Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Update re injuries

I never got round to explaining what was going on with my posterior impingement.

Quick update; I suspected I had the injury in the early stages of this year and finally had it confirmed in June after an MRI scan which took ages to arrange through the NHS. I can trace the onset of this abnormal bone growth, otherwise known as a bone spur (on the bottom rear of my tibia), to a foul/hack I was on the receiving end of in a game of football I played in on May 4th last year.

When I went for my consultation the orthopaedic surgeon told me that he was unwilling to operate on me as the injury did not prevent me from doing anything within my working day to day life. He then suggested that to take care of the pain I simply give up running! He refused to listen to my plea that this was affecting my day to day life by the very fact that it was inhibiting my desire to run and more specifically fell run. He was steadfast in his refusal to listen to me. I left his office in tears.

Clearly, I refused to hang my shoes up. A friend who happens to be a GP looked into the matter a little more for me. He found the name of an orthopaedic in Edinburgh; a sports specialist – the surgeon for the Scottish Rugby Union no less. He suggested my GP write to this man asking for a second opinion consultation. The good thing about this was that it could all be done on the NHS – it might take some time but as I’m in the final year of my hons degree I was more than happy to accept this trade off. This was one of the reasons for shoe-horning my recent WHW challenge into my calendar.

Then this week I received a letter from my GP stating that the surgeon in Edinburgh is unwilling to help me such is the relatively minor nature of the injury! The advice being that I seek a local second opinion. Trouble is there is no-one else in Dumfries & Galloway who can act as said second opinion. I have left this with my GP to seek a remedy.

In the mean time I have been troubled with two injuries to my right leg; a thigh strain and an illiotibal band strain. I picked these up prior to doing the WHW which is one of the reasons I pulled the attempt forward i.e. by ending the high volume and entering the taper I hoped to bring some recovery into the injuries.

In a way my plan worked because Rob and I completed the WHW. However, the injuries became apparent within 4 hrs of the run starting. I was in unbelievable pain during the last 3 hours of our hobble into Fort William.

I left the training for a week and then on Sunday just past I did some cross training in the local gym. It felt great to get a sweat on. I had been itching to do something since about Wednesday. Then on Monday I went out for my usual lunch time 4 miler; easy pace.

This is when I realised I had a problem. The illiotibal band started rubbing away within the first mile and by the second I could barely bend the knee. I made an appointment to see a sports injury specialist straight afterwards.

He was really helpful when I seen him last night. It was agreed that my injuries have been brought on by the fact that my right leg is abnormally shorter than my left. The strength, structure and flexibility of my right leg were thankfully ruled out as issues to cause the injury.

I happened to mention the posterior impingement, more as an afterthought than anything else to which he was horrified at my predicament. He offered to take the issue up with my GP and perhaps even the orthopaedic surgeon who is refusing to operate on me if permitted by my GP. After everything that’s happened I’m not holding my breath.

He has given me a few exercises to do, suggested a bit of massage and also told me to steer clear of running for 4 weeks minimum. I’m assured that he will arrange physiotherapy for me in due course through the NHS and has given me contact details of a biomechanics specialist – to work out a way to cater for the discrepancy in leg lengths.

All in a fairly productive evening last night, as long as it comes to fruition. I’m left with a dilemma though; how do I train now? I’ll work something out. It’ll involve my bike and some non intrusive cross training with plenty of special stretching and massage.

I was tempted to enter the Highland Fling to test my theory of being capable of recording a sub 9hrs attempt. But this would go against what I’ve been telling myself all year – that 2012 must be the year I attend to all of my tweaks, away from the pressure of taking part in events, so that I come back in 2013 ready to fully embrace any challenge. I just wonder if the posterior impingement will be sorted by then.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

a fitting end to my year.........

So how do I follow on from such an epic tale, like the one penned by my buddy Rob? I don’t think I can. It even crossed my mind to leave it at that; to leave his fantastic interpretation of the West Highland Way as a fitting end to our journey. However, as is always the case with me I discovered a couple of things I feel are worth sharing and in addition, I know I must pen my own take on events and those leading up to one of the biggest days of my life so far, for future reference.

Up until a few years ago I believed anyone was capable of achieving whatever they wanted too; beating drug or alcohol addiction, attaining a professional qualification, climbing the career ladder, conquering their fears and of course aligning their expectations with their ultra running performance.

Then for reasons explained previously I failed my first attempt at the Bob Graham Round (BGR) last year. Despite the cause of that failure being outwith my hands the experience has had me relentlessly questioning my beliefs since.

My initial response was to return to the BGR and conquer it 4 weeks later. However, I was disappointed with my fitness, performance and inability to enjoy the day. In short, I still had unfinished business with myself.

Next up I decided to throw myself into becoming competitive for the Highlander Mountain Marathon (HMM) 2011; a top 5 performance was not beyond our capabilities. My partner in crime for this venture was to be the ever present Rob Kennedy.

Rob and I met about 12 years ago whilst we were both in the Army. I knew the instant I shook his hand and looked in his eyes that we would be close friends for a long time to come. I could see he had the same burning desire for life – for cherishing every moment - as I did. I knew straight away that he would challenge himself willingly even if it meant the odd failure because like me he knew that failure always had an upside – a chance to learn.

It turned out that Rob was the only person I had got to know who was going to challenge me more than I could. I made him my best man a year after that first handshake and since that day our lives have eerily followed the same path; we are now both ‘civvies’, both married and both have an eldest daughter and a younger son – of roughly the same ages.

After a brief interlude with mountain marathon exposure during 2008 and 2009, Rob suggested we do the BGR in 2010. Looking back (as has been documented) it’s no wonder I struggled so much in 2010 but as I always say, the most important thing is I did it. In my view, this is the difference between people who talk about doing something and those who actually just get it done, no matter what.
So leading up to this year’s HMM I had a few demons to deal with. My fitness had always been a problem; I had a tendency to over train and I perceived myself to be inferior to Rob as a runner. He had always been the constant; always managing to be patient with me during my periods of struggle, of which there happened to be many. Conversely Rob, was always fitter and more switched on than me. There had never been a time in my company when I had the need to be concerned for his welfare. Indeed, when it came to that, he had an uncanny knack of calling it at exactly the right time.

During the training for the HMM it became apparent that I had an injury which was holding me back in the fells; a posterior impingement. I tried to ignore it but unfortunately overlooked the fact that I was yet again leading into the overtraining zone!

Within 15mins of day 1 of that HMM (near Ullapool) I knew I was not at the races. We came 7th on day 1. God knows how but day 2 was a whole different ball game as a newly formed achilles bursitis added to my woes and delayed our progress further.     

Two weeks later and filled with fear due to my physical condition (fitness and three injuries) I tried to run the Highland Fling. It was a disaster.

I had now got as low as I could possibly go. I thought I had done everything I could have done to conquer the HMM. Instead I was a failure yet again. 18 hours a-week training – and failure was becoming commonplace with me! The demons were revelling in my self pity.

However, as is always the case, something happened on that day, on the Way that I did not expect to happen. I enjoyed the camaraderie and spirit of the Fling so much that something inside me lit up. That’s when I found out about blogging; had it not been for the likes of John Kynaston and Debbie MC, I don’t think I would have got this far in terms of running ability. It is for this reason that I write a blog; to be able to be of help to anyone else desperate to find the answers which will help them achieve their aims.

After the HMM, Rob and I made a pact that we would concentrate more on ultra’s from now on (as we feel they are more rewarding than MM’s). That said we have also agreed that we have unfinished business with the OMM and HMM (if I ever get my bone spur removed).

With my new found enthusiasm I started training – proper running, for the first time in my life; this despite being recently told to give it up by an orthopaedic surgeon.

Anyway, when I phoned my constant a few months ago to tell him that I was going to do the West Highland Way, he offered to come along too. At the time I was really pleased. I knew my fitness was the best it had ever been and under these circumstances I was unlikely to hold him back. In fact this time if he wanted to push on I was confident that I might be able to stick with him.

In the build up he began to warn me that his fitness wouldn’t be as up-to-scratch as mine – which I duly ignored. Then during the taper he got a chest infection. So what, I thought, he’ll still be fine and if he’s not it’ll be obvious and he’ll pull out.

Well in advance of the big day I announced our challenge on the WHW race website forum. From that point it was obvious that I had set myself up for what could turn out to be the end of my running days. I was so confident of success that I had overlooked the possibility of failure. Thankfully the famous WHW family were extremely generous in their support of me. Murdo the Magnificent, Debbie MC, John Kynaston and Ali Bryan-Jones all emailed me personally before the event. In fact the latter three had even offered to join Rob and me but for reasons that conspired against us they were all unable to make it; a blessing in disguise that would turn out to be.

I met Rob on the train as it stopped on its way through Lockerbie, on our way to Milngavie on Friday the 25th November. Scotland was going to be experiencing some severe, storm force conditions during the night of our challenge, according to the weather forecasts. I immediately conceded to Rob that the time we completed our challenge in was now a non-issue and reiterated my most important message; we would finish it, no matter what. He agreed.

We met Paul who I immediately recognised from the fling where he had been running just in front of me for the first couple of hours out of Milngavie. This was a good sign I told myself. We were soon off. In a bid to keep the pace down I was wearing my heart rate monitor. We got to Drymen in 1hr 57mins running/jogging at about 65% (of MHR) effort which I was happy with. Thereafter, until about 2 or 3 miles south of Rowardennan I struggled, mentally.

We took a detour at the forest ahead of Drymen but as it was only 20 minutes it didn’t concern me. What did annoy me was seeing my heart rate up around 70-75% at times. I was beginning to have serious doubts about my ability to complete this mammoth challenge; my biggest to date. In an effort to turn things around in my head I decided I was going to bin the bloody HRM at the next change over.
Again, it’s odd looking back, much of the day is a blur to me; the weather didn’t really bother me, nor did the effort level required at times and with much of the run being in the dark I suppose it’s not too surprising that my memory isn’t awash with stories. In fact my over riding memory is of just how effortless the challenge was for me, how alert I was for large portions of the day - how in the zone I was, certainly after the first 4 hours and before the last 2 or 3 anyway; this all contrasts sharply with Rob’s adventure despite us being in close proximity the whole time.

From about Conic to just after Bein Glas I was happy. In fact I was buzzing and this is something I never experienced on my BGR. Rob kept niggling at me to cool the jets which I took to be a good thing as I can sometimes be a bit eager to press on. It was good that my constant was here to rein me in at the time when I needed it most – that was what I was telling myself anyway. After all, we had additionally agreed on the train that it was vital we got to Tyndrum without feeling as though we had just covered 53miles, if that was possible. Looking back this was the first signs that something was amiss with Rob. I had a feeling that my pace was quite slow, certainly slower than I was comfortable with but I, as always, had full trust in my buddy and did so without question. His complaint of feeling light headed went in one ear and out of the other!

When we got to Bein Glas it was good to see my work colleagues Alan and Alison. Paul mentioned that Santababy had passed on her best wishes. How ironic I thought to myself, as it was here during the fling when I had the pleasure of meeting the beauty as she was unfortunately forced to withdraw due to injury; I helped myself to believe that this was simply another calling I had in my favour i.e. that I was meant to be here, that nothing was going to stop me achieving my most desired of goals.

It was probably this intense focus that led me to overlook the welfare of my mate because out of Bein Glas he wasn’t in the mood for much jogging. It was around this time that I started needing to urinate an awful lot too.

I believed he was just having a rough patch and that he would snap out of it. I’d seen plenty of these, they were nothing new. We regularly took turns at amusing ourselves at the others expense on various training runs in the past. It was the norm and so, I was still unconcerned.

At the other side of Crianlarich forest however, Rob started to fall back quite badly. Out of there and crossing the A82 I noted that he was slurring his words. With experience of hypothermia myself I began to verbally question his condition to which he immediately assured me that he was fine and dandy. However, the lack of running was starting to become a recurring theme and for the first time I began to think something just wasn’t right.

We pretty much walked it to Tyndrum. When we went past By The Way, Kirsty popped her head out to see how we were getting on, nice touch ;-) another example of the close community that makes the WHW such a special thing to be part of. She must’ve been very patient waiting for us to pass by, especially in those conditions.

When we arrived at the horse box I immediately noticed the lack of a certain person (check the video). Yes, Paul had done one! I think both Rob and I were a bit gutted at the time as we were looking forward to a bit of different chat and company but given what followed, he made a great decision to bail out. I can’t help wondering though that if Paul had remained would Rob have persuaded him to fill in whilst he himself bailed.
video

We spent a while getting changed and warmed up ready for the next assault. Alan and Alison were absolutely fantastic as I knew they would be. If I had to hang my hat on two people being totally dependable it was them two, it was the very reason I asked Alan to help – and they had to be because of the rapidly deteriorating conditions.

For the benefit of Tim (Downie); I changed my marmot mica for my mountain equipment Morpheus (jacket) i.e. my summertime waterproof for my ‘bombproof’ waterproof. I also added my waterproof gloves, sealskin socks, snood and waterproof trousers for good measure; I had a feeling things might get a bit tasty and with the amount of walking we had been doing combined with the ever increasing number of pee stops I was taking, I didn’t fancy getting much colder!

I had told Rob that the next section was quite easy and as it turned out it was; funny how the head works at times. We made decent time on that section (Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy) given the conditions and the previous state Rob had been in.

From here to Kingshouse is a bit of a blur I’m afraid. I know we struggled to move very fast but I can’t remember why. I also remember the weather being full-on but as it was slightly behind us and pushing us on I didn’t feel it was all that bad. My recurring pee stops were beginning to frustrate the life out of me – I was up to 5 or 6 per hour!

In the horse box at Kingshouse (hotel) my abiding memory once again is of how alert I was in comparison to Rob who was falling asleep into his coffee. It still never occurred to me that this may have been a fight too far for him though, as I nudged and laughed at him for being in such a state.

We got our stuff together after yet another solid performance by Alan and Alison and were on our way into the breach. By now we were facing right into the worst the weather had for us. Rob wasn’t up for much running and I assumed at the time that he just wanted to save himself for the Devils Staircase.
What followed was the scariest time I’ve ever had on the hills (and I’ve had one or two). This was the first time the whole day that Rob confided in me that he was worried! And in an instant I realised just how bad he was.

In a split second all sorts started whirling around in my head. I didn’t know what to do, I felt so helpless. Rob was hallucinating, stumbling, falling and telling me that all he wanted to do was go to sleep. I tried to play it cool at first. By portraying this image I hoped it would give Rob some confidence that it wasn’t as bad as he perceived. It didn’t work but he did manage to continue to slowly put one foot in front of the other.

It must’ve taken what felt like half a day to get to the top of the staircase and even then when it should’ve been plain sailing we were still in the danger zone and my pee stops were not helping the dire straits. It was around this point when I decided to gamble by telling Rob that we would be giving up at Kinlochleven. I didn’t mean it but I needed him to believe that I was willing to give up with him. He agreed after a little more persuasion by me.

It started to break into dawn as we neared the top of the hill. I was keen for Rob to open up and get some blood pumping but he couldn’t muster much.

Sometime later, just before we got into Kinlochleven I confided in Rob that I would be continuing. I knew a half decent time was out of the question but I had no reason for quitting. Besides, I was also using this challenge as an opportunity to raise some money for a charity due to a recent family bereavement which I reminded Rob of.

This, and the strengthening daylight, seemed to stir something in Rob. He responded a short while later by insisting that he would continue to accompany me. He refused to listen to my expletives which as it turned out is just as well he did.
From Kinlochleven to Fort William he was the stronger of the two of us. After our last pit stop we both made it to the top of the hill out of Kinlochleven in good time. Unfortunately though the food I had eaten recently was not leaving my stomach. I was therefore in a bad way with burping, a lack of energy and of course my continual need to pee. We walked for most of the path into what felt like 60mph winds; this time Rob being patient with me.

When we eventually turned the corner before the sheep pen I managed to break into a painfully slow jog. However, almost in tandem the pair of us completely seized just after Lundavra. I had been living with a thigh and lateral knee ligament strain since the 4th hour, neither of which particularly bothered me as I just pushed them to the back of my mind. Now however, they were unbelievably painful. My right foot was feeling as though a red hot poker was being forced into it with every step I was taking and my toes were in rag order. Every time I stopped for a pee I could barely get going again. Pain the likes of which I have never experienced before. Rob was in a similar state with pains of his own. We were in no state to jog down the hill into Fort William. No matter how hard we tried we just couldn’t out of pure agony. Instead we hobbled very slowly all the way to the leisure centre.

We had made it to the Bridge of Orchy in around 14hrs and from there it took us in the region of 13 hrs to get to Fort William. We both knew a good time was out of the question on this day but to counter that we had a fairly good idea that we would be suitably rewarded for our endeavours.

From my perspective it was a perfect end to 18 weeks of perfect training and a lot of planning. I had managed to train consistently for the first time in my life and had also managed to complete the WHW during some quite arduous conditions. I also know that if I were to do the exact same training programme in the build up to a summer race attempt I would be confident of breaking 20hrs.

I didn’t really know how I was going to list my thoughts for this one. I had conceded in a text to Ali (Bryan-Jones) immediately after our challenge that I felt a bit fraudulent. After all, I was the one getting all the well done messages but I didn’t feel as though I had deserved the accolades. As Rob has so astutely put it to me since that day, we were both put into an alien environment, neither of us really knowing how to deal with it. He wasn’t able to spot the danger and I was the stronger of the two for a change. For what I witnessed on that day I am immensely proud to be associated with him.

As for my demons, they are well and truly vanquished. I owe the blogging fraternity massive thanks for sharing their knowledge with me. And here is a little bit in return.

1.     Get some waterproof gloves for a challenge like this. Also, some sealskin socks and a ‘bombproof’ waterproof. I got my mountain equipment Morpheus jacket after suffering with hypothermia a few years back. This jacket is quite possibly the best use of my hard earned cash, ever.
2.     Paul Houston informed me of a useful internet based information hotspot for ultra runners; type in ‘ultra list dartmouth’ within a search engine and there you will find a whole myriad of forums to register with. The Ultra forum is used worldwide so I would use a personal email address to register with as opposed your works email as it will be inundated with emails daily. This is where I found the answer to the next issue;
3.     The constant pee-ing!!! It turns out that we have an anti diuretic hormone called Arginine Vasopressin (AVP). In the absence of this hormone the collecting ducts of the kidneys are virtually impermeable to water which therefore flows straight out as urine. When you drop off the pace and begin to get cold i.e. like we did post Bein Glas, then the body suppresses production of AVP. Throw in caffeine for good measure and you’ll be going like there’s no tomorrow. How do you sort this on the hoof? Well you need to increase plasma osmolarity. Now I’m no Biologist so if there are any out there, please correct my interpretation but I would have thought this means increasing ones salt intake. Let’s just say some salt caps may be added to my emergency pack in future!
4.     If anyone wants a copy of my training programmes and associated literature I’d be happy to provide them as I have done with Paul. My email address is d.jamieson1@tiscali.co.uk. The training programme itself is on an excel spreadsheet and is exactly what I did for the 18 weeks leading up to the challenge. I must say though, it did not start out in its current guise as I tended to revise it often based on my attempts at avoiding overtraining. The stand out thing about this programme, for me, is the fact that I actually trained less for the WHW than I did for this year’s HMM.
5.     Nutrition; as I progressed through the challenge I found it more difficult to eat solids. A great way I found of getting the nutrients on board was to have some little 250ml bottles pre-filled with Rego (by SIS) which were taken at each stop. Cheese spread sandwiches worked a treat too. 

After that feedback, I have a question of my own;
·         What’s with my toenails? I have 5 black toenails but the one on my big toe on my right foot is causing me the most concern. It has been leaking blood constantly for a week now. It is also causing me great discomfort. I have been to see my GP who has told me that there is nothing he can do for me and that I should see a podiatrist. It just so happens that podiatry is not provided on the NHS. Mega.

So that’s it then, the end of a great adventure and one which has provided two great friends with some memories which will last their lifetime. Thanks once again to all the support that came our way, it means a lot to us. Thanks also to the many sponsors I received. In memory of my niece, I managed to raise almost £750 for the SANDS charity which given the limited time I pursued it, I’m delighted with.

I hope to engage with more of you at some point in the future. For the time being though there is the small matter of finishing my distance learning honours degree and trying to get this bone spur removed, on the NHS – a situation that is looking increasingly unlikely as the months pass-by!

I won’t be running much in the next year or so (which frustrates me deeply) and whilst I may have to accept that fell running may be a thing of the past, ultra running is still very much on the agenda J

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Rob Kennedy's West Highland Way experience

There are some, unlike me, who are talented enough to pen a very entertaining read. Subversive runner and the Beruit taxi are two that spring to mind. How ironic they are both ex service men (I think). What follows is my mate, Rob's account of how he got on when we did the WHW recently. I have chosen not to interupt it with text of my own or with any photos as I feel both would do the narrative no justice.


The start to this epic was rather less nervy than anticipated.  As me and Dale met on the Glasgow bound train (from where we would make our way to meet Paul at Milngavie) we talked over the final details, general feelings, and of the less than inspiring predictions of our pending failure from one particular individual on the otherwise hugely supportive WHW Race forum.

We pulled into Milngavie and were greeted by Paul who would be kindly providing vehicle support upto Tyndrum.  There was a brief exchange of chit chat before we loaded our kit bags into the car, tended to the sensitive areas and then headed to the start of the way where a local cabby was more than happy to take a photo for the archives.  Would this photo be a future reminder of a doomed attempt, or would it mark a much more significant progression in our ultra running experience?  The answer lay on the way.

With little in the way of ceremony, myself and Dale shook hands, padded up the steps of the subway, through the high street and off toward Drymen, for what promised to be an experience to remember. 

Any feelings upto this point had been relatively suppressed.  My rapid enlistment into supporting Dale through this challenge, meant that any available time had involved putting myself through a crash course training programme.  There had been little time to reflect on what may lie ahead as my efforts were largely focussed on commitments at work, and also with the annoying task of ridding myself of a very unwelcome chest infection, which wiped out all of my training two weeks prior to the big day.  Not a textbook approach to taking on the WHW but nonetheless I was determined to see this through with Dale, and a stubborn denial of the reality of my preparation also meant that I had done little in the way of mental focussing on the weight of the challenge.

Our time upto Drymen was largely uneventful.  Conversation flowed, and the largely mundane road sections leading upto this point passed by without our spirits dropping.  Certainly I felt as if I hadn't even warmed up yet, and was waiting to get into my stride.  A quick check with Dale clarified that he was in a similar situation also.  It was around this time, just before meeting Paul by the road that I sensed a slight conflict going on in Dale's head.  Certainly he was moving good.  If I'm honest I felt, for what lay ahead we may have been moving ever so slightly too quick.  I couldn't say I was acutely aware that something was amiss, but having spent countless hours on the hoof with Dale, I know when he is 'Booming Away', and in the present period this was not evident.  As I spied Paul looking out for us, my thoughts on the matter subsided and I took a quick inventory on what food and fluids I had depleted, and what I would need to load up to take us to Balmaha.  It was good to see Paul, who seemed to be relishing the task of providing vehicle support for the first time.  Similarly it was good to put the first section behind us.  It generated a feeling that we were now in the thick of it and coping well.  From a personal perspective however, this couldn't have been further from the truth!!

As we headed off to make our way toward Conic Hill, my thoughts concerning Dale came back.  He became quieter as we headed toward Garadhban and as we picked up the forest track, I took out the camera for a few action shots to lighten the mood.  The weather so far had be changeable at worst, but as we headed along the easy tracks there was a brief glimpse of the sun, which certainly added to the aesthetics of the run.  Photos taken we pressed on and soon came to the realisation that our impromptu photo shoot had caused us to bypass the temporary way marker which marked the diversion due to forestry management works, and we ended up back where we first got the camera out, but 20 minutes down!  Great.  Neither of us were particularly concerned by this as we had agreed from early on that due to the impending forecast and also the fact that this was largely a quest into the unknown (neither of us had ever ran 95 miles before), we were not pinning ourselves to any predetermined performance criteria.

Back on track we headed to Conic and Dale began to discuss his mental state of play.  It was clear to me that whilst my pre run thoughts had been scant to say the least, Dale's may have been analytical to the point where they were causing him to choke.  Reading the archives of this blog, it should be clear that the period which followed Dales' successful Bob Graham had left him devoid of confidence, such was the shock of his initial failure at the round.  Despite the first attempt ending in ways which were out  of his control (being violently sick for seven hours will kill off even the most ardent athlete!), it had taken over a year of test and adjustment with training before Dale started to believe that he possessed the tools to take on the serious distances.  For him this challenge was the culmination of those endeavours (this point may serve to justify my annoyance at the unhelpful predictions of failure outlined on the forum).  We agreed to walk up Conic Hill and to take stock of the situation.  It seemed somehow ominous that the weather had now began to take a turn for the worse.  The ascent up Conic was straight forward enough, although with neither of us wearing full on fell shoes the descent in such bad conditions was a little shaky to say the least, and I recall a particularly awkward twist of the knee as I lost purchase on some sodden grass.  As we veered south and picked up the rocky gulley which leads to Balmaha the running got easier and not before time as it was only a short distance down the path where Paul was waiting to join us for the short trot to the car.

After I topped up my drinks bottle, we pressed on and it was with great relief that I realised Dale had wrestled with his head and had taken back control.  Things were looking easy, and with another stop off behind us we cracked on to Rowardennan.  We were well and truly in the thick of things now and I know that both of us at this point were feeling positive.  

It was around this point however that my thoughts started turning toward the night time.  The time of year, and also the overcast skyline meant that already the air was looking gloomy and I was acutely aware of the impending forecast for the night stages.  We had already formalised drills for the evening, and had a separate survival sack comprising essentially of full mountain marathon gear, complete with tent and stove for any emergency.  Myself and Dale share twenty years experience as professional soldiers, and the option to take all possible measures to mitigate a mountain rescue call out had been well and truly addressed.  We were aware of the fact that the date of this challenge was completely of our own design, and to simply rely of Mountain Rescue to bail us out of an otherwise avoidable situation was quite simply not on the cards.  Our collective experience has brought us in front of some of the most extreme weather bearable (my particular favourite was a six week stint living out on the Prairies of a sub zero Canadian winter!  I'm sure given the chance, Dale would regale you about his rather chilly time in the Falklands too!!!).

The stage passed with nothing more than perhaps a little too fast a pace on occasion, and again Dale took a minor dip, but with his head now sorted out, I had no concerns that anything beyond this point would be beyond his control.  Our meeting with Paul at Rowardennan came around quickly and there was even time to feed a hungry duck before heading straight back out onto the way and off to Inversnaid.

As the light began to fade, the first signs of what lay ahead for me started to show.  The pace initially was not so much the issue, although I felt on occasion that this was moving up and down now.  I mentioned this to Dale, who it was clear was enjoying himself now.  Dale said that the change in pace was probably in my head, however on reflection I feel that the pace was more dictated by Dale's increase, and my respective decrease in endorphin levels.  Usually we will share the high points, or else exchange taking the lead in response to our comfort levels, however in this case I was getting light headed and was struggling to keep momentum on any inclines.  My recent virus played on my mind and I felt myself turning insular for the first time on the run.  We were still making decent progress although by now we were on head torches.  Our conversation was becoming stilted at this point, however this was probably more to do with the lack of light imposing a dark mood on the situation.  We focussed our efforts of tackling the awkward terrain and before long Inversnaid was well behind us, and we were anticipating Ardleish and the easy run into Bein Glas, where we were to meet our new support team Alan and Alison, complete with mobile horse box and hot water!  With Paul still there at the stop off, we were inundated with attention, and after changing into gear for the night time, I drank some welcoming soup and tried to rid myself of the feelings from the last section.

The road to Tyndrum was taken at reasonable pace, which was surprising as we had discussed Dale's previous difficulties in making any significant progress on this section.  Having changed clothes and taken on hot fluids the mood had changed somewhat, and we were focussed on getting to Tyndrum, which had all of a sudden become a notable milestone in the challenge.  Kind of “Get to Tyndrum and then it's just a case of hanging on in there!”.  If only we knew. 

The path to Crianlarich was taken well, with the exception of a crashing fall which pushed all of my body weight down onto my right knee.  Fortunately the damage was nothing more than ripped clothing and blood.  The mechanics were still working fine so I picked myself up and we headed into the forest.  Again at this point I got a sniff of Dale's quality as he kept running me out on the descents.  The weather was turning now also and alarmingly my speech was beginning to slur (a point which Dale picked up on as we headed past Fillan.  It was here that the first utterances of dropping out were made by Dale.  I could see he was concerned by my demeanour and as discussed my pace was not upto it's usual standard.  I was however, still in an alert state and so managed to make a convincing case that I was in fact fine and that my commitment to the run was non negotiable.  There was clearly a window of flexibility here as the intention was that Paul would join us at Tyndrum, thus alleviate the necessity for me to accompany Dale if I were feeling bad.  My stubbornness however would have none of it, and good job too, as when we reached Tyndrum, Paul had understandably stepped down from pacing duties, having been sat watching the weather getting worse as time went on.  Once we stopped in Tyndrum, we realised just how bad the weather had got, and this did little for the motivation levels. 

One unexpected highlight of this part of the run was when a lone supporter working at the By the way hostel cheered on Dale as we went past.  It must have given him a great sense of purpose to see someone standing out in such terrible weather, waiting for the opportunity to spur him on.  I have no doubt the encouragement hit the mark.  Certainly it brought a warm smile to my face that something as innocuous as a complete stranger deciding to run through the night can move someone to stand patiently waiting out in the elements just to say well done. The world is not all bad!

Alan and Alison were well into the swing of support duties now, and after only our second visit to the luxury horse box, this place was beginning to feel like home.  We ate well and took our time to get prepared for the conditions and set off toward the Bridge of Orchy knowing that we had now completed the 'Fling' half of the way, and every step would reduce down the distance left on the Devils section.

We headed toward Auch on the well established track and I have to say that things were looking promising despite the fact that by now we were being lashed with hail and every drainage channel we reached was in spate, and any burns or rivers had turned into raging torrents of water.  Unbeknown to me, something at this stage was beginning to occur, which would shape the next 14 hours of my life. 

It started innocently enough with me asking if Dale was on caffeine yet.  I had suddenly started to feel tired.  Not fatigued, just that my eyelids were feeling heavy.  Obviously we were heading into the night, but I had done enough 'through the night running' to feel confident that my body will wait for the right time to go to sleep.  I mean, how on earth do you fall asleep whilst running?  Sure the likes of Karnazes talk of it in books, but how much of this is solid fact, and how much has had more than a brush of artistic licensing?  In my military years I had forgone upto 4 days without sleep, and this was whlst under similar physical duress.    For these reasons I didn't think twice about the fact that I was feeling unusually tired, and we pressed onto the bridge with enthusiasm based on the fact that we had the shortest leg underfoot.  Let the weather try it's best!

We paced toward the horse box awaiting our spread of soup and coffee.  The weather must have been bad as our conversation had broadly been based on hot food for at least half of the previous leg.  Alan and Alison were practically seasoned pros at supporting now, and whilst we were perhaps looking a bit battered, the occasions inside the horse box were always filled with upbeat talk and undeniable confidence in our success.  These guys had a genuine infectious aura around them that allowed you to enjoy every last second in their company.  If only we didn't have Inveronan to contend with, we may have been enjoying ourselves at this point.

The trudge to Inveronan and beyond to Kingshouse was just about the peak of the bad weather.  Wind chill had increased significantly, and same as since Tyndrum, it was hat on, hood up and buff masked across my face, we barged our way through the terrain.  It wasn't long however before my make shift mask was saturated and as such became impermeable.  Breathing in simply caused the buff to draw to my mouth, which cut off my air supply.  Great.  Buff off, hat on and hood up would have to do.  The tiredness had returned too, despite the even cooler temperature.  Dale's comfort breaks, which were at an absolutely staggering frequency (seriously bud, one to address before any major competition :)) meant that I was standing swaying in the elements whilst waiting before we progressed.  In time I would use these periods to nod off on my feet.  Only the erratic flicker of the approaching head torch caused me to snap out of my brief hibernation and start putting one foot in front of the other again.  Physically I felt fine, but I quite simply just kept dropping off like an ultra narcoleptic.  Thankfully there were an abundance of ice cold watercourses to cross on the road to Kingshouse which would keep me awake and in with a chance of marching into Fort William. 

The Horse Box!!!!  Our arrival this time seemed to cause Alan and Alison to go slightly ashen faced, as we bundled ourselves into warmth and shelter.  To be fair to Dale, whilst he certainly wasn't cruising, there was at this point one stand out hand brake, and I was beginning to get worse.  Twice Alison needed to wake me before I fell into my hot coffee.  I was spiralling downhill.  Sat, slumped in the same gear I entered the horse box in.  No inclination to get changed, dry, fed or watered, I was simply shutting down.  “You ready pal?”.  “Yeah mate!”. 

I've seen addicts in less denial!

The hallucinations started relatively unspectacular.  As I staggered up the Devil's staircase, I began to visualise American 'spots and stripes' pool balls on the ground randomly.  Without being able to comprehend that Dale may find this slightly strange, I began to give him updates on things such as this.  God only knows what was going through his head.  The pace had dropped solely due to me, and if I were honest I would say that only 40% of my time was spent with my eyes open.  I began to get terrified at the fact that the landscape would change in one visual thunderclap, overwhelming the senses, and causing my gut to wrench in half anger, half fear.  Quite simply, I was going down.  The lowest (but now highly amusing point) was when I spent what felt like about ten minutes co-hosting Saturday Kitchen with James Martin!!!  The more disturbing point about this was that I no longer felt cold.  I could sense the hot studio and the audience enjoying the show, as I stirred some concoction in a bowl.  WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  During a tour of Bosnia I had trained as a team medic, and everything occurring now was telling me the situation was getting worse.  Dale suggested using the tent option and camping down until the morning, but I was too scared to stop moving to consider this.  It didn't take long after this for Dale to announce that we were binning it when we reached Kinlochleven.  I mustered a tepid resistance, but my eventual silence told Dale all he needed to know.  Besides, I wasn't really in the mood for arguing.

Topping out, and ready to take the plummet into Kinlochleven the light levels lifted.  I could see the tree line below, which was outside the light splash of the torches.  The path was clear, if dim, and my mental state followed suit.  Dale broached the inevitable, and outlined his intent to continue on to Fort William by himself.  Understandably Dale had an obligation to stay loyal to his sponsors and finish the job in hand.  And my role in this?  Well, I suppose if I had supported Dale to this point, and he was able to continue now on his own and complete his challenge, had I not done my bit also?  This question irritated me, because I should have been satisfied with this.  Before the challenge I had assured Dale that the run was all about him.  So why now could I not swallow defeat?  Unfortunately my previous sufferings had caused me to become emotionally embroiled in the WHW.  I had come too far to step down myself.  In short, the run had become all about me.

I peppered Dale with queries of the last leg.  How big is the first climb?  BIG.  How long is the leg? LONG.  My game was transparent.  More to the point, my game was futile.  Any success or failure would not be down to the quantity of ascent, nor the length of the leg.  I was merely skirting around the truth and failing to commit myself one way or the other.  I chose.  “I'm coming with you!”.  The conversation which ensued was both one of emotion and concern, but overriding it all, stubbornness prevailed on my part.  I was going to finish.

There are some who at this point may consider my decision to continue both reckless and insensitive.  These thoughts were ones which I considered myself also, and I can say that it is precisely why it took a significant time for me to make my decision.  Rather than being reckless, I was completely aware of what I needed to do if I were to continue.  My earlier issues had already affected the overall pace, and if I were to carry on I had to be better than Dale.  That was my only condition.  If I held him up more, then my decision would become selfish.    

The stop off in Kinlochleven was pretty much a blur.  I was refocussing, galvanising myself for the final leg.  We set off and I put myself in front to rise back up on to the path to Fort William.  The weather remained nearly as bad in the light of day but by now I didn't care.  It was almost relief when I cut the pace at the request of Dale, who was now taking a dip in form (not, I should add anywhere like the pathetic state I had previously been in).  We took our time and trudged over the uneven terrain.  We traversed the now beyond mundane watercourses, and pressed on and on through the rain.  As we dropped into the forest track and out onto the road, all drive and hardiness left us.  We moaned, we limped.  We each had the perfect listening partner for our woes.

The horse box came into view and our last dregs of motivation happily subsided.  We sat in our chairs, knowing that the job was done.

Myself and Dale completed the WHW in 27:10.  Is the time relevant?  Not to me.  In summer conditions we would each aim for a sub 20 hour run.  Our time taken for stop offs was nearly two and a half hours alone due to the necessity to completely change clothes and reheat (not including Dale's toilet breaks)!  I would like to think that this fact alone shows we were never bungling amateurs, heading into the unknown with promises of glory.  We knew the risks, planned and took appropriate measures to ensure the challenge remained testing but safe (is proper planning not half the challenge?).  In the latter half this run took on more meaning than any challenge I have ever put myself forward for.  Certainly I know that Dale's Bob Graham demons are vanquished for good, and here's to looking forward to the future adventures.  It has been the deepest privilege to share this experience with my best friend.  A friend that I hope the content of this narrative shows, I would trust my life with.