Saturday, 31 December 2016

Delayed Success

Like old pain
Is soon forgotten 
When memories remain

Of times spent in the open
Of long lonely miles 
Or better still 
In the comfort of others 
With random smiles 

What's done is done
In the past it stays 
Except when it's needed 
to remind us of days 
When choices made 
Were to toil a little longer 
and with the task to stay
Rather than to succumb
to the ease of the path nearly made 

Disappointment still lingers 
The better result never seen
But it's an illusion 
of someone you've never been

Better to rejoice in that 
what is done 
For the past is the past 
and can never be re-run .. 

Friday, 16 September 2016

6102WHW2016 - A Double West Highland Way

 The story of a Double West Highland Way Run

Back in 2009 George and I had a crack at a Double WHW which due to a number of factors mainly heat and a bit of blouse wearing on my part we didn't complete.  On the way down we pulled up at Rowardennon 27 miles short as there was insufficient time to run to Milngavie to join the main race.  This is the story of unfinished business.  

The challenge remains the same - to run 95 miles to Milngavie in under 24 hours, then hopefully have time for a quick shower and some rest then join the West Highland Way Race back to Fort William in under 35 hours for a total distance of 190 miles (310km) in 59 hours.  

I arrived in Fort William on the afternoon of June 16th at 15:00 and had spent the afternoon trying to sleep / rest and chill out before the start. Ollie ( John McKelvie) my mate from Australia had been in Europe the last 2 weeks and had flown in from Rotterdam to Edinburgh that night. He arrived in FW at 20:30. Mike Johnson my mate from Edinburgh who has been the backbone of my WHW support for the last 12 years also happened to be up working in FW on the day. We all went to dinner at ‘Spoons – steak and chips and rank mushy peas, then I went for a few more minutes rest.
Ollie, me and Mike 

Fort William to Kinlochleven 00:00:01 Friday 17th June

At 11:30 the guys came up to the room to get me going - I was just out of the shower.  We  then drove to the Leisure Centre and the adventure started.

                      Fort William Leisure Centre - The start at the finish.  

Mike joined me for the initial run to the roundabout, then I continued on by myself. At Braveheart some bloke was in the middle of the road with a head torch – what sort of nutter is out at this time. Gday Ollie. He left me as I proceeded up the firetrack – with early enthusiasm I was probably running at 9’s or 10’s at this point.  

Weather for the whole of the run down was perfect, cool, overcast and with a following breeze. I was dressed in leggings, a fleece top, t-shirt and waterproof but soon took the jacket as I progressed up the hill. In this initial section I wanted to get a good crack on as I would never be this fresh and the reverse hills are quite challenging. Lundavra (6.6 Miles) was reached in 01:35 (against 01:38 on plan, so far so good). I then started across the Lairig Mor.
On the Tuesday I had sent a message to Peter Duggan and asked him if would be in Kinlochleven at 02:30 on Friday morning (“Yes, I live there, so will be in my bed sleeping"). I asked him if he would leave a bottle of water out for me.. He asked why, and following a bit of conversation he said that he wouldn’t have much on on Friday and would meet me en-route. I was stoked about this as last time I had done this, George and I had taken the wrong path down into KLL and lost 10-15 minutes. I was running pretty well at this point – Hokas soaking up the rocks and everything feeling ok – was conscious of my fluids and eating. As I neared the abandoned cottages my head torch flickered and went to low power mode. Bloody hell that’s a pain – had deliberately replaced the batteries that day.. I was wondering how much this was going to slow me when I turned a corner to see in the distance a light. Ran along the ups and downs and the light grew nearer. There is something quite surreal about meeting someone in the middle of the night on a wide open expanse of the Scottish Highlands. Gotta love the randomness of life that puts different people with a shared interest together. “I hope that’s you Keith" We had a great chat about the burning down of his shed, replacement of boats then all of a sudden we were descending into KLL. Pete had parked his van at the leisure centre so we stopped there for 5 mins to get water and dried apricots.. He led me out of town and I started my ascent of the hill up to the devils. (Arr KLL 14 miles 3:12 vs 3:17 on plan)

KLL to Bridge of Orchy - Leave 3:15 The sky was getting brighter – no sunrise as a result of the cloud but I could ditch the head torch and managed a couple of pics going up. Was feeling pretty damn good and making good progress up to the top of the devils. Remembered a run me and Antonia had done here back in Feb / March when there was still ice on the ground. Topped out glanced around to say cheerio to Ben Nevis – it would be 46 hours till I would see it again. Down the devils we go – the Buchaille looking imperious in the morning light. Altnafaed (19 miles reached at 04:45 vs 5:00 ) .. It was at this time I noticed my Sumos Armpit watch was a little bit ahead of itself as told me I had run 30 miles – I wish ! Stopped for a wee breakfast of food I had stashed yesterday under a fallen down road sign. Lucozade, grapes and some pizza here – it was AWESOME ! A good run to Kingshouse (arrived 05:38) where I scared the shit out of the morning chef but he was a great bloke and let me into the kitchen and got my bottle filled – sausages looked good ! (Love the Kingshouse, always friendly !). Got up to Glencoe ski centre carpark just for completeness. Saw my first walker of the day – “you look like a man on a mission coming up there” “Yes, you could say that !”

Had a great run across the moor – Hokas ignoring the rocks, going really well on the downs and flats and powering the climbs .. Rannoch was just so pretty, here I was running with the whole of the world to myself , about a marathon in my legs, the morning cool, the air clear and the miles ahead like a party guest you are waiting to arrive but you are not sure how they are going to behave.. Made Vic Bridge at 7:26 (7:43 in plan) and sent Ollie a text as he would meet me in BoO for breakfast – he was already on his way after a good nights kip in Fort William. Went over Jelly Baby hill at a good pace – no Jelly Babies no whistles – and then made the descent again to meet Ollie at BoO train station (35 miles at just after 8 – 25 mins ahead of schedule). Ollie has prepped a storm – porridge, juice, fruit and my first coffee since Jan 9th. It had the desired effect. I swapped to my bumbag for the run to Tyndrum and took off my long pants and then headed away.. Left bang on time, 08:10..


BoO to Beinglas (Leave 08:25) Great run to Tyndrum , the last time I had done this was in 2015 after 5 beers and a few drams at Ian's stag do.. For some reason I took a wrong turn at the farm house and ended up with a 10 minute detour but soon realized my error (its not hard when you are on tarmac rather than farm track). Nothing much to report about this section – easy running, pace good. Tyndrum at 09:50 on plan (sub 10 Devil of the Highlands) Really wanted this to give me 14 to get to the start. Had a wee stop at Auchteryre (10:25) for top up of water then arranged to meet Ollie at Carmyle for more supplies post hills.. Started seeing more walkers about this time and could see the looks in their eyes – WTF is this guy doing out here in shorts a bumbag and a crazy hat. I was wearing a WHW 2013 top and someone asked me if I was doing the race “Yes, as long as I make the start later tonight” Good progress through the rollercoaster then forest then along through cow poo alley which was remarkably dry. 

It wasnt me

 The temperature was ideal – 10/11C, overcast and still that following wind. It was about this point back in 2010 that I had my major crash – I remember George trotting on and me thinking it was all over.. That day I had a swim at Derrydarroch and spent 10 minutes giving myself a SERIOUS shouting at. Didn’t need to do it this time. Ollie met me with more food and juice for the last miles to Beinglas. I had to make a longer trip to the bushes for the first time today – oh the glamour !

Beinglas to Rowardennon (12:45) 
Good run into Beinglas and top up of soup, coke, water etc. Not sure what else I took on here. Ollie would leave here to meet up with John Kennedy in Milngavie then meet me in Rowardennan. The lochside is always tough. I was making good progress but still had a lot to do .. 40 miles to go in under 11 hours. One foot in front of the other .. In 2010 we hit a real low and probably knew the challenge was off – it was just too hot and we didn’t make any speed. No such issues today - was making progress. Go to the place of angels and looked down the loch. Made it about ¼ of the way down the hill and realised I hadn’t patted my mate on the head. Climbed back up.. Stopped at the book and made an entry “Double WHW Leg #1” and the time and some other stuff. Made ok time to Inversnaid where I stopped for my standard pint of milk and pint of fresh orange and lemonade. Took the high road down the loch – as I figured it the new route didn’t come into effect until 01:00 the next morning so I was still on the correct track from 2015 and all previous years… Was toiling but still running into Rowardennan which I made at 16:50 – 30 mins shy of the schedule but still with 7 hrs to go.. Had a good refuelling stop here.

Rowardennon to Milngavie (16:50) Ollie and John Kennedy are there – all positivity and good vibes. The midgies are ferocious but he has setup the aid station and I start bringing on food. BTW – Its all his fault . In 2001 I was just an innocent guy working in BP Grangemouth going to run the London Marathon when someone mentioned I should speak to this bloke about running – oh he has run the WHW .. Cue initial incredulous looks, then a first conversation , then 3 months later I find myself running from Kingshouse to Lundavra with a bloke who has convinced me that if you can do 4 miles an hour you have it nailed. “If you make Kingshouse you WILL finish” He has supported me a number of times, including on 2009’s Over the Top trip. His wife Anne and son Richard have come along allowing a change of cars at Balmaha (leaving at 19:00) and then the 3 of us (John, Ollie and I ) climb Conich Hill to get us under 19 miles to go.. I will need to be back here in under 12 hours. It really is the most spectacular arvo / eve. The climb is a slog but the view at the top is brilliant. We are ticking off the miles with the walk / run . Just a few miles short of Gardabhan forest there is a bloke in the path who looks familiar. Norm has come over from Edinburgh for his first run since Comrades 2 weeks ago. It was really tops to see him, even if he does tear a calf about 500m from the carpark. We stop there for a bit and the midges are even more violent than in Rowardennon so I say cheerio to Anne and Norm and Ollie and I get cracking on. The sun is beginning to go down and have run about 80 miles or so. It is a sensational evening. We go over the bridge and back on to the path near Kilearn Cross.

Jamie Aarons has run out with Pirate and Hope to meet us. She provides a welcome boost to the backside kicking requirements. John meets us at the Beech Tree and takes Ollie back to Milngavie. We leave at 22:08… Under 2 hours to do 7 miles. I trot on with Jamie, chatting about the WHW, BGR’s, friends and family, all the while soaking up the most spectacular evening. I really wish I could have run backwards to really see it all – what an absolute privilege to be able to be there - A Californian Girl and an Aussie bloke running in Scotland at its best .. 
Look at that Sky (Photo courtesy of John McKelvie (aka Ollie)

Jamie is not letting me off – “just run to that hill”, that tree, that post .. I want to get my rest time so am compliant as much as I can.. At Carbeth the doggies want to go home but Jamie has agreed to take me to Milngavie – good news actually as I didn’t pack my head torch and its getting dark.. And then we are in Mugdock, and the wooden path, the left turn, the park, the trail, the start of the lights then the shopping precinct. I see a few people in WHW tops and am sure they must wonder WTF was going on.. Jamie has stopped to talk to someone but I keep heading to the underpass. Mike is there with camera, I complete my reverse run and that is ½ way.. 95 miles in 23:50.

Leg 1 done. Not really sure how to feel about this. I have just run a really good WHW but I am only half done. The usual sense of relief is put on hold. All I can think of is that I now have 70 minutes to turn around and head back up the road. I head to Registration where I must admit I feel like a rabbit in the headlights. Not the usual release of finishing the WHW, I am wired and just want to register and get myself changed, fed and as much rest as I can.. I see Hoops and Dave (though don’t say hi to him coz I am ignorant), then Debs, Big Davie the Polis, Stan and loads of others. It’s a blur. I am in an out of there in under 10 mins . Ollie has parked around the corner so I say cheerio to John K ("Go and make history")and we head to the Premier Inn. A quick shower, no major issues, chaffing or blisters. I lay down on the bed and ask for stuff.. I get some noodles, cooked chicken, coffee, and coke. Matt is there and its great to see him too.. I turn the main light out for 15 minutes, put my feet up and shut my eyes. I knew I wouldn’t sleep at all but was trying to process things.. I feel ok. 

Pre-Race Training 
People have asked me what I did to train for this race.  The short answer is not much.  I have always been a pretty low mileage sort of bloke, but did manage to complete the Marcothon in Dec (a run of 5k for each day in Dec).  This set me up with a really strong base for January and Feb where I managed to get up to the Pentlands almost every weekend - even for just a few hours.  In April I walked the Highland Fling - starting at 21:30 on the Friday night after all day at work and finishing up the next arvo at about 16:30.. (This was my tiredness training :-) .  I also did my standard sweep of the Cateran Trail race in May (56 miles).   Other than that its all about 20-30 miles a week, some slow, some fast.  But I guess this is also on a base of 12 years of running the WHW and other Ultras which cumulatively gives me some decent strength and endurance - both physical and mental.  The mental side is probably the most important.  This is my 3rd run over 160 miles and more than 2 days.  I have also run quite a few over 30 hours.

The Trip Back 
At 00:50 we exit the hotel car park and blast to the start line. I am screaming and swearing and saying “lets ****ING DO THIS”. Mike will be my support until Rowardennon, Ollie will go back to hotel for a good sleep .. Arrive at 00:56, briefing has happened, I say good luck to a few folks. 

Mike Johnson

 My plan in doing the double this way was that I would be able to join in the race I love, chat to people, getting swept along in the buzz and excitement that is this fantastic event. One issue – my legs don’t come to the party. The break has totally knackered them. I hobble up the steps, past the Outdoor show cameras “I’m doing the double” and by the time I hit the precinct I am stone dead last and I don’t see another person from the race for 16 miles. A few people see me and ask if I am ok – “I have had a warm up”.

The rest of the morning is basically me trying to hit times. I have a very conservative schedule that gets me in to all of the cutoffs. I know I need to work to Balmaha so try my best to walk / run and keep on pace. In all my races I have never stopped at Drymen – I like to get to Balmaha before I take a break . Tonight though I know I will need every extra bit of help so I ask Mike to meet me there and I have a wee top up .. I am about 10 mins behind the last runner but I have about 2 hrs to make the 6 miles over the hill. Am running walking and going well. When I finally hit the open moorland before the hill I see 2 runners. I catch them heading up the hill – its Ian Minty who is sweeping and a girl who’s day is unfortunately done .. I have over and hour to get up the hill. It takes me 20 mins to get to the top and 40 to get down – quads are telling me that 114 miles is enough. WRONG !! I get a big hug from Lee and then find Mike. Not sure what I eat but have something and some juice etc. I have 3 mins in the front seat resting my eyes. Ada is the sweeper from here. She calls me a fanny – it’s a term of endearment apparently 😀 I am stoked to see her as she is great crack. We leave Balmaha and trudge up to Rowardennon.  

We are making steady if not spectacular pace. Around Sallochy we come across another runner and Ada and Neil fall back. I am still focused on getting to Rowardennon where Mike will meet me. I am running late and mentally starting to struggle with sums etc. I get to Rowardennon and it all falls apart. Mentally I have deducted 1 hour from my available time to Beinglas and I have therefore in my mind run out of time. Unfortunately Mike does not realise this. I am saying I don’t have time to get the 13 miles to Beinglas by 12:00 but he is looking at my schedule and telling me I have plenty of time. I have 12 hours from Start Time – ie 13:00. The disconnect does not get cleared up until about an hour down the track when I meet another runner and he says 13:00. Ada confirms this. Mentally I am done.. I wont make the prizegiving, get a goblet. 

I eat the delicious selection that Mike has prepared as quickly as I can amidst the midge swarm and try to get going but I am stuffed. I call a mate who advises me to keep going but I am swithering. Mike has followed me out of Rowardennon and tries to get me going but I am stopped in my tracks and even at one point turn around. I am looking for excuses to give up. Mike tells me he will see me in Inversnaid – he knows me well enough to see what is going on. I figure I may as well get as close to the time as I can and see what happens. Ada and Neil catch me as we hit the new low road. I am told I have an hour longer than I think and we should make it .. Not sure of the damage of the last 20 minute meltdown but there are now 4 of us and we are progressing along.

I hate hate hate hate this new section. I am sure if I was walking it I would be ok with the lovely path by the lochside. I would love the varying climbs and the new views and the windy path, the descents to the water, the random climbs .. Right now I hate it and I tell Ada so.. I want the boring landrover track, I want the long uphill and then the longer downhill decline, but it aint happening .. I am whinging, a sook and a blouse wearer that needs to TTFU.. But I haven’t even seen my big girl yet, she hasn’t seen me run… People are waiting for me, wanting me to finish this journey.
(I don’t think I will like this section for a while but for all the improvements in the trail up Conich and between Balmaha and Rowardennon over the past 5 years I think it is a fair addition. Will be interested to see how Fling and WHW records are maintained / defended by this new path)

 We finally get through the new bit and then the path to Inversnaid – we hit the concrete plinth of destiny (I love seeing that ) and then we are up the steps to the hotel. Mike is not there but has left food for me. I go into the hotel and get my pint of milk (it wasn’t cold enough ! ) and then start on the last bit of the loch. In my heart I know we don’t have enough time – and I start to think of the ramifications. I think its under 2 hours for 6 miles, 4 of which are going to be slow .. I make as best progress as I can, playing leap frog with the other guys . I miss out signing Darios book for a second time - I know he would understand that I don’t have the time.

I try to run as hard as I can and when we finally clear the loch I am like a man possessed, demented. I leave everyone for dead and am sprinting – even before Darios post. I have more than 2 ½ miles to go and less than 30 minutes but I am melting it. If I am going to miss out its not going to be by 2 minutes. It’s futile of course. I am trying to run at the same pace I saw Donnie do it in the Fling in April. This is not possible for me on fresh legs, let alone with 130 miles in them. I have run out of water, its hot and I still try to push on. When I am less than 10 minutes to go and I still can’t see the Drovers Inn I give up on this ridiculous chase. I am spent, and the cost of this flurry of activity lasts for the next 2 hours.

As I finally get to Beinglas I see the checkpoint being taken down.. I come in and am screaming “where is my Chocolate”, which is my name for my daughter Kirsty. The checkpoint folks look at me like a lunatic – fair cop. With a heartfelt apology my timing band is cutoff and I have my first WHW DNF. 10 races, some slow, some quicker, sweeping, following truly inspirational people or running beside them, making friends and meeting family but always finishing in under 35 hours. This is a different day.

Kirsty is there, as is Ollie and Stu McCormack. Stu doesn’t do short stuff, the last time he supported me was the WHW / Great Glen in 2009 where he met me at Neptunes Staircase and finished at Drumnadrochit. Johnny Fling is there all smiles and I start to re-assess. I am knackered from my pointless sprint, but there is nothing else wrong with me. I ask everyone what they think and the unanimous decision is to keep going. Stu sums it up with a “Well I am here all day and have nothing else to do” As in previous times that’s all I want to hear. I AM NOT going to stop here. I AM NOT going to be back here in a year or 2 years time at 135 miles and still with 55 to go. I AM NOT going to have spent 37 hrs getting to this point, only to stop. I AM NOT going to speak to my mate who would give everything to run 1 mile let alone 190 and tell him why I stopped. And I am NEVER going to do this double again (its funny what bullshit comes out of your mouth 😀

The time is now. I have the best support, I have friends and family willing me on. The weather is kind and its time to crack on.. Why am I here ? The same reason I started some 37 hours ago.. The goal remains. I lay down for a few minutes (probably 20 ) then off we go again. I am sure I had a Diva request of an icecream which Ollie went and got me. I had food. I have a bit of a whinge. I get some lovely raspberry and chocolate brownies made by my wee girl. They are the best. .. The guys are all heading to Fort William to drop cars so Ollie can run from Auchtertyre where they will meet me next.

Beinglas to Auchtertyre
Its starting to get really hot and I am thinking of a little treat ahead. I am not really running much but still making progress. At Derrydarroch I stop at the waterside and have a paddle .. Takes me a bit of time to get into the water. My legs are absolutely stoked, the water is really cold. I splash away for a little while looking out for crocs.. This is bloody ace .. Not fancying running in wet shorts I am skinny dipping but luckily no one else comes past.  It takes me a little while to get all my kit back on but I am really refreshed so it was worth the investment in time. I then do the climb under the A83 and up to the trees.. I am passing a few walkers, I guess they would have seen the rest of the family a while ago and must be wondering what I am doing still out there .. It is really warm now and I might not have enough water with me.. I plan to stop at the bridge and fill my water bottle – just where I met Norm destitute and broken back in the 2008 Fling but helped him recover (thats my version – it may bear no relationship to actual events ).. I am starting to feel really a bit shit here.. Then some bloke comes running up the hill - its Tim Downie who has come out from Auchtertyre for a wee run and maybe meeting someone on the way. He has water, Ellas fruit pudding which is bloody awesome, and randomly some pork scratching which are interesting but quite hard to consume. Its bloody great to see him and we get through the roller coasters chatting about his recent travels around Scandanavia. Miles are always easier in company.

We hit the road and the farm and then we are in Auchtertyre – Ringo runs out to meet us and there is Muriel (who I reckon had something to do with the food choice J thanks ! ) with the campervan.. Some nice miles with family.. Its a lovely evening .. Stu, Kirsty and Ollie are also here so I thank Tim and get some food onboard. Ollie is ready to go .. The Love Van turns up and there is George and Karen.  He is working hard and we share a moment or 2, not much is said but it means so much that he is there.  there is a hug.. Things are always easier when you have a mate running with you, every step...

Auchtertyre to Glencoe
According to a post I leave at 18:08. Stu and Kirsty are a team.. 45 miles to go.. The evening is warm, the air clear... And now I am running with my mate Ollie .. A top bloke with whom I have shared only quality miles. The goal remains ... This is truly Scotland at its finest. The autumn of a mid summers day . A day of highs and lows but a day not yet over with miles to come. Along the river, a bit of a splash. Sending a gday to my mate Parky who I ran with along here 12 years ago, see you in December cobber.. A short stop at Brodies, where I have to ask Kirsty to avert her eyes whilst I apply some chaffing cream – some things a girl doesn’t need to see her Dad do .. Then up the hill.. I am stoked to hear that the guys have seen Adrian ahead at Bridge of Orchy, going slow but steady.. We run on we chat. As usual the long path to BoO keeps turning and twisting and I think back to yesterday and remember the easy run down on fresher legs and I just enjoy it.. I am thinking of Krusty in New Zealand who has been putting some lovely messages up .. We ran this bit in 2010 albeit a few hours earlier.. A train passes us and I reckon those folks are getting a cracking eve with the beauty of Rannoch Station and Corrour to come. Then the white beacon that is the Bridge of Orchy train station comes into view. We jog a bit of the remaining miles at least I think we did .. We come under the trainline and I am thinking sheesh I was here 37 hours ago.. Bloody funny..

Stu’s campervan is there. He has converted this himself and it is the boss. Wee kitchen, fridge, nice floor space ! I think I had my veggie risotto here, there was definitely coffee. I debated putting on leggings but not too much.. Its a cracking night. The team are on point. I ask Kirsty what they are going to do and she says they are going to get a DVD going. I reckon they will have plenty of time to watch it..

We left Bridge of Orchy at 21:45.. I am not sure but I might be pushing the sprint finish. Make good progress up Jelly Baby Hill, am a bit bummed that I don’t get a jelly baby but then I shouldn’t have been stuffing about having a sook and you don’t get jelly babies if you have a sook (well a long sook anyway !). Descent was slow.. What a night. We try to jog some of the road but fail. The long climb out of Victoria Bridge takes forever. There are no easy miles now and my timings are all totally out the window. Rannoch Moor is just glorious, still warm. Not really much to report, we plod on. Finally we crest the rise out of Rannoch Moor and I can see the welcoming lights of the Kingshouse Hotel. The path has definitely got rockier since 2 days ago.. It takes an age.

Finally we get down the hill and there is the magic wagon.. It is about 2:00 AM. Kirsty and Stu have it all sorted, we have soup and risotto and coffee and a seat. Then I get my Fathers day card from my big girl and I am absolutely stoked. She is having a great time, soaking up all that the race has to offer. I must admit to getting a little emotional at this point. The girls have never seen me run before and here I am pushing it really hard and she is there to support me. 

Furthers Day coming off Rannoch Moor

 We head down the hill from the carpark – there is a bloke on a pushbike clearly coming back from a party – not sure who was most surprised. The skies are starting to get brighter and the Buchaille is showing its shape. We pass by the hotel and the coffee is kicking in. I really want to continue along the road instead of that bloody pointless hill but that wouldn’t be a double then so we crack on. We reach Altnafaed and I need a comfort break (bloody coffee). We then climb up the Devils and I have 1 real hill to go. The descent to Kinlochleven continues the theme and the past few miles. Hard. We really are making such slow progress but progress it is .. Stu is waiting at the community centre, having taken Kirsty back to Fort William and bed. It is probably about 7:30 AM. I lie down on the floor of the van and Stu feeds us bacon rolls (legendary), more coffee and juice. Only 14 miles to go. Martin Hooper is there and I am gutted to see him. He should be up near Fort William but unfortunately his race has ended early.

KLL to FW – Leaving 8:45 The next 14 miles I am on the death march. All pretense of running is long gone and it will take me 7 and 1/2 hours to finish this.  Stu has packed his van and headed home so I only have one way to get to FW. We talk we walk, I stumble but don’t fall. We eat, drink. I blether and ramble .. Auto pilot is the wrong word as Ollie is by my side. I am like a dog being led by a lead, left to right, picking our way across the landscape. We finally get to Lundavra and I lie down in the sunshine and get 5 minutes rest. I don’t remember falling asleep but when I come to, there are people sitting with us.. It is a lovely day, warm but not hot… Ollie offers me some sultanas to eat .. They are good.. But there is still more. The path to the forestry track is done, the final climb up the hill that I had forgotten about, we meet some runners coming down the hill – one of the WHW family and his girlfriend. I know he will understand that I don’t remember his name but I will thank him for his water. We are halfway down the hill that 2 years ago I sprinted in under 40 minutes and there is Pete Duggan coming up. There is a light drizzle so I put my jacket on .. I stop a few times to stretch my back. I am whinging and being a sook.. As we approach Braveheart I hear the bells, there is Lucy and Russell, George and Karen. It is great to see them and I start to feel nervous about finishing.

The 30 mile an hour sign has been moved again.. Its always further. I try to run to see what my legs do. In short they don’t… Then it is there, some houses, a road, a roundabout. I start to run .. I have just done 190 miles and I want to finish this, I may have been walking for most of the previous 27 hours but now I run.

I can see people, hear shouts, I hear “Go Dad” and I am flying. I am in the carpark, I pass Lucy and George and I bang on the door.
The best door in the world !

64 hours and 15 minutes from starting I have completed a 190 mile Double West Highland Way. Hugs and tears, with my big girl, and the WHW family who have turned up to see me finish, Lee, Ian, Sandra, Lucy, Russell, Rhona, Mike Raffan and of course George and Karen.

Wild eyes - onya Ollie
I get a beer with Ollie – he is knackered as well having kept me going with his chat and positivity for the past 45 miles / 22 hours. We sit there and I have a moment or 2 when the mental and physical release of being finished goes over me in waves. Out of the corner of my eye I see one of the people from the Leisure Centre wiping my handprints off the door, that will be that then. Footsteps wash away, handprints the same, but memories and achievements like dreams are eternal.

Me and my choc . 

After my beer we go in Pete Duggan’s van back to the Travelodge where I am helped upstairs. I get myself into the smallest bath in the world and alternate between torso and legs.. I somehow make it back out again and get some pants on and crash into bed. Kirsty is knackered as well so is having a watch of “Chalet Girl” – we have seen this before so I say I will watch this with her. I last 30 seconds and pass out. I wake up 3 hours or so later. I am totally spaced out – I could have been on the moon on a pink scooter, and Kirsty is also a bit gleikit. Ollie is at the door .. Everyone is meeting downstairs and I tell Kirsty we need to go as I want to see everyone.

Walking through the door into the pub, there is a massive cheer and everyone claps and shouts. It is really special and moving.. The rest of the night I sit and chat to George and soak up the post race buzz.  Me and Ollie have a few beers and all is good.

Now it is some 2 and 1/2 months after the race.  It has taken me an age to write this.  Recovery was quite good, no real damage considering.  I didn't run for nearly 2 weeks after, did a bit of swimming and just tried to look after myself.  Any time I did even a 5k it would feel like I had done 20..  Had a cracking holiday with the girls with lots of swimming and rioja and good food.  Mentally I did spend a lot of time analysing the run and wondering about all the what-ifs ..  I felt really disappointed not to have made the leisure centre in time and to have gotten timed out.  I don't think I would have done it any differently, except maybe to have stayed at the start line and kept moving.  Lucky I spoke to a few people who told me to pull my head in and actually accept what I had done.  That is now 3 160+ mile runs I have now done, which I guess is not bad and all bodes well for the next challenge.

Just trying to write this all down I can look back at the pics and it all seems a bit surreal.  I am back running now and almost back to pre-run fitness.  This run was always about the Double.  I had wanted to complete it with George and finish what we started, but CIDP has put paid to that for the moment.  From the moment I told him back in March I was doing this I knew I would finish.  He is going through far harder battles at the moment than a little walk along some trails, but he doesnt stop and so neither will I.
With me for every step

I was blessed with the best weather and an incredible team - Ollie, Mike, Pete, John Kennedy and Anne and Richard, Norm, Jamie, Stu, Kirsty, Tim and George and Karen who kept me going and ran with me but also the many messages of support I was getting throughout the run.  Thanks to everyone, it really meant a lot.  The Scottish WHW and wider Ultra Family is really special, no one ever really runs alone unless they choose to.  I feel privileged to have been able to do this and enjoy (in hindsight) an incredible experience in the most breathtaking scenery.  It has been a great training run for the next challenge - because every run is an accumulation of the runs before, and a base for the runs to come.  Thanks for reading.

To Kirsty, Caroline and Alfie.  Love Dad.  

Saturday, 2 July 2016

A climb

The climb out of Kinlochleven is always tough ..
You have climbed and then dropped to sea level 
Only to climb again .. 
The roar of river gives way to the relentless rise
The step after step to the wee switch back 
Then climb on some more ..
We chat away we go up 
We move upwards 
Always upwards 
Turn around to look at where we have come from 
The rock face granite I think ..
The last few bits and we are there .. 
The snaking path of a glorious Lairigh Moor greets us..
Last hill, 12 miles to go..
Downhill but with the climb in our legs 
It remains, it builds 
If not for today but for tomorrow 
Or tomorrow's to come ...
Every run is a training run
We build on what we do
Until we stop we climb 
We descend 
And we climb some more .. 

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Rannoch Moor 2016

A week on and a different world .. 18-June 2016 and I am out in the middle of Rannoch Moor.. A little under a marathon to go.. 167 miles or so in in my legs .. The way no longer forgiving .. Every mile earned but at the same time a joy.. All quiet, a warm day.. A mate by my side and friends and family up ahead.. The goal remains, the way no easier but the goal remains.. It is there and it is not for changing .. The only thing that can change is the pursuit.. The goal remains.. 

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Lost and found

Occasionally we need to get reminded that no matter how fit or experienced we think we are, there is a price for arrogance, complacency and stupidity. Luckily this story has a a happy ending, with a lesson being learnt. A lesson that has been paid for with the upsetting and distress to those closest and dearest to me, which is a price high enough, but at least there is change from what would have been the alternative.

A quick summary of the day. The weekend was for my friend Chucks last Munro. There was 32 people invited up for the weekend, with the plan go up Bein na Lap near Corrour station. For anyone who has seen the movie Trainspotting, this is where they all go for their day in the Highlands . Out in the middle of no-where.. We drove up to Tyndrum on Friday night with a load of kit to cover all weather conditions. Had a few beers, wines and whiskys which led to a 3:30 bed time and a bit of a slow start to the day.. A good breakfast of porridge and a bacon roll was had. Took the train to Corrour at 10:30 on Sat.. Was feeling a little rough on the train so really glad when it stopped and we were able to get out..

We all started our wee trek up the hill, which given that we were starting at about 500m was not that hard. A pretty well worn trail took us to our destination where champagne was popped and pork pies, salmon on bread and other snacks. All of Chucks family were there and a lot of people from the mountaineering club and Hunters Bog Trotters. It was quite cold up top so I put on my waterproof trousers over my running leggings. Walked the descent back to the station with Jamie, chatting away about running, injuries and the like. We made it back down to Corrour about 2:30. Had a cup of coffee with Carrie and we swithered about going up the Corbet just the other side of the train track. The train back was at 18:20, so a bit of time to kill. Knowing that I did not want to spend a whole arvo in the pub I decided to go up. Jamie had left 10 minutes before me but it was a very simple ascent across boggy ground and thick heather. I made it up to near the top after about an hour and and saw 2 or 3 folk from the day out coming down then after about another 10 mins came across Jamie and 2 others. I asked how far to the top. "5 minutes just up that way - you can't miss the cairn - there is a bit of cloud so you wont see much, but its all fine, just follow your footsteps back in the snow. ." .

I swithered for a moment thinking I would just go back down with them and have a beer in the pub but thought not much point coming all this way without getting to the top. They said they would walk slowly back down..It was probably about 16:45 by this stage..

Made the summit in 5 mins, took some photos of me at the cairn then turned tail and followed the footsteps in the light snow back the way I came. It was indeed cloudy and couldn’t see anything below the cloud.

And somehow took a wrong turn and went down the hill .. The wrong side..

Descended about 50m or so and realised that the terrain was not what I had come up in.. So went back up the hill, but could not find the line I needed. If I had a compass, it would have been good, but of course I did not - Yes I am an idiot ! A mobile phone - useless - out of battery. (Yes - I am an idiot - my 'running phone' with a battery that lasts for a week was back in Tyndrum). Map - ?? Nope.

By this stage I was starting to get a bit worried. I decended one more time but still could not see what I needed to see as the cloud had possibly come down a bit more. A mild panic started to settle in .. Then the full reality of the situation . I was going to miss the train. My friends were going to be worried. I would be spoiling their party. My girl Sam, my girls, family, loved ones and other wider friends would also be worried.

"Oh dear - you have really f***ed up this time Keith". I said..

By 18:30 it was dark and I took stock of the situation. I had a mental calculation that Moutain Rescue would be called but it would take them at least an hour to get a helicopter to me .. (I later found out they would not have come until first light due to the cloud on the hill). I could not stay on the hill, it was cold, the ground icy and sodden. I looked for shelter from the light rain, but there was none in the low gorse bushes and rocks. I was lost up a hill in the dark.

On the plus side, I did have adequate clothing. Shorts, running leggings, waterproof trousers, socks, Hokas (I had left my Innov8's back in Edi). T-shirt, long running top, Waterproof Jacket, Waterproof gloves, lycra hat, wool beannie.. 1/2 a Mars Bar, 1 small block of Cadburys Milk and Nut, 2 Carbo gels and a pack of Minties.

I really had to focus on what to do. I could keep trying to go up the hill, looking for the right path to the train station that would be less than 2 miles away, but at the risk of falling on the hill or off a ledge. It was a full moon, but the cloud was playing havoc with visibility. I tried following a number of tracks off the hill but once again these led me to dead ends. As I looked around I saw in the distance the outline of Blackwater Reservoir. Beyond that I saw a light, if this was train, truck or illusion I do not know but I decided to head down off the hill and go that way. I knew that I had seen that stretch of water from the top of the Devils Staircase a number of times, so figured it was as good a direction as any.

Probably came off the hill about 19:30, in stopping for a drink I lost a glove.. With no head torch I could only use my camera flash to search the ground, although flurescent on one side, it landed face down and hence invisible. Ooops.

The next 8 or 9 hours were spent trekking across the expanses of Rannoch Moor. As I got down to the shores of Blackwater Res. I once again saw lights in the distance - over the other side. So I went left, and avoiding the many little streams, jumping puddles, tripping over gorse, falling waist deep in bogs and got to the bottom. At one stage after about 5 hrs without a break, I got really tired and lay down in the lee of a rock to see if I could just rest. Within minutes the cold had seeped through my body and I knew that if I stopped I would be in trouble. I had a Carbo Gel which was good but made me feel a bit crook.. I was eating the chocolate to keep me going . Had ran out of water, so topped up my water bottle from the loch or running streams.

I could hear Stags in rut, when the full moon was out and the drizzle stopped it was quite surreal. All I could think of was everyone else that would be worried. If I could have taken that out, and known where I was, then I might have even enjoyed it.. I was bloody lucky.. The rain whilst constant was only light. The wind was negligible, there was no snow and the temperature was maybe 3-4C. A heard of geese (I thought they were dogs ) exploded behind me and scared the shit out of me .. I was tired but working hard and not in really any danger whilst I kept moving and focused..

I kept walking, wading and lifting my legs. The ground sucked the strength from me.. It was like a wee walk George and I had done on the SUW back in December, with better weather but without even the semblence of a course, and alone. I finally got around Blackwater and headed North again, to try and pick up the light I had seen earlier. It was really boggy, many times having to pull myself out with my arms as I was deep in the mire. Gorse and heather held me back, lucky I only fell once and landed on soft ground. Rocks turned into houses, moonlight became beacons..

At about 2:30AM I saw a steady light in the west, so started to head in that direction. It stayed still but was a long way away ! A while later I saw a moving light south of the first one which I realised was a car. It was a long way away but decided to use my cameras flash to see if I could signal for help.. I took a bearing on the light and walked towards it .. Unfortunately there were no further cars so I lost the line and was then stuck again so just had to keep heading in that direction. In the light it seemed that a huge loch lay between me and the 'road'. At about 3:30 I turned around and behind me saw what appeared like 2 lights. It meant not heading to the road but I had to make a choice and decided to change course. By this stage I was getting very tired, both mentally and physically. I was really pinning my hopes on this light and every time I dropped down into a dip, or to cross a wee stream, or behind a hill, I would pray that when I can back up the light would be in view.

The last 30 mins as I got closer were really hard. What would I do if the light was just random roadworks ? As I got closer I could see the outline of trees, then had to jump a fence, then ultimately the house appeared with all lights blazing. 2 cars parked in front of the first house, but no answer. I walked past the stables where a dog barked and a horse neighed. The next house was no better - all the lights on, the curtains open and a bed that looked as if someone had just left it .. I tried the bell but no-one home. I tried the door and it opened and into the warmth I stepped. I called out and apologised and after removing my wet shoes, went into the house asking if anyone was home. There was no reply.

At 4:20 AM I lay down on the floor next to a still warm radiator and collected my thoughts. After 5 mins or so I went and found a phone and dialed 999 for the first time in my life. After 10 minutes of speaking with the coordinating police officer I got put through to Fort William Police station and spoke to the very nice Duty Sargeant Kirstin.

"Hello Keith "
"Hello - you might have me reported as missing "
"Yes, we do, there are a lot of people worried about you "
"Yes, I figured that "
"Where are you "
I told her, and we worked out i was about a mile or so from the A82, maybe 16 or so miles from where I started.
"How did you get there "
"Mmmm I don’t really know. "

In the next hour Sam (who had travelled up from Edinburgh during the night with our great friends Nick, Nyci and Perry ) came and picked me up.. She had clearly been very worried. We then went back to Tyndrum where Carrie, Kata, Jamie, Chuck and all the others were waiting and also very relieved. I found out about people who were on their way to come and look for me, of all the stress my little adventure caused.

I have done longer runs and been put for more hours but mentally and physically this was as challenging a few hours as i have ever spent. To be truly lost and alone is a rare thing these days. Looking back now with the memories fading it doesn't seem so bad... I was bloody lucky that despite my lack of kit and basic common sense nothing really bad happened. I still feel really bad for all the upset that I caused and am glad that at least people didn't need to walk around at night trying to find my silly arse. Thanks to all those people who were ready to come and help and of course to my lovely girl Sam who somehow ended u with a broken finger from the night and who was so upset..

So next time , if I am allowed out again, I promise to check the phone, compass and map.. And maybe go with a friend... If you are a potential idiot like me, maybe you should do the same...

Thursday, 2 August 2012

On a full

On a full Noon in June
Our paths cross
We swoon
And dip and fail
to climb again and

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

All different, All the Same

To take a stride
Longer than the norm
and fill a day with thoughts
of just doing

the pace it varies
but at the end it completes
it is about the finsh
and the sharing with friends and family
of something that is more
than the humdrum and the mundane
That removes us from the same
and maybe the sane
existence of the day to day

We run but that is not the end
The pace is a marker
that does not define
The run is what binds us
A mutual admirer
and the distance our friend