I thought I would write all of this down when it is still fresh in my mind. By later on this week, the whole experience will have been "wonderful", "trouble-free", and "thoroughly enjoyable" - it is quite amazing how the memory can play tricks, and how quickly the pain fades. So here is the real version, while the pain is still here, and I am able to remember the bad bits as well as the good.
I felt very nervous this year when I arrived at Milngavie. It didn't help that I had agreed to give blood (it is to be analysed on a pre race and post race basis, which will be interesting) but it left me with a big lump and bruising on my right arm. I tried not to worry too much about it, and it turned out to be insignificant compared to the mess of my left knee and elbow when I fell just 2 and a half miles into the route, having tripped over a stone. Not a great start. I brushed myself down and carried on, but it definitely nipped for a while, and was still bleeding when I met up with Allybea and George for the first time at Drymen. Still, I wasn't going to let it spoil my race, and fortunately there was no serious damage done.
I arrived at Drymen in exactly 2 hours, which was fine. I wasn't really worrying too much about the clock this year, and was determined to run my own race and not concern myself about anyone else. I still felt good as I came over Conic Hill and into Balmaha car park, although even after all these years there is still something a bit surreal about arriving in a car park in the middle of nowhere at 4.30 am on a Saturday morning, and finding it full of people, cars and vans. On to Rowardennan, still feeling good and quite relieved to pass the point where I dropped out last year, and then onto Inversnaid. So far so good - my time looked ok and I felt positive. The midges were out in their thousands and even Allybea was bitten, which is most unusual, but they weren't causing me too much distress, apart from a few of the wee buggers that found their way in my eyes.
But my positive feelings soon disappeared when I hit the northern part of Loch Lomond. This part of the course is hell on earth, particularly when it has been wet and the rocks are slippy - as it was on Saturday. It seemed to take me an age to negotiate my way along the track, and it was a great relief when I started heading up and over the hill at the head of the loch, and down towards Beinglas Farm. I had lost a lot of time but, as mentioned already, that wasn't my main concern - it was more important to be moving forward. The checkpoint had been moved this year to Carmyle Cottage, which was not very pleasant because of the huge number of cars and limited space. I was a bit grumpy here (probably for the first time in the race, but certainly not the last), and was glad to get going again, having taken onboard some soup.
It took me a while to get running again, and I needed to make an emergency pit stop in the field -never a pleasant experience, even though I was carrying toilet paper and hand gel -but once the food kicked in I felt a bit better and started to run more strongly. I arrived at the Auchtertyre checkpoint in a bit over 11 hours, and was pleased to see that my weight was fine. I had lost 2kgs by this stage which was within the acceptable range. I got another mental boost by passing through Tyndrum just a shade under 12 hours - I knew that meant I should be able to do sub 24 relatively comfortably (or as relatively comfortably as you can be while running 95 miles). I am usually strong on the next section, but wasn't as good this year, and gave another very good impression of Mr Grumpy when I arrived at the checkpoint at Bridge of Orchy. My legs were hurting, I was on a bit of a downer, I had been on the go for 13 and a half hours and I knew that I still had another 10 hours or so to go. As Allybea and George admitted afterwards, they were a bit concerned about me at that point, but they have both been doing this long enough to know that a) I go through various highs and lows throughout the race, and b) it is really crucial on these downers that they remain positive and help lift me through it. As ever, they did it superbly, and I was in a slightly happier frame of mind as I left Bridge of Orchy and headed up the hill.
That positive frame of mind saw me right onto Rannoch Moor, but before too long I hit my biggest downer of the day (and probably one of the biggest lows I have ever hit in this race). For 20 minutes or so I just couldn't run at all. My legs wouldn't move. Before it hit me I had been doing quite well, even running some of the uphill parts, and keeping close to a few other runners who were round about. Now all I could do was watch them disappear into the distance, with my body completely incapable of responding or doing anything about it. I convinced myself that I would have to walk all the way in to Fort William, as there was no way I would be able to run. I went through all my pre race motivational thoughts: 'would Ellen MacArthur keep going?', 'this is my race - don't worry about anyone else', 'we are privileged to be able to do this, so lets enjoy it'. And not one of of them made the slightest difference to the way I was feeling. I was struggling to move forward, and I was hating it.
And then, as if by magic, it lifted. I tried running again and, to my great suprise, I was able to do so. I was too scared to stop, in case I couldn't get going again, so I just kept running - down towards Ba Bridge, across the bridge and all the way along to the climb off Rannoch Moor. I must have run for close to half an hour without a stop. It was such a relief. Suddenly I was positive again - I was going to finish this, and I was going to finish it in a bloody good time. I headed towards Kingshouse with a spring in my step, the only disappointment being where I passed a clearly injured Thomas hobbling slowly down the path. It was obvious that he would not be going much further, despite the great encouragement he was getting from Silke, and I was gutted for him. That's 2 years in a row he has had to drop out at Kingshouse. Hopefully next year will be 3rd time lucky. He is an incredibly talented athlete, and it would be great to see him collect his long awaited goblet at next year's prizegiving.
George - who with Allybea, was doing my support - ran with me from Kingshouse. I had been running more or less on my own for the last 50 miles or so, and was really needing the company. It was therefore a great relief to find that I was a lot more than 4 hours behind the race leader and was allowed a support runner at that stage. I ran well along to the Devil's Staircase, but the climb up was the usual torture. Whose idea was it to put in a 1,000 foot climb, 75 miles into a race? And if I thought the assent was bad, the descent was 10 times worse, with my quads screaming all the way down the steep path.
I arrived in Kinlochleven after exactly 19 hours' running. I was weighed - my weight seemed to be fine, although I can't remember what it was at that stage - and had a quick word with Karen and Al from our club, who had travelled all the way to offer some support and see what the race was all about. (Incidentally Karen did the Highland Fling this year and I will be amazed if she does not enter next year's WHW race. There was even a rumour she was taking some notes!). After some more soup - to be honest I was getting a bit fed up with soup, but couldn't face anything else - George and I headed off up the next 1,000 foot climb onto the Lairig Mor. The Lairig Mor was the usual long hard slog, but eventually we turned the corner and I knew we were getting closer to the end. I stopped briefly at the checkpoint at Lundavra and tried to eat a banana, but only succeeded in bringing up everything I had eaten over the last few hours. Not very pleasant. I quickly headed on my way before Uncle Dunc, the checkpoint marshall, had time to question whether or not I was in a fit state to continue. I was definitely finishing now and nobody was going to stop me.
It was starting to get dark. This slowed me down, as there were sections where it was just not sensible to run, but I was quite happy to power walk at a good pace across the stones. About 4 miles from the end we passed Marco and Debbie. Marco was going slowly and was clearly dead on his feet, but there was no way he was stopping. He eventually managed to keep going all the way to the end to come in well under 24 hours, which was a great effort and must have taken some amount of willpower. Or perhaps he was just too scared of Debbie's reaction if he stopped. She can be a fierce woman when she puts her mind to it and according to reports from the Lundavra checkpoint, she appears to know an impressively large number of expletives, many of which were used to 'motivate' Marco.
The last section down the forest track to Fort William seemed to last for ever, and I was getting quite cold - I should have changed out of my shorts a bit earlier on - but eventually George and I passed the Braveheart car park and hit the road for the final mile. I ran the bits I could run, walked hard when I couldn't, and after 23 hours 11 minutes arrived at the finish at Fort William Leisure Centre. I was 33rd from 122 finishers. I had expected it to be a hugely emotional moment, especially after last year's failure, but it wasn't at all. I just felt completely relieved it was all over and glad I could stop.
As soon as I finished I was weighed and found I had lost a total of 5.5 kgs over the course of the day, 12 lbs in old money. As I felt a bit light headed I didn't give blood at that stage, although came back and gave it the following morning when I felt a lot better. I had a quick massage and headed back to the Premier Inn. As usual after this race my body was just too sore to sleep comfortably, so I ended up getting up at 6 am, having a bath, then going back up to the Leisure Centre to watch some of the finishers come in.
So, mission accomplished. I have now completed 8 WHW races, and have moved up to 5th pace on the all time list for the number of completions. It is still far too early to say that I am looking forward to next year, but I'm suspect that by Thursday I'll be phoning the Premier Inn to confirm our annual booking...
There were some great performances from many people. As this is my race report I am not going to comment specifically on these, but well done to everyone who finished - it is a great achievement. Finally, a huge thanks to my support crew Allybea and George, who, as ever, were quite superb. They have been my support crew since my first WHW race finish in 2000, and I couldn't ask for anything more from them. I am incredibly lucky to have 2 people who are so committed to helping me do this race as well as I can. They put up with my highs and lows, and keep smiling throughout. I couldn't do it without them, and am hugely appreciative of all their efforts. And a huge thanks as well to Dario, the race organiser, who puts in so much work to ensure that this remains far and away Scotland's top running event.