After months of planning, worrying, seemingly endless miles slogged around the Leicestershire countryside, more worrying, Team Prior's plan kicked into action. At 7am Rob ( or Bobbity as he likes to be known ) turned up chez Prior, then off we went in convoy to pick up the rest of our trusty crew; Lesley ( Dave's sister ), Billy, Simon, and John.
Lesley, Billy and myself arrived in Milngavie first at around 2.30pm, checked into the Hotel and I tried to relax while Lesley went into town to search out a couple of forgotten items; Earl Grey tea and even more Ibruprofen. Dave and co turned up about half an hour later, with Dave in such a state; he'd been drinking coffee on the trip up and singing with Bobbity ( he doesn't usually do either ) and was all over the place, a nervous wreck!
We tried to get some sleep, failed and eventually wandered down to the Race Registration around 9.30pm. Very calm marshals weighed us and handed out our race goodie bags, whilst we 'spotted' some WHW race celebs from the website and various blogs. Then back to the hotel to play with our new Skull and Crossbone buffs.
There was a knock at our door at 11.45pm, as we were just about to leave for the start. It was Simon, looking sheepish, ' I don't know how to tell you this but we've lost the car keys!' Luckily, having known Lesley for a while I'd brought the spare set.
The car park was filling up with scary looking types with huge quads all adorned in Skins, what were we doing here? The constant mantra, 'Oh my god, oh my god' was on repeat in my head. Bobbity, Lesley, Dave and I went off to the Pre Race briefing; it was now 12.30pm. Even more scary types in the hall, and Dario the lovely Race organiser who I'd had some lengthy conversations with over the previous months.
So around 12.50pm all the scary, quadzilla types and us started to group together at the start, near the underpass. I wonder what the collective name for idiots wearing Skins is? A tight of runners? Then a countdown started, it was 1am and we were off.
The first few miles through Mugdock Park went smoothly enough, and soon we were heading down the disused railway track to The Beech Tree Inn, our first meeting point with Crew 1; Lesley and Simon. I spotted Lesley's blonde hair, went through the ritual of changing drinks bottles and checking 'pocket' food. Dario said 'Hi' and we were off again.
The next section again went pretty smoothly, although I did think we were slightly faster than I would have liked, and a couple of times I had to call Dave back. Slowly, slowly, catchy monkey. We were running in a small group, sorry I don't know anyone's names. It did seem that a few people were working quite hard, even this early, judging by their breathing, although I obviously don't know how they usually run. Just before Easter Drumquhassle we were cheered on by a couple and their dog! Out for a walk in the wee small hours?! Thanks anyway, it was appreiciated.
We went through Drymen and made our way to our next stop at Garadhban Forest, went through the re-fuelling ritual and off again. It was quite light and misty now as we made our way up Conic Hill. I used to be a very slow walker but I've worked on this recently and surprised Dave with my cross between Max Wall and John Cleese gait or 'mongering' as he calls it.
We descended Conic Hill very cautiously, aware of trying to save quads, but I tended to go down the steps sideways, which proved a little later to be a mistake. Into the car park, we met up with Crew 1 again and Dave had the first mouthful of pasta. Now we've tried many combinations of foods in training, finding that we both prefer 'proper' food as opposed to gels etc and need quite strong and varied tastes. Dave announced that the pasta was 'off' and couldn't eat it, but we were off running again and didn't take too much notice of this.
Between Balmaha and Rowardennan I started to have sharp, stabbing pains on the inside of my right knee. This continued until it was so bad that I had to stop a couple of times and try to stretch. God, was I going to have to pull out at 27 miles after all the training and 'living' this race over the past months? I necked a few painkillers then fell flat on my face, like a kid falling on gravel, landing on my left knee. Well, that gave me something else to think about so we jogged into Rowardennan.
The same re-fuelling process took place, with Lesley and Simon doing a great job, despite me snapping their heads off as they wouldn't let me have tea. I'd given them strict orders to force me to drink Myoplex, a protein shake and not tea, so they were only doing their job. I spied the WHW celeb, Ian Beattie in civvies. He can't be in civvies! Anyway, no time to ponder as we were off again.
The next section to Inversnaid passed smoothly again, with us chatting to various runners, again no names, sorry, apart from tall, wirey bloke! We ran as a group of four into Inversnaid, working really well together. Inversnaid was midge paradise and human hell, those poor marshals! Our drop bag had gotten a bit squashed with rice pudding and banana exploding out so we had a quick drink and left, not having eaten.
Most runners hate the next section, but both Dave and I really like it; probably because we both dislike road running and have done a lot of climbing with approaches to climbs being similar in terrain. So we scrambled on, chatting to, yes I know his name - George Reid!
Lesley and Simon were waiting at Beinglas after having a full Scottish breakfast. Yes, I apologised for being a cow and they fed us! Dave still wasn't eating as much as usual, but seemed ok. I tried the pasta and it tasted fine to me, perhaps Dave wasn't as 'ok' as he thought?
Off we went again, not thinking about times, just reaching the next checkpoint. Our 'plan' such as it was, was to push as hard but steady as possible to Bridge of Orchy and then see what happened?! We've both run up to 60 miles before, a few times, in races and training, but then we'd be in 'No Man's Land'. We'd averaged from past results, split times for each section for 24-27 hour finishes, but to be honest, just to get to Fort William in any time would have been more then good enough for us.
As we walked up the hill from Beinglas we were passed by a woman running up the hill, 'That's just showing off!' Dave shouted, but it turned out she was running from Land's End to John O' Groats, something Bobbity is attempting in 18 days, 50 ish miles per day, a month after the WHW. So, on to Carmyle Cottage where I had to sit down and sort out my first ( of many ) blisters. Simon seemed a little concerned by my method of dealing with them; cut, drain, iodine, go!
During the next section, Dave started to feel sick; he hadn't been eating enough yet felt bloated. We walked steadily through the forest at Crianlarich, running when he felt ok. I ran ahead into Auchtertyre, the 50 mile point, mainly because I needed a 'comfort' break, but our support crew, now Crew 2; Bobbity, John and Billy, insisted that I get weighed straight away. Lesley and Simon had gone ahead to set up the tents at Fort William and have a well earned rest.
We ran the next section with John as support runner. He's a very fast marathon runner who's now obsessed with completing the Bob Graham Round, so he was enjoying the whole experience! Dave was really feeling ill at this point and walking more often, but walking was making my knees cramp. We made it steadily to Bridge of Orchy whilst Bobbity, the next runner, tried to persuade me to go ahead. Dave and I had decided to run together ( we run a very similar pace, with Dave being faster than me over shorter distances and far better at navigating and fell running ) only splitting up if one of us was injured and continuing much slower than the other. So the three of us set off over Rannoch Moor. I had to stop for yet another 'comfort' stop and realised that Dave hadn't 'been' at all, another sign that all was not well?
A few miles in and I made the decision to go ahead and leave Dave with Bobbity. He seemed ok with this although he did shout,' That's ok, you just leave, don't worry about me!' I wasn't worried; we met Bobbity on the Marathon of Britain and he's easily the fittest, funniest and most capable runner I know. Whatever happened with Dave, I knew that Bobbity would have it covered.
I met up with a few more runners over Rannoch Moor, including George again, now with his A Team of support runners and Andrew Murray who ended up finishing 11 minutes ahead of me! I had to remind myself to concentrate on my feet and not the view as 3 weeks earlier on my last training run on the route I'd fallen flat on my face on this section.
I crossed the road and was approaching Kingshouse when I heard a deep 'growl' in the undergrowth to my right! Ah, either I'm hallucinating already or there's a lion/bear creature about to eat me, oh well, I can't go any faster so it'll have to tuck in. I reached Kingshouse intact, surprising Billy and John who weren't ready. I explained that we'd split up so John got ready to head off with me and Billy was to call Crew 1, get them up and over to Kinlochleven.
It had occurred to me that if I could just keep going steadily I might be able to run around 25-26 hours, which I would have been very pleased with. So John and I discussed this possibility as we made our way to the Devil's Staircase. Now John is a road runner with a head for stats so he quizzed me on training times for the last 3 sections; little did I know that he was hatching an evil plan.
Up the Devil's Staircase with John declaring, ' It's not that bad!'. At the top I was dreading the descent into Kinlochleven as my quads were like rock and the balls of my feet were on fire. 'Ok,' John said, 'You're going to be in pain tomorrow, so we might as well make it really hurt! Just relax, let gravity take you and let's go!' So like the proverbial lemmon, I did, and lo and behold I could run quite freely if we went a bit faster. So down we went, John like a mountain goat and me like an elephant. We passed a couple of runners on this section, with John constantly pointing out runners ahead and 'politely suggesting' that we should try and catch them.
As we approached Kinlochleven, I was starting to flag, but John kept shouting,'There's chips down there!'
At the checkpoint, Billy was waiting with the shocking news that Dave had pulled out. I couldn't believe he'd stopped and rang him. He was getting a lift from another runner's crew ( thank you! ) with Bobbity. Dave only found out just over a year ago that he has a blockage in one of his kidneys, with this kidney having highly impaired function. As a result he can't deal with a lot of fluids at once ( which is his excuse for stopping drinking beer and now only drinking wine, although he seems to consume copious quantities nevertheless! ). He had discussed the problem of Rhabdomyolysis and ultra running with his Urologist, but he seemed to think Dave wouldn't be at higher risk compared to other runners. Although he'd begun feeling ill long before, when he started feeling the pain from his kidneys that he recognised from previous hospital visits, he made the sensible but heart breaking decision to pull out.
I sat in the medical centre with John changing my socks ( my own slave! ) as Billy told Lesley, who'd just turned up with Simon, about Dave. She was holding my chips but as she was obviously upset she ignored my repeated requests until I shouted, 'Lesley, give me the ba**ard chips!!' Simon was to take over the support runner role for the next section and unbeknown to me John had already briefed him on his evil plan. 'Let's run till we're sick', was my technical advice and off we went.
Simon is the campest straight man I know and always makes me howl with laughter whenever we run together ( I'm his Personal Trainer ) so the next section passed with non stop yakking. I remarked that John thought he was funny ( they'd only met on Friday ) but was surprised that his partner was called Dawn and not Derek! I stated that I was running a bit like John Wayne Big Legge, 'Oh I used to like Haysee Fantaysee', said Simon, 'Did you know that Jeremy Healey is engaged to Pasty Kensit', I said, 'Noooo!' said Simon; god we were like old women a la Les Dawson with 80's pop references. The rocks were killing my feet on Lairig Mor, having massive blisters on the balls of my feet but Simon just ignored my swearing. Another conversation about Grazia magazine with me 'working' my pirate buff in a croatian washer woman stylee followed and we were in the woods. 'There's the fire!' I yelled and Simon sprinted off to tell the crew we weren't stopping.
Lesley had taken Dave to A and E to have his bloods checked but everyone else was waiting at the fire. 'You've made up so much time!' screamed John and then while I threw hot chocolate down my throat, he calmly replaced drinks, checked head torches and we were off again. 'Have I got a chocolate moustache?', I asked Simon, 'I'll tell you in Fort William'. I did think that I would be a swearing, drooling, hallucinating idiot by now but honestly I was really calm, enjoying every minute and concentrating on the next section. I couldn't get my head round the time though, although John and Simon knew exactly what they were doing; they tried to explain split times and targets but I just kept repeating, 'I don't know what you mean', so they kept shouting,' Just run!'
It was getting dark as we approached the final woods and I thought I was starting to lose it as I was seeing frogs on the path, but Simon and John saw them too! Whenever we'd come across a stile Simon had run ahead and if there was a gate opened it but the last big stile before the woods is gateless so we were a 3 headed beast trying to scale it; Simon at the front pulling and John at the back pushing ( sorry John for kicking you in the head ).
Into the woods in the dark with Simon muttering about Blair witch. Whether it was because I'd just put my head torch on or I was just losing it, but the trees were really sparkly but I kept this to myself! The disco woods seemed to go forever but finally we were running down the road. Simon got very excited when he spied some head torches ahead and shouting, 'Target acquired!' we tried to catch them up. This happened twice I think, so sorry to those runners we overtook for my uncaring crew! John happily announced,'You've done it! You're just running for glory now!' I still didn't know what he was on about, but his evil plan had worked.
I've only run this section once in the daylight and couldn't quite figure out from other people's training logs how they'd run through Braveheart carpark, as I'd followed the WHW marker through the trees. So following Dario's instructions we headed down the road in search of the carpark. 'How f**king far is this carpark!' I shouted, apparently John was getting concerned that the only person who knew the way was a gibbering mess ( although they both had maps ).
Suddenly a car pulled into the carpark, 'There's the road!!' I stupidly thought we still had about 3 miles to go so when John suggested a sprint finish I said wait until the houses on the left. The 3 of us picked up the pace along the road. I pointed out a handy wheel barrow in the ditch but John explained that it would be really unfortunate to be disqualified at this point so keep running! We passed a few more supporters who cheered us on and then there was the 30 sign and we really pushed it. I saw the official end of the WHW sign, shouted,' 400m!' and sprinted, down the road, into the carpark where my crew were shouting and straight through the doors of the leisure centre. I felt like shouting,' Ta da!' but it was really quiet in the centre with everyone smiling at the bedragled fool who'd just arrived. It seemed like an anti climax to say my number to the lady behind the window although it felt like I should've been asking for 2 for swimming! John, smiling said, ' 23 hours 22 minutes'. God all I could say was,' Shit'. His evil plan was to get me under 24 hours and if it hadn't been for John and Simon I wouldn't have been close. They were simply brilliant.
Team Prior headed for the campsite where I nearly passed out in the shower. Luckily Lesley was waiting to make sure I was ok. Dave was asleep in our tent and as I didn't want to disturb him and also as I couldn't actually bend my knees enough to get into the tent, I slept in the car. I kept waking up to the sound of howling winds and torrential rain feeling sorry for the runners who were still out there.
At 6am Dave knocked on the car window with a beaming smile; he was feeling better, hugely disappointed that he had to pull out but also quite philosophical about the whole event. Dr Chris called to inform Dave that he had to go back to A and E one more time for his 3rd set of blood tests, so we set off for the hospital.
Bobbity, Simon and John headed back to Nottingham; John's wife had locked herself and their 2 kids out! Whilst Dave, Lesley, Billy and I headed for the Prize Giving. My feet hurt so much that I could only walk by rocking from side to side, not bending my knees which were both swollen. There seemed to be a few other 'waddlers' in the hall, so I was in good company.
The ceremony began with Dario doing a great job chatting about each runner as they collected their finisher's crystal goblet. It was interesting to put a few faces to names that I recognised from all the various blogs about the event. When Andrew Murray went up to receive his goblet I knew I'd be soon so I started the slow process of trying to stand up. Then it was my turn to slowly waddle to the front of the hall.
We had to leave the Prize Giving after I had received my goblet as Dave had to pick up his results from the hospital and we still had a 6 hour drive back. This was a shame as I would've liked to have seen all the finishers collecting their well earned prize.
Just before we left Fort William Lesley popped to Morrisons for provisions for the journey,' What would you like?' she asked me, 'Jam tarts and dandelion and burdock' I replied. She returned with sushi, strawberries and water,' I knew you were joking', she said. I wasn't.
So, back home that night, sprawled on the sofa with Albert our Bull Terrier, eating a family sized apple pie and drinking champagne out of my goblet, I was completely overwhelmed by the whole experience. I couldn't believe the time I had run or how good I felt, although it did take about 3 days before I could get down the stairs without hanging onto the wall. 23 hours and 22 mins - does this make me a 'proper' runner now?
Dave will be back next year with the help of Dr. Chris, I'll be part of his support crew. As I'm 42 next April it would seem a Bob Graham attempt should be on the cards. We'll see.