Monday, 11 June 2018

Back in the "Long" Game...

I was a good girl and started Day 5 at my allotted time, which unfortunately meant no chat from Iestyn (as he was long gone!) but I did still have some company. Poor Filippo had not had a good night as he had been up being sick, so he thought it better to start earlier than planned as he didn't have as much energy as usual and, at 45miles, it was the longest day (and I made sure to carry some diarolyte sachets and glucose tablets with me in case he needed them). The first part was rather hairy as we had to run a brief section along the main road to Ullapool, with buses, coaches, lorries and cars roaring alongside us. Luckily we soon headed off onto some wide double track/forestry roads climbing up through remote glens. I kept chatting to Filippo as a way of making me pace myself and checking that he was OK, but as we got higher, he suggested I continue at my own pace. One thing I did find slightly dispiriting, was that if you start later, it takes an awful lot longer to catch anybody up, and this lets self-doubt creep in. Nevertheless, I was still enjoying myself as beautiful views opened up in front of me.

Some of the early forestry track
I navigated myself what I hoped was a good route as the terrain became trackless, contouring round a summit shrouded in mist and then descending down towards a pretty loch where I finally began to see more people (needless to say that Filippo galloped past again on this rough ground). This section was really beautiful as you has to run up and down small hills and round little corners following the line of a stream, whilst ducking under overhanging tress and avoiding muddy sections underfoot. At the loch the route rounded some fences and doubled back on itself to join a track (I gather some people massively cut that corner in order to make the cutoffs but I'm not sure how they thought they would get away with it when we were all carrying trackers!) and then the long track run began. It started off as a rough double track which meant you had to remain switched on not to trip on loose stones, but luckily it was still overcast and so not too hot. The later start did actually mean that, for the first time, I got to see the leading 2 men chasing each other down as they passed me by (ok so they were run/walking up a slope whereas I was just plain walking, but at least I got to shout some encouragement).

My tentmates Kirsty and Kate
on the endless track

The skies cleared and the track became smoother and so it was harder to keep the motivation to keep running along it. I had passed someone I knew (Matt) earlier in the day but he seemed to have had a new lease of life and passed me on the endless track. I thought I'd quickly lose sight of him but he seemed to stay a fixed distance ahead of me for a while so not letting him out of sight became my new target, which in turn meant that I had to keep moving forwards at a decent pace. I knew that the first manned checkpoint (CP) of the day was halfway along this section but it seemed to take forever to get to it. Although it cheered me up to catch groups/people and chat to them (including Matt on the tarmac road just prior to the CP), I was very tempted to consider stopping when I reached the checkpoint, especially as it was just beside a pub (though the event rules did allow us to go and buy cold drinks and fresh snacks in the pub....bliss!!).

Not a bad CP setting
As I ran into the CP, I talked myself into "manning up" and continuing with the day by making a private promise that I would stop the next time my number was scanned (these marshals told me that it was 10K to the next CP, but I think they meant 10miles!!) but the double track just seemed to continue on endlessly. You could see it winding away ahead of you for what looked like miles! It descended down to the river and from there it looked like there would be some welcome shade from the map. Unfortunately, this was not the case as the trees had been felled, so there was a rough scramble uphill around many treestumps before joining another higher level very exposed track. Although we had been warned that there would be little water on this section and we should look to the sides of the track for nearby streams, I found myself having to fill up at some of the tiniest trickles but I preferred the chance of a stomach upset to dehydration!!

The track descended to what I thought was the next checkpoint, but unfortunately (for me...thanks to my earlier promise to myself) the marshals did not scan us but just cheerily waved us through. I caught up with Karoline - Filippo's partner (and also South African) - who was the third ranked lady in the overall standings. She called me the "Comrades Queen" as I passed her so I thanked her for the compliment but reminded her that my highest Comrades finish was 4th - to which she replied that I was "a winner in her eyes, having been beaten by 3 Russians before they were banned". Not much further up the track ahead of her was Filippo, who was having a low spell, but as this was where the double track finished, I thought he would soon perk up again on the rougher terrain.

Heading up the valley and spotting
it would be a "decent" climb to get
 out of it
By this time I was into the last few miles of the day but, looking ahead of me, I could see that they weren't going to be very quick miles (no change there then!!). The route appeared to go up to the head of the valley, and then you had to climb out of it and down the other side towards the overnight camp....and there was no trail. As I worked my way round some slopes along one side of the valley, I caught up to Sarah (the second place lady in the "competitive standings") but she didn't seem especially chatty as she was rather concerned about how much of a gap there was between herself and Karoline. I reassured her that I wasn't being put into daily results and so she could happily let me pass and then get an idea of the way ahead by following me as I crossed some streams at the bottom of the valley and headed up the long climb to the col.

Climbing does reward you with some
amazing views!
Although it seems hard at the time (especially when you are also trying to eat and breathe) I do prefer climbing to descending. Unfortunately I slightly overdid it and went a wee bit higher than I needed, so had to head down to the small trail leading over a narrow pass and down towards the overnight camp. I couldn't see anyone ahead of me again so got my map out to confirm I was on the correct path as two diverged of opposite side of a stream, one descending and another one climbing more ( was the uphill one I wanted). Being "slightly" tired at this point, I missed the note telling us to "stay high above the gorge" and I accidentally strayed into said gorge. I found myself on a very narrow slippy precipice overlooking a long drop, and so when I'd finally managed to slow down my panic-breathing, I backclimbed up to where I should have been (and shouted a warning to those that were now cresting the trail behind me).

Tent city....finally...and food o'clock
Happy Days!
The descent down to the camp was far from "simple". After a decent run down the narrow trail, the route appeared to head off back over rough ground again, so off I headed (and as predicted I saw Filippo fly past). Still, I'm not really sure that this was the optimum route choice as I then had to climb down another near vertical slope to cross the stream again and rejoin a path that looked remarkably similar to the one I'd been on earlier, only this one had the other ladies now hammering down it. Karoline chatted as she caught me up, but Sarah was keen to push on to gain as much lead as possible. I let them go as they were happier bounding down than me and my dodgy leg but they remained in sight and I could see them switching positions ahead of me.

The view from the tents by day
As we gained a wider stable trail lower down I closed the gap back a bit, and also passed the long suffering Filippo again as he was fading fast. I asked him if he wanted to come with me, but he assured me that he'd be fine and make camp solo as he was now into the final mile. A special treat when we got to that camp was that the nearby loch was a freshwater one so I got another delightful fully clothed dip to cool and rinse myself (and my minging kit) off!!

And the view at night
Although I would never find out how I'd done each day as the results were only published for "competitive" runners, we had "Ultramail" delivered every evening (ie messages from friends and family at home), so I would find out whether I'd had a "good day" or not by this circuitous route. I hadn't managed to catch up to Iestyn all day so thought that I must have been one of the slower runners (especially when I think about how close I'd come to stopping - it was only the fact that I never had my barcode scanned again from the halfway CP to the finish that kept me trucking on) but my confidence took a big boost when my Ultramail told me that I'd been the fastest female overall on the day !

Sunday, 10 June 2018

"Short" days :-)

After a fairly decent night's sleep I decided that I wanted to get back into the event so chose to give Day 4 a go. It was a relatively short day....or so it appeared when you looked at the stats....but there was a twist to come later. I met Iestyn in the food tent and, over the lovely Linda McCartney sausages (at least I could cover them in warm baked beans this time), we decided that it would be fun to start together.

The miles flew by
The early stages flew by as we ran and chatted about anything and everything. As usual for medics, we ended up discussing weird and wonderful cases we'd seen, whilst also swopping work moans. Iestyn works in the hospital on Hobart where I used to work, and it was very interesting to hear that they sometimes use GPs to fill the rota of the emergency department as I'd love to have an excuse to go back to Tassie for longer than just a brief holiday.

And the views weren't bad either!
We were still running along together by the time we crossed the road at the first checkpoint and we joked that only ultrarunners would comment that it was "just a half marathon to go" as we started a long climb uphill. I was climbing quicker and lost Iestyn without realising it, but when I did, it seemed silly to wait, as he is a much more confident (and hence faster) descender than me. We'd passed several people that had started out ahead of us, but by the time I'd reached a level to start contouring round (on a good path), I was all alone with no one in sight ahead of my on the hillside.

Climbing round the waterfall
It was quite a hot sunny day, and I was glad to be able to fill my waterbottle as I crossed the top of a waterfall at the highest point of the day. This was also the point at which the path ended, and as there was no one visible ahead of me, I knew I had to trust in my own navigation. Looking at the map there was a lot of tracklessness which involved some contouring round and some losing of height, but there was a note to "stay above 375m altitude and head east". Tracklessness is an understatement as my initial contouring/losing height route involved a very steep slope, large boulders and very dense heather.

Crossing above the waterfall
I was finding it really hard going as I was also trying to protect my "bad" leg but when said leg is your right leg and you're trying to head round to the right with the hill sloping up to the right of you, it's rather hard. I did a lot of hanging onto heather to lower myself down while also using my arms, especially my right one to push up off rocks and prevent myself from landing too hard when coming down onto them. Just as I was debating disobeying my map and heading right down to the valley floor and picking a route along it, a voice from above cautioned me not to lose any more height.

Beautiful and remote
It was so nice to have company (even though I had spotted a small figure right down in the valley bottom) that we stayed in voice/semivisual contact as we tried to pick routes through the Heather and over the stones while staying at approximately the same elevation. Eventually we found a point where the route on the map showed us that we could descend off the steep incline and cut across a side valley to the one we now had to run up. A photographer appeared which implied that we must be going in the right direction thought the photographer himself tried to refute my supposition. I have no idea how he managed to run and take pictures as he just kept appearing and disappearing.

I could not jump across streams and bogs well as most other runners, as I could neither push off nor land comfortably on my bad leg, so at one point I gave up and just splashed my way all the way the creek......which apparently made for some decent camera footage (though I have yet to see it). Now off the steep incline I was able to move at a decent pace again and soon found myself overtaking another couple of guys as we all headed up various parallel routes to the final col of the day. Those last few miles had taken about as long as the whole of the first half.

A happy Iestyn?
On reaching the col, a track appeared again, and it became a relatively fast few miles winding down the hillside and along to Kinlochewe. The path was a good hard rough track which thankfully lacked jagged boulders to trip tired feet.....and indeed, it was harder to negotiate the sections where steps had been put in. The last section was a flat path through some trees until we hit a tarred road and turned to finish in a village hall. The hall was a welcome sight as it meant that we would have somewhere free of midges to eat our meals, and what's more, Kinlochewe had cafes, pubs and shops and we were there early enough to enjoy them. How much did I enjoy that ice cream and fizzy pop? Bliss!!!

The track wound up the valley
It remained warm overnight and Day5 dawned clear and sunny again. People seemed to be full of beans (or maybe it was actually the food and drink from the village cage, shops and pub) and eager to get going on what appeared to be another (relatively) short day. I was having yet another technical fail....this time, being unable how to work out how to turn my watch on I promised to catch Iestyn up (the first km or so was on road) when I got it sorted. The first part of the day was a very runnable forest road/track gradually climbing up the valley, so when I caught up to him and another guy, I actually just carried on past as we were moving at different paces. The route involved some very isolated parts of Fisherfield so people were warned to turn back if they felt they "might develop an injury" hence I had the chance to smile and wave to a couple of runners heading back to Kinlochewe.

Off the track again :-)
As I turned off the path on to another trackless section climbing up to a vague col, I realised I had another broad grin on my face. I was loving it (even more so when a large deer galloped down across the valley between me and the runners ahead), and reeling in people who'd started before me gave me confidence that I wasn't so bad in the "rough stuff" as I picked my route down the other side. When I found a bit of a track, Filippo caught up to me. He is from South Africa so we started chatting about all things Comrades, but unfortunately we realised that we'd been so caught up in our conversation that we'd forgotten to stay switched on to the navigation.

It's hard to beat Scotland on a sunny day!!!
We had continued too far along the track and so had to cut down across the valley bottom to a faint path on the other side. We shouted to those ahead of us making their way further up the wrong track, and on turning back, could see a fan of people stretching out across the valley as they all followed our lead and made their way across to the correct line. Filippo was must faster than me on this section jumping easily between and around tussocks and across streams so I soon lost him , but I was more than happy with my own company. Eventually I reached a long forestry road winding down towards an actual tarmac road and the first manned checkpoint of the day.

The short section along the tarmac was rather scary - most cars were very kind and gave me a wide berth, but unfortunately 1 car (driven by 2 lads in their early twenties) decided it would be fun to aim for me and laugh as I jumped into the long grass while they swerved away and laughed!!! Nice!! Some very welcome jellybabies from a marshal, a refill of my waterbottle in a stream and I was trudging up the next hillside in the hot sun. The path was mostly obvious (though there were some "scrambling up through heather" episodes when it petered out or a particular track started heading in the wrong direction but I gained the plateau and just had to make sure I didn't miss where to turn off the (now larger) track and head towards camp.

Looking down towards camp
Clearly there were some delusional runners out that day as earlier on someone had commented to me that "you must be a hill runner) as I passed them on some rough ground (never in my life would I claim to be any kind of hill runner) and then when I turned off and made my way across to start the descent to camp, the race leader decided to follow me with "I like your route choice"!! Still, I took it in the way the compliment was intended (I hope!). He soon nipped away from me as we joined a trail zigzagging down to the valley (I think some of the proper hillrunners just directlined it but the track with its turns was steep enough for me). Finally hitting the bottom and I was running along the road into camp as the first lady to arrive for the second day running (though this did mean that I was given strict instruction as to a time that I was not allowed to start before for the next morning)!

It was a relatively early finish (and still sunny) so Filippo came and found me to wander along to the river for a proper wash (I went in wearing my shorts so I could wash them) including my hair (don't worry - biodegradable shampoo)....a second day of afternoon bliss (it's the little things that please you on such events!!)!! I was so glad that I'd come on the adventure, and though I didn't regret going to the hospital with Eddie for 1 second, I was even more glad that I'd come back and started running again.

Friday, 8 June 2018

It's not all about the run.....

I seemed to have recovered from Day 1 with no ill effects so decided to give Day 2 a go, though consciously decided to take it much easier as it was the first of the longer days (and Day 1 was the first time I'd run more than 6 miles continuously for many months). The weather was not the best.....not helped by the fact that the breakfast provided by the catering team had been hot and plentiful at 6am but when I went at 7am they'd run out of baked beans so I had cold dry veggie sausages and hash browns (I have to say that this situation was resolved by the next day.....and over
the week the team did a fantastic job, going well out of their way to help all of us.....and not one of them raised an eyebrow at the number of pieces of cake and flapjack I worked my way through!).
Where I spent a large
proportion of the week!!
Having loved the run/chat with Eddie on Day 1 I had thought about running with some of my tentmates on Day 2 but they'd all set off ahead of me......though I'm not sure if that was due to my extra faffing, delaying getting out of my sleeping bag into the rain, or just spending longer in the catering tent! Still, at least it meant that I got to exchange a few words of encouragement with them in turn as we passed en route.

The first section had many river crossing of various depth and speed and I found my own St Christopher in a gentleman who currently lives in Australia who said he was using my route choice to help him navigate the rough ground (as he wasn't that used to running on such terrain) and in turn we stabilised each other as we waded through water that was on occasion up to my thighs. 

Up into the hills of Knoydart
I admit to a silly nav error, as I wasn't using my watch with gpx trace but using the map. I'd remembered that we had to go west up a valley along a track after the first checkpoint but had put my map away due to the rain. After said checkpoint I hit a track and headed west up it. After half a mile of seeing no one in front or behind I got out my map.....oops, we were meant to head east along the track as it then looped round and headed I retraced my steps and got back on course (at least I'd a only added to the route rather than cutting any corners so didn't think I'd be DQ'd).

Back down to the shores
of a remote sealoch
I tended to catch people on the climbs, and so found myself catching up to a friend, David, who adventure races. We were both using our maps in preference to slavishly followed the "trace" and so cut across some little boggy dips rather than winding round on the rocky trails following a train of people. When we looked back everyone had then started to follow us so it was a bit like driving a bus at Comrades.

Up the river valley with Iestyn
Having David and a couple of other guys just ahead of me as we descended back down to sea level gave me the motivation to run faster than I would've descended solo, but then sense prevailed and I let them go, though they came back to me on the beach and flat boggy sections. I caught up to Iestyn at the next checkpoint and we ran along up the valley together chatting away, covering the ground without realising it, but then I lost him on the steep climb up to the next pass.

The final "lochside" 10K
Not being very good with technology, I hadn't set some "ultramode" on my watch and the battery died partway up the climb. I'd overtaken everyone that I'd seen ahead of me as I climbed up, but the weather had closed in and there was very limited visibility There were several little tracks disappearing into the cloud and I wasn't confident of my nav whilst so cold and wet, so I was overjoyed to spot the bright yellow tops of two runners ahead of me as I descended on the other side.
Those final climbs still involved
getting your feet wet (ter)

I decided to go at their pace for a bit to chat and find out about the final section of the day as they'd been and reccied it in training (they warned me that it would be one of the slowest 10ks that I'd ever run). On first glance, it looked like a simple run along the edge of the loch and as I started along the farm road I thought it would be a boring long drag. Then I realised what the warning had meant as the 10k was on single track, often overgrown so you couldn't see exactly where you were putting you feet, and involved 3 climbs of 150m and back down again, with some other small "undulations" in between.

Chips coming up :-)
Going slower might have meant that I hadn't exhausted myself but I had been out longer in the poor weather (the last bit was already quite dark as the trail headed through dense rhododendrons so I didn't envy those out later in the day) and so by the time I got to camp, I decided I needed hot chips ahead of going to my tent to change into drier kit (though as I was first back, I also tried to mop up the water inside the tent, knowing how cold and wet my tentmates would be on arrival). 

Some locals checking out our
portaloos later on
I waited for Eddie thinking she'd be next in, but when I'd been in the catering area for a couple of hours, I realised that the must be something very wrong. Eventually I saw her being helped to our tent by a couple of support crew so I got her a brew and a snack and followed them down. It turned out that something in her back had gone partway through the day, and as she'd been too worried to call for help on her tracker (as we were told that was really for when you couldn't get yourself out) she'd walked the last half of the course in significant pain. She could now hardly put weight on one leg so we got her changed into dry clothes and to the medical tent.

The sky was finally clearing as
we got into the ambulance
I spent the next few hours the with her and them and we decided she needed to be taken out to hospital to get her back assessed/imaged properly. I was the only person that she knew there and as her family live in France there was no way that I was going to let her go to hospital alone and in such pain. My run was of no significance compared to that, so we eventually got an ambulance there (initially they were going to send a helicopter but it had to turn back due to bad weather) just before 11pm. We left after midnight and got to Inverness at 3am (yes, we were that remote and the roads were that bad). 
The A&E drying room

Eddie was taken through to A&E and I was left in reception with our bags to "check her in". There was no one in the waiting room so I got my thermorest and sleeping bag out but was told that I couldn't sleep on the floor, so I spread them out to dry and made myself comfy in a plastic bucket seat (someone did kindly bring me a coffee and a sandwich as I was still in my muddy damp kit from camp). When she went to the ward at 5am I asked if I could go too, but I wasn't allowed into the bay (as it was a 6-bedder) so I took our bags to the day room (at least I sneaked in to use the toilet in her bay as they tried to send me 4 floors down to the public ones). I dozed for about half an hour but then a patient was wheeled in who wanted to watch the TV (on the wall above the chair I was lounging in). No more sleep but at least I got tea and toast!

When it got to a more sociable time of day, I called Eddie's husband Bryn and he got the wheels in motion to sort the children, come over and get her but I made sure I was there for the ward round when the doctors assessed her and wouldn't leave until I knew Bryn had arrived in Scotland and was on his way from the airport in a hire car. Luckily, one of the race crew had been sent to Inverness to buy supplies so once I knew Eddie was sorted (well, as best she could be), I could hitch a lift back to the race camp. By the time I got there, the Day 3 runners were arriving. Gutted as I was to have missed a day, I was glad to be able to report in to the medics and chat to people as they arrived in (Jim had not had a good day but had made it to the finish despite considering dropping and hopefully a rest and food would help him recover.....whereas David was suffering with his ankles and had decided to head home). I was asked if I wanted to run some/all of the next day but I decided to grab some sleep before making a decision (whoever trusts the opinion of someone who's slept 30mins in almost 36 hours). 
Good to hear the locals had been
watching over everyone in my absence!

Some food, a 90 minute kip, some more food and chat and a full night in the tent later.....I decided to give Day 4 a go. I was told that I was now classed as "uncompetitive" but I knew this was due to helping out someone in distress rather than not making the cut offs due to speed/injury so I had nothing to prove and would just enjoy the rest of the week taking it as it came.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Should I ? Really? Ach, go on then.....

The Cape Wrath Trail
When you're feeling blue about the future (sports and health-wise) it's great when friends come to your it for cuddles and cakes, walks and cakes, chats and cakes, or just being there for you. One of the people that rang and planted a naughty seed in my mind was my friend Shane. I'd said to him that I just wanted to get away from people asking me why I wasn't training, racing or even running.....and I just fancied heading to the hills for some softer terrain and beautiful scenery. He suggested walking the Cape Wrath Trail, which is 400km from Fort William to the Cape Wrath lighthouse (the most northwesterly point on the British mainland). He and his wife Heather had taken a couple of weeks to do it, carrying packs.....and although I'm a big fan of solitude, that sounded rather excessive, even for me. My alternative was to join the event that he runs....the Cape Wrath Ultra....which involves covering the distance in 8 days with your overnight bad being transported from camp to camp while you only carry your day bag (and compulsory kit etc). 
THE Event!
This planted the idea of trying to run/walk it, and then, if I failed to make the cut offs....dropping it and joining the support/medical teams as I've been part of those for his events in the past. Having looked at the distances and time main worry was that if I was out walking for 16 hours a day (that was the max time allowed) how on earth I would be able to carry all the food I would want to eat in that time?

A late entry meant a substituted number
After managing my run/run-walk in Georgia, I decided to give it a go.....there's nothing like entering an event with a week's notice so you don't have the time to freak yourself out by wishing you'd trained for it.

I hitched a ride up with my friend Jim who was also taking part, but as I'd left it so last minute, I hadn't found accommodation the night before the event, so was planning on sleeping in the back of the car. Another friend, Iestyn, who had done the Dragon's Back with me 3 years ago, came to my aid and suggested using my sleeping bag on the spare bed in his hotel room rather than the car. That (and a shower) was a definite bonus before 8 nights in a tent!
Your transport awaits...
Jim and I dancing our way onto the ferry
There's nothing like a good Scots welcome

We started off with a short "ferry" ride (no duty free available on such a small boat!) across the water from Fort William, where we were greeted by a piper and filled up on coffee and biscuits whilst gathering for the start. Everyone tried to hang around inside before the official photo and countdown as the weather was typically Scottish (mizzle with a touch of rain), but before too long we were off and heading down the road.

A clean fresh-smelling (!) set of runners
Unusually for such an event, we started off with about 6 miles on tarmac. I saw Jim and Carol fly off at the front but had no notion of trying to run with them (yeay.....sense prevailed!). I started off about 1/3 of the way through the back but soon caught up with Eddie and the miles ticked by easily as we caught up on 5 years of chat (she and I had run together in a race about 5 years ago which couldn't have been more different was hot, sunny, all on road, a single stage, and had beer at the end). I knew she would be strong and fit (she has lived in the Alps for the past 2 years) so I urged her to go on ahead and not hang back for me. She was also being sensible and pacing herself for the week ahead, and so was quite happy not to floor it along the road. 

Running with Eddie a lifetime ago...
We reached our first checkpoint (numbers are scanned rather than using a dibber) and turned off the sealed road onto a forest one. We would chat as we passed guys along the route (or as they passed us, but usually it was the former as we'd started so steadily). I stopped for a hug and kiss from one of the support/forest response crew which prompted Eddie to check that I knew him, but I reassured her that I hadn't lost it in the hills we'd known each other for years.

Heading into the magical glens
Without me noticing when it happened, I was suddenly running alone.......I only realised Eddie wasn't just behind me when a guy passed by, complimented me on being able to remove my waterproof and put it in my pack without stopping running and asked what I done with her. I guessed she'd come flying past on the next section as the path narrowed to single track and headed uphill. I felt rather unfit but as my leg wasn't hurting I decided to keep on and just enjoy the freedom of being out in the hills. 

"Gary's" coos
I managed to keep running all the way up the climb and surprisingly caught up to Carol (Jim had disappeared off into the distance along the track in the previous valley) but as we summitted, I knew that would be the last I saw of her. Not only does she fly down the descents, but I was consciously going to look after my leg and take it gently. So gently that I actually had to climb back up along a fence to a gate I'd missed (well, the marshal I saw did tell me to follow the forestry road down when I hit it, but actually I needed to carry straight on before going down).

Home Sweet Home
My leg survived the descent but I could no longer see anyone ahead as the speedsters (and even the normal descenders) were well out of sight. Gary (one of the course organisers) ran alongside me to chat for a little bit.....he wanted to make sure that the highland "coos" and their calves hadn't been an issue in the previous valley. I was now on a rough road that would up and down in the final kms of the day. I nearly came a cropper twice.....once as several vintage cars raced round a blind corner towards me.....and twice as some cyclists decided to bomb along in the opposite direction without wanting to break "formation" to let a mere runner through.

The lovely camp volunteers
picked up your bag and took it to
your tent for you on your arrival
As I turned off the road I found myself on boardwalk with chickenwire....this, combined with the weather and scenery, really reminded me of Tasmania (chatting later, Iestyn, who now lives in Tassie, agreed 100%). Back to a road and suddenly there were signs up, and although I did wonder if my fitness would give out before I finally saw the tents, I made it......5mins behind Carol and 5 mins ahead of Eddie.

The Hogwarts Express!!
It was time to tuck into the chips and cake that Shane's events provide by the bucketload (why do you think I take part?), meet my tentmates (Eddie, Kirsty, Kate, Kat and Claire), catch up with old friends, make new friends, avoid looking at the guys strip washing in the stream.....and watch as the Hogwarts Express crossed the (Glenfinnan) viaduct behind camp!

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Wings For Life World Run #5 (Georgia)

WFLWR Georgia
2018 is the 5th year of the Wings For Life World Run (WFLWR) and I still think that it is an amazing and unique event. Not only is the concept great......everyone is running for "those who can't", ie the whole event is bankrolled by RedBull so that 100% of people's entry fee goes into spinal cord research.....but the format is brilliant. Everybody taking part starts at the same time, no matter where they are round the globe, and the catcher cars start driving 30 minutes later. Once the car passes you, you chip is deactivated and you are "out", so the event caters for people of all fitnesses and abilities......some cover under 5km, whilst others run over 70km.

The "prize" for running the furthest in an individual event (the global winner is the last person left running anywhere in the world) is an invite to take part in an event of your choice the following year. Having managed to run the furthest of all the females in Poland last year, I opted to go to Georgia this year. It's a country that I've never been to yet heard much about, and it didn't involve any long haul flights being (sort of) in Europe. I also doubted that I would be able to run at all, so didn't really want to travel a long way for a run that I couldn't participate in.

My friend Jacquie agreed to come with me and we set off with some trepidation, as it's not often you travel to a country where you speak absolutely none of the language, and cannot even read anything (as they have a completely different script there). We needn't have worried as although not many people spoke English (most tourist that visit the country seem to be Russian), they were all very friendly and we got by with a smattering of different Eastern European languages and some good acting/sign language.

The run route in its usual state
A common encounter on the main road!
One thing that we really did need to be afraid of, was the driving. The rules of the road seem to be that there are no rules (and, as we learnt later, many people don't actually have driving licences). We had a hire car to drive from Tbilisi, the capital city (which we visited later.....very interesting as old historic buildings mingle with new modern constructions) to Kakheti, the (wine) region where the event was to be held. The drive was definitely an experience as sections with no road markings meant that people drove wherever they felt like driving - at one point I was overtaking a car (which was also being undertaken) when another car overtook me, whilst a couple of cars drove towards us.......rather like a very scary game of "chicken". At other times you had to suddenly slam on the brakes to avoid cows wandering into the road, or shepherds herding their sheep across it, or even the car in front suddenly stopping to buy a pig's head from a stall at the side of the tarmac.
Media interviews

I had initially thought that I wouldn't run, but would support Jacquie, but as the event approached, I felt I should get into the spirit of the event and take part, as I can still run more than those "who can't" (ie those who the event is raising money for). I knew that I was too unfit and too broken to be competitive so I was just there to take part, and so decided to ignore the faster runners and just do what I felt was best for me and my poorly leg. There were some press interviews beforehand and they asked the obvious questions about planned distances and whether I was going for the win, but I told them of my injury and that I had no expectations but was just happy to be there.

Trying to cool off in the "media tent"
with Frederique from Belgium
It was my 5th WFLWR and my 5th different course.....each one has been so different, but the biggest contrast was definitely in temperature between this event and last year's. I remember being rather cold on the startline in Pozn├ín as it was less than 10 degrees and drizzly, whereas this year (albeit 3pm in Georgia rather than 1pm in Poland) it was about 30 degrees and very humid. Jacquie kindly shepherded me at the startline to avoid any trampling issues (I feel even more "delicate" than usual since getting my DEXA though I'm sure this is all psychological) but as usual there was a very odd collection of people pushing past us to get to the front....some of whom were wearing jeans, and some even had handbags slung over their shoulders. These were probably a few of those who appeared to only cover a couple of hundred metres when you later looked at the results!

Spot the jeans and handbags....
Us just crossing the startline - how many
were already ahead up the road?
The start was the usual chaos of sprinters, walkers and that by the time Jacquie and I passed under the official gantry, there must have been almost 100 people ahead of us. This meant the first few hundred metres became a game of dodgems, and in the end I had to run off the road into the scrubby verge to get past some who'd already slowed to a walk! Jacquie waved me off and I was on my own. With the first kilometre, I had already starting questioning myself as to what I was doing and why I was there. I had seen 2 Russian ladies zoom off down the road and, surprisingly, it was no great mental strain to keep steady and not chase after them. I run (and miss running) because I just love to run, but I wasn't really feeling the love for it then. My leg wasn't hurting but I was afraid that it would....but more to the point, I just felt unfit and as if I was lumbering along in the heat. I very nearly stopped dead, but gave myself a good talking to - I had the opportunity of running in an amazing new place and I should at least continue until the catcher car (well, in Georgia it was more of a van than a car) started to chase us down.

The "catcher van"
The 7K point
Keeping half an eye on my watch for the magic 30 minute mark when the car started (well if I'm honest I kept looking at it willing the time to pass more quickly), I passed through a little village where the locals had come out of their houses to high five the runners, and then approached a beautiful hilltop fort/monastery (definitely one to visit the next day!) at the 7K mark. Now that we were actually being chased, I then settled baby targets - each km ticked off was a bonus with the 10K marker a highlight as there was a water/feed station. I got there under the 45minute mark and thankfully grabbed a couple of cups of water (1 to drink, 1 to "wear") and carried on at a walking pace. People kept trying to encourage me to keep running (well, I think that's what they were saying - in Russian and Georgian) but I was not going to do myself any more harm so stuck to my guns with 5 minutes of "running" followed by 1 minute of "walking" (though the countdown of those 5 minutes seemed to take longer and longer each time).

In this manner I made it to the 15K water/feed station and was surprised that the second lady was still in sight up the road ahead of me, but I was prepared to be "caught" any time now. My lack of fitness was showing as I debated dropping it to 4 minutes of run with 1 minute of walking, but as the kilometres seemed to be passing by I decided to stick with the 5:1 ration to the 20K mark (if I made it that far). By the time I got to 20K, there were hardly any runners passing me in my walk breaks and so I figured that the car would appear any minute and hence I might as well just continue running. The 23K sign was just at the "townlimits" of where we were staying so I decided that if I was caught anywhere in town, I'd just meander back to our accommodation (well, it was a "wine spa"), but all too soon I was through town and out the other side. I was starting to pass a few people now who were going slower and having more breaks than me so I set myself a new target. I wanted to get to 27K as I thought that was half of the distance that I'd run in Poland (admittedly my memory was rubbish as I'd only run 52K in 2017, not the 54K I thought!).

The empty road at 31.12K!
A very bored looking driver of the catcher van!!
That sign came and went....and still no catcher car! The 30K water/aid station was next and again I passed it with no car in sight. I'd high-fived another runner as I passed him but I was now all alone on my stretch of road with no one in sight either in front or behind. There was none of the drama of the previous year - maybe you only get cyclists, motorcyclists, bells and sirens at the front of the field - though a cameraman on a bike did film me as the car gradually reeled me in for the last few hundred metres. I made sure that I passed the 31K sign and was smiling as they came abreast of me - I waved at the driver and ground to a halt....all alone. Unsure of what to do from there, I started heading back towards the 30K stop, picking up my "highfiving friend" en route (an Estonian living in Tbilisi who could ask a friendly policeman - in Russian - how we could get back to the start). In the end we went to the 30K stop and availed ourselves of the water and fruit there. A minibus turned up with other runners on it that had been caught between 25 and 30K (one of whom presented with with a lovely rose) and they let us take the empty seats to go back to the start line.

Myself and Jacquie celebrating with local wine :-)
Now that was a rather speedy and scary trip, but Jacquie and I were safely reunited by our little hire car to commiserate over the fact that this year there were no finisher's medals (everyone who started was a finisher so really should have been awarded a medal) but celebrate surviving the event....and we celebrated still further with wine on our return to the hotel. Despite my injury and lack of fitness, it was still a fabulous day and something I would heartily recommend to everyone (whatever their fitness, speed and ability)....and many thanks to RedBull for giving me the opportunity to run in such a location.....and enjoy the rest of the trip as we stayed on for a few days of holiday to explore more of Georgia.