Monday, 20 June 2011

End of an era

An era is defined as a significant period of time.  I think it's safe to say that my last 13 years involvement with the WHW race is definitely an era.  And I've decided it's come to an end.  This year was my last race. I won't be involved with the race any more.

I had already made my decision before Friday but didn't want to make it public.  That's why it was so important for me to see all my WHW family before the start.  And that's why I was so upset when I managed to get myself lost en route to the start!  No idea how I managed to get lost on a road I have travelled many times over the years. 

I eventually arrived in Milngavie around midnight.  First person I saw was JK and I nearly lost it when he gave me a great big bear hug.  A succession of hugs from good friends made me realise I had to pull myself together damned quickly before I saw Debs.  This was all about her race, not me.  Beardie told me I could do this.  So I went to find my runner and get my instructions.

The rest of the time flashed by so quickly and before I knew it we were listening to the race briefing.  Or more accurately we saw the briefing and couldn't hear a word! 

Then the countdown began and I frantically gave hugs to as many people as I could.  I'm so sorry if I missed you.  The runners went off and I went to the loo and cried (Don't even say it BDTP!!!)

The first few checkpoints went like clockwork.  Everything was going to plan and Debs was running bang on schedule.  She makes it looks so effortless!

Before I knew it we were at Auchtertyre and ready to hand over to the second crew of Debbie's Angels.  We all had t shirts on and lined up as she came storming in to get weighed.  Brilliant!

And then my part was all over.  Beardie joined another crew and I went home.  No tears :-)

For the rest of the day and throughout the night I kept thinking about you all.  And I really missed not being at the prizegiving to hear everyone's stories.  But I don't regret my decision not to attend.  My life is going in lots of new directions and I'm doing lots of new things.  It's the end of an era and it was significant to me.  Now I'm entering a new one and loving every minute of it.

Congratulations to everyone who earned their goblet.  And very special congrats to my very special friend Debs on her 3rd place.  You are awesome sweetie!!!

Ali xxx

Friday, 15 April 2011


I'm bumping my old blog up because I'm aware that there are newbies (runners and back up crews) who are asking questions that might be answered in some of my past ramblings.  If you don't know me in real life it might also explain why I'm on the WHW blog roll when I'm not an ultra runner myself.  I've been involved with the race for 12 years so know a wee bit about it ;-)  I'll be there again this year but supporting a different runner.

I've deleted some of last year's more personal posts but kept all the older ones.  Some of the stuff from the early days made me laugh out loud re reading them :-)

Hope you enjoy reading them

Ali xxx

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Another great race weekend

Another DNF but weirdly it doesn't feel like it. A week later we're looking back and thinking 'That was a great weekend.' I won't go into great detail as that is The Runner's job when he finally has a spare moment or two to write up his blog but I'll note a few things from my backup perspective.

The change in food this year made a huge difference to me. The Runner has blogged about meeting with an endurance nutrition specialist (this guy works with some of Scotland's top performance sportsmen). I know loads of people were very sceptical about his suggested use of Complan but I have to say it worked a treat. We used the chicken soup one as it had the least milky taste (he has developed a problem with milk products while running). Each mug of soup contains 250 calories (equivalent to a light meal) and is a complete balance of carbs/protein/vitamins and minerals. All I had to do was boil the kettle and add water. Gourmet dining it ain't but much easier than faffing about with my homemade chicken and rice soup. And he wasn't physically sick once.

We also changed his drinking habits. Instead of trying to take gels, Succeed capsules or sports drinks (all of which make him sick) we made up the recommended water/rehydration mix and glucose powder at home and stuck rigidly to the hourly volume. Since we knew how much we had started with, we always knew how much he had been drinking and were able to monitor his fluid intake. He still managed to drink some flat coke and coffee as well.

So if he managed to eat well and stayed fully hydrated in spite of the heat and avoid the serious cramp issues that he normally gets, why did he pull out at 62 miles? He wasn't injured or ill. Well, I'll let him explain that himself.

It was only after the event he told me that he had had several conversations with friends about a DNS. Thanks guys, a heads up would have been helpful! As usual he was extra busy at work and extra busy with a lot of admin stuff for the race. So on arrival at Milngavie he immediately disappeared off to take care of some admin stuff. Ten minutes before the start he appeared back at the car to to get his backpack. He looked me straight in the eye and said 'I don't really want to do this.' I knew then this was going to be a tough one.

When he arrived at Drymen he was monosyllabic. He took the soup, drank some coffee and left.

At Balmaha he was grumpy and angry. He refused the planned banana.

At Rowardennan he was tearful but we ignored him, fed him and shoved him out.

At Beinglas he was waaay behind schedule. Runners were coming in telling us he was struggling big time. Beinglas is always a low point for him so knowing that he was struggling badly and very late we feared the worst. But when he came in he was feeling good so things seemed a bit better.

At Auchtertyre the schedule had been binned. He told George that he could run with him now as he was more than 4 hours behind the leaders. This was a bad sign as my pre race instruction is always to hold George back until Kingshouse.

At Bridge of Orchy we had a devil of a job getting him going again. We promised to meet him at the other side of the hill. But when we saw him trudging down the path we knew it was game over.

So we set off for Fort William and checked into the hotel, had a few drinks and a meal and went to the finish. Despite the DNF our mood was high and we saw loads of friends arrive at the finish in varying states of health. The atmosphere was great. I hope I managed to speak to everyone I knew and congratulated them.

Prizegiving on Sunday was a great event. Being back in the big hall made a huge difference. Congratulations to everyone who achieved their goal and gained a goblet. Commiserations to those of you who didn't manage it this year.

Huge big thanks to George and Phil for giving up their weekend to help me with backup. You're just as daft as him!!

But most of all I want to say well done to the committee who put in 1000% to make sure that this year's race went ahead. There are hours and hours and hours of unseen and unnoticed work that go into organising an event of this magnitude. It was a hugely successful weekend and a fitting tribute to the wee guy who made this race the much loved event it is now.

Dario, I hope you were watching xxx

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Some Backup Tips

In the same way that runners never tell other runners how to run their race, I'd never presume to tell anyone else how to do backup. But as Mrs Mac has been waiting for some handy hints I thought I'd share what works (or hasn't worked!) for me.

If you click on the June 2007 archives you'll find some posts on some of my early mistakes. This includes such gems as The Time We Missed Him, the classic Dos and Don'ts for a WHW Backup Team (that somehow got nicked and put onto t-shirts!) and Last Orders! (Dario's favourite story).

The following advice is personal to me and most of it has been learned the hard way but it may be of use to someone.

1. Accept that if anything goes wrong during the race it's always your fault. Wait for a more appropriate time to have a grown up discussion about who's fault it really was that the spare batteries were AAA and not AA as required. Naturally if everything goes according to plan it's down to their planning and nothing to do with you.

2. Never pack your runner's kit. If something is missing or lost then it absolutely is their fault because you never had a hand on it. This is the only exception to the above advice.

3. Get their race plan in writing. They can type it up, print it off on different coloured papers and laminate it if they really want (actually laminating it is a good idea especially if it's a wet day). Failing that even a few scribbled notes will give you something to work with. Trying to remember what they said at the last checkpoint gets more difficult as the day goes on as lack of sleep starts playing havoc with your memory. And never offer advice on said race plan unless specifically asked!

4. Obviously you'll have all the food and drinks that your runner has organised but don't forget to provide enough stuff for yourself. NEVER EAT OR DRINK YOUR RUNNER'S STUFF! (they might not want a chicken leg cos you've eaten the last jam roll). Being awake through the first night really messes up your body clock and you either end up eating non stop or forget to eat at all.

5. Never assume that toilets will be open, have toilet paper or soap. Carry your own TP, hand gel and be prepared to pee anywhere.

6. Be like Pinocchio and learn to lie. Even if it's lying by omission. This is one time you're allowed. Your runner will always look great/strong, their mate just left the checkpoint 5 mins ago and everything is fine at home. The funny thing is they know you're lying but when they're in that zone it's all they want/need to hear.

7. Don't moan. You agreed to be their backup. Accept it's going to be hard to see your runner suffer and struggle in places. Accept that you will suffer sleep deprivation. Accept that spending hours hanging around in all weathers is boring. This is the one time where I cater to The Runner's every whim, every unreasonable request and every bad mood and boy does he make the most of it!

8. If you haven't already watched it, watch Closing Distance (it's available on Youtube if you can't get hold of the DVD). See me in action and see what I do wrong! (well it was 5 years ago!)

If you've done backup before you'll already know what works for you. If this is your first time then I wish you good luck. Be prepared for anything as anything could (and does!) happen. And if you find yourself in a situation where you need help, just ask. It does sound cliched but we really are a family and you'll always find someone who can help you out.

Oh, I nearly forgot to mention the midges. Get yourself decent insect repellent. Avon Skin So Soft DOESN'T work.

Friday, 11 June 2010


Taperitis is an under-researched condition affecting mostly ultra athletes. It is a very serious condition affecting the sufferer's family as much as the athlete. Symptoms are wide ranging and can vary from the mildly annoying to a more serious life threatening stage.

Typically symptoms begin to appear around 2 weeks before a major race. Slight niggles appear usually in the legs. (Note - sufferers of taperitis are usually obsessed with the condition of their legs). Hamstrings tighten up, knees begin to ache and 'weird' feelings in a foot are very common. Suggestions of massage or making an appointment with a GP are usually met with a snort of derision. In the absence of a professional opinion, sufferers tend to Google their symptoms leading to self induced panic that a small mark on the leg is a tick bite and that they actually have Lymes disease. Other notable conditions include suspicion of brain hemorrhage, ulcer, cartilage damage, weight gain and even pregnancy.

Athletes are unable to run at their usual frequency leading to reduced levels of adrenalin. This in turn affects their mood. This can range from an out of sorts feeling to being an out and out grumpy bastard. The usual encouragement of "Get your shoes on, go out a run and give me peace" do not work in this phase. Family members need to find alternative coping strategies for themselves such as knitting while drinking white wine.

In the 2 weeks prior to a major event, sufferers of taperitis will take a closer than normal look at their eating and drinking habits and attempt to undo 50 weeks of unhealthy activity. Alcohol is prohibited and strange beetroot drinks become fashionable. Salad items such as tomatoes will suddenly appear on the breakfast menu alongside sausages in an attempt to convince themselves that they are eating healthily. Other items disappear from the fridge such as chicken breasts cooked for the next evening meal. Pasta becomes the carbohydrate of choice (mildly annoying symptom)

Lastly, sufferers of taperitis have more time on their hands. They have more time to spend at home with their families. In this phase they become more observant and notice little things they might not have noticed before. They will offer suggestions to improve the running of the household and comment on the state of the garden. Unfortunately they are not able to physically participate in any household chores as they could be prone to injury. Removal of a toilet brush from an athlete's throat would be a very serious injury (clearly a life threatening symptom)

Fortunately, taperitis rarely lasts longer than 2 weeks and is instantly cured on the weekend nearest the longest day of the year. TFFT!!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Oh deer!

From now on The Runner is not allowed to borrow my sensible car for night runs, day runs or any other purpose associated with running. If he needs a sensible car then he can exchange his silly one for a more appropriate one.

At first glance there doesn't appear to be much damage. The bumper is out of place, the fog light is smashed, the parking sensor is wrecked, the headlight washer is missing and the bottom grill is broken (has something to do with the air con apparently).

That will be £1080 please (it's a Honda not a Rolls Royce!) Plus a morning of my time to get a quote, an afternoon of telephone calls negotiating with my insurance company and the inconvenience of having no car while it gets fixed. Oh and a lost no claims bonus plus increased premium.
Have you guessed I'm a tad annoyed?

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Show your backup some love

The Runner has been taking part in this malarky known as The WHW Race for 12 years. The very first time he did it in 1998 I had given birth to our youngest son just 6 weeks previously. Naturally I was excused from back up duties and he attempted to do it with a cobbled together backup of a group of fellow club runners and his in laws. Knowing what we know now, it was no wonder he didn't make it. Since then Beardie and I have been his back up team on every occasion.

Over the years I've been called many things by people. A saint, a hero, an angel, an idiot. I've been described and introduced as the fantastically loyal and supportive wife. But the best one recently described me as the long suffering wife.

My Collins Modern English dictionary has the following definition:

long-suffering adj. 1. enduring pain, unhappiness, etc, without complaint ~n. 2. long and patient endurance

Even though I don't actually suffer the the physical pain of a bad race I feel it deeply. To watch someone you love suffer so much doing something they are supposed to love is very painful. The ripple effect into family life is huge. It doesn't make me unhappy but right now I ain't exactly jumping for joy. And I certainly don't stand by without complaint!

Essentially ultra running is a selfish sport. Ultra runners put their training and racing before everything else. For example, we cannot arrange our social life without consulting the racing calendar first. Food and meal planning is a major issue. Training runs come before visiting parents/friends/going out/anything. And if you're lucky enough to have a job that gives you a defined end to your working day then maybe that makes family life a bit easier. Maybe your work/life/running balance is healthy.

I think what I'm trying to get at here is that it's not just the runners who are finding it tough this year. This blog is called You can't do it without backup! You can turn up at the start of the race ready to run but if you haven't got an ace team behind you then forget it. I know I choose to do this but frankly there are times when I struggle. And right now is one of those times.

So if you have a long suffering partner or an amazing friend who willingly gives up their time not just on WHW race weekend to help you fulfill your passion for running then don't forget to tell/show them how much it means to you. Go on, do it right now! Never mind your PBs, your splits, beating your pals. Without a back up team, you simply can't do it.