Sunday, 23 June 2013

Crewing for Ben at the West Highland Way Race 22/06/13

After a pretty glorious Summer by the standards of the last 2 years, the weather looked set to crash in time for the WHW 95 mile race. We hoped the dreadful forecast wouldn't be a repeat of last year's wash out. We were going to crew for RD, but he pulled out in the second half due to said weather.

Loch of the Legend of the Lost Sword

The River Fillan

Ben Kemp had asked us to crew for him. We were unsure how fit he would be, given his more-relaxed-than-usual effort at the Fling, 2 months ago: (a young family and work naturally coming higher on his totem pole than running this year.) Having crewed this monster a couple of times we knew the best way to go about it is to break the thing in 2 and have Richard do the first part in the dark, and we would do the daylight hours. This worked well and allowed us to sleep in till 5am at the By the Way Hostel, Tyndrum.

We had arrived on Friday night and as Mary was tired from a long week she had something to eat then went to bed. I went out for a 90min run tracking back along the WHW to the river crossing the other side of Auchtertyre Farm. I took the camera and saw many things I don't normally see when hurrying past in the Highland Fling. There are signs for the Holy Pool that have always seemed attractive but until now I had never had the time to explore. (Don't bother, but the Loch of the Legend of the Lost Sword is better.) It was all very pleasant although I felt these may have been the last rain-free photos of the weekend. I would be back in just a few hours.


midge hell

I showered and ate and was reading the Kindle by headtorch until after 11pm. (Note for next time: take own dinner and reheat on kitchen facilities.) We made breakfast in the well appointed kitchen, before heading along to Beinglass for 7am. A locked gate blocked the car park entrance until a key was found. Only the first runner was through. I had realised Ben would possibly be coming in about 8.30am and he was sharp around 8.23. The midges were appalling – everyone was wearing a hood and those without gloves had their hands in their pockets. I had considered this and took 2 pairs and several hoods which M and I were very glad of. Any small patch of naked skin was attacked and polka dotted. 

Ben came past, swiped his chip and pin and had a cup of tea. We replaced some of his night kit with more water and snacks. Next stop Auchtertyre just down the road where we repeated the process but also changed his wet Rapa Nuis (and socks) for dry Mafates (and fresh socks.)

sun and rain all day

Mad Mike Raffan

New tyres and fuel stop.

I had been hoping to run with Ben from Bridge of Orchy, however despite Paul G putting in a record breaking performance at the head of the field, Ben was still too close to him (within 4 hours) to allow support crew to run with him. We gave him various things to eat and sent him on his way. I think my adrenalin for the day was telling me to prepare for a big task and the early start encouraged feelings of weariness and hunger. I would sneak various Ben treats and snacks when preparing stuff for him. He told me he had done the UTMB on mainly sports bars and Mr Kipling snacks. I was concerned this would not be enough and so we had taken along a few extra things: noodle pots (not the slag of snacks) to which you add boiling water (hopefully neither too soon, nor too late) and noodle soup. He very obediently ate virtually all we handed him. This was a relief. I felt if Ben ran out of steam due to low blood sugar it would be our responsibility.

B of O

Richie - 3rd this year

Rannoch Moor

Topless Mike meets topless Mary

Ben completed the first section of the course around the same time as he had done for the Highland Fling 2 months prior which would be a dangerous move if he hadn't been having a much better day. As he went on he seemed to be holding his place and composure and every time we met him, he was running at a steady pace. Sometimes a bit pale-faced and staring but compared to a lot of the runners, looking pretty good.

Dave T 7th had a great run.

Ben, in red, is further away than this looks.
He didn't even see us.

Ben is 30s off appearing at far end of this path...

Plan B was put into action. If not running from Bridge of Orchy with Ben then I would drive with Mary to Glencoe where we would run South for 5 miles then back to Glencoe and await Ben. As we ran the day brightened and the views were outstanding. It is one of the more desolate and spectacular points of the course and we ran 4.5 miles before catching sight of Ben in the distance coming towards us. We turned around and legged it back to our support role in the car park. We couldn't believe he didn't see us a few hundred yards ahead, although we gained ground all the way back to the Ski Centre. 

checkpoint Glencoe

Everything peachy.

More food and drinks and then he lurched off asking folk the way across the main road as we drove past, along to the bottom of the Devil's Staircase. I produced a small carton of peach and pineapple pieces (and spoon) and he remarked later how much he enjoyed it. I hoped the sweet fruit would power him up the long climb (in the heavy rain) and it seemed to, as he arrived looking determined in Kinlochleven although a bit more spent. He was still 28 minutes ahead of the 4 hr allowance so was going to complete the route solo. No chips in Kinlochleven!

The Buachaille

on the way to K

the glamour and excitment of crewing


Next up Lundavra. We drove into Fort William then back out the Lundavra Road which gets more extreme by the mile until it is a thin single lane snaking up into the hills. At the far end is a marquee and a bonfire and a small group of support crews waiting for their heroes coming down the forestry tracks. The sun came out and we sat around the fire chatting to the same folk we had been moving in parallel to all day. It's a long day having to stay focussed and in butler/chef/masseuse* mode for a 12+ hour shift with a strict time schedule and some canny navigating, but the later sunny weather made it pleasant. (*Technically there wasn't time to give Ben a rub-down but Mary did dry his corpse-like feet at the tyre change.)

A runner approached and the bonfire dude played the Rocky theme over a large amp. It was a special moment and must have been very strange for the runners who have spent 90 miles running mostly on their own in their own worlds of pain. Two runners later and Ben appeared. He was looking pale and ragged but determined not to cock things up at this late stage, asking about directions and routes. He was also concerned that Alison was made aware of his progress and could make it to the finish line. As soon as we were back within phone signal range we called and texted to give an idea of when Ben would get to the line. Actually he was a bit quicker than predicted and when he got near to Braveheart car park I called again anxious I might have mismanaged their timings. Mary drove me along the mile to the finish - I jumped out at the last roundabout to make sure Ben went the right way.

shoe comparison site

It was brilliant to see Ben finish in 19.16 way ahead of any estimate for the day, and in 10th place. He had run with an impressive mental determination and crossed the line looking like he gave it his all. We kept an eye on him in the showers (so to speak) in case he flipped out. There were a few casualties collecting post finish line, when the body is finally allowed to flop and fall to bits. Occasional howls of pain echoed around the building. Its funny the things we do for fun.

Mike R, 6th, delighted!

There was a great sense of elation for Ben, having outrun even his own high expectations, which he was able to enjoy briefly while we ate and had a beer at the hotel before he retired upstairs for a snooze. (The benefits of finishing at a civilised hour. Others would finish in the desolate middle of their second night, an alien end to an exhausting and brain numbing day.) Alison and her brother David chatted to Mary and I for a while before we called it a day as well. The hotel staff seemed anxious to be rid of us so they could start their late night bottle-bank emptying which was done as we slept, sometime around 1am. I suspect Ben didn't hear even that. He was looking a lot refreshed and back to normal for breakfast though his walking was a bit formal. A tremendous and impressive performance.

Results here

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