Sunday, 3 November 2013

“Just a Wee Ultra”

There’s an old truism often spouted by wise old Clodhopper, aka UltraBob – red sky in the morning, ultra-runners warning, or some such things and such was the ominous view I had of a glowing red pre-dawn early light in my wing mirror as I drove toward Strathyre. Putting those kind of gloomy thoughts aside though, I felt really excited as I got parked up, registered and collected my race number. The gathering clans of ultra-runners heightened my excitement and pleasure. So did seeing so many friends and familiar faces and there was a thoroughly enjoyable babble of chatter as we all prepared ourselves for what was to lie ahead.

After a short race briefing we were all shepherded across the busy main road, an incredible feat of achievement in itself for the marshals who managed not to lose a single one of us this early on to roadkill as we all assembled at the start line. Such was the buzz going on and me chattering with Amanda we didn’t even here the start signal it just suddenly became clear that everyone in front of us were running so we thought best if we get going too.
So off we went and in true ultra-runners style we were walking rather than running within 20 meters as the first bit was a climb. With so much distance to run it’s a poor policy for most of us to run up any steep hills as we conserve energy for the long way ahead. Amanda and me settled into side by side running, much as we do in our training and it was great to do that as we kept each other company for at least the first 20 miles.

There was a good amount of easy descent on the first 7 miles so we breezed through Kingshouse in 1hr 14 before tackling the 4.5 mile climb up to the summit of the Glen Ogle Pass and our first drop bag stop. We had our first encounter here with our fantastic friends and supporters, John and Helen Munro who were whooping and cheering

us in in fine style. I’d been feeling pretty hot all the way to here so took the opportunity to ditch some kit, hat and gloves and fuelled up for the next section.
The next bit is a loop of the forest south of Killin that eventually brings us back to the same check point so it was here that we saw the leader on his return. He was flying along and was already 8 miles ahead of us at this point and he eventually went on to set a new course record. The descent down to Killin was really good running on not too steep paths that allowed us to make headway pretty quickly and we were soon at the start of the fairly strenuous climb back round to the checkpoint again.
It was here at around the 17 mile mark that the rain started. It wasn’t too bad at first but got harder and harder. There was snow in it too and it was pretty cold. By the time we got back to the checkpoint it was hammering down. I recollected the hat and gloves I’d earlier dumped and after refuelling we headed off back the way we’d first come earlier on.
Now, it was about this point, probably about 20 miles in that things started to go a bit pear shaped. I’m still not really sure what happened but I was getting wet and pretty cold. There are classic symptoms of hypothermia and the mild stage presents in the following way.
·        constant shivering
·        tiredness
·        low energy
·        cold or pale skin
I was ticking every box. It first became apparent when I couldn’t keep up with Amanda anymore and gradually dropped back from her. I then entered a vicious cycle where I was very cold but my work rate was lowering. Because my work output was lowering I was losing even more core temperature. Because I was losing core temperature my work rate was falling further and further and I found myself going into a real tailspin.
When I started on the Balquider loop I was soaked through to the skin despite a waterproof jacket with another 5.5 mile still to run. The rain was bouncing off the road so hard it was bouncing back up six inches from the road. Floods were developing that required splashing through and the wind was strengthening. I began to get seriously worried now about my wellbeing. I was so cold. Colder than I ever remember being and I felt I was in danger. I couldn’t even drink for fear that the cold water would further lower my core temperature. I knew I had to keep moving but projecting forward how much time I was going to be out for made me worry even more how much I was deteriorating.
The last couple of miles I was reduced to a walk and it seemed interminable. I found myself mentally ticking off every 10th of a mile, glancing at my Garmin every minute and worrying in case I’d gone wrong on the route somehow.
Just then though I caught site of the river and knew I must now be very close to the Shuggly Bridge and suddenly, yes there it was. I was crossing the bridge and the bright yellow apparitions standing before me were the smiling faces of the Munros and it was Marguerite photographing me as I shuffled along though I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying, my teeth were chattering so much.

There is no greater relief in life than crossing the finish of an ultra but this one was special. I was gubbed that’s for sure. So cold as I stood by a fire. A cup of tea was thrust at me but I could barely hold it my hands were shaking so much. Drinking it was tricky as it was anyone’s guess where the cup might end up, my mouth, my ear, over the back of my head, who knows
The End :-) Two Yellow Munros

So grateful to everyone involved in today, the organisers, the supporters, my fellow friends and runners you were all magic with your congratulations, concern for me, your friendly words every one of you. The “Wee Ultra” gave me a big kick up the butt today that’s for sure but it appears that having run two ultra races my name has now acquired an exponent, I am now officially UltraBob²

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Our Euro Tour Day 12 to the Finish

Wed 28 august 2013 Bonn-Krefeld
one of our better hotel stops

63 miles

Wow what a breakfast today! We've cycled all this way to get a good breakfast and this one had it in spades. There was everything, sausages, scrambled eggs, lovely crispy bacon, cheeses, meats, different types of proper yoghurt with all sorts of fruit to add, pastries and nice coffee. I could barely move after stuffing myself.
Eating up all that ate up quite a chunk of the day too. It was well after half ten when we finally hit the road. Today though was easy riding along largely flat roads with a little downhill bias. We flirted with the Rhine Cycle Route when it suited us. It was lovely especially going through Cologne where the river side offered a safe and scenic route through the city with it's variety of old architecture from old cathedrals to modern apartment blocks and the opera house. 

So all in all a pretty good day producing the longest ride of the tour so far too. What's more tonight's meal of various meats, green beans and sauted spuds washed down with aldi wine was yummy.

Thursday 29th august Krefeld-Nijmegan

54 miles

So today we were to cross the final frontier as we moved north from Germany into Holland. Not that you could really tell the difference, this part of Germany looked identical to the miles of holland that we'd cycled in the past. Windmills, lovely smooth cycle paths for the most part and flat, flat flat.  Such was the sameyness of the route I found myself aiming the bike for acorns, I found if I ran right over them they made a nice crack, or even more fun was to try to catch them just with the edge of the wheel getting them to ping off to the side like riffle bullets. Well, it kept me amused as we rolled along
We came across one or two lovely little villages too. This is one of the best things about holland, so pretty in the village centres with lovely terraced cafes. I love those places and could sit there all day just watching folk going about their business. So even with the miles we had t do it was still nice to spend a good while in there nursing a rather delicious cappuccino.
Our accommodation tonight turned out to be excellent. Instead of the usual hotel this was an apartment in a really old building but it was great with a kitchen so we could cook rather than eat out and saved us a it of money. What's more there was a complementary bottle of wine and a bottle of beer, a fridge full up stuff for our breakfast and a coffee machine. Happy days. The town itself was great to look round too and had the most amazing cheese shop I've ever seen.

Fri 30th  August 2013 Nijmegan-Utrecht

47 miles

Bit of an end of term feeling for us today with both of us now feeling a little reluctant to get going as the end was drawing closer. After breakfast we lazed around probably a bit too long as we new we didn't have huge mileage to do. The trouble was yesterday was for the most part headwind and what we didn't realise was today was set to be pretty strong headwinds all day too. It was a nice enough ride though but it offered little inspiration and it was very much a case of just getting the ride done today.

The hotel turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The Holiday Inn Express we'd booked turned out to be right in the middle of a commercial zone. Desolate office blocks and water features. Whats worse was it had no restaurant either. Luckily we we're able to order in a takeaway from a local Thai restaurant that the hotel let you eat in the bar area. It was pretty good to but it was a shame we hadn't been able to look round the shops in Utrecht center especially as it was our last night.

Saturday 31 August 2013 Utrecht-Ijmuiden (Amsterdam Ferry Port)

48 miles

Getting out of Utrecht turned into a bit of a problem today. Sometimes my Garmin has a tendency to try to get me into trouble and sends us onto roads that we weren't allowed on. Sometimes it seams as though its led us into an impossible situation with no way out. It reminds me of one of those old Tomb Raider games where you have to probe away here and there when suddenly the way ahead is revealed, hopefully without any impaling spike pits to crash into.
It was a really pleasant ride with Holland Showing itself at its best with gorgeous canal side houses all over the place in beautiful rural settings.
Gradually, despite the headwind giving us a huge battle we closed the distance on the ferry. The last few miles on these trips are always full of mixed feelings. Sadness that the adventure was coming to an end but also happy to be going home to familiarity, Moss the dog and all my lovely friends.
The Amsterdam-Newcastle ferry is always good though. We got ourselves on board with minimal fuss and settled into our cabin, remarkably like a prison cell but met our needs for the night.
The hot buffet is awesome, there is so much stuff I couldn't even begin to list everything but it was delicious. We knew there was a strong wind blowing so we'd taken the precaution of taking sea sickness tablets and I'm sure it was these that had me nodding by nine o-clock an it wasn't to much later than that that we hit the sack. We'd be waking in the morning with just a 15 mile ride through Newcastle back to where we left the van, adventure over and with a fantastic on board breakfast inside us we would finally, after all that way be back in the UK.....till next time :-)

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Our Euro Tour Day 8,9,10 and 11

Saturday 24 August 2013.
The Gotthard Pass

Airolo - Andermatt 16 stonking miles
Today has been absolutely awesome! Mind you it started off with the usual rubbish breakfast. On the table there  was a bowl full of eggs and a warning label attached saying "raw eggs" nice, there was some kind of device that I think was meant to cook the eggs so I put a couple in and pressed the button expectantly, nothing happened. Then I noticed it wasn't plugged in, there wasn't even a socket near it so Marguerite took it across the room to where there was a socket and we tried again. This time the device did little more than squeak extremely loudly, much to our embarrassment, so we abandoned the eggs and ate whatever else was available. Little more than cereal, yoghurt and some bread and croissants that had been keeping the flies amused for some time.

The ride today though was absolutely memorable. A big, big climb for a reluctant tandem as we ascended switchback after switchback climbing over 3000' in 7 miles to the highest point we will reach on the tour at 6950'. The weather was considerably cooler too, whereas we'd thus far been used to temperatures in the high 20s low 30s we were now down at 16C and it was getting a bit drizzly. More like a Scottish day really.
There were quite a few little shops and restaurants etc dotted around the summit so we had a look around and I had a really delicious bratwurst before the cold got to us and we began our descent.
Another thing that tandems are not particularly good at is stopping. I was acutely aware of this as we headed down the steep road eying the approaching bends with some nervousness. If you let gravity take charge and the speed builds up, very quickly you reach a point where it's impossible to get the speed down sufficiently to take the next corner resulting in carnage.  The disk brake was applied pretty much full on just to stop us going supersonic and the front brake was being used as well to get our speed down for the corners. I tried not to think about the heat build up on the front rim and didn't dare thing about how that heat can build up until the tyre explodes probably killing us as we crashed off the road. We did have a couple of brake cooling stops but I was aware that even stopping the bike in a safe place required a huge amount of braking.
We got down though, but now the weather had really changed and it was pouring down, we were both freezing too so it was very lucky we'd booked a hotel here so we could get in out of the weather. Very lucky indeed as it proceeded to rain for the rest of the afternoon.

Sunday 25 August 2013

early morning traffic

Andermatt - Affoltern 58 miles
Another fantastic day in the Alps with ten miles of awesome if white knuckle descending. Bloody freezing though and we were layered up like we were back in Scotland.
It was a kinda strange morning though as I was having (and not for the first time) an ongoing battle with the garmin gps. I wanted to go directly to Brunnel from Altdorf but the gps was insisting in a rather blasé fashion that we should take an 80 mile detour over the 6500' Klausen Pass instead of the flat 15 mile lake side route. Erm, helloo, get real, it ain't happening. I refused to believe what the gps was telling me, ie that there was no possible bike route along side the bikes forbidden lake road. So it was with some trepidation we munched our lunchies and headed out lake side.

I needn't have worried though, there was an excellent bike path complete with dedicated bike tunnels all the way along a really lovely route so up yours Garmin!

So that was the Alps pretty well done, only a couple off wee foothills in the last 30 miles of the days ride as we purred along Lake Zug until we cruised into Affoltern.
Here though we found we'd got ourselves a booking in a completely bizarre hotel. Seemed to be a combination of hotel, bar, Thai restaurant (closed of course), and some kind of house of ill repute with ladies wandering about all over in various states of undress. can't remember this feature being described on
Never mind, us travellers have to take these things in our stride and we got on with all the usual chores of bib short washing and bum callous attention that was daily aspect of normal life these days.
Once freshened up we had a bit of an explore of the town and identified suitable and unsuitable watering holes before settling for yet another pizza. I never thought I'd find myself getting sick of pizzas but I don't think I'd mind if I don't have another. At least till get back and make one of my own.

Monday 26 august

Affoltern - Basel 55 mile
Difficult to say much about today, certainly where the ride was concerned. It was non eventful and fairly mundane riding after the Alps. The scenery now was very like the North Yorkshire Hills round by Osmotherley for those who know it. Mind you the ride did manage to throw in a fair number of unexpected stiff climbs along the way to Basel. The traffic in Basel was a nightmare, very, very busy and intimidating to ride in. Even with the gps it was difficult avoiding getting onto roads that we weren't allowed on and it was a relief to finally get to a nice hotel in the middle of the city.

Even later after we'd settled in to the hotel and we had a walk round the town we were in imminent danger of getting squashed by trams. they hurtle along and trying to guess which track they're on isn't always obvious. It was worth it though for the lovely Chinese meal we had. A nice change from pizza and pasta.

Tuesday 27 Aug

Transition Day to Bonn
one of many trains
There was always going to be a transition day on the journey as we just didn't have time to ride the whole way and we decided it may as well be today. The plan being to get as far north as would leave us with enough mileage but not too much to complete before the ferry departs from Amsterdam on Saturday. On paper today should have been fairly straight forward. All we needed to do was get us and the bike onto the 12:20 train from Basel to Bonn. The station was literally half a mile from the hotel too. So, it was a nice leisurely breakfast enjoyed and we strolled round to the ticket office. This is where things became apparent we might have a leeeetle problemo. There are various types of train in Germany, the super fast ICE trains (no bikes) the fast national trains (that we wanted to get on) and regional trains that stop everywhere.
While the ticket office man was incredibly helpful he could not get us on to a fast train as the bike compartment was fully booked. All we could do is string regional trains together and take an eight hour journey involving six different trains and much humping of fully loaded tandem around six different stations.  So that's how we spent the day, people watching on slow trains. One particularly interesting chap was reading his magazine when a couple of pages fell out and landed on the floor. He proceeded to jump up, stamp up and down on the pages like they committed a personal affront on him. He then placed the magazine in his bag and then beat the hell out of his bag. Thankfully this dubious character got off at the next station.
We did have some good luck on the journey though. One of our changes was a four minute window. Our train was running late and we assumed we'd miss it. This would have meant we'd get to Bonn an hour and a half later but there was a train on what I thought was the right platform. There were masses of people on the platform and we fought and pushed our way through and flung ourselves onto the train just as it set off.
Once underway though, doubts crept in. "Are you sure we're on the right train?" I tentatively asked Marguarite  "No I'm not sure, not sure at all" she said. I tried to deduce where we were headed reasoning we were following a major river, probably the Rhine so that was good cos as far as i know all major rivers north of the Alps flow north. Also tv satellite dishes all face south so I new we were going north but it was quite a while till we got confirmation from the conductress that we were ok.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Our Euro Bike Tour Day 6 - 7

Thursday 22nd Aug.

41 miles Novaro - Bellinzona

Much better breakfast today. Loads of cheese, meat, bread, fruit, even scrambled egg and bacon (cold). Pasta was available too and the Bardiani guys were making good use of that. Cold un-sauced pasta for breakfast though, hmmmm, not sure about that.
We reluctantly set off after breakfast, both of us feeling like we could have gone back to bed but the road was beckoning. Again though it was outrageously hot and our first job was to deal with a series of uphil switchbacks. During the climb my GPS decided it might be good to try some off roading and we found ourselves attempting to ride a precipitous rough farm track. Some rapid deselecting of certain route choice options had us back on a sensible route with little harm done. After this initial steep climb over about three miles, the route settled in to a reasonably easy gentle climb. The main issue again was the heat. Our speed had dropped because of the gradient and as we had a slight tail wind we were cooking for most of the time. Italy spat us out in style though with a fantastic descent on very fast, long switchbacks. We reached our highest speed of the tour so far on that descent as we hit 48mph and dropped down to Lake Lugano and the border town of Ponte Tressa.
The rest of the ride Was relatively straight forward with a gentle climb but nothing too formidable and we were in the hotel at a nice reasonable three o-clock. Mind you the hotel was pretty rubbish and damned expensive too at 120 Swiss francs but that seemed to be the way in Switzerland, expensive.
 Anyway, it was a quaint little town with lots of old picturesque stuff to look at on our browse through the town. A nice looking restaurant caught our eye and we decided we'd eat there. Bad move, the food was awful, at least mine was. A yucky starter of aubergine, courgete, peppers and cheese on the most bitter lettuce I've ever eaten. That was followed by a bland pizza full of tasteless rubbery seafood and we were plagued by flies. All for the equivalent price of £31 each! Grief they know how to charge in Swizerland.

Friday  23 Aug  2013

37 mile miles Bellinzona - Airolo

My, the price of stuff in Swizerland continues to be outrageous. You can't really get a room for much under £100 and often that gets you a really rubbish one. The one we spent last night was pretty poor. Decor a la Bates Motel, even the breakfast was stingy. 
Still, the ride made up for it with lovely quiet roads and a constant but gentle uphill gradient, still damned hot though. In fact, the further we road the more I started to feel the Alps were toying with us, lulling us into a false sense of security and making us think we were going to just breeze through barely noticing them, hmmmmm. We got to around 20 miles in pretty good time and bought some lunch from a supermarket and sat and ate it on the path by the car park. After lunch though the character of the route changed dramatically as we started doing some proper ascent. Tandems really do not like climbing and we laboured slowly but steadily for the next 15 mile climbing some 3000' amid breathtaking scenery up to the village of Airolo, a pretty little outdoor activity village with tremendous mountain views.
It was curious as we were riding along the valley road. Looking up the mountains and seeing houses built up there. I mean, why would you build a house several thousand feet up a mountain accessible only by a tortuous mountain track that meant a major expedition just to by a baguette? Don't get it!
Airolo was to be our launching point for the crux of the entire journey, a long steep series of switchbacks taking us up to the tour high point of just under 7000' but that could wait for tomorrow.
For once the hotel was actually really nice albeit very expensive as usual but we had a private balcony with spectacular mountain views. We took a strol round the village looking for eating options before settling on some booty from the coop to supplement our meal in the hotel restaurant.
The meal turned out to be excellent, three course for the bargain price of about £18. Even the hitherto surly waitress managed to crack the odd smile or two, eventually.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Our Euro Bike Tour Day 4-5

Tuesday 20th August

55 mile. Asti to Novara
Today started off with a pretty crappy breakfast of a single chocolate croissant and coffee. Oh, and we had to sit in the hotel lobby to have it for some reason. Still, it gave us some sort of fuel I suppose as we set off into yet another scorcher of a day, 30 odd C for the most part and an annoying nagging headwind thrown in. At least there were some interesting villages on route to keep us amused. Why, oh why though were they all on top of bloody massive hills? They were steep too,  consisting of several switchbacks that caused the speed to fall away and for the full intensity of the heat to hit us.

At least coming out of the villages gave us some nice but all to brief downhills. It's true to say that today took a lot out of us. I wasn't particularly the distance that got to us, just the unrelenting heat and headwind that combined to dehydrate us. In addition our water was warming up in the bottles, yuck yuck yuck! In fact towards the end of the ride we were stopping for drinks and I was feeling thirsty even as we were setting off again.
We had a few dicy incidents with Italian motorists today too. Some of them pass way too close. I was trying to make myself feel a little better by thinking "hopefully they know what they're doing". I tried not to notice how many cars and trucks had big gouges down the side, clearly indicating they hadn't a clue what they were doing.
I seem to be a magnate for all the nasty bitey stinging things here to as I'm getting covered in lumps of assorted sizes and degrees of itchiness. At one point I think I got stung on my leg by a wasp. It stung like mad for ages and ages but I braved it manfully. I'm an ultra runner after all, have I mentioned that?
Tomorrow though, I think we both need an easy day and that means keeping the mileage down to maybe 35 ish as we'll be getting into the Alps very soon now.
Anyway, back to the moment in hand we easily found a reasonable hotel in Novara and after getting sorted out we went for an explore. It's a really nice little place but as we were to find out it has very few eating places. Whats worse is it would seem we've picked the week where so many places are closed down as the owners have swanned off on holiday. Now look, we're the only ones allowed to do the swanning. After much searching though we did find a little back street restaurant that served us very nicely indeed with some delicious pasta meals.

Wednesday 21st August

37 mile  Novara - Varese
  Well today's breakfast was another rather disappointing affair. So far in Italy the hoteliers have all been rather mean with their offerings at breakfast and we left feeling a little under fed.
A much easier day today though for a few reasons. Firstly the head wind was much less of an issue, it was cooler (only in the high 20Cs) and it was shorter.  Hopefully this will have gone some way to helping us recover although today did turn out to be largely uphill. 
  We did however give ourselves a bit of a scare by descending a big hill then thinking we'd made a mistake as we couldn't find the hotel. A bit of detective work on the Internet soon got us sorted. Was great to get into what turned out to be a really nice hotel. The room was really good. One of those motel style rooms that open at the front so you can park your bike outside.
  Now that we're here though we can wave good bye to any form of flat riding. Tomorrow the Alps begins. I've got absolutely no idea what the terrain will be like from now on, it's not something I normally research. We'll take whatever is thrown at us though. Guess we have little choice :-)
  Interestingly we're sharing our hotel with the Bardiani cycling team. Dinner gave us a chance to look at team hierarchy in action. All the racing guys on one table , team management on another while medics and mechanics occupied a third.
  The riders were unbelievably skinny though, can't see they've eaten much cheese recently. Most of them looked like they'd loose hands down in a fight with a six year old.
  looking forward to proper hills now though

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Our Euro Bike Tour Day 1-3

Saturday 17 aug 2013 Home- Nice.

What a mammoth journey. It started with a three hour drive down to Newcastle Airport then the stressful business of getting the bike box checked in and then the relief of seeing it disappear down the chute of the outsize baggage counter, somebody else's turn to worry about it now. Another three hours later was the relief of being reunited with it in Nice and discovering it to be undamaged in transit.
Rebuilding the bike, Nice  Airport
It always seems rather bizarre opening a huge box in a busy airport concourse and starting the rebuild job of a big tandem all under the watchful gaze of machine gun totting army security men before brazenly abandoning aforementioned box and skiddaling of down the darkening streets of some European city, in this case Nice. I really hope we've never caused a security alert with our abandoned suspicious packages that we've randomly abandoned here and there around Europe.
Despite the hour being late we were very well looked after by Margaret and Bernard and were soon in their flat devouring copious quantities of cheese, pate, bread, and Margaret's excellent home made rabbit  pie before turning in for a well earned kip. Only problem being the outrageously hot temperatures (well for us folk from the frozen north it was bloody hot anyway)

Sunday 18th Aug 2013 Nice - Cuneo

let the journey commence
So this morning after a leisurely breakfast came more travel stress as this time we switched our travel mode to rail. Nice to Ventimiglia in SW Italy. We'd been assured by Margaret and Bernard "don't worry all the trains will be quiet on a Sunday afternoon you'll get yourselves and the tandem on no problem, aye right, I have never in my life seen such a busy train station and subsequent train. Ok there weren't people riding on the train roof like in more exotic countries but every possible space was taken up with hot sweaty humanity all eyeing our large tandem with distaste as we completely ignored their disapproving glowers. What was worse though was we had been cast into the wilderness, so to speak and were well and truly on our own.
Now, we new we were going to have to blag our way onto the next train as we knew that tandems were not particularly  welcome on Italian trains. I was also fully aware that my knowledge of the Italian language consisted pretty much of two words, bellisimo and pizza. I knew this would severely impact on any meaningful blagging so restricted myself to a less subtle approach and kinda barged my way slowly but forcefully onto this equally packed train and concealed the tandem from any nosy officialdom by surrounding it with hot, tetchy Italian fellow travellers.
  Remarkably, and with little trouble all things considered and against all the odds we have now reached Cuneo, the train ride having offered us loads of mountain views just interrupted now and again by tunnels. Of course being now in Italy we felt compelled to eat pizza, anti pasta and all that Italian good stuff before heading back to the hotel room for a well needed rest.

Monday 19 Aug 2013 Cuneo - Asti


65 miles

Had a fairly lazy start to the day fannying around on FB and a leisurely breakfast. One of the reasons we delayed was we really weren't sure where we were making for that day. I sort of had 50 -60 mile in my head  but it really depended on the weather ie how hot it was and what the terrain was like. I thought it looked fairly flat but it remained to be seen.
Once on the road though it was pretty level, at least for the first 25 mile and we covered that quickly, in fact we were bowling along on flat smooth roads for ages with a cross/tail wind that had us eating up the miles. Until that is we reached Fossano where we hit some hills.
They were proper switchback hills too and it was bloody hot,  32C and little wind. The scenery here was the best of the day though with villages full of ramshackle buildings that looked impossibly old. Some great descents too where we reached our highest speeds of the day, just short of 40mph (68kph) on lovely smooth roads with wide sweeping bends so no braking was required.
We inevitably hit the flat again though as we swiftly moved on towards Alba. Sadly it proved to be a bit of a dump and we were neither of us too keen on staying there, particularly as we'd got there in good time and didn't feel any need to stop. So we headed off again aiming in the general direction of Asti. On route though the weather was changing and starting to get pretty wet. We first tried a nice little village hotel but it was shut so moved on to the strangely, randomly named, Fairy Queen hotel. This was a weird place, it was actually closed, the hotel and restaurant shut for a holiday? In August?, ok then. We were offered a room though and the hotelier assured us there was a place to eat only 20 metres away down the road. The thing was though we felt like we were reenacting The Shining in the deserted hotel. cries of "Here's Johny" could definitely be imagined.
What with that, no Internet access and as we subsequently found out no nearby food we decided to leave. This excited the hotelier no end and we were subject to a barrage of anti-English abuse and threatened with the police unless we handed over 20% of the room rate which would have meant handing over €18 which we didn't and just to annoy him we smiled and told him we were Scottish not English, a wee lie but seemed to score a point for us. We pushed on another five miles or so and got ourselves into a hotel in Asti (Genoa Hotel) that turned out to be a gem. Thoroughly quirky and with excellent food in a lovely, if oddly and randomly decorated restaurant we were fed with what, to us seemed to be a really authentic Italian meal of ratatouille followed by beef in wine sauce served with salad. It was really delicious and capped off an eventful day.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Devil o the Highlands and Pasties

Devil o the Highlands and Pasties
OMG! OMG! cried Sarah, you’re running the Devil tomorrow! Sure enough it was you know, the day of reckoning had finally arrived. Tomorrow I would line up with 150 other runners all intent on running the 43 miles along the West highland Way from Tyndrum to Fort William climbing some 6000 feet over mountain track and bleak, lonely but beautiful wilderness. The journey to here as many will know has been plagued by injury having been out for over a year with knee trouble then after getting back for four months only to be hit by an Achilles problem. So getting in seven months of good training that has got me to the start line has been a huge achievement in itself before the run even got started. Huge thanks are due to Amanda for being my training buddy and for keeping my legs in good shape with her magic hands.
The week prior to the run had been pretty fraught. Tapering doesn’t sit well with me and I stressed about every little sensation in my legs and even managed to catch a cold at the start of the tapering week, then finished off the week by breaking a tooth and having to make a hasty visit to the dentist. The final pre-race run with Sarah and Helen though confirmed I was good to go and firing on all cylinders. I knew I’d had great training and got the long runs in, I was feeling fit and had even been on the wagon for a month and probably more importantly my head was in the right place figuratively speaking so I was confident about how it would go.
Friday night was a bustling scene at BTW campsite as everybody started gathering and the atmosphere was buzzing despite the wind and rain periodically hammering the site. So glad we were in our cosy chalet. Amanda and I arrived first followed by Helen and John. Then, after much cajoling and abuse came world champion ultra-groupie Sarah herSelf (see what I did there SarahJ ) followed by our new buddy, Ewan. A happy hour of banter and chatter followed before we all turned in for what we knew was going to be a short sleep.
The condemned man ate a hearty breakfast, shot at dawn were all analogies that seemed vaguely appropriate as I got myself out of bed although unlike the man to be shot at dawn I didn’t have the luxury of staying in bed till dawn as the sound of runners rousing at 4am began filtering through into my unconscious bliss and cries to the effect of “kindly elevate yourself from your place of slumber” from Sarah got me up and about (she might have worded it slightly differently). I had decided on cheese on toast for my “condemned man’s” breakfast. Somehow over the last few months I’d arrived at the conclusion that cheese was my rocket fuel and would see me float effortlessly across the line in FW, more about that later.

Finally we all vacated the chalet and headed for the registration at the Green Welly where it was great to finally meet the big bearded wonder that is David Etchells. By now the wind was howling and the rain was lashing. Much as it was going to do for much of the day in fact. The clock marched on though and soon there was no avoiding the fact that it was time to go out in the rain and get some running done. Strangely I have no recollection of the actual start itself but it must have happened because I found myself running out of Tyndrum and up the West Highland Way thinking “OMG! OMG! I’m doing it, I’m doing it!” (I say everything twice when I’m panicking for some reason). Now don’t panic DON’T PANIC! (see), keep your pace down you’re not running a 10k you know” I did settle down though, eventually seeing both Noanie and Amanda gliding along and running comfortably. I wouldn’t see them again till the end as we all ran our own races.
I soon settled down though and began running smoothly myself and started enjoying the sights and sounds of people doing pretty much the same as me, heading out on an adventure. On rounding a corner I came across a surreal site of five gentlemen standing randomly positioned on the hillside all having a pee but looking for all the world like a group of meerkats. Still, needs must but I thought it was only the ladies that went together.
The run down to Bridge of Orchy was lovely and seemed effortless and I was surprised how soon it was we arrived at the checkpoint. Loved seeing all my Daftie friends there, this was a real surprise and the fact that they kept popping up all over the place was amazing and lifted me up no end. In fact on leaving the village I had my first of many emotional blips I was to have during the day as I trotted up over Mam Carraigh.
The run over Rannoch Moor was wild but if I thought that was bad there was much worse to come. At least on there I had the wind behind me as I trotted along on my way to Glencoe chatting with folk as we ran together briefly on our journeys. Arriving at Glencoe I was actually ahead of my predicted time which was more to do with my lack of experience in estimation than any surprisingly high performance. Once again there were plenty of Dafties on hand to ensure a lovely welcome as I met up with my support team for the first time. I munched on my err.., wonder food, a cheese and onion pasty and guzzled some coke and water and then carried on my way. 
starting up Devils Staircase
The next stretch was the run through Glencoe where the wind became a headwind and the ferocious rain really hit hard as I arrived at the start of the Devils Staircase greeted by Tim Downie, Ringo and John Munro. The big climb was the place where the weather really gave me a beating. On the summit and down toward Kinlochleven it poured down, the wind was fierce and the rain often turned to stinging hail.

So far though I didn’t feel like yielding although throughout the run I was questioning whether or not I really was going to finish. I kinda felt that if I got through KLL I’d go on and finish and when I did get there I knew for definite I’d make it. I was feeling ok at this point and David Moonie and John cheered me in which gave me a great lift as did seeing my fantastic support team of Clark and Adrienne what with Clarks customary abuse and encouragement J and Adrienne searching frantically in my bag for items that in my imagination I had packed but in reality had forgotten. The only disappointment was I’d forgotten Sarah was going home at Glencoe and she was soo missed at the KLL checkpoint and I missed the big hug I had for her. It’ll keep though Sarah, I owe you one. Also I felt a bit sad for David Meldrum who I knew was itching to run a few miles with somebody but to be honest, when I’m suffering I just need to run alone. My spirits were a little low now, punished by the weather as I had been, even my cheese and onion pasty was limp and soggy but hey, it was my wonder food and will power me unstoppably to the finish right? Erm…. 
battling across Lairig Mor
And so came the big climb out of KLL a long, twisty, steep and energy sapping climb that gave me a texting opportunity although I think it was at this point that the wheels started to come off. If I thought it had been raining thus far, I found out at the top the weather had only been toying with me. As I crested the top of the climb the headwind was incredible and the rain was driving into my face. I could barely run at all now and sort of stumbled and blundered my way across Lairig Mor feeling very sorry for myself. Jeff and his rescue vehicle was a wee oasis half way along and I briefly chatted and drank irn–bru while he reassured me I wasn’t last despite there not being another soul in sight in either direction. All the while I was eyeing up the end of the Glen where it swings right and the wind would come onto my back and willing it to hurry up. Although then, the desolation caused by timber extraction and the foul conditions were just adding to my feeling of misery just briefly lifted by seeing John at Lundavra who told me Helen was still going fine and not far behind.
The overriding memory of my last seven miles on the race was the growing and inescapable feeling that perhaps my beloved pasties had deceived me. Over the months of training they had built up this belief within me that like Barclays Bank they would always be there. When the going got tough they would come to my aid. Alas I was deceived; their promises were built on sand. Soon I found myself in the mire both physically and metaphorically. Energy levels had plummeted to a level below an AAA battery that’s been powering the Wallace Memorial flood lights for a week. I simply couldn’t run. I kept trying but the legs just would not go. The journey down through the zigzag forest tracks was a nightmare. I could not understand why my body was shutting down when I hadn’t got to the end yet. I couldn’t even run downhill and could only walk. A couple of miles from the end Helen flew past me like a thing possessed and asked me how I was. I said I was mobile but couldn’t run. I couldn’t even jog in with her. I marvelled and envied how lightly she could run after traveling so far and how soon she would be at the finish. I just had to dig in and carry on but there was no way I wanted her to wait for me. She had achieved what she had set out to do and I was so happy for her.
Yes I'm crying. Raw emotion. Pain, relief, joy!
the finish
The track seemed to go on for ever as I slowly closed in on my goal but eventually I hit the road leading to Fort William and then came the final interminable walk in to the finish. On rounding the final bend though I saw a group of people standing by where I knew the finish was. They put up a cheer as I saw them and I responded with a wave back to them. At this stage I thought they were just random kindly people at the check point but as I got closer I realised it was largely my Daftie friends. Noanie, David Mooney, Julie, Amanda, Clark, Adrienne, David Meldrum, Helen, John and many others who I knew from fb too. The tears were barely controllable as I got closer and impossible to control as I crossed the line having achieved a dream I once thought had passed me by.
Little further of note happened that day. A slight problem ensued at the leisure centre when it appeared I’d lost my trousers but Clark was able to reunite me with them as I sat shivering in the changing room. The finale to the day was to wearily pick up a takeaway Indian and get home to enjoy my curry with a long awaited glass of wine to end a thoroughly memorable day.

The coveted reward

Thanks to John and anyone else whose pictures I've stolen, hope you dont mind :-)

The Stats

Monday, 29 April 2013

The Hoka Highland Fling (from a supporters viewpont)

Wow what a roller coaster of a last few days it’s been.  The week’s highlight beyond doubt was seeing my best running pal Amanda finally realise her dream and completed the 54 mile Hoka Highland Fling foot race.  As did my other lovely friends from the Ultra Dafties fb site Noanie, Davie Mooney and Peter Hunter. Soooo unbelievably happy for all of you.

Have to say it’s been a nerve wracking few days. I honestly believe I felt more nervous for you all than you felt for yourselves, the butterflies were running riot in me on the lead up. Saturday morning arrived and I was awake at 6 knowing you were all up and getting underway.  Setting off to come out in support did not get off to a good start. Dunno why but on occasions like this I always forget vital kit like my phone. So back I went and picked up the offending gadget off the sideboard where I left it while I was busy hunting for my missing van keys. Hey ho, self-organisation failure today.  What’s this? A txt from Amanda, She’s reached  Drymen already in 2hrs 13 and I’m thinking OMG she’s going too fast. Based on our other runs I thought she’d be around 2:30 but hey, given her finish time what do I know J

Anyway, I got to myself without further cock up to a vibrant Balmaha and checked out all the bags checking them off according to my list. PH nope, Davie he’s gone, Amanda, she’s still to come as is Noanie. So I settled myself in to wait and enjoyed the atmosphere. Wasn’t long actually that Amanda bounded in looking thoroughly in control. Suddenly I’m thinking, on the telly in these circumstances the trainer always comes out with some gob-smackingly motivating speech that has their athlete bounding into the distance with renewed vigour but all I could think of to say was “you’re doing fine” original eh, sorry Amanda J

Next came Noanie, or was it Noanie before Amanda? I can’t remember but in she came all bubbly and happy and we had a big hug before she raced of in a blur of effervescent glee into the distance. Nothing much changed with Noanie on the entire run. If she was a dog shed be a spaniel whose tail would be in permawag mode. A person who has and will many times to come make me smile even if I can’t see her such is her infectious laugh that carries so far.

Next stop was a battle against the traffic on the road to Rowardennan and a brief but futile hunt for a parking space.  Luckily I had my bike with me so parked back down the road and road back.  So there I was, peering at the mass of bags checking the numbers when I became aware of an official giving me the hard stare. I’m thinking “hold on, this guy thinks I’m sizing up the bags seeing which one to nick. Don’t make eye contact and he’ll bugger off” “BOB!” he shouted “jeez!” I jumped as the realization that the official was in fact the Gannet and I hadn’t even noticed. Sorry Alan J

Happily the wait for the gang was made all the more pleasurable as John and Helen Munro arrived and got my second hug of the day. Once again Peter had “just gone as you arrived” a phrase I heard a number of times during the day and was flying along I heard. Soon came Dave who was clearly not in the best fettle but there was a look in his face that left me in no doubt that this man would be a finisher that day.  Next came Amanda looking relaxed and confident. I never once saw that confidence slip all day as she just got on with it. Finally in bounded Noanie still waggy-tailed and full of happiness and soon they were all on the way.
So off I went heading for Ben Glass and again the bike came in handy as parking at the farm was permit only and I was far too tight to possess such a pass.  Helen and John had arrived first and were able to confirm that once again I’d just missed Pete who was going along nicely.  My biggest fear now was with the other three on the hardest part of the route, what shape would they be in when they emerged at this check point. Would I be compelled to think of a gob-smackingly motivating Churchillian speech to get them home where thus far I hadn’t exactly shone in that area. I shouldn’t have worried. These guys were so determined it didn’t matter what I said. First Noanie bounded and wagged her way through and deposited a ton of gel wraps that others had littered the route with. Shame on you others and you know who you are.  Off she went in no doubt that she was soon to be a finisher.

Then came Amanda, steady and confident as ever. Thankfully she needed little from me except a few words of encouragement but I was so relieved to see her going so well I gave her a big hug as much for myself as for her and sent her on her way.

Finally come David a few minutes later, going well but clearly feeling it. As I said before though nothing about this guy  would make him quit.  All my friends today will have had the voice in the head telling them to stop but they’ve all told the voice to stick it up the arse and they’ve beaten it.

My time was up at that point and I knew they were all on the last leg, Clark was on his way out to meet Amanda at the finish and all I had to do was wait for word to come in that it was done. Peter who stormed round was already in. Then came a text from Clark, Amanda was 5 mile from home and on for a sub 12hr finish. Then came a text from a delighted and emotional Noanie who was there, job done. Then Amanda, a fantastic 11:58 finish, and then David rounding up a full house.

What a fantastic thing to have been part of and I’m ridiculously happy for you all. Seeing all these folk on this run and the atmosphere of happiness and sportingness it truly restores my faith in humanity.