Wednesday, 27 June 2012

West Highland Wahay (or how to get to Fort William by river)

To say I was worried about the West Highland Way would be an understatement. What with months of recurring calf injuries, spraining my ankle and then having food poisoning which lasted a week, 2 weeks before the race, I wasn't feeling exactly 'prepared' to run 95 miles, and more importantly do it justice.

The race is one of the qualifying races for the Western States in 2013, so in theory all I had to do was finish in under 35 hours. So, if it all went Pete Tong, I could walk I told myself.

Dave is working on the Olympics, so Ant and Fairy had agreed to be my support crew. I picked them up around 10am on Friday, with Ant packing his violin and then Fairy packing her ukulele! They threatened to start playing if I stopped for longer than 4 mins. Jeez, I'm being crewed by the cast of Deliverance I thought, and vowed to keep moving. Ant had given both Fairy and I copies of Unbreakable to get us in the mood, so Fairy watched the movie on the drive up with me wanting to save it for the return trip. We arrived in Milngavie around 3pm, after driving through pretty much constant rain and then thunder and lightening; it wasn't looking good!

I went to pick up part of my crew's 'Thanks for looking after/putting up with me' pressie; I'd ordered a box of 45 cakes from a cafe in Milngavie. Should keep them busy/awake!
We attempted to get some sleep, failed, so went down to register around 9pm, meeting John Kynaston who gave me a big hug, which was nice!

Back to the hotel, more sleep failure, so Fairy plaited my hair into the tightest 'go faster' plaits ever, talk about a facelift! At midnight, Rob and his trusty crew, Niki (Mrs Rob) and Mary (Rob's sister) turned up so we all headed for the pre race brief and 1am start.
Milling around Fairy and I were trying to find Terry Conway to wish him luck. The Irish had tipped us off that Terry was going for the long standing course record, so we were all excited! 1am came and we were off.
Heading through the woods, everyone was running in small groups, dodging the big puddles. I settled into my running, just hoping that I'd get further than 50 miles before the wheels fell off and I had to walk. After the Beech Tree Inn I slotted behind a tall chap, it was just me and him, or Jim, for a while and I was glad of the company not only cos it was pitch black but as he opened all the gates! It had started to really rain now, but wasn't cold, so I focused on his shoes (red soles, mmm Louboutins, there's a thought) and tucked behind him. We chatted through Drymen, then I went ahead through the woods before Conic Hill, meeting up with another chap (sorry but I can't remember his name for the life of me). As we approached the car park a lady spectator, I think, said someone was hurt ahead so could we get their number and call the safety officer. We ran on and came across 2 people standing in the path, are you ok, we asked. A grumpy yes reply, so we carried on. I didn't realise it at first but it was Mimi Anderson who'd fallen and hurt her ankle.

Up Conic Hill which was a river, pretty pointless dodging the puddles now! At one point I did have a 'Vicar of Dibley' moment falling knee deep in what I thought was an ankle deep puddle.Carefully down the other side, with various whoops and yells from the group I was in as we all slipped; we're like dominoes declared the girl next to me! Through Balmaha, and there was Fairy and Ant waiting with a bag of goodies.
Re fuelling on the hoof
Quick Slimfast shake and off. I don't really like the next section but actually it went ok. I stopped for a 'comfort stop' next to the beach in the undergrowth, trying to find some cover but a chap followed me, is this the track, he asked! I ran for a while with Fionna Ross, who was going well, and we arrived at Rowardennan together. It really was tipping it down but still not too cold.
Poor Fairy got a bit soggy waiting around for me
Running straight through again, I was on my own. Fairy had said I was 1st Lady at this point but I was sure that a girl with plaits (Rosie Bell) and a girl with a red top on were ahead of me. I kept catching glimpses of red through the trees, so decided that I was right, and I was 3rd. Annoyingly I had some 80's dance track on repeat in my head so trundled on singing what's she gonna look like with a chimney on her! Along the Lochside the usual streams were raging torrents and there were some pretty impressive waterfalls coming off the hills. Into Inversnaid, the very cheery marshals told me I was 1st lady, so quick stop and off.
Along the next section Fionna caught me up and we had a good run into Beinglas, chatting away. John Kynaston, Mr Blogtastic, was waiting at Beinglas with a big cheer, he sorted out my dropbag really quickly, I grabbed some crisps and was off, leaving Fionna at the checkpoint. The next section is a bit rollercoasty hills, but being used to running in the Lakes I'd decided to run all the hills as far as I could; hell I'll be walking soon anyway! I was really enjoying the run so far, trying to keep to the sub 20hr splits I'd cobbled together (as if that was going to happen, but if you don't try...) and just doing my thing. 

As I approached Auchtertyre I spotted Ant. The wind had picked up by now and I was getting cold; I really hate being cold. My only diva moment, I think, as I demanded that they go shopping in Tyndrum and get some soup, or oxo cubes, or marmite, anything savoury and salty. Running into the checkpoint was great, people everywhere cheering and someone madly ringing a cow bell. This turned out to be a very smiley Lucy Colquhoun, the long standing Ladies course record holder, how nice was that! Quickly weighed and out, with Fairy chasing me down the path with supplies including a hot bacon roll, brilliant!

Unable to frown with my go faster/botox plaits!
It was really pouring and cold, I was glad I'd packed my Gor tex mitts which look like oven gloves but work. It's the same for everyone I kept telling myself. A mile or so out of Bridge of Orchy 2 runners were fast approaching; come on Gaynor they whooped! It was Sharon Law and Debbie Martin-Consani looking immaculate compared to my drowned rat impression. Really cheered me up! Into the CP with Ant waiting with a walkie talkie, she wants soup and a change of clothes, 10-4! 
I sat in the van and changed my top half of clothes, even put on a fleece and thick gloves. Had the best cup o' soup in the world, made them promise that we'd get drunk in Fort William and left, feeling a bit better. I trudged up the hill thinking this is where Murdo waits with his flag, and soon enough there he was! A gangly man dancing about in the rain, are you Murdo? Yes, who are you? Ah, Gaynor Prior, he sang, 1st Lady, la la la! Had a soggy jelly baby off him and was off. I don't mind Rannoch Moor but I had real 'belly issues' here, finally giving in and going although there's no cover.
Ant was waiting again with the radio, pasta and cake 10-4! I'd been getting updates from my crew all day about Rob and Terry, which was great, we were all excited about Terry's run, he's so strong. Glencoe was freezing, 2nd Lady was 27 mins behind apparently. Ant timed the stops, and when he shouted 4 mins, I was off! No violins today!

Just past Kingshouse I officially lost my marbles. Completely and utterly. I couldn't remember how far along the road the gate was so convinced myself that I'd missed it. Instead of backtracking along the road I thought it was a brilliant idea to climb the barbed wire fence and stagger about in what can only be described as a bog looking for the path! I did this for about 15 mins, until my brain started to function again - the WHW is a massive path so why are you looking for a sheep trod, you stupid cow (or words to that effect). I staggered back to the fence, saw the MASSIVE path and rejoined the race, furious! At the bottom of the Devils Staircase Fairy came running towards me, 2nd Lady is 9 mins behind, just giving you a heads up, so get a shift on! There wasn't a lot of gear shifting going on in my legs so I trudged up the hill and amazed that I felt ok had a great run down the rougher trail to the road; my favourite bit of the whole day.

Rosie (plait girl) caught me on the road into Kinlochleven, are you ok I asked. Now, either Rosie has a very strong Scottish accent or my brain had stopped working again, but I only got, pain, Rannoch Moor, chiropractor. So I guessed that her back was hurting. She was off anyway, I made my way to the CP with Ant meeting me on the road. Quickly weighed, checked with the marshals that I could have a pacer (thanks Terry for finishing so quickly!) and Fairy and I set off, me eating chips. Rosie turned left out of the CP and then right through the houses, even her crew shouted at her, but she was gone. We followed the road and then up the hill with Fairy trying to get me to run, it's not over yet she declared! My lack of consistent training was kicking in big time, just felt dead, not really in any pain, feet and legs were ok, just numb from being wet for hours. I just had nothing in me. Fairy was brilliant, dancing about, making me run the hills - come on we'll run to that rock, ok?! She's such a strong runner and as fit as hell at the moment, she was almost running on the spot next to me! Don't shout or moan, she's trying to help you I thought. Past the smiley marshals on Lairig Mor, trying to keep running. Just speed up a bit Fairy tried, I think I'll pass out if I go any faster. I was feeling very dizzy, just all over the place. I think this is where I stopped talking altogether, just grunting, nodding or giving a thumbs up to Fairy's questions. Don't shout or moan, she's trying to help you.

Through Lundavra, this could be a long 7 miles I thought. Then in the distance a lolloping figure was approaching. Is that Ant, and has he got a dress on? Ant came storming down the path hollering, in Hokas and a kilt! It's not far, come on! Down the trail into Braveheart, I'd turned into Sweary Mary, a foul mouthed rant about how I'd really like this lovely jog to finish really quite soonish. Along the road, more ranting, then cheering at the roundabout, it was Debbie and Sharon again! Into the leisure centre and finished, 20:51:45, 2nd Lady, 14th overall.

Rob finished in 5th place in 18:54:05, brilliant run, and the mighty Terry was 1st in 15:39:15, new course record in horrendous weather conditions! Back to the campsite, quite a painful shower with my newly discovered chafed bits, Fairy had put up loads of pink balloons with disco lights in around the tent and was wearing a fetching pink wig! I think she was anyway...Ant and Fairy decided that they'd get up at 6.30am and run up Ben Nevis so I set my alarm as Ant's useless at getting up. 6.30am came, I texted them to get up (I was in the van) and not hearing any noises thought, lazy sods were all talk last night, they're still asleep! All the food etc was in the tent and I was starving but didn't want to wake them so I waited till I heard voices, around 10am and got up, ravenous. There they were in full running gear, soaking wet and madly smiling having run up and down Ben Nevis! Mental.

Off to the prize giving, meeting Rob (who'd had to surgically remove his underwear from his boy bits, which were 'shredded'!) and lovely Terry and Annie. John Kynaston gave me another big hug, which was nice! We said hello to Caroline who we'd met on our recce run, who finished in 31:40:30, who looked so glam!
Fairy and Ant - the best crew ever! 43 cakes eaten...

A Hairy hug from Rob

Terry - Running Royalty

Prizes and Balloons!
So, I can't thank Ant and the Fairy enough for all they did, I will return the favour a hundred fold in July. Thank you to Ian, Sean, John, Murdo and all the marshals/helpers who were just so smiley and helpful in bloody awful conditions. What a weekend! Wasn't expecting much but came home with a lot...

So, roll on November when I can try to enter WS!! Yeeeeehaaaaa!


  1. How anyone can run on the distinct lack of training that you'd had is beyond me, and then to complete and not only that, to complete and come second it a credit to your perseverance and strength. Can't wait for the next adventure :)

  2. Excellent write up, Gaynor, and well done on a fantastic result.

  3. Very well done, Gaynor.
    How can you not be a diva with a travelling hairdresser and musician?!
    Hope to see you again soon.
    Debs M-C
    Ps: Rosie took the quickest route out of Kinlochleven. Local knowledge and all that :-)

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