6th October 2012

Too much work, wine and whinging in recent weeks and not enough Westies , Walshes and will power resulted in the pain and suffering which was for me, the Ben Venue Challenge on Saturday. Deciding to run was yet another last minute impulse prompted by a characteristically positive series of emails from Gaynor on Friday and sunshine streaming in through the curtains on Saturday morning.

The weather surpassed all expectations and where better to be heading on a crisp autumn day than over the Duke’s Pass with its fabulous views of richly coloured and many textured landscapes. Hamilton was the kind chauffeur for the day with John McNally, Gaynor and me as his backseat drivers – a role we pssibly overstepped when faced with parking issues on arrival not quite as early as we had hoped – mainly due to my selfish must- have coffee stop in Aberfolye!

Just over 100 souls (200 soles!) lined up at the start of which, eight Westies, including racing fiends Brian the lion and John H, plus Elsie, Gaynor, Hamilton, John McNally, me and a gentleman whose acquaintance I have yet to make (I was otherwise engaged in the mountain rescue van when the opportunity of introduction would have normally arisen at the end of the race). Also on the start line was a very special person, older readers will recall him – Bobby Shields, one of the founder members of Scottish hill running scene, long time Clydesdale Harrier and an early record holder of the Ben Nevis and West Highland Way races; he was also the organiser of the first regular sprint sessions I ever attended – 25 years ago. It was really great to see him particularly as the last news I had heard of him was of serious heart related health issues; he sheepishly told me not to tell his wife that I had seen him as he was meant to be out on a gentle training run! Much as I like Bobby’s wife Jan, our meetings are annual at most, so my conscience wasn’t too threatened, Bobby’s wellbeing for the race however, worried me more than a little!

It was painful and slow from the off until the finish! I nearly dropped out 3 times in the first 40 minutes but it was such a spectacular day it was a privilege to be in the hills and in good company. If there was a high at all it was leaving the ‘so and so’ forestry track and starting the real climb – steep is good for me  – and I managed to pass a few folk whilst literally clawing my way up the tussocky slope. Once passed the summit,  I tracked Bobby for a while, swapping memories and fruit chews as we crag hobbled and bog trotted, and I mean bog (black, cold and fanny deep in some cases),  our way along the ridge  from the summit and down the steep grassy slope towards the log stacked start of the forestry track home.

The mountain rescue team tried long and hard to find me some ibuprofen, asprin or paracetomol for my violently retaliating right knee; I assured them the ice pack would do, however whilst having a third cup of tea they sought me out to announce that they had found ‘the code’ for ‘the box’ and could offer me ‘something stronger’. I was hopeful of a dram but got diclofenac instead. Not a drug I had tried before but it worked a treat should you be interested! The rest of the post race nourishment was also excellent, sandwiches, home baking and hot drinks all from the wee gazebo in the car park.

John Hamer was all smiles – he had done a PB and looked fresh as a daisy (well, something more manly than a daisy), Brian and Hamilton and Elsie had also done good, Elsie really pleased to have been running injury free for a few months and Hamilton eulogising about the views others of us could barely lift our weary heads to glimpse; not sure about the man whose acquaintance I didn’t make but he was ahead of me anyway so possibly under the 2 hour mark. Gaynor, John McNally and I were the Westies stars ‘cos we found it real ‘ard but stuck in! My true hero of the day however, was Bobby Shields – quiet and unassuming as ever, he paced himself round to finish all smiles and as pleased and punch to be still out on the hill after all the health issues he had faced the last year. He promised me he would confess to Jan after all!

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