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


  1. Eeh lad tha' were grand tha' were xxx
    (try a scotch pie next time!)

  2. Priceless! Good lessons learnt and an amusing tale...if only for the rest of us! Onwards and upwards! But with some 'proper' nutrition!!

  3. Brilliant report, and bloody well done for crossing that finish line. And yes, the hug can keep - it'll be drier (less rainy and less sweaty) too. :-)

  4. fantastic, you made it real and I felt your suffering, but man, you are strong and you did it. Well done.
    PS have you thought of trying a buttery instead - yum yum

  5. Awww, thanks guys. I'm so happy to have done it on a day like that :-)

  6. Loved reading this, Bob...though I don't envy you the weather, the exhaustion (or the cheese and onion pasties!)
    Many congratulations on being a Daftie who has conquered the Devil. :-)

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. (how did I delete my comment?)
      well done Bob it was good to meet you .
      inspirational reading mate now put the grill on time for some cheese on toast :-)
      Dave Etchells.

  8. Alisa I may have to rethink my cheese pasty strategy :-)

  9. Cheese is on its way from the kitchen :-)