Abandoning my ‘commitment’ not to run another ultra marathon, and with the pain and suffering of the Great Glen Ultra well and truly forgotten, I patiently awaited November 1st 2015, the opening date for the West Highland Way Race 2016 entry. I submitted my application alongside that of numerous other runners as soon as entry opened, a somewhat meaningless act given that everyone has until the end of November to submit.
The race has been oversubscribed for a number of years and places are attributed according to a set of guidelines, ultimately requiring a ballot to distribute available places to those who meet the entrance requirements.
My early submission was a statement of intent – “I want this, and I want it bad!”
Early December brought the news I was waiting for. I was one of the fortunate ones. The countdown to June 18th had begun.
And then, with a place secured, my thoughts turned to the required support crew.
Back in 2012, I was hugely fortunate to have the support of my wife Leanne, her aunt and uncle, Sandra and John, and Ian Minty, the support runner who joined me at the 50 mile mark and ultimately guided me to the finish in Fort William, despite apocalyptic weather conditions and my issues along the way with projectile vomitting and explosive diarrhoea [graphic post disclaimer].
This support crew was always going to be a tough act to follow and, I have to admit, the elation of my having attained a place was almost immediately dampened by my concerns about who was going to step up and support me through the weekend.
Leanne was not an option. She will more than have her hands full, looking after Harris. Whilst I think that John enjoyed that weekend back in 2012, I’m not so convinced that Sandra did, and, in particular, the sleep deprivation aspects. As for Minty, it was always his intent to run the West Highland Way Race for himself the year after supporting me and this is something that he has done every year since.
Fortunately, two people have indeed stepped up and, over the past few months, plans have started to come together. As clichéd as it might sound, I really do have what I consider to be a ‘Dream Team’ when it comes to my West Highland Way Race 2016 support.
Let me introduce Allan Bruce and Carolyn Hare.
I’ve known Allan the longest. Like myself, he is an ‘Elgin Loon’. However, we actually met at The University of Aberdeen, where I was working as a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Computing Science, and where Allan was completing his PhD, also in the Department of Computing Science.
We became ‘gym buddies’, frequenting both the University and JJB gyms and, Allan informs me, it was me who introduced him to climbing, something that he now excels at. We ran a few 10ks ‘back in the day’ and even ran our first ever half marathon together, The Great North Run, back in 2007.
Unfortunately, upon completion of his PhD, work took allan down to Newcastle, where he still lives, working as the Lead Artificial Intelligence Engineer for CCP Games. Since moving, Allan has also added to his family, with sons Michael and Jonathan.
I’ve long tried to get Allan interested in ultra marathons, a challenge that I think he would totally love. However, he always played the family card, with both Michael and Jonathan arriving a good time before my own son Harris. It was only when Leanne and myself finally added to our own family, back in February 2013, that I trully appreciated the huge commitment that comes with family and, I will admit, I apologised to Allan for constantly badgering him over what I saw at the time as ‘excuses’.
Thankfully Allan forgave me and, with the boys that little bit older, and with Allan (possibly) that bit more inquisitive now about the whole ultra marathon scene, he has kindly agreed to come and support my West Highland Way Race efforts.
Carolyn was first to join my support crew. I will admit to initially being slightly sceptical of the offer as Carolyn is currently based in Brunei Darussalam Isle of Borneo! I was delighted at the prospect of Carolyn, a fellow ultra marathon runner, joining the team, but I just couldn’t see past the distances involved. I was shocked that, back in 2012, Minty was prepared to complete an 800 mile round trip to support me, and, according to Google, Brunei is some 7,020 miles from the UK! However, Carolyn assures me that she will be in the country come June 18th.
Carolyn describes her running past as follows:
I started to run: after signing up to a charity 10K one night after eight beers too many at the pub. I came to the next morning with a slightly different foggy sense of “what have I done?” After three months I could run 3.4 miles without stopping and I somehow completed the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow, in a time slower than evolution. But by then it was too late – I loved running. Things went a bit doolally after that and encouraged by crazy people, I completed my first ultra, the Glen Ogle 33, two years later.
I met Jonathan: after researching my second ultra – the Speyside Way – and reading his race blog. At about mile 5 of the race, I spotted him and introduced myself. I noticed we were both wearing Compresssports calf guards and recognised a fellow kit and gadget enthusiast. After the race, I was soon asking advice and getting reviews on running gear from him. So basically I’m a stalker, but a really nice friendly non-knife-wound inflicting type!
I met Allan: on-line and I have stalked him fairly comprehensively. He seems to like cats, booze, mountains and coffee, so the knives are remaining safely in the drawer. He has yet to convert to the Darkside of distance running but we have high hopes and seems to run faster than time travel on his short but frequent training runs. [Which I cyber stalk via myfitnesspal app.]
(I should, at this point, point out that Carolyn provided the imagery below, which confirms her stalking claims lol!)
Running accolades: I have been last more often than I have been first but I recently completed a jungle ultramarathon around Mount Kinabalu, the 20th highest mountain in the world (in your face Ben Nevis!), finishing 32nd female, in a field with >65% drop out rate (DNF).
Why not check out Carolyn’s blog http://nywanda.org/
Wanted: Support runners for the West Highland Way race, a 95 mile Ultramarathon. Attributes – must like mountains.
Wanted: Support drinkers for the WHW race after-party. Must be connoisseurs of whisky, brandy, wines and/or champagnes.
Wanted: Kind and caring types who will be encouraging and understanding during veritable low points on the WHW race. Cat-lovers preferred.
Wanted: two pictures of health, bodies being complete temples, ultra-healthy, non-smokers. Strictly no drugs.
I have to admit that, upon opening the document containing the ‘stalked’ photography, I burst out laughing. The similarities are, indeed, evident and, from our Facebook chats to date, I have no doubt that my crew members will get along great.
So, that’s my West Highland Way Race 2016 Support Team.
There’s a long way to go between now and June 18th, starting with the D33 this coming weekend, but I am hopeful that the three of us will enjoy the journey and, in particular, the weekend of the West Highland Way Race.
A huge thanks to both Allan and Carolyn for committing to this.