Life on the other side

Even though I didn’t run the whw race this year I thought I’d write a report as I found it really interesting to see a little of what goes into organising and marshalling this amazing race.  When I decided not to run the 2012 whw race Ian asked me to be involved with the race.

Initially I took over the web site, then started doing the podcasts, was asked to join the committee and finally to take on the role of Race Control.  I had a vague idea of what this involved and was looking forward to supporting the race from the other side of the start line.

Anyway I thought it would be interesting to write down what I did, observed and learnt from this year’s race.

I’ve done it as a timeline but some of the timings might be approx as the days blended together somewhat.

Friday 22nd June 2012

7am Up and breakfast

I always found the last night difficult to sleep as I’d be excited at the prospect of the race. I was no different even though I wasn’t running. I woke at 3am with lots of things going round my head.  Have I done everything so we are ready for the race?

8.15am 11mile run on the Braes

I realised I wasn’t going to get the chance to run over the weekend so decided to run up the Braes. I felt good and spent the run thinking about the race and hoping that everyone was ready.  The track was very wet and I did fear for the runners as I remember how hard it was lst year when the track was wet.

9.45am Blog and Web site

No run is complete for me until I blog about it.  So quick update on my blog and then finalise the whw web site and make sure I had all my lists and sheets ready for registration and the checkpoints.

12noon Pick up Van

Katrina gave me a lift to Arnold Clark Van Hire in her lunch time. I picked up the van, drove home, took an old chair to the tip (much to Katrina’s joy!) then drove to Glencairn Crystal to pick up the Goblets.  I said I’d be there for 1.30pm and right on the dot I arrived.

I explained to the guy at the factory that these goblets are very precious and meant so much to each and ever runner who finishes the whw race. He seemed more interested in the quality of the glass!

2.30pm Back home

Spent the rest of the afternoon sorting out the lists and packing for myself.  As the rain continued to pour I was getting really concerned for the runners. There was never a doubt the race would go ahead but as I listened to the thunder and lightning I realised it was going to make a tough race even tougher.

8pm Left for Milngavie

I’d asked my friend David Mac whether he would like to come with me for the weekend to help with driving and keeping a track of all the runners. One day he will do the race and so he didn’t need much persuading as it would give him a unique insight to the race.

8.30pm Registration

Once we arrived we helped Ian and Sean set up registration. Calum and Lesley with their children were in charge of the merchandise and they did a great job all evening.  In fact their son Euan looks like a natural salesman!

There was a bit of a queue at 9am to register but the main bulk of the runners arrived after 11am which is a sensible time I reckon.  There was a bit of a queue at the weighing scales but everyone waited patiently and we got it done.

It was great to chat up with old and new friends. A number of people thanked me for the podcasts which was nice. It’s good to know they have been helped to people.

I number of friends asked me how I felt not running. I didn’t want to dampen any enthusiasm so made some comments about wanting a new challenge etc but inside I was thinking ‘I’m so glad I’m not running this year in this weather!!’

12.10am Last runner registered

Unsurprisingly Jim Drummond was the last to register. Infact someone asked Ian when registration closed to which he replied, ‘When Jim arrives.’  I finalised the list of runners. There 172 on the start line. Just one runner didn’t turn up.

I missed the race briefing as I was printing out the final list of non running numbers to give to the checkpoints.  I wndered over and wished a number of friends a great race before climbing up on the bridge to start the stop watches.

1am Race starts

It was exciting to see 172 runners ready to set off on a journey that would test them to the limit. Lots of them had done it before but around 50% were first timers and I would imagine the majority of them would be attempting to run further than they’d ever run before.

1.15am Pack up and drive to Balmaha

Once we’d seen them off David & I helped pack up registration and then we drove to Balmaha to set up the first checkpoint.  As David drove the rain battered on the van and once more I hoped the runners were okay and safe.

2.15am Arrived at Balmaha

There were a number of cars and vans already in the car park waiting for their runners. We parked the van right at the entrance to the car park and kept a space for Ian’s van. We thought it would be good to make a small tunnel to make sure we got everyone’s number and time.

When Ian arrived David was having a quick nap so we went into the Oak Tree for a bacon roll and tea.  It was great idea having the Oak Tree open and they did a roaring trade for a few hours. That wasn’t the only thing roaring … the open fire was superb and warmed up the support crews!

3.46am First runner arrived

We set up the tunnel and didn’t have to wait too long for the first group of 4 runners to arrived together. 2.45 for the first 19miles showed that despite the weather they weren’t hanging around.  There was a 6min gap to the next runner but then after that a steady flow of runners to keep us busy.

We hd a good system going. Davie H was on the path directing runners to the van and explaining they would need to give in their number. Ian stood between the two vans asking for the numbers while David & I sat in the van writing them down.

I was keeping a paper copy while David had my iphone and the Race splitter app I wanted to try out. It was really good and I’ll review it at a later date.

We heard of a number of runners who had withdrawn before Balmaha. This was a sign of things to come and in a lull I did ask Ian and David to guess how many finishers we would have. We were all far too optimistic as it turned out.

Louise Jones came in and said she was stopping. Both Ian and I encouraged to wait 10mins before deciding. Then when she came back we encouraged her to go to Rowardennan and then decide. She did running with Caroline but did stop there. She’ll be back.

I can’t say I know every runner but I did know a good number, some better than others and it was good to see them all come through the checkpoint. It was now light which always makes a massive different to how you feel. The rain eased off for a bit but never quite stopped.

6am Last runner through Balmaha

Once the last runner was through Balmaha David & I headed into the Oak Tree where we set up the lap top and entered all the splits onto my spread sheet. We then were able to post those onto the web site. I was really keen to try and keep friends and family of the those running up to date with how things were going.

I knew it would depend on getting a good wifi signal and the Oak Tree was great.  We also had another bacon roll and tea before setting off for Beinglas.

7am Drove to Beinglas Farm

Ian was heading up to Auchtertyre to grab a few hours sleep.  David & I shared the driving and we arrived at Beinglas in time to see Richie arrive.  The first four runners were already through.  Terry Conway was now leading on his own and going away from the others.

Richie looked okay but when I showed him Terry’s split he was concerned that 30mins is a long way to claw back.

We stayed at Beinglas for just over 3 hours and saw the first 70 runners through. Noanie and Dinah had a great system going with Dinah giving out the drop bags and Naonie recording the times.  The only hassles are when 4-5 runners come in together but they coped very well.

There is an issue though at Beinglas especially for those further down the field who are out so much longer.  In weather like Saturday’s the runners are cold, wet and in need of help. They have another 9miles to go to Auchtertyre. I’m not really sure what we can do but it’s really tough on the runners who have such a long way to go unsupported.

10.15am Drove to Tyndrum via Auchteryre

We called in at Auchteryre to check everything was okay there. Clan McLean were doing a great job in difficult conditions. Not only do they have to make sure they write down everyone’s time but also they weigh each runner.

The mobile signal is really poor so we realised it wasn’t going to be easy to keep in touch with them.  The first 10 runners were already through with Terry continuing to push on strongly.

While we were there both Richie Cunningham and George Cairns withdrew. It was sad to see them having to stop but both were struggling with injuries.

The car park and road into the checkpoint was getting really busy so we decided to move on before we were blocked in and couldn’t move.

11am ‘By the Way’ hostel at Tyndrum

I’d asked Kirsty who owns the hostel and campsite whether we could base ourselves at their site and use their wifi. Kirsty very kindly agreed and not only set us up by the window so we could watch the runners go by but provided us with her legendry banana cake!

Initially I thought we’d stay there for a couple of hours but we were so comfortable and had good access to the checkpoints then we stayed until about 8pm! We entered all the Beinglas splits and those we had from Auchtertyre and uploaded them to the whw web site.

David went off for some lunch while I ate my sandwiched and was kept up to date with splits from Beinglas and then Bridge of Orchy.

David also went off for a run for a while before helping me again enter all the splits. A highlight was seeing Debs and Sharon running past towards Auchtertyre. They were out running in the rain and wind while I was sitting with a cup of tea in one hand and my phone in the other. I can only imagine the comments they made to each other!!

After several unsuccessful attempts to contact Auchtertyre I decided to leave David with the phone and head back in the van.

I got to Auchtertyre just before 3pm, collected all the splits and then decided to stay for a bit as Silke and Caroline were due in soon. I caught up with Katrina, Nancy, Peter & Shelley and the rest of the support teams.

News filtering down about Caroline was not great but I knew her team would be doing all they could to keep her going. Silke arrived and disappeared for a while for a complete change. There seemed to be some problems finding just the right top she wanted but it all seemed to be sorted in the end.

Silke appeared all smiles and ready for action. I had no doubt at all that she was going to finish. You could see it in her eyes and manner. She had come for that goblet and was not going stopping until she hit the doors in Fort William.

As we waited for Caroline I chatted to her Dad Peter. He was laughing that Caroline had requested an ice lolly at Auchtertyre so he was keen to buy one for her!!  Caroline arrived at 3.40pm. She looked as though she’d run 50miles in very wet and tough conditions.

She received hugs from all her friends and then also disappeared for a complete change of clothes.  After some food she set off with cheers from everyone to complete the journey.  She had plenty of time to make it to Fort William and I knew she was stubborn enough to keep going.

I headed back to Tyndrum to enter the rest of the splits from Auchtertyre. It was great to hear from Ian that Terry Conway had won the race in a new record of 15.39.15. An incredible time in normal conditions but something else in today’s rain and gails. It made me wonder what he could do in better conditions.

Sometime around 6pm we had our worse moment of the whole weekend! We had been enetering those splits for about 2 hours and had them ready to upload when something happened on my netbook and we realised we hadn’t saved and lost the lot!!

So we had to regroup and enter them all again! By the time we’d done that we couldn’t get a wifi signal and so couldn’t upload them. So I’m sorry that we didn’t update the web site as frequently as I’d hoped.

When I was thinking about the weekend I hadn’t quite decided where to base myself from 6pm onwards. I assumed I’d go to the finish. I hadn’t planned to go to Kinlochleven.  Two things changed my mind.

One was meeting Geraldine who did Race Control for 10years. She looked surprised to see me at Auchtertyre and said ‘Are you not going to Kinlochleven?’  That got me thinking that maybe I should go there.

Secondly I really wanted to see Silke and Caroline through Kinlochleven and also thought I could do more good encouraging runners with 14miles to go.  So I rang Ian and told him I was heading to Kinlochleven and could update him from there.

I sold it to David by telling him there is a great chippy at Kinlochleven where we could get some food.

8pm Drove to Bridge of Orchy and Glencoe

We decided to call into the next two checkpoints on the way.  Sean, as always, was doing a great job at Bridge of Orchy. By the time we got there the majority of runners had gone through. They were just waiting for the last few runners before closing the checkpoint and heading to the finish.

Next stop was to see Karen and George at Glencoe. We stayed there for 30mins or so and saw a few runners come and go. They were doing a great job greeting all the runners and making sure they were safe leaving.

Karen was keeping me up to date with splits via text messages.  She worked out a great system and had the advantage of having the results written down rather than passed via a phone line which has the potential errot of mishearing a number (which did happen).

We left them about 8.45pm. They were waiting on another 15 or so runners including Silke and Caroline.

8.45pm Drove to Kinlochleven

We arrived at the checkpoint about 9.15pm and after saying hello to Julie and Dr Chris we headed off to the chippy for some food.  It was good to have some hot food and sit down for a few minutes.  I’d been on the go for over 36hrs but felt okay as I had a job to do and was focused on it.

We then set up the lap top and entered all the splits from the Bridge of Orchy, Glencoe and Kinlochleven. Dr Chris offered us somewhere quiet but I was keen to be in the main room to be part of the atmosphere and see runners come and go.

For the next 5hrs I watched many runners come and go as I kept up to date with everyone’s splits.  I stopped every and then to walk round and chat to runners and support teams. There is a great atmosphere at Kinlochleven. Julie is very calm and efficient. She also seems to have the right comment for each runner.

Around 1am I was concerned about 5 runners that I’d not heard from for a while.  I assumed they had withdrawn but I hadn’t been notified officially.  So I rang Ian and we worked out what had happened to most of them.  There was one runner we were not sure about so Ian rang their support team to double check. I gather they weren’t best pleased to recieve a call at 1.30am but we felt it was better to be safe than sorry.

So with all runners accounted for I waited for Silke and Caroline to arrive. Their support teams were now at the checkpoint waiting for them.  We’d heard that Caroline had caught Silke just before the Devil’s staircase so we wondered whether they come in together.

Silke arrived first at 1am still looking really good and focused on getting the job done. Katrina was now joining her to run/walk the final 14miles. Katrina had been with me on my death march last year but I knew she’s have a better time with Silke as she was still moving really well (unlike me last year!!).

After 20mins Silke with Katrina, Yvonne and Heather set off for the final leg. Again no doubt at all Silke was going to finish and finish well.

We waited and waited for Caroline.  We had a call from one of her support team to say they were on their way but slowly.  At 2.08am (25.08) Caroline arrived.  She staggered to the weigh-in scales and needed help to stand and walk.

Chris McG took over and soon sat her down toget some food into her. I have never seen someone look so vacant. She didn’t seem to acknowledge me or anything going on around her. She looked totally exhausted.

Dr Chris took one look at her, scooped her up in his arms and marched into the main hall where she laid her down on a mattrass, put a duvet over her and told her team to leave her for at least 15mins.

Over the next half an hour or so Caroline rested then had some food and slowly came round and started to focus on getting going again. I had a chat with Dr Chris and explained how much training she’d done.

I was very impressed with Dr Chris. He didn’t want to withdraw her but obviously wanted to be sure she was fit to continue. I know it was hard for her parents to see Caroline like that and they would have been very happy if she’d stopped there.

Chris did a brilliant job in helping her to get ready and after an hour or so they set off for the final leg. They left at 3am which gave them 9hrs to get to Fort William before the 35 hr cut off. I honestly thought they would need every one of them.

3.30am Drove to Fort William

I’d woken David just before we were leaving. He’d had a good sleep and so was happy to drive to Fort William. Initially I’d said I’d drive but within 5mins I realised this was a mistake as I suddenly felt very sleepy.

I dozed in the car and when we arrived at the Leisure Centre at 4am I was feeling a bit groggy.  I knew once I set up I would be there until the end so decided a shower and change of clothes would be a good idea.

I felt a lot better and things got even brighter after a cup of tea and some toast.  I set up the lap top again and started entering all the finishing times that Alan Young had been recording. Very helpfully he had written down names as well so there was no confusion.

70 runners had already finished so we had another 50 or so to go. Exact numbers would depend on who stopped at Kinlochleven.

It was great to see runners complete their goal. Some were still moving well while others had reached their physical and mental end …. but whatever state they were in they’d made it.

I’d been on the phone to Chris and spoken to Caroline. She was still moving and was going well.  We knew that Silke would be coming soon so I went outside to see her run in.  Just after 6.30am Silke with her support team including Katrina appeared round the corner and ran across the car park to the Leisure Centre.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I witnessed the courage and effort Silke had put into not only the race but her training and preparation. I felt so pleased for her and her team. What a superb effort.  Silke looked very calm and relaxed.

We saw some more runners in including Colin who I’d been interviewing regularly for the podcasts. I was trying to work out when Caroline would arrive.  I decided to ring Chris to get an idea assuming they were somewhere up the hill.

To my surprise he said they were at Braveheart Car Park and that Caroline had run all the way down the hill.  To say I was amazed would be an understatement!  Having last seen her stagger out of Kinlochleven to hear that she was running was an amazing turnaround.

Her support team ran ahead leaving Caroline to run in on her own. Once more I was in tears after witnessing a truly heroic effort to get to the finish. Several people who saw Caroline along the route over the last 31hrs would also be amzed she made it.

Once I’d seen the last few runners in we packed up and headed to MacDonalds for some breakfast.  It was now 10.15am and I decided to catch an hour’s sleep before the prizegiving. I slept in the van before heasding over to the Nevis Centre.

11.15am Prize giving

We brought in the goblets and set up for the prizegiving at 12noon. Ian had asked Sean and myself to present the goblets and I can only say that it was such a pleasure and priviledge to do so.

To see the joy on runners faces as they hobbled their way to the front was inspiring. To know that each one had completed a journey that very few people would even think about is tremendous. That finishers goblet will be a treasured possession because of what it represents.

1pm Still more work to do

David went back with Chris, Neal and Caroline.  Thomas & Silke had very kindly offered me a bed in their guest house with Katrina.

I was keen to get the times and splits onto the web site so spent another hour or two sortng those out and posting on the site.

Then we went for a walk to the supermarket before joining Thomas, Silke and Nancy for a meal. I headed back to the guest hosue to watch the England v Italy game. I had planned to head over to the Nevis Pub to join the whw crowd but by the time the extra time and penalties were over so was I!

I headed to bed at 10.30pm having been up for over 63hrs with about an hour’s sleep!  Boy did I sleep well.

So there you have it … a view from the other side.  Was it harder than running?  No … but it was a feat of endurance in it’s own way.

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8 Responses to Life on the other side

  1. Santababy says:

    think you must still be tired, registration at 9am? 😉 great report John, i hope it gives people an insight into just how much hard work goes on behind the scenes. well done, race couldnt go ahead without the likes of you

  2. Kynon says:

    It was nice to meet you/see you at various points throughout the event – a face & a voice to put to the blogposts.

    I wonder if I should do a blog from a newbie support crewmember's point of view?

    A long & tiring weekend, but ultimately worth every moment of it to be part of such a massive personal achievement for an individual. Just don't expect to see me on the starting or finishing lines any time soon… 😉

  3. Silke says:

    Great report “from the other side” John! Thank you for your encouragement along the way! Silke

  4. Johann says:

    Loved this report! Thanks John!

  5. Thomas says:

    That's a great report John, it sounds almost as exhausting as running the race itself!

  6. Tim says:

    An interesting report from “behind the scenes” John. I'm amazed that you looked so awake at the prize-giving. I suspect you had less sleep than me!

  7. Davie says:

    Next year you can stand in my place at Balmaha. Midgie hell!

  8. lesleyh says:

    Great to read a different perspective John and yes indeed a feat of endurance in itself. Thank you for your words of enccouragemnt at Kinlochleven when things were hard, it helped get me back out the door 🙂

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