I helped put the kids to bed. It was 8pm. The race was due to start in 5 hours. I was still riddled with doubt. I had run this iconic race the year before yet was sitting with many many doubts tonight. Mostly heart and desire. I knew it would hurt, I’ll be honest the forecast filled me with dread – the thought of being tired and running exhausted whilst being soaked and pelted with wind and rain was weakening my resolve. But my wife is tough – she makes me tough. So when my brother picked me up at 11 to go to Milngavie I was ready. I’d see Erin again at Tyndrum with my brother in law Gerard and Jim and Rachel my support runners – I was in safe hands – but not soft hands which in a race like this is important.
I registered and went back to my big brothers car. When I’m nervous I go into my shell – I don’t want to speak to anyone, don’t want to socialise – I don’t do it deliberately I just need to do that to process and cope with the situation. David knows this – he’s my older brother and I get comfort in his reassuring silence as I kid on I’m sleeping in his car. 12.40 – get up get ready – reassuring nod and hug ‘don’t panic – see you in Balmaha’. I feel fitter than last year – Karl’s seen to that despite numerous injuries and missed training sessions and frustrations – Karl’s had his work cut out. At start line it again feels big but not overwhelming. I see enough in my work at the Beatson to know the importance of things in life – running isn’t top – yet it feels like it is.
Milngavie to Balmaha
I start in the dark. Don’t even see Paul or Allan at start or meet up with Tom Kiely finally. Happy to keep my head down in the dark and plod on – I feel shit, don’t talk to anyone but feel like I know the drill now. Get on with it – a constant battle with my mind – ‘you can chuck it anytime you want’? – but deep down I know I won’t. I think of people I see in work – unwell and reflective – many at end of life. Do big things to justify the gift of health and life. I get to Balmaha unscathed and happier than year before in 3:50 hrs. David takes care of me – a reassuring presence – I’ve run to heart rate and feel ok – off to Rowardennan.
Balmaha to Rowardennan
I love this section. I’m not a good runner – neither fast nor strong but I love this part of the lochside. Still eating well and drinking – tailwind, cheese, crisps – CUSTARD. Arrive in Rowardennan happy, listening to music from Bob Dylan to Rage Against the Machine to Whitney Houston to the Gaslight Anthem to Mozart to Danny Tenaglia. David tells me I’m doing well and looking good – always listen to your big brother. 5:40 hrs down.
Rowardennan to Tyndrum
I wish I could give a go blow by blow account of this section but the first half went the way Karl suggested. Steady – Steady eating, steady heart rate, steady pace. All the technical bits took care of themselves – I love running to heart rate it takes the thinking out of pace and time and distance. I think a lot. I think of my kids. My youngest Matthew – intelligent, funny, witty and determined. My oldest Peter and his daily challenges with autism – loving, kind, clever. Both are a blessing I often feel I don’t deserve. My wife Erin – the gel that holds us all together – loving, but also tough and uncompromising – exactly what I need. I get past Inversnaid eating well and ready to tackle the top of the loch. Think of the training – The top of the loch is what it is – don’t overthink it just get on with it and enjoy the stunning views and don’t worry about pace or time. It takes care of itself. Beinglas to Auchtertyre passes by nicely – I meet Harry Mcalinden and get a good chat – about people from Dumbarton, races, life, Celtic – a gentleman. I weigh in and haven’t lost anything at Auchtertyre – meet David and my nephew Aaron here – a happy spot – weather’s good. Get to Tyndrum in under 13 hours and meet my mum, my sister in law Sharon and my nephews plus my second half top half support team. We’re all here together at one time – happy positive vibes – we have ice lollies. David passes my kit to Erin and Gerard and heads home – job done – leaves me with positivity again ‘don’t panic keep moving, keep eating and get to the finish’. Me and Rachel head for Bridge of Orchy (BOO).
Tyndrum to Kinlochleven
Running with Rachel is easy. Into a flow quickly. We’ve worked together for so long and run together – she knows what to say and when. Calmness. All my support team exude calmness. No shouting, no pep talks – I don’t need it and don’t respond to it – they know this. Weather’s good to BOO – meet Gerard and Erin – have a laugh – eat well. Gerard tells me I’m in much better state than this time last year. ‘Keep moving no point in wasting time’. We move. By the time we climb out of BOO it’s like a different country. Gales, rain, grim. Apoco-fucking-lyptic was how it was described – it got worse as we got closer to Glencoe. But we moved well. Rachel’s quiz as always a funny point – kept us laughing. Don’t need to think anymore – I’m in good hands – just keep moving. Rannoch Moor is like a scene from Lord of the Rings. We climb then descend into Glencoe. Weather is awful – awful! But we’re wearing the right gear and are still moving. Get to Glencoe – don’t stop. Get fed by Erin and Gerard. Change of clothes. Don’t stop – no point, just keep moving. Jim joins us. It’s perfect. Jim naturally leads with Rachel prompting behind. It wasn’t planned just happened. Devil’s [staircase] came and went – calmness. Reassurance. Keep moving. Arrive in Kinlochleven in good shape. Rachel leaves us – job done. Eat and change clothes. Erin and Gerard give positive vibes. Now for fort William. 24 hours is possible – it’s the first time a finishing time has been mentioned.
Kinlochleven to Fort William
I had refuelled with the same food as every checkpoint. Legs felt good as I left the centre following Jim to the climb out of Kinlochleven. It’s the biggest climb of the day and fairly brutal after 81 miles. 14 miles to go. Jim led the way – I’ve known Jim all my life – following him up the climb we make steady progress with reassuring words from him. I get to the top ready to tackle the Lairig Moor still moving well. After a few minutes though something felt different. I had to stop and go to the toilet. 4 minute stop and I was off again. Then I had to stop again. Then again. Then again. This was literally shit. Allan and Rich his support runner went past looking strong and went on to a great finish. I then stopped again. Paul and Sconny caught me and we ran a bit together before I had to stop again. You get the picture. Jim knew as well as I did we were in for a long haul here to the end. By the time we got to Lundavra at 88 miles it was now more sensible to just walk as my stomach could cope with that. Night came and head torch came back on. Frustrating thing was my legs felt good but when I tried to move above a walk my guts went. I wish I could write about a glory finish but it continued like this to Fort William. I crossed the line in 24:27 – a 2 hour PB and very happy. I could be negative and reflect on what I might have managed but I didn’t and still don’t – I would have bitten your hand off for this at the start.
Where to start? … I suppose reviewing time and finish. I knocked 2 hours of my previous time. What could it have been if the last section had went smoother? It’s impossible to answer. I was sitting with a beer the next afternoon with my support team and their conclusion and my opinion were the same. There’s so much that can go wrong in those type of events that if you can reflect that 90% of your race went to plan perfectly then you have to be very happy – and I was and am – very, very happy. I missed lots of training through injury yet Karl managed to get me in better shape than the previous year without any injuries. My support team were perfect for me. David, Rachel, Jim, Erin and Gerard. All calm positive and reassuring – led me and fed me without any fuss or drama. My only advice to someone thinking of doing this is pick your team carefully – ensure the people you pick are exactly the type of character you need at times you will need it – and you WILL need them. I can’t thank them enough, and Karl.
I am happy to finish again and thankful that I am physically able to do these events as there are people who simply cannot. It’s a good event – very low key in comparison with other runs but a privilege to travel through such a wondrous part of the world. Will I be back next year?? We will see but you can be sure it’ll be with the same team. Well done to all finishers, commiserations to those that never did and thank you to race organisers and marshals.