When fellow Dumfries Harrier Caroline got the email to say she had made it onto the start list for the Devil of the Highlands ultra on August 4th with only 10 days left before the race, it was always going to be a challenge to find a support crew.
I'd half promised to support, but had double booked the date with my lovely daughter Sarah's move to a new flat in Glasgow, sorry Sarah. Cashing in my steadily dwindling stock of brownie points, sons Andrew & Steven were roped in to help Mum and Sarah with the logistics, whilst I soared straight to the top of the "Crap Dad League" and headed off to Tyndrum.
Never having done support on an ultra, I had a vision of a lazy afternoon, driving through the Highlands, waiting at checkpoints reading my Kindle, fillling an occaisional water bottle, doing a bit of cheer leading, all in all a pretty easy going day.......wrong!
It all started off so promisingly, lovely drive up from Dumfries to Tyndrum, Caroline had booked a luxury Octolodge at the Pine Trees, definitley more glamping than camping, what luxury!, fellow Harrier and WHW veteran Ian Anderson and his support Ian Gray, had already met up with DRC's Craig Malcomsom and his support Seb and Ali and were enjoying a beer whilst Olympics watching, a quick stop for some superb fish and chips at the Real Food Cafe then my first fail of the weekend.
As a former Scout Leader I generally take enough kit on any outdoor trip to rival a NATO exercise, whilst I had packed everything from Loo paper to pre-cooked ration packs of Beans & Sausage, I'd had a major logistics oversight on the beer front.
With off-sales at the Tyndrum Lodge hotel limited to cider or Tennants, I plumped for the latter, note to self Tennants lager is dreadful stuff.
After some more Olympics watching it was off for an earlyish night and a 4am alarm call.
Registration at the Green Welly Stop was extremily civilised, steaming mug of hot coffee, nice clean loos, some familiar faces round about and a gnarling feeling of "I wish I was racing".
Wished Caroline, Ian and Craig good luck and charged up the hill to catch some start photos, with the sun rising and the midges not too bad, the race was underway.
The plan was to meet at Bridge of Orchy, with Ian G up at the station and me on the bridge, as the midges enjoyed making a late 5 course breakfast of me, despite my all over cover, I marvelled at how Eileen, supporting Peter Duggan, could wear a skirt and remain unbothered by the winged hordes!
Ian A (aka Choppy) loped down the hill after about an hour with Caroline only about 5 minutes behind, no re-fill or re-fuel required and they both looked pretty comfortable, so a hop into the car and it was off to Glencoe Ski Centre, we managed a quick coffee at Glencoe and then decided to run out to meet Ian and Caroline as they came off Rannoch Moor, wait a minute... this wasn't in the original lazy day plan, oh well.
We ran out a couple of miles and it wasn't long before Choppy hove into view and Ian headed back to Glencoe with him. Caroline had texted to say her Camelbak valve had fallen off and a few minutes later we met up and I decided the easiest thing would be to use my bladder as without the valve Carolines was pretty useless. We kept up a pretty good pace on the downhill towards the A82, quick swop of bladders, refilled and she was off, still running strongly.
With the mercury rising, an extra unplanned stop at the foot of the Devil's Staircase seemed like a good idea, Choppy arrived first with a huge smile cracking the mask of dead midges adorning him, Caroline seemed to have closed the gap somewhat, but given the heat we decided to speed hike up the Devil with her. It was my first time up the Devil and the views made it worth the wait and effort, and with Fiona Rennie dressed as a devil handing out jelly babies at the top as an added bonus.
So after a quick photo stop at the top, Caroline trotted off and Ian and I careered back down to the cars, wishing all the runners good luck on the way, I bet they wondered who the two pratts going the wrong way were.
Its a bit of winding drive to Kinlochleven and we'd only just arrived when Choppy appeared, refill the bottles, quick application of Ibruprofen gel to a tight hamstring and he was off. Caroline had closed the gap even further and arrived 5 minutes later demanding Coke and company on the climb out from Kinlochleven.
Not expecting to do the whole climb we left the cars wide open and off we went, 2 miles out and 2 miles back down, with many of the same bewildered runners that we passed on the staircase experiencing Deja Vue to the two loonies going the wrong way again.
Quick dash round to the finish at Fort William, parked up and we decided that we'd run out to meet them on the last leg, I've not run this section before, so was quite up for it. We ran to Braveheart car park and speed hiked up the hill, through the forest, just as the WHW rejoined the forest road we met Choppy, cue a pose for the camera and again the two Ians headed down the hill.
We'd been counting the ladies as we ran out, and when Caroline appeared I reckoned she was around 10th lady with only 4 miles to run, not bad for her first Ultra!
Gels were given short shrift and more Coke demanded, which promptly exploded as I opened it, hot weather and sticky paws, a lovely combination.
Caroline still looked strong and we maintained a steady 9 min/mile on the run back, although a tad concerned about the amount of Coke that was being downed, I reckoned it was better than not drinking at all. Back through Braveheart carpark with John Kynaston videoing the runners, then the last mile on the road, with only one runner passing us, Caroline finished in 8:25:32 43rd overall and 10th lady, only narrowly behind Choppy in 8:18:51, 39th.
Relaxing on the grass on a glorious sunny afternoon, job done!, real credit goes to the 124 souls who completed the 42 very hot miles.
As we packed up the cars for the trip back a slightly green looking Caroline uttered the imortal words "I feel a bit queesy", uh oh this could be a long 4 hours back to Dumfries, not to worry though, its amazing how quickly 1.5 litres of Coke comes back up, stomach cleared we headed South, a quick pit stop at the Real Food Cafe again to refuel on more fish and chips (I'd not had a chance to eat all day), driving through a couple of tropical rain storms en route, made it home in time for Mo's 10,000m Gold.
Weekend totals - 440 miles of driving, 18 miles of running/speed hiking, 3500ft of ascent and descent and no sunbathing or kindle reading, this supporting lark is quite hard going, my legs felt like I'd realy had a hard training weekend.
Oh and for all you ladies who'll cringe at me dropping my daughter for a days running............. in a pathetic attempt to improve my standing in the "Crap Dad League" I've promised Sarah a night at the Oak Tree Inn.