only 3 miles but every little helps.

It was a fine, clear night but I still needed my head torch to run on the road.  I was about half a mile out, running on the right hand side of the road, when a vehicle approached.  Rather than jump onto the verge (which is what I usually do when traffic approaches), I crossed over to the left hand side of the road.  The vehicle stopped (unknown to me this was a farmer tending to livestock) with the headlights shining and blinding my vision.  In hindsight I should have slowed to a walk, stupidly I carried on running with my vision dazzled.  My left foot hit a pothole, my leg buckled and over I went, skidding along the muddy road.  I promptly got onto my feet but there was no way I could continue, I knew something was wrong with my left foot.

In a daze I shuffled to the side of the road and sat on the verge.  I was just about to phone a work colleague when a car noticed my predicament and stopped.  Even though I was covered in mud with a bloody knee, they covered the back seat of their car and took me home.  So Kenny and Alex, thank you for the assistance it was much appreciated.

I hobbled to the shower, removing the sock exposed a huge lump and rapidly swelling ankle.  Once cleaned up I iced the ankle (I'm getting familiar with this routine after just recovering my right ankle) but it continued to swell.  I would sleep then see how it was on Wednesday.

I could hardly walk, time for A & E, praying no bones were broken.  After examination and X ray I was glad to be given news of nothing broken.  I do however have ligament damage which is perceived as worse than a break, I'll take the ligament damage.

So here I am, giving the ankle RIPE, that's Rest, Ice, Pain control and Elevation - latest medical advice is not to compress.  I can't put full weight on the foot for the time being, a far cry from running the hills and trails at the weekend.

Obviously this will affect the start of my season, the D33 and Hardmoors 55 are in jeopardy, I will probably have to withdraw but I won't do it yet, I'll take it easy then see that the physio says.

Week ending 8th Jan - Mon 6, Wed 3.  Weekly total 9 miles.
Week ending 15th Jan - Wed 3, Sat 30.  Weekly total 33 miles.
Week ending 22nd Jan - Tues 3, Wed 3, Thurs 3, Sat 10.  Weekly total 19 miles.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Almost 50 Nearly 50

Going over my ankle early December forces me to find an alternative challenge from running the West Highland Way.  I doubted it would recover soon enough and allow me to do ultra distance.  After three weeks my ankle feels a bit better, it's still uncomfortable at extremes of mobility but if I strap it up I may be able to do an ultra before the end of the year.

With New Year booked in Inverness, I turn my attention to the Moray Coast Trail between Cullen and Forres.  I begin to organise the logistics, Lynne and Skye can pick me up from Forres on the way to Inverness for our break.  I have to be fair though and want us all checked into the hotel early afternoon. This means I cannot run the route during daylight, an overnight run will make it a bit different and more of a challenge.  I consider running from my house which would add around 32 miles to the MCT 50 but I'm not fit enough for 82 miles.

I'll take on the run overnight 29th / 30th December as my birthday is on the 31st.  The last bus passes through Fyvie at 2120 and arrives at Cullen 2230 hours.  I will give myself a generous 12 hours to complete the route, Lynne and Skye will pick me up 1030 at Forres.  I'll do this unsupported, in the event of an emergency it's an early morning phone call to Lynne.

I regularly check the weather forecast as the 29th approaches.  It's very mild and a bit windy, I was hoping for a clear starlit night but this is not going to happen.  I nervously pack kit on the 29th, questioning the decision to take this on unsupported through the night with a dodgy ankle.  My mind is made up though, I need to do something that scares me before I'm 50.

I get my North Face back pack ready, with only two 500 ml bottles hydration is going to be a problem, one contains water, the other contains Nunn tablets.  On the pack I have a foil blanket, bandage, ankle support, pain killers, toilet roll, whistle and £20 note.  I want to pack a ski jacket in case of emergency but there's no room for it.  Instead I pack two lightweight running jackets and a woolly hat figuring plenty of layers would suffice.  Food is two packets of crisps, a pot of rice, galaxy bar and chocolate fudge.

I will take my Tikka head torch and Phoenix hand torch with spare batteries for both.  I will also take a portable charger for my iphone so I can be sure enough power is in my phone at the end of the run.

My attire is Hoka Speedgoats, running leggings, long shorts, a teeshirt, long sleeve running top, high viz gilet, gloves and buff.  I will take my mp3/radio player which is mounted on an arm band, I have a running playlist on my iphone.

I intend to sleep during the day before I set off but this does not happen.  I also have second thoughts, it would be nice and warm to stay at home so all of us can travel to Inverness together but I'm committed, there's no turning back.

Lynne drives me to Fyvie, I'm apprehensive as we wait for the last bus.  It arrives early, I have £8 in my pocket for the fare, the driver asks £12.75.  Blast, I didn't expect it to be so much.  I have to fumble in my back pack for the £20 note which will now be broken into change for my pocket.

I take a seat near the front, there's a draught that chills my feet but I stay put and stare out the window.  Christmas lights penetrate the darkness as I concentrate on the challenge ahead.  Shoppers and revellers access and egress the bus as it makes it's way through towns and villages.  I get strange looks now and again, wearing full running kit at such an odd hour.  There's no one else on the bus when I ask the driver to drop me off at the square in Cullin.

The bus pulls away and leaves me standing alone, the place is deserted.  I stand for a few minutes, the wind blows an empty plastic bottle down the street.

Cullin to Buckie.
I leave on the viaduct overlooking Seatown.  The night is overcast so no stars to show the way.  It's clear though, orange glow of town street lights can be seen for miles up the coast.  There's a stiff headwind which won't change direction for the duration of the run.  Portnockie is mostly deserted, the loose change jingles in my pocket which irritates me as I run.  I don't want dogs barking and causing a commotion as I move through.  I'm now on the exposed cliff top path where the wind forces me to lean and walk.  I need the wind strength to ease as the effort to move forward is tiring me out already.  The cliffs are high above the Moray Firth, there's nothing to see, it's pitch black but I can hear the surf below.  Two pairs of eyes are reflected back to the head torch.  Are they foxes?  I can't tell but they stand their ground and watch warily as I run by.  The path drops into Findochty, the MCT is way marked but signs can be sporadic.  I know where the trail goes, through the campsite which we have used previously.  Tonight the site is closed, vans sit empty and ghostly out of season.  The trail is on the coast at the foot of cliffs, I cross a cove with crashing waves below, a small footbridge keeps me safe.  I'm concerned, the tide is in which will make some of the beach crossings ahead out of bounds.  Up to the top once more, I skirt the golf course expecting to drop into Strathlene on the edge of Buckie but no, the trail heads towards the sea on a precarious narrow track.  No running here as the trail lowers to the rocky shoreline, the crashing waves nearby are alarming.  At last there's lights ahead and civilisation, I can leave the uneasy feeling behind for the time being but know there will be more ahead.        

Buckie to Spey Bay.
I'm familiar with this part of the MCT as it's shared with the Speyside Way to Spey Bay.  A couple of taxis pass as I run through the streets.  A smoker stares as I run past, I resist the urge to go into the bar for a pint.  I leave the lights of Portgordon behind and run steadily on the long disused railway towards the woods.  I was sheltered from the wind by buildings but now it makes it's presence felt.  I reach the woods where there's some respite, physical respite but not mental.  The wind shakes and sways the trees as I run through, branches screech and rustle high above which allows my imagination to escape and wreak havoc.  Hair on the back of my neck stands on end as I follow the torch light, there's something ahead, a huge bird with a large beak is going to cross the trail.  I get closer before realising a tree stump won't be able to cross the trail, it's too early for hallucinations.  I'm happy to see the lights of Spey Bay and exit the woods, I get hold of my imagination and lock it away.

Spey Bay to Lossiemouth.
In all my years running the Speyside Ultra, I never realised there was a nearby railway viaduct that crosses the Spey.  In fact, when I first looked into this run I thought I would have to run inland to Fochabers to reach a bridge then make my way back to the coast.  I am concerned, during darkness I might miss the turn off to the viaduct but it is easy enough to find.  The path is in good condition which leads to the viaduct, heavy steel work ahead is picked up by my torch.  The structure has now been demoted to carry pedestrians rather than heavy locomotives in days gone by.  I move onto the concrete path in the centre of the bridge, there seems to be slats either side of the path, I don't shine my torch through to the river below.  The river Spey is possibly the fastest flowing river in the UK, at one section loud rapids can be heard, the river is in a hurry to reach the Moray Firth.  Once across I have Garmouth and Kingston all to myself, following the trail through lanes, snaking between sleeping houses.  There's a rifle range after Kingston, the trail is closed during exercises.  A daytime number is supplied to check if it's in use but I haven't checked, surely it's not in use at night, or is it?  Red flags fly when the range is in use and now I'm worried a night exercise may be held and my run will be all over.  I reach a nature reserve car park and wide track that leads back towards the coast.  Tank blocks are here, interspersed with pillboxes, their empty black eyes watch me running past.  The track is full of pebbles, running is precarious with my weak ankle.  On some stretches it is impossible to run which forces me to walk and make sure I don't twist the ankle.  I consider crossing  ridges of pebbles to reach the beach but I'm convinced the tide is in, I can hear the crash and hiss of waves.  I decide to stick with the pebble path and creepy pillboxes even though my progress is slow.  I reach the rifle range warning sign and turn my torch to the flagpole.  The wire slaps against the post, the wind ringing it like a bell in the darkness but there's no flag.  Before continuing I shine the torch up the pole a second time, just to make sure, then go.  Imagination breaks loose once more, a mixture of crashing waves, staring pillboxes and the possibility of someone forgetting to raise the flag keeps my senses alert.  The track continues to follow tank blocks and boxes for miles, sometimes there's a sand trail at the side allowing a short jog but I mostly walk.  I arrive at a junction in the trail, an alternative route to Lossiemouth through the woods.  I stand for a few minutes then decide to run through the trees.  I leave the coast but the trail is full of large pebbles and not marked at junctions.  After a quarter of a mile I turn back for the coast, I don't fancy being lost in the forest and losing time.  Lights can be seen in the distance but as I continue they don't seem to get closer.  Lossiemouth is the new Kinlochleven, taunting and illusive as I run towards the town.  The trail exits onto the beach, still a fair bit to go to the street lights.  Waves crash and roll to the right, a desperate attempt to reach inland.  Streetlights of Lossie come into focus, bright and decorated for Christmas.  Then a thought crosses my mind,  oh no!  The river Lossie may flow between the beach and street ahead and if it does I don't know where the bridge is. The street is only a few hundred yards away and it looks like I'm okay, I crest the sand bank then look at  reflections, street lights bounce off the river ahead and I come to a halt.  I switch on my powerful hand torch and scan the river ahead, there's a wooden structure to the right.  I hope it's a bridge, but no, it's a wooden barrier that stretches into the surf, I'll have to run inland to a crossing.  I follow the river expecting to travel for miles but not long after the beam picks up another wooden structure, this time a foot bridge.  Relieved, I walk across the creaky structure, the dark river flows silently below.  It's four o'clock in the morning as I sit on a bench overlooking the bay and send a text to Lynne.  The wind blows as I eat then drink the last of my water, hydration will now be an issue.

Lossiemouth to Findhorn.
If I come across someone, I'll ask for water.  I run to the marina, once again the MCT signs are non existent.  I can't find where to join the coast trail then decide to leave Lossiemouth by the road. There are various paths that lead to the coast but I'm so sore and exhausted by the last coast section I'm perfectly happy to run on tarmac.  The whole town is deserted which means no water for me, I'll have to wait till Hopeman.  Red beacons scatter the countryside ahead, it's not till I get closer I realise what they are.  Landing lights for RAF Lossiemouth, a place I am familiar with from my youth in the ATC.  It's all quiet, no Typhoons will be flying at this hour.  I reminisce on times gone by when the base was home to Buccaneers and Shackletons.  The road to Hopeman passes Silver Sands Caravan Park which is silent, no thirst quenching water here.  Covesea lighthouse is to the right, RAF Lossiemouth to the left and red light towers in front which is where I head.  Traffic begins to travel on the road forcing me to periodically get on the verge.  A sign post guides me away from the road back to the coast and cliff top paths.  Once again the trail twists and turns above the surf before reaching a fence and "danger, keep out" signs.  It's a quarry and I've no desire to go anywhere near the face, I stick diligently to the trail which takes me into Hopeman.  It's too early for shops to be open, I hope to bump into someone getting ready to leave for work, I'll request water.  No sign of life here either, I end up on a tarred ex railway line to Burghead.  It's only a few miles, there's a huge factory lit up in the distance, Burghead Maltings and the start of the whiskey trail.  The lack of signs finds me at the caravan site and a slipway down to the beach,  I can see two red towers far in the distance around the curve of the bay and presume this is Findhorn.  My torch picks out the surf, the waves are far enough out to allow me to run on the beach,  I hope the tide is on it's way out as to the left of me erosion has left a formidable vertical wall of sand held together by the forest on top, there's no way I would be able to scale this.  The wind has picked up and once again I have to lean and walk to make progress.  It's now 0815 and I still need my torch, dawn is taking an age to reach here.  My torch illuminates a whelk, I stop to pack away my torches and the shell.  I'm getting closer to the red light towers and realise I have been mistaken, the bay continues on.  The eroded wall is around 10 feet tall here, so I climb the next path through to get an idea of the lie of the land.  The sun is just rising now, there's a path at the top which follows the bay, I'm guessing this would have to be used if the tide was in which would add time and distance to the MCT.  I descend to the beach once more and eventually make my way to wooden steps.  These lead to the public car park and Findhorn.  
Findhorn to Forres.
I have a raging thirst now, a shop is open in the village.  I purchase and down a bottle of water and a bottle of coke which sets me up for the last leg of my journey.  There is a footpath come cycle way which is signposted 5 miles to Forres.  Buses are running and commuters are on the road, I'm back in civilisation again.  I'm beginning to tire and run walk, saying good morning to runners and cyclists.  I pass RAF Kinloss with it's redundant Nimrod parked at the fence.  The wind has dropped, for the first time during the run I can listen to music.  Appropriately Brian Eno - An Ending plays through the ear phones.  My muscles and joints are sore but it feels good to be covering this distance the day before my 50th birthday.  I've made it to Forres, my watch shows 46 miles as I cross the pedestrian bridge over the A96.  I have deviated from the trail a few times which may account for the 4 mile short fall, but with the head wind experienced I claim 50 miles.  Content, I lie down on the grass verge and wait for my lift.

Week ending 18th Dec - Thurs 3, Sat 2, Sun 2.  Weekly total 7 miles.
Week ending 25th Dec - Thurs 2, Fri 2,  Sat 2.  Weekly total 6 miles.
Week ending 01st Jan - Mon 2, Tues 2, Wed 2, Thurs 2, Thurs/Fri 46.  Weekly total 54 miles,