Running. It became a way of life for me. But my preferred way to run is regular road running. Not track running, not treadmill running, not cross country but especially not Trail Running. Yes, it is in the great outdoors on beautiful, remote, quiet routes but it requires a lot more effort, nimble feet and a strong core. Cue my sister…
Debbie is like a mountain goat-able to pick out the best route and gaily runs through the tracks with ease. It made sense for her to say crazy comments like ‘I am going to run through the Kalahari desert for 6 days or up the Drakensberg mountains four times on a 50km route. But her latest endeavour was totally bordering on insane. 150km along a very rugged route in Scotland. But I no longer talk her out of these kind of things, instead I end up saying ‘how can I help?’ This meant that I found myself shivering at the 1am start at a station in Glasgow.
A crowd of us gathered around her and the 200-odd runners listening to last minute instructions before a siren unleashed the eager crazies onto the dark path. I wasn’t really sure what to do except try and guess what she would need at the support spots every 15km or so. This was hard because I couldn’t put myself in her shoes. (Neither did I want to!) The first support team stayed in the warmth of the car watching daylight begin to crack the sky at around 3am. Modern technology told us that she was soon approaching the point so we shuffled over to watch a steady procession of head torches weave their way through a dark field. She found us, and we jumped into action. Coffee and eats done, I didn’t have cream for her red cold nose with me, she set off again into the slowly lightening morning.
Summer in Scotland can be very elusive and this South African was very glad to be wearing hat, gloves and ancient ski jacket that staved off the cold temperatures. The upside? It wasn’t raining- yet. We drove on the windy roads along Loch Lomond to the next stop which had a very welcome restaurant serving hot rolls and coffee. 4am didn’t deter the Scottish friendliness as chit chat about the race broke the silence from the car. This stop was at the bottom of a steep climb called Connick Hill, which is Scots for -mountain. The air was warmer in the car park which meant another interesting Scottish challenge-the midgie. Flying insects which love the heat of human skin and can only be deterred by some Avon lotion and unflattering midgie nets, both of which I had.
Debbie arrived a little bit later than expected and she had complained that she had hit a bad patch early on but she seemed to be out of it as she changed her shoes, socks and ate some food before setting off on the path once again. We packed up the car and tried to get some shut eye while my brother drove through the narrow weaving road hugging the Loch.
The weather began to change and the cold crept in through my gloves and I began to get concerned for her out there in the elements. The next support point saw us try to get her some warm food but I misjudged her times and the food was long cold when she reached us. She confessed to getting a little lost so ran an extra two kays. Her colour was different from usual but she still sounded okay so we moved onto the next point.
By now, fine patchy rain kept changing the beautiful surroundings and in the north some menacing dark clouds threatened to move in. My niece had joined us as she was permitted to run alongside Debbie from this halfway point so the two of us walked towards the path in the hope of seeing her. We got concerned as familiar runners came by and the gaps got bigger. Now nearing what we thought was the cut-off time I got really concerned so my niece set out to find her. Eventually the threatening clouds arrived at the same time that Debbie did and I took one look at her face and I knew that she was done. She had done her best but the weather, tough route and hunger took its toll on her as well as 50 other runners who sadly didn’t get to the finish line in Fort William.
I was concerned because Debbie is not one to give up nor bail, I am the one who surrenders but I don’t take it to heart, so this was new territory for her. However she took stock of her run and was brave enough to acknowledge her weaknesses and strength and had the wisdom to know her body.
Secretly, I was glad because the effort just seemed so enormous to me that I couldn’t comprehend this run. A couple of days later I walked a portion of the route and it took me over 8 hours to do a 20km section. New respect for this little sister of mine but she may be pushing it when a few days later she started saying ‘well….’ I know her and unfinished business-arrrgh!!