Ultra-running at a blistering pace

The 2012 Glen Ogle Ultra: I’ve been putting this off, writing about it I mean. But for the last week or three I just keep going over this overdue account late at night so I just need to write it and move on.

The short story is that I made a mistake. And as a consequence I went through the most horrendous racing experience of my life (to date). This from the girl who completed over 36 miles with chronic heaving diahorrhea. The worst part was that it was completely avoidable and utterly my own fault. And I have been a little angry with myself in the last few weeks. In order to get over it I’ve decided that another ultra is in order; to prove to myself that I have learned from the recent and can convert to a more enjoyable experience. Perhaps famous last words, but here’s how www.go33ultra.com went.

First timers raise their hands, Andy, Lee and I take a rare chance to be at the front

Our B&B near Strathyre, was lovely but apparently we were their last guests before shutting up shop for the winter and they made no bones about not being able to do an early brekkie. I was actually thinking WTF as my mouth made the very accommodating words of “NO bother, don’t worry about me”, thus I was faced with a non-ideal bowl of rice-crispies laden with sugar and a flask labelled “Mike” as I grumped about the diningroom, wondering why Mike was getting a flask and I wasn’t, I finally realised it said milk. The cheese croissants (random!) were later fed to some enthusiastic ducks on the far side of Loch Tay, can’t think of anything I would less like to eat during a run! I managed to drink some Devon custard before the off and into the frosty darkness we drove. The previous night we had (ahem) been introduced to the countryside by way of trying to find an ATM and frustratingly had a 20 mile round trip, such is the remoteness of Strathyre. At least we could buy a few jars for Andy and enjoy a cracking Alf Tucker Fish n chips for dinner! Eventually.

Race outfit was somewhat similar to last years:2 x Nike Lunarglides (1 pair for Check-point 3 drop bag), 3 x X-socks run (1 pair for CP3, 1 spare for rucksack, 1 to wear),INOV-8 Gaiters, Haglofs boxers, Haglofs Intense full length tights, B4490,Ice-breaker 200 light, long sleeve top, Gore Magnitude AS vest, Nairn orange buff, Ben Fogle buff worn as hat, Montane Featherlite waterproof carried in rucksack, Salomon XA20 rucksack, UltrAspire hand-held (CP4 drop bag) Rucksack contents: peanut butter/jam tortilla, banana, 6 cherry mule kick gels, 1 soya milk, 1 Litre of water+electrolyte, waterproof, spare socks plus emergency kit: caffeine gel, ibuprofen, paracetemol, vaseline, micropore tape, electrolyte tab, safety pins, spare lace, blister plasters, Blackberry, TOILET ROLL (in capitals cos, well, y’know I didn’t take this with me at Speyside Way due to the amount of toilets en route and of course the worst happened. Never tempt the Kazzy-Gods!).

A Kara chocolate coconut milk filled UltrAspite handheld waited for me at CP4, for the final stretch home along with my ipod. Various food in the drop bags but I didn’t think I’d need it and had the equivalent of a teddy bears picnic last year.

I was late getting to the bag drop because for some reason we parked at the finish and then had to jog up the road laden with drop bags and excess warm clothing. I muttered the infamous grumble about not needing an early morning yomp before a 33 mile run. Grumpy b*gger! Race briefing and a walk down to a new start-point further down the glen where a tonne of logging had been carried out. Lee and Andy and I said our goodbyes and we all started with big smiles but, tragically, I hadn’t bothered to tighten my laces and got distracted within the first few minutes when my Garmin Forerunner pinged out of it’s velcro strap AGAIN, this time, the pin was lost in the dirt and I threw the contraption into the rucksack. Oh well, I didn’t really need to know my pace and mileage, did I?

Caught up to Andy and we trudged up and around the forest and down towards the road crossing as George (D33 RD) biked passed and said a few words of encouragement. Unfortunately the Demons had already dropped in to say “Oooh this uphill part is tougher than last year and you’re not really enjoying this are you?”. I agreed with them and threw all ideas about pacing out the window, to concentrate on trying to enjoy things. Andy advised that an easy out and focussed return might do the trick and I stuck my new race plan back in the faces of the ne-ersayers. CP1 passed and we were on the recognisable cycle path into the wood, where dear old Raymondo (Ray McCurdy, marathon 100-club and infamous ultra-runner) asked us if we’d done 4 miles yet; we told him “about 6” and he trundled on as we stopped for a gel-break. The gels and water were going down fine and the going was easy. Passed a group of 3 just as the rain started “OK, who’s brought the brolly?” I managed as we cat n moused them for several miles up the Serpentine and onto the old railway.

Still feeling good but I think Andy’s knee started playing up before CP2 and he urged me to go on but no, I was fine doing what we were doing and I had the added benefit of a captive audience for discussions on small holdings on the West coast, farming and other nonsense. To shut me up (possibly), Andy gave me a taste of his newly bottled mountain stream water and wow, it was fantastic (and we’d only seen the one lone sheep on the higher ground so it was possibly sharn free!)

The field was very sparse now with a few runners in the distance and a few well behind. Usual protocol of thumbs up and OK? to those we left behind and well dones to those who went on ahead. Passing on the right please!

CP2 and I wrestled a choc milk out of my drop-bag and we crossed the road to be met by my OH (the photographer), so we hammed it up a little for the camera’s. Safe to say I was in good spirits and more than a little concerned for Andy’s leg but we were on a down-hill loop before hitting the main climbs of the day.  I ate my peanut butter n jam tortilla and was really pleased that the gel every 5 miles, vanilla fudge inbetween and this, had worked out so well. Andy said this hurt his knee more on descents but I secretly enjoyed burdening the quads for a change, on the downs. I was still wary of my achilles being less than perfect so now automatically try and protect it. We had jumped a huge puddle (the main gate was later opened) and we saw the lead runner return down the hill, a good 7-8 miles in front already! A couple of ladies went by and having heard our chat, asked where I was from- turns out one was from Cromarty on the Black Isle which is the across the Firth neighbour to my home-town and I was amazed that my accent is still recognisable after all these years 🙂

Came alongside the gentleman from last year who was having a pukey time of it and managed to tap a couple of lumps of crystallised ginger- he was in much better fettle this year and surprised I remembered him. I never forget a ‘whitey’, me.

Soon the hills that I had promised Andy, were upon us and I made some short sharp shrift of the first few, overtaking a couple of groups but took a latrine excursion at the top of the first blip and saw Andy coming so we had a quick chat and agreed to meet up at CP3 as I was planning to change my shoes. Slow n steady passed the half way point and down towards some hill-walkers and my pre-checkpoint choc milk, which I’d stashed at the big puddle/gate. Where’s my frikkin milk!?? A change of marshall meant that the carton had been moved but luckily the OH had recognised it and removed it from the verge. YUM!

Back down and across the road to a large gathering of runners and volunteers! This was where I was surprised with blisters you would not want to see, ever, let alone during a race with 13+ miles to go. “Do you want to burst them?” said Karen- as I stared in amazement wondering how this could happen and with no indication or pain, I remembered the ibuprofen I had taken “just incase” after breakfast. Two or three people were discussing the best approach to dealing with blisters when Rob came in about and went oooh, you’ve got feet just like mine. I’m assuming he meant the purple half toe-nails. It was little consolation as I now had to get my feet into trainers and get offski after 15 mins of ershing about but not really achieving anything. The route was now mostly flat and down and I had hoped to make up some good time given how fresh I felt (lungs/legs/digestive tract). My energy levels were high. “I’ll see how I go, I don’t usually burst blisters” I said and went on my way. No pain, no presence and I passed Andy, then another gent, then caught the group of three and 4 or 5 miles (approx) seemed to go passed very fast and I was on the windy snake, heavily descending into the cycle track.

And then the ibuprofen ran out.

And then the blisters started digging daggers into the sides of both feet. It became impossible to run without pain.

So I ran on the outside edges of my feet. Walking hurt more so I had to maintain The Zombie Jog (thinking about patenting the term). Uphills hurt worst and every undulation seemed like a mini-tragedy. I was sure the group of three would have caught up with me and I was trying to subdue the ows but soon enough I was a hybrid of Monica Seles meets The Living Dead and if ever there was a time for someone to pop up with a race stat of how far to CP4, it would have been welcomed in these next few miles. But I was still moving forward and although I was being Drama Queen extraordinaire I managed to improve to only 98% pathetic when I saw some marshalls jog towards me. I’d put in my earplugs with no music, to drown out the sounds of my own misfortune. Here I am, with a blue sign growing out of my head (fairly painful in itself) and with a wee tear balanced on my cheek, Aw! The picture beneath was a happy me at the same point last year.

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My time at CP4 was part bravery, part gratitude and a smidge of impatience thrown in as I asked if there were any 1st aiders present (no) and then stared in wonderment at an attempt to cut a roll of sticky plasters with a dinner knife. OH raked around in the 1st aid kit and found the scissors and the patching up began. The ladies were stars and obviously used to spaced out grumpy ultra-runners descending on them with demands. They assessed that I’d had my allotment of ibupforen but could have paracetemol so I downed those and after 10 mins of feet out and fixer-uppering I was back on the road having miraculously not rescinded any places. I had dumped the rucksack, grabbed the UltrAspire handheld and my ipod but I couldn’t meet OH eyes and I all but ignored Lee’s wife. Well, I wasn’t (ahem) feeling that sociable with 6-7 miles to go and limited drug relief to get me there. Later he would tell me that he had never seen me so miserable during my running career to date and didn’t suggest dropping out incase I used the last of my remaining energy to pummel him. Which in fairness I probably would have.

All hands on deck for the Nywanda Blister Lollapalooza

Andy and I had discussed finish line tactics – an over the top dip for the line, maybe a John Travolta disco-dance, muddy commando crawl….I’d already used up a highland dance (Easter Eigg hillrace) but at this point was preparing to just scream a yell of frustration once the race was complete. I kept this at the forefront of my mind, every step took me closer to The Yell. Strange motivation but it kept me moving, that and a timely blast of Survivor EOTT on a blind corner!

I saw the sign for Rob Roy’s grave and knew that there was only a matter of a few miles left. The undulations which last year had been chewed up in late-race vigour were now a hatful of hate and just when I’d decided that another cry was on order (my ipod had been accidentally turned on in my rucksack and was now out of battery), my race angel was spotted!

In tough races I’ve always had a race Angel- another competitor who has helped me through and generally just given the support (sometimes unintentionally) to Keep on Keeping on. I spied a red rucksack going round the corner and despite the pain, I found a new steady plod in the hope of catching up 🙂

Round the corner, there was Al (a sports psychologist-therapist) who had been struggling with sore hamstrings and had decided to minimise pain and take a few photos. I explained my predicament and apologised in advance for any grunting etc. We kept each other company towards the finish and I hoped I didn’t hold him back although maybe he just seemed in better nick than he was. By now my left quad and knee were aching possibly as a result of running several miles only on the outside of my foot and it really hurt, despite the painkillers. I worried about doing lasting damage but returned quickly to the matter in hand. Just Finish. We managed to chat back and forth and it certainly passed the time. I am very grateful for this and hope I perhaps helped cajole him along somewhat. After some hard fought miles the shoogly bridge was upon us and I mustered a smile for the camera.

Al finished just in front and I didn’t sound my mighty yawp, I slowly wandered around the muddy finish area, trying not to cry. When Mike asked me to not forget my finishers goody bag, I just stood there, glaikit and droll, feeling like someone had replaced my feet with red hot pokers inside cement blocks and was not fully capable of making a decision. I think I wanted to lie down but knew I might provoke a first aid crisis rather than a few pointed fingers for eccentricity. I managed to shake Al’s hand then I got my Fetch Hoody and went to the car. I told the OH that I wanted to make like Deitrich and Be alone. So I sat there sobbing and peeling the socks from my feet in a painfully slow cautionary fashion.

Then I remained in the passenger seat and waited for the crying to stop. I was conscious that I should get my fat-ass over to the finish to see Andy come through but I just couldn’t. I knew I couldn’t muster the Nywanda Grin this time. So I just sat there. Doing nothing.

Eventually I snapped out of it just as Andy came strolling round the side of the car brandishing an array of blister compeeds in mock-chastisement! I showed him my swollen fluid and blood filled feet and he was fairly unimpressed; probably because he had endured an injury from mile 12 and had still finished in high spirits. Applause for that man!

But hey, I finished the race. Another Ultramarathon. Not in great style but more learnings and here they are in re-cap form:-

  • Do NOT take pain-killers before you feel pain as they could actually mask the on-set of preventable injuries
  • Bind blisters as soon as they’re apparent and don’t ignore hot-spots
  • Check and double check electronic equipment and have a back-up if time, pace, distance and music is important to you
  • Do what you can, when you can and don’t worry about what you look or sound like
  • Be kind to marshalls, spectators and fellow runners. Volunteer for a marshalling spot and be extra patient with less than charming runners- you never know what they might be going through or have gone through to get to that point. NEVER suggest they DNF unless they are bleeding from the eyes and get a medical person to verify if necessary. Your suggestion might be the straw on the camels back; it takes a lot of mental focus to keep going when you’re hurt
  • Accept that the duration is irrelevant in comparison to your journey and that it might be different every time, regardless of training, prep and best intentions

The positives:

  • Hydration and nutrition was spot on. No dodgy tummy or otherwise so very pleased
  • Motivation under duress was flailing but adequate; I got me round
  • Scottish country-side still looks freakin AWESOME even when you’re suffering 🙂
  • I managed some race banter and encouragement to others
  • I ran most of the hills and felt good about it at the time
  • Got to run with Andy properly. This was very important to me as it was his testament  before the Benbecula Half Marathon in 2010 which lead to me returning to complete the Heb 3 in 2011 and really got me into West Coast running, which has ultimately brought me the most happiness in my running life to date. Thanks Mr O.

I write this now, having taken over 3 weeks to get around to it. Seems like aaaages ago now, but had to commit this to blog because I am determined to finish the year on a more positive note and am therefore heading out for another longish jaunt in a few weeks time. http://shop.sand-baggers.com/winter-ultra–10k-2012—race-entry-1560-p.asp I have never run on the West Highland Way and I’m determined to brave the oncoming weather front, the ascents of the Mamores and the exposure of Rannoch Moor to complete my 4th ultra before year end AND I have even found a very mad mountain buddy to accompany me!  I couldn’t depart these shores without a shotty on the Devil’s Staircase!! In all honesty, this one scares me a little but I’m learning so much from all these experiences that I’m absolutely positive it’ll help whenever I finally actually get my act together. When will that be? Who knows, but I have to keep trying and one of these days, I’ll get it right. Onwards and upwards. Let’s get it on!

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Ultra-running- the Speyside Way Splash

Race selection background

See my aforementioned blog regarding my reasons to run and also, bear in mind that I did no running training from February to April this year due to a calf tear and achilles injury, resumed running < 3 miles per day in May after loads of physio and acupuncture, kept mileage to a minimum incorporating Kenyan hills and tempo runs whilst continuing core and strength exercising, “conquered” a couple of half marathons during the Heb 3 series, ran Nairn half the weekend before SSW ultra and my longest single run was 15 miles, over Ben Aigan twice with a few broken up longer runs as part of my SSW recces. Was I stupid to attempt this race? Possibly, although I don’t think it’s stupid to try your best. Despite my mileage being less than ideal, my brain was in full ultra mode and I felt ready for this event.

Stats

Miles run = 36.9 (including toilet detours), Time taken = 7 hrs 29 mins 11 seconds.

Spilts

The details: 10.32, 10.20, 10.46, 10.29, 10.07, 10.20, 10.23, 10.13, 10.43 (WC1), 9.26, 9.30, 19.34 (CP1/WC2), 15.21 (WC3), 27.09, 28.43, 16.25 (WC4), 9.28, 11.31, 11.14, 11.51, 12.23, 11.39, 12.08, 10.31, 23.04 (CP2, last solid food eaten), 10.05, 13.15 (WC5), 11.16, 12.08, 11.54, 14.36 (WC6), 12.26, 12.56, 12.04, 12.02, 11.29

Equipment list

Bodyglide, X-socks Run Sky (2 off), Shockabsorber B4490, Haglofs boxers, Haglofs intense shorts, Icebreaker 200 series light long sleeve merino wool shirt,  Gore Magnitude AS vest, Buff buff, UltrAspire pocket handhelds (2 off), Salomon XA20 rucksack with Camelbak 2 Litres bladder, Nike Lunarglide 2+ (2 off), CompresSports calf guards, INOV-8 Gaiters

Food

Mule Kicks Cherry & Himalayan salt gels, bananas, organic crunchy peanut butter and cherry jam sandwich, crystallised ginger, oatmeal CLIF bars (hardly any of this got eaten)

Drink

Organic chocolate soya milk, flat cocoa-cola, coconut water, Kara coconut milk drink, water with electrolyte tablets, water (all of this got drunk)

Race Account

We were expecting rain for the start of the race but even the torrent experienced driving through the early a.m. country roads to Buckie, didn’t prepare us for the river which met us at the start of the Speyside Way Ultra in Ballindalloch. I don’t mind the rain because you can only get “so” wet and being a slightly oversized distance runner, I often benefit from the cooling effects of the colder weather 🙂

I had decided to wear road shoes for the ultra quite a few weeks earlier, because the support would benefit me more than the extra grip from offroad shoes, however, I was fretting a little and doubting my choice. Within the first few strides my feet were completely soaked so I just had to grin and bear it; we were all in the same boat.

I felt relaxed at the start, exchanging a few words with some Cape Wrathers and spotting Andy before the off which was nice. I settled in behind two gents who were holding a full blown conversation about how to dry out their tent and I was soon in a small group who were to remain together for the best part of the day. I knew the first 10 miles of the route so I concentrated on not going too quickly and staying ‘safe’ by lifting my knees and not striding boldly through puddles but rather watching the feet in front to gauge depth of water. I did occasionally get to look up and, despite the rain, the farmland around us looked stunning.

Everything was going pretty well until around mile 8 and I started to feel a bit burbly in my tummy. A different kind of sweat came on and I wondered if I could hold on until the visitor centre toilets at Aberlour? Nope, I took a few minutes scanning around and made the first of several horrendous heaving toilet stops which were to be the real dampener on an otherwise tremendous experience. I’ll keep the details to myself but on this occasion I managed to avoid exposure to any other runners. I had to go again almost immediately but made it back onto the path in front of a running couple. Felt much better afterwards and certainly picked up the pace a little, as I’d hoped to keep my splits around 10.30 minute/mile until CP1. Then my Garmin came apart at the top strap pin! Luckily I saw it just as it happened and I ran the rest of the way to Craigellachie with the pin in my hand. Good job hubby was on hand to fix the Garmin whilst I did a sprint to the loos! I grabbed my ipod, a banana and swapped the UltrAspire handheld for my rucksack. Feet didn’t feel blistered and had actually reached a warm n happy stasis, as I started the climb towards Ben Aigan.

On the tarmac and runners were coming out in dribs n drabs, a combination of those who had spent a good time at the CheckPoint and the likes of me, who had bustled through, wary that time was draining away. [I say that because I had received the promise of more sponsorship if I came home in under 7 hrs 30 and my time target was sub 7, so I was hopeful of securing the extra cash for BASIC]. But more tummy issues and I had to just keep on keeping on. Surprisingly, I was still on target for sub 7 when I came into Fochabers, as I’d factored in spending way longer at the checkpoints and taking pictures/ tweeting. I elected to not take my phone with me from my first drop bag!

Before this stage was the hilliest part of the route, a great trail section where I had a bit of an epiphany regarding my childhood, got all emotional which I partly attributed to hormones(!) and partly because it’s just so damn mystical in the forest and on hills at the best of times and some of the scenes were postcard perfect. This was definitely the best if not the toughest running of the day and I enjoyed those miles the most. Masochist? Moi?

I knew the route until the right turn at Bridgeton farm. A long unrelenting straight on the main road lay ahead and I had a brief stop to ask about water stations and the two girls I spoke to were also running low on water. The rain had stopped and the day was warming up. My bladder/electrolyte hadn’t been full when I started but I really could have done with more fluid as I needed to compensate for the extra loo stops. Och well, on I went and someone remarked that I was “brave to run on the hills”….erm, I didn’t really count all up gradient as hills to be honest as I was now having to run when I could and use my loo stops as rest stops- you do what you can, don’t you? So on I went and I cat n moused a few people but by now I was starting to feel a bit spaced and was grateful to see Checkpoint 2 at the top of a very steep brae. Somehow I had marked my drop-bag with 56 instead of 65 (I am NOT a morning person I tell you!) and once I opened it, it was all I could do to peel the sodden Nike’s and socks off my feet, wipe the mud from my skin as best I could, apply vaseline and clean socks n shoes. The blister sites looked white but I couldn’t tell if they were blisters or just wrinkly wet feet. I wasn’t fancying any of the food but I exchanged the rucksack for a handheld containing coconut water and that seemed to go down very well.

Off towards Fochabers and I had a brief pick up in energy before I was in the bushes again….into the cricket green where the travelling folks had set up camp and I passed my hubby, pal and her baby with no time to spare for chatting, I felt I had to keep going and asked for a Neurofen to be ready for me at Spey Bay 😦 I had decided not to eat anything solid from then on because it seemed to have dire effects and I knew I had plenty fat reserves to tap into if needed.

The rain was off  and I was beginning to dry out. The gnarly tree trunks which patterned the next few miles of path were familiar to me but required concentration, so much so that I seemed to catch two gents who I hadn’t seen for some time. But no! some poor bloke had to see me squat minutes later and I blushingly asked if he had any spare TP. Ah camaraderie eh? I also got more ‘donations’ from two rather surprised hikers about a mile out from Spey Bay. A really gracious couple of runners who were sticking to a very successful walk-run strategy, let me passed as the day became a little warmer and I rolled my sleeves up for the final 1/6 of the race. It was definitely The Best Toilet In Scotland when I dashed into the Whale and Dolphin Centre to use the lavvies just before the final water station. I had a bit of grump because no one could find the Neurofen I had put in the car 1st aid kit and instead had procured two evil looking red tablets from somewhere. Nope, I couldn’t risk the unknown painkillers so the feet just had to be forgotten about for the next 5 or so miles. Grrrrr.

My time target was gone and I was just plugging away doing whatever I could as I hit the trails before the disused railwayline. The forest smelled beautiful and my stomach stayed put. It felt steady and I probably had some sort of zombie-rhythm going on but it was very slow; I kept the gent in front in my sights and slowly crept up on him and two others as we came into Port Gordon; so unfair because he had a cut leg and had clearly taken a fall somewhere in the forest. As I passed a very tired runner, I felt very guilty as I realised I had been staring at his backside for the last 10 minutes, so I had a quick chat with him and realised he was one of the tent-gents from the original chatty group. I followed the marshal who pointed us onto the shingly track but was surprised to be running towards a car parked across the path; the occupants were completely oblivious to the race going on around them, reading the paper and eating safties! It was kinda funny, especially given that I hadn’t eaten anything since Fochabers and was now relying on chocolate coconut milk for sustenance. It more of less worked but my stomach was starting to do a refuser even for the milk, about a mile away from Buckie and I couldn’t do anything with the pace as I felt the first stabs of cramp threaten my left calf. But this was my old town and the familiar sights and knowledge of the route came to my aid once again.

Och I shouldn’t complain really, I’ve felt worse at the end of half marathons(!) – I was relatively strong (perhaps having benefited from the slower pace and multiple stops) no wobbly legs, no tears as I crossed the burn and ran along the Yardie, even managing to maintain some sort of running motion back towards the finish. I tried to smile, I really did, it was part grimace part elation. Despite not thinking sub 7.30 was possible with 2.5 miles to go, I managed to scrape in with 49 seconds to spare!

However this account might read, I can honestly recommend this race to anyone thinking about upping their distance. Even in inclement weather this event is a well oiled machine regarding marshaling, signage, water stops, goodies and the overall organisation including facebook page for motivation, pictures and weather updates. I really enjoyed preparing for the race and will definitely make the pilgrimage back at some stage because it is just a stunning part of the country, with a great mix of wee towns, fields, track, forest, hills, windy woods and roads, the magnificance of the Spey river, bridges, sheep, cows, travellers, hikers…..and the odd ultra runner 🙂

After-thoughts

Nice to (re) meet: Sarah the race director, The dashing marshal who almost got flattened with a sweaty hug from me on Ben Aigan, all the lovely marshals and by-standers who took time to clap, shout and encourage, the living legend and inspiration extraordinaire that is _andy, my new mate with the gadgets Nick, Good looking Tommy, Fabulous Norma and her brilliant race chat and racing pooch, author and super-distance mogul Andrew Murray who shook my hand at the finish, all my fellow runners. My personal supporters Linda and wee Oliver (The Ver) who didn’t bat an eye at my grumpy demeanour at Fochabers and of course, my dutiful and utterly amazing husband who clearly sees the best in me, having experienced some of the worst during these longer races.