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As the interview ends I’m just about to ask her if she’ll bath me and anoint me with oils if I finish in under thirty six hours, when I realise the fatigue and exertion must be getting to me and making me behave inappropriately. I come to my senses and realise I can’t her ask that because I can see another runner coming over the hill and if I’m not off now he’ll over take me.
Nobody likes the steep descent off Conic hill, especially me because my running blade can turn into a ski. I take it steady, if I fall I could puncture the sleeve holding my leg on- that would be bad admin. When I get to the end of the slippery, rocky eroded step bit I’m so overjoyed I make a screaming noise like a girl, except louder and dash downhill through the woods to the checkpoint, where the marshal tells me three in front of me have dropped out. He advises caution alongside Loch Lomond, ‘could be tricky’.
The path is rocky and in places a scramble. I’ve put my hook on to get three points of contact. After a few hours we’re in the rocky zone and the lady behind me chats. She’s very well spoken and says it’s her first time, but she’s supported friends from her running club for years. She says she’s been up here most weekends for the last year training and asks me how long I’ve been training. I decide not to admit five years and say ‘I started jogging in the park a few weeks ago’ to which she replies ‘stop winding me up you tosser.’
It’s a single track path and there’s no room to pass. She says running for twelve hours is getting to her, she’s feeling sick, I know how she feels; my stomach’s as rough as a bear’s bottom and not nearly as nice smelling. I climb rough steps cut into a large boulder and put my hook on the top to lever myself up. Suddenly it slips making a noise like a GPMG being cocked, I fall back, but this is too much for my dodgy stomach, there’s an involuntary blast of foul guff from my backside and I feel orgasmic relief, particularly as I manage to avoid following through. To my horror I glance behind and see her face is an inch from my backside. The marshal was right this stretch is tricky.
I am mortified. I profusely apologise and bite my lip for an hour every time the raucous laughter bursts out too loud. There are only some things you can learn being a one armed one legged ultra runner- and this is one of the ultimate truths- when a man no longer thinks farting is funny he’s tired of life.
I stagger down the path, now alone, but quite able to understand why no one would want to run behind me. I’m wobbling slightly, but still going strong. Ahead I can see the van ‘London Mountain Rescue’ I think it’s really impressive they’ve travelled all the way up from London to support us, but then again I suppose you’d have to as there aren’t many mountains in London.
I blast on through a gentle drizzle, the weather’s perfect and breeze picks up keeping the midges away. I reach the next check point and realise I must be more tired than I thought, the van actually says ‘Lomond (as in Loch) not London Mountain Rescue’
I’m now running with two identical twins, well I don’t suppose there would be three would there? One of them has just won a 24 hour track race in Germany; good. They’ve done this five times before and say you can only learn about it by doing it. Average first time finish is about thirty two hours. I now begin to suspect the stretch after the dreaded Devil’s staircase is tougher than I thought and as the fatigue washes over me I realise I’m not going to be as quick as I’d hoped, but the aim is to finish.
The rock littered track of Glen Falloch is tough on my prosthesis. It really needs a level surface. After hours of jolting I realise my stumps one big sore bit, time for a leg change to put the pressure somewhere else. I decide the best strategy is to now march the rocky bits; which is probably forty miles.
Darkness is falling fast. I can understand why people find Glencoe eerie. As I approach I see pockets of snow on the mountains on the west side. Ewan and David from our running club Strathaven Striders (a drinking club with a running problem) have joined me as their runner, a veteran with six good times had a stomach problem and pulled out. I’m grateful they’re helping me now, the prospect of the feared Devil’s Staircase as darkness falls is daunting.
Like most difficult issues in life – when we face them they stop being difficult and once on it Devil’s staircase is nothing like as bad as I feared, although Ewan accuses me of being crabby on the way up because I’m not chatting. Sorry- haven’t got enough breath to climb, let alone talk! Going down the other side is a never ending nightmare. I trip and fall a few times, but fortunately managed to break my fall by landing on my face.
Race rules say you should pair up or be accompanied at night. Great opportunity to have a laugh know your support crew better and it helps to have someone to talk to when your falling asleep on your feet and to get to and Kinlochleven is your only focus, because if you can make it there you can finish. I stagger on and promise myself a ten minute sleep in the support car. I’ve never felt so tired even though it’s only two nights, this is ridiculous I’ve been up for six days before. It feels as if I’ve been staggering around the town forever, but it’s minutes. I sit in the car for a second, get nudged and told it’s ten minutes. The sleep worked, I’m elated so’s the runner, or perhaps I should say fellow limper next to me. We keep joyously repeating ‘less than a marathon to go’.
I’m not sure if the distance and transition into dawn is slow, fast or never ending. The final checkpoint and only seven miles to go! Nevis forest is beautiful and I see a huge black otter on the track. He must have followed a stream up from the River Nevis. I get my running leg on for a sprint finish (okay possibly a slight exaggeration) and finish with my support crew; so thanks Ewan, Dave, Gary and Rob. I’d never have done it without you.
After I finished I must admit I was in bits. If you think it’s mad for a one armed, one legged bloke to run a mountain race of 95 miles with a 36 hour cut off then think about this- Only a fool would finish the West Highland Way Race and say I conquered the hills, the stones and glens, but what I can say is I went there, trained hard, became part of a team effort, did by my best and in so doing conquered something that limited me. I also hope people will be engaged by the effort and make a donation to Erskine Hospital.
What did I learn? Apart from some technical and prosthetic things which will make me faster next time I have to say I’ve travelled the world and done many ultras and this is the toughest so far. Isn’t it ironic? Been all over the world and this one was right on my doorstep. What a blast! The moral of the story for me, which I hope will be of some use to you, is what great thing do we have on our doorstep, close to home that needs a bit of effort and enthusiasm to become a really great thing for us? I wish you all the best in your challenges whatever they might be.