Not a Religion

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

When I was a boy I used to look forward to Christmas so much that December 25th became the single most important event in my calendar. It was the defining day around which 364 other days were either placed in preparation for, or in remembrance of.

If I had occasion to argue with my parents and subsequently decided to run away from home I would be put off because Christmas was either looming and I'd fail to receive my presents or because Christmas was still a live memory and I couldn't run away and take all of my presents with me.

Then it all went tits up when I learned that Santa Claus didn't exist and that the celebration of Jesus' birthday had been bastardised to sell cheap, plastic crap to the parents of misguided children while giving said parents a few days off work and an excuse to get shitfaced.

I think in many ways the lost Christmas of childhood was replaced by the mid-summer weekend and the West Highland Way Race.

So today, in the hangover of Christmas, as the pine needles gather on the floor and dust collects on the baubles, I remember that day. Not the 25th December, of course, but that ninety five mile journey that begins in Milngavie and ends in Fort William....or somewhere short of.

I shouldn't have even been on the start line. Fact. But if you've lived your life as a chancer as I have you can easily delude yourself into believing that having completed a distance training programme that amounted to two twenty mile training runs coupled with a bit of muscle memory is enough to carry you ninety five miles through the Highlands of Scotland.

So on Friday 17th June I appeared in the car park in Milngavie with my support crew, as I have for the last five Christmases, and duly registered for the West Highland Way Race.

'You look fit, Dave,' I was told by Thomas Loendorf, who was to storm to a fourth place finish some hours later.

Indeed as I stepped onto the scales to have my weight recorded at 72.6 kg a suggestion might have been gleaned that my leanness was as a result of spending hours in the hills.

Alas, no; both Thomas and the scales were unaware that a loss of 4 kg in weight had more to do with the stress and concern caused by other events in my life than by a dedicated training plan.

So the race began and I took care to leave Milngavie at a very reserved pace. Every time I got the urge to close another runner down I reminded myself that the race has not yet begun and will not do so until I'm clear of Loch Lomond some forty miles north.

The first checkpoint at Balmaha came and went in four hours and seventeen minutes and I was feeling quite comfortable. Maybe there's something in this minimal training plan and muscle memory, I thought.

Then, with twenty three miles under my belt, my legs began to complain. I don't blame them as it's the farthest they've travelled since the River Ayr Way Race last September but I could have done without it with not even a quarter of the race in the bag.

As I neared Rowardennan at twenty six miles the muscle fatigue and accumulation of lactic acid made the ignominy of a very early withdrawal a real possibility. How could I possibly continue with another seventy miles to push when I was shuffling along like Albert Steptoe?

Anyway, I arrived in Rowardennan to be greeted by my fantastic support crew and was given clean socks, hot soup and fresh water. I quietly told Mrs Mac that I doubted I would see the end of the race but got up and pushed on anyhow.

To my surprise I found a second wind and was able to make good progress all along the Lochside to Beinglas Farm at around forty miles. The running seemed easy and my legs had loosened up which created mental images of my fourth finisher's goblet, full of red wine, resting in my hand. As quickly as those images appeared I banished them from my mind and gave myself a good mental slap. Deal with the here and now.

After leaving Beinglas Farm there was a bit of run/walk action over the undulating ground and when I arrived at Derrydarroch Farm the familiar feeling of tightness and muscle fatigue in my legs reappearred. I hoped that I could walk it off on the journey to Bogle Glen but things just got worse.

I was weighed at Auchtertyre Farm by Eddie Welsh to discover another absent 3 kg in body mass. If nothing else at least I'd at last achieved the fighting weight I failed to make in my last ring encounter two years ago, but the weight loss was somewhat portentous for my immediate future.

There was some confusion at Auchtertyre regarding taking an accompanying runner. I was sure that the recently amended rules stated no co-runner until Bridge of Orchy but discovered that a local decision had been taken to adhere to the established rules of an accompanying runner from half way. That was good enough for me and I set off with big David Ross who had the instruction to kick my sorry arse if I faltered.

All I can describe the next ten miles as is an unmitigated disaster. My legs were obviously shot and my already blistered feet were becoming worse. Both of these factors reduced me to a walk on a section that I can usually run the best part of. Coupled with that I felt violently nauseous and immediately vomited up a wine gum which was the only sustenance I'd attempted since the half way point.

To make matters worse a driving rain had been a constant companion for the past few hours and there appeared to be no letting up. Poor weather isn't usually a problem for me but without an intake of fuel and the ability to move fast enough to keep warm it was just another nail in my rapidly sealing coffin.

I shuffled into Bridge of Orchy having travelled sixty miles and decided that for me, the war was over. I knew I was making the right decision despite some vociferous opposition from my support crew and the suggestion that my sexuality was in question. I knew that to venture out on to the bleak and exposed Rannoch Moor in a rapidly deteriorating condition would have been irresponsible.

So what now?

Well, Santa Claus doesn't exist and Christmas is no longer. I will not run the race next year but would like to remain involved, either as support for big David Ross and/or Martin Antoninus Horatio Hooper or as a marshall.

Finally, and very poetically considering the allussion to Christmas, my pal Tomo put the whole experience into context:

'The West Highland Way Race is only a's not a religion.'



Davie said...

I will say that you made the right decision. You were gubbed. That didn't mean that we didn't try to persuade you to go on, as it made sure you gave full consideration to your decision and convinced yourself it was the right one. If we had told you to chuck it you would have spent the next year blaming your support and that bloody marshall BDTP!
But don't think you can spend the next year sitting on your arse. Get running. It will be the best thing to deal with that other matter that is causing stress. And it will keep you out of the pub. And if you do the miles you'll get the goblet.

Davie said...

"Tough times never last, but tough people do." Dr Robert Schuller

OK he's a religious writer but someone posted this quote on Facebook right above your photo of Percy and wine.So I reckon there's a message.

John Kynaston said...

I was sorry to hear you had to pull out Dave but it sounds like the only decision to make.

Interesting comparison of whw to Christmas!

Recover well and come back stronger, fitter and better prepared!

Best wishes

aka Johny Smash said...

storming effort and couldn't have put it better myself.

I doubt there would've been anyone else there who had managed on as little preparation.

Happy Days said...

I liked that blouse you were wearing in the pub, You did great on the training you had done, see you soon buddy.

Thomas said...

Dave, I have two DNF's under my belt and I know how that feels. Getting to BoO with next to none training is pretty damn good anyway. I wish you can get your "other concerns" sorted in your life and maybe that appetite for another attempt comes back. Good luck with that!

Richard said...

60 miles with your minimal zen 'I can run without legs' approach is nearly as good as last years 70 miles with no training approach. It is almost 3 times farther than my pins have carried me so get in a helicopter and put some perspective on it. Next time you see someone whinging about going down to the shops to buy a couple of cans just remind them - like the Belle & Sebastian song - I fought in a war...........

Richard said...

I posted a really sensitive and caring post about how amazing and zen you are and how you need to get up in a helicopter to get some perspective on it and I quoted Belle and Sebastian lyrics to you (never thought I'd do that to another man)and then the blogging gremlins deleted the whole thing so

'well done'

Andy Cole said...

You'll be back. It's just like any other addiction.

Keith Hughes said...

Blah Blah
Cry Cry
Stop being a sook,
You've just run 60 miles in the highlands.. Have a crack next time

The Ghost of Christmas Future

Mike Reginald Mason said...

Look on the bright side Dave. You and Lee got the missing glasses and Mason(dog) got a good outing. There is always another year..and if you read Bob Allisons FB page we both have to go back next year and kick his sorry arse...:-))

Anonymous said...

I was sorry to hear you didn't finish but well done for getting so far on minimal training and a lot of other stress!

I thought I was going to be spending some of the race with you as Lee saw me at Rowardennan, said you were only a few mins in front and to catch you up and something along lines of get him out of his black hole and boot his ass to Beinglas Farm! You must have been going well though as I never caught you while I could still run and didn't stand a chance after that anyway!

Hope everything sorts itself out for you soon.

Debs M-C said...

You gotta love Keith's no nonsense approach :-) You definitely made the right decision. See you soon x

Debs M-C said...

You gotta love Keith's no nonsense approach. You definitely made the right decision. See you soon x