It’s a strange feeling waking up on the morning of a challenge or an event that you have been planning for weeks or months, It never seems real, it never seems you’re about to do what it is your about to do, and for me that feeling is constant throughout the whole event. Even as I sat in the back of a people carrier at around 6am, on a cold, windy and rainy Sunday morning being handed a freshly cooked pancake with Nutella spread on it and a mug of hot coffee, it certainly didn’t seem like I had been running (hobbling) since 9am the previous morning and was fuelling up for one last push to get to 9am this new morning and complete a 24hr run….but this is exactly what was happening!
My alarm was set for 7am, but as I thought might be the case I was awake well before then. It may have been excitement or nervousness or a combination of both, but I was awake and that was that. I didn’t want to look at the clock but I reckon I lay there for around an hour before my alarm sounded and I got out bed. The plan was to leave at 9am so as to give a couple of hours for breakfast to settle, not that I needed much as I had been carbo loading to great effect the last 72 hours, my body was bursting with stored energy! I was fairly calm about the prospect of being outside for 24 hours trying to run back to Edinburgh. As you will have already noticed, I didn’t wake that morning at home in Edinburgh, but at the home of the Turner family in the small village of Balmullo, around 7 or 8 miles from St Andrew’s. The reason I woke here was a good man named Chris Turner (@Kwistaffa) had agreed to cycle with me as I ran home, partly as a safety precaution but also for the adventure. Now Chris being the great man he is had initially agreed to cycle the entire route and 24 hours along side me, but was over the moon when the equally brilliant Ally Hunter (@allyhunter) agreed to get involved and help Chris taking turns cycling beside me as I stumbled my way homewards for 24 hours. I met both gentlemen through our connection to the Tartan Army Children’s Charity but this would be the first time we as a 3 all got involved in a challenge together and I couldn’t wait.
9am came in a flash and it was time to get going. We grabbed a few photos to mark the occasion and off we went. We had been weather watching for the last few days, and after a bit of rain of the morning we looked to be in for a dry 20 hours. A local paper had sent a photographer down to grab a few pictures of us setting off down the road for a story being run in the local paper. It was a welcome break after 3 minutes of running to stop and get some photos. After posing and jogging around for a few minutes we said our goodbyes we headed off down a quiet country road on our way to St Andrews, the adventure had begun. It was surreal plodding on in the light rain, I hadn’t and still haven’t accepted the fact it was a 24 hour run! I kept to my usual reserved pace to ensure I wasn’t f****d later in the run. To be honest I had no real idea what I was doing, I had no game plan, I had no run strategy, nothing…I was just out for a run. I mean I have ran 30 and 40+ miles a few times so know what to expect, but this was a bit different as I had no idea how I would perform at 2am, and as I strolled along enjoying the banter at 9:30am this seemed so far away I didn’t really bother thinking about it to much, I just tried to enjoy it while I could.
We reached St Andrews, grabbed a few photos on the old course and made our way to the coastal trail, and once there the adventure was really beginning. Neither of us had been on the trail before and our only exposure was from the maps we had looked at to plot small sections of the run. The first section was marked red on the map, and as you can imagine the red marker wasn’t a good one. I expected it to be a wild trail mixed with some beach section ie sand…..but what it turned out to be was a short section of single track, that was reminiscent of a mud slide! It was ok going for me slipping around in the mud, but for Chris on the bike, and although a decent roadie, his first exposure to the mtb experience was not a pleasant one. Due to the slickness of the mud and the last few days of heavy rain, it resulted in the back tyre just spinning in the mud and unable to get any grip at all. There was maybe a couple of hundred meters here and there that Chris could cycle on but for the most part it was a case of pushing the bike along the mud, up some stairs and over some massive rocks along the rough beach sections. It wasn’t how either of us had pictured it.
After an hour or so I could see on Chris’s face a mixture of guilt and frustration. He kept telling me to push on and not let him hold me back, as at times our pace had slowed to a slow jog/walk. Stopping to lift the bike over the many fences and gates was also unwelcome. I knew he was feeling like he was letting me down and even though I kept telling him it was fine, I don’t think he really believed me. In all honesty I was loving it, the tables had turned and this wasn’t about my run just now it was about his battle with the bike and him over coming it. I assured him there was plenty of time for me to suffer but for now it was his adventure, his challenge, his misery that I was enjoying whilst I could. A few miles later we decided to miss small section of the trail and nip onto the road to save another few hours of misery on the trail. We got onto the road and I resumed my steady running along side Chris on the bike. We were both happy to be moving again. We got hit by a short but heavy rain shower and I got some food on while we went. Everything was going so well until I felt my ongoing hip problem rear its painful head. I was very worried this could get so bad I would need to stop! We took a quick stop outside a pub (no pint though), and I got a good stretch on one of the picnic benches outside. This seemed to help but the pain was still there just somewhat duller than before. My fears about my hip pain were about to be a long forgotten memory a few miles down the road as the dreaded ITB pain came back with a vengeance. This now topped my fear list because; ‘The Symptoms of ITB syndrome consist of pain on the outside of the knee at or around the lateral epicondyle of the femur or bony bit on the outside of the knee. The pain comes on at a certain time in a run and gradually gets worse until often the runner has to stop’
I felt the same pain before on a remote section of the West highland Way whilst on our J4H adventure, and then my knee was just giving way every second or third step and made running almost impossible. Thankfully this was near the end of the day and I managed to hobble home for the night. This however was at the start of a long day, and I had ‘the fear’. We stopped and I popped on a tube grip on, especially tight just above the knee to support the muscles and hopefully as I had done previously be able to continue running with the pain. I don’t want to sound like a hero here “running in pain” in fact this was the stupidest thing to do to continue, but at the time this was my only option (failure wasn’t). So off I went like a true hero running in pain, what a legend…
So we plodded on, Chris cycling freely now and me sort of wincing every so often all the way to Crail. We stopped here to dry off a bit and get a nice hot mug of coffee and a couple of Haggis rolls, it was burns night after all. After the food barely had time to settle we were off again heading for the trail and more fun and games. Once we got to the trail again it looked brilliant, rugged coast for as far as the eye could see and lovely single track, there was one slight problem thought…mud. Although we were to be lucky on the day itself and stay reasonably dry, in previous days/weeks the rain had fallen and fallen well, the lovely single track was just a mud bath and made cycling pretty hard going once again for poor Chris. We pushed on, me slipping and sliding about and Chris cycling when he could over the hostile terrain. This was a walker’s paradise but a novice mountain biker’s hell as it was. The last section towards Anstruther was not too bad and we made decent time and actually started to enjoy it. By now it was around 3:30pm and this is when Ally was coming to take over from Chris on the bike. We got to Anstruther and waited the 10 minutes that it was going to take Ally to get here, 45 minutes later there he was, bursting in like a man possessed, bursting with energy and enthusiasm, ready for the night ahead, and still a little rough from the burns party the night before!
After some time waiting and stretching, I was getting cold and starting to get too comfortable standing around, so was glad we got going again. We set off from the harbour and back onto the coastal trail. Chris had explained how bad it had been up to this point and jokingly said “I bet this is the best part so far coming up and I’ll miss it”… He was right the next section along Pitenweem, St. Monans to Ellie was magnificent, perfect dry single-track following an amazing coastline with the sun setting over the water, it was the stand out section so far. Chris had put in a great shift and knew he had more to come so had drove Ally’s mobile food bank (his people carrier) along the coast to get some rest and perhaps a bit of shut eye. We arrived at the end of another section to the sun almost setting and Chris still wide awake in the van. It was here we would experience the first of Ally’s culinary delights, 3 of the tastiest chicken skewers I have had in my mouth, lashing of coffee and a packet of tim tams, all very welcome.
It was now around 5:30pm, the sun had set and it was pitch black, I was sitting in the van keeping warm while I ate. I had been on the go for 8 ½ hours now and I couldn’t wait to go past 12 hours as this would be me on the home straight. With the food settled and the caffeine kicking in we jumped out the restaurant on wheels, turned on the head torches and headed back out on the trail. I have ran around the hills in the dark before so was used to running in just a small amount of light guiding my path, fortunately behind me was Ally on the bike with a front light that could blind you in an instant. The next section would take us down towards the beach again and in this light we decided instead to cut over the adjacent golf course and link up with the old railway tracks that ran almost parallel to the trail path. I was lucky to have a local lad in Ally guiding me along these sections as he was familiar with the route and kept me right in terms of where to go and how far each section was. The small but important information he was feeding me regularly was such a big help and I’m not sure how aware he was of its benefit. I didn’t want to ask how far we had gone or how far we had left in each section but Ally, as if with an additional sense fed me this information at just the right times and this keep me pushing on as best I could.
The old railway track was muddy, most of the day had been muddy, but it was straight and it was flat and by now I wasn’t too bothered about running about in the mud. It was a wet mud and a lot easier to cycle in than the early parts of the morning so we really couldn’t complain as we were making decent progress. There was a moment as we passed YET ANOTHER farm gate when we stopped for a chat and just took in what was around us and what we were doing. We were stood in the pitch black alongside some fields on what must have been one of the clearest nights I can remember. I looked up to the sky and swear the amount of stars in the sky had quadrupled since I last looked. I saw familiar shapes and constellations that I looked up at as a kid, and lots of good, old memories flooded back as we stood there in the mud and darkness. We had a laugh about our “moment” together, switched the lights back on and got moving again.
Parking the car to meet up sort of dictated where each section would finish. The next stop would be a pub car park just off the trail. By now it was getting pretty cold, so popping into the pub to sit down and warm up was initially a great idea. However as soon as I sat down and let the warmth invade my body I was ready for a sleep. It must have only been around 8pm so we weren’t even at the half way stage and I was feeling sleepy. I wasn’t that hungry so just had a pint of fresh orange as we sat organising the next section. This was a stupid mistake to make and went against the ‘eat when you’re not hungry and drink when you’re not thirsty’ mantra! At the time I just couldn’t force anything down and would pay on the next section. Drinks downed it was back out to the cold for the next section. It felt much colder leaving a warm pub and I could feel a chill in me for the first time. I know getting running would help so off we went again into the dark with a fairly long 7 or 8 mile section ahead, I should have eaten.
For the most part the section was great, trail was friendly and the mud had subsided somewhat from earlier parts of the trail. However at one point the path was swallowed up by a massive puddle of water, I tried to run through but it was going up past my ankles. After Ally had cycled through it and with no other option, we decided that getting a lift was my only option, other than to run with freezing cold, wet trainers for the next few miles. Ally backed towards me slowly and with tired legs I hoisted my right leg over the back of the bike and saddle. It must have been 20 years since I had done this and I was worried I would go flying off the back into the water. As I just about sat on the saddle we were off like a shot, we thought speed was key here as we were worried the weight might slow and topple us. At one point I was leaning backwards just clinging to the saddle by my left testicle as we shot over the water. I jumped off the back laughing at how ridiculous this was and jogged on down the trail. We must have only had 2 or 3 miles to go and I felt a familiar feeling coming over me, a weakness in my legs and a slight light headedness. I knew I should have eaten, I cant remember if I did take on food or not but from memory I just wanted to get this section done as we were on our way to Ally’s mum to pay her a visit and hopefully get a good feed. The last mile was brutal I felt very weak and tired and this was probably the worst I felt the whole 24 hours, and it was my fault, I was annoyed at myself. Slowly we made our way through the deserted streets until Ally told me “see that car, the blue car down the road? That’s us” I was so glad and instantly got a little boost. By the time we met Chris (who had yet to sleep) I wasn’t in the mood to talk I just needed food and coffee.
I was first up the stairs and the door flew open, we were greeted by one of the nicest people I have ever met. Being a mother she greeted the 3 of us like her sons when in fact Chris and I had never met her before. We were shepherded into the living room and told to sit down. I was first in and straight away clocked the freshly cooked mini sausage rolls and before even making it to the seat had 3 in my mouth. I was surprised by the initial strange mixture of tastes until I realised some where sausage rolls and some mini cheese and onion rolls, I was in heaven. Pizza and coffee followed, with fizzy juice and mini chocolate éclairs. Not only was the comfy seat and food most welcome but we couldn’t be in the company of a greater host. Ally’s mother was just the tonic I needed and it was like visiting a member of my own family, I felt like I had known her for years, I couldn’t have been happier.
After the much needed fuel and banter we were off with bags full of sweets an orange in my hand and a new found energy ready to motor on through the night. We passed through Buckhaven, east and west Wemyss and Dysart on the next section before meeting up with Chris again the deserted Asda car park at the end of the esplanade that seemed to last for an age. I chapped the window peered through to see his weary face peeking back as he opened up and let us in. “Get any sleep” was the standard question at each stop, and the answer was always the same…no. This time however Chris did manage to get some shut eye, well that was until a policeman came banging on the window wanting to know what a 30 something man in full lycra was doing lying in the back of a people carrier with a little blanket pulled up over him! Chris explained the situation to the perplexed and grumpy officer and was left in peace, wide awake and a little angry. So wow Ally had just put in a monster shift of around 11 or 12 hours with me on the bike and deserved his rest. We had looked at the next section of the map earlier and didn’t like the look of the next red section, especially as there was a section that required you to cross some cliff edges and a section that uses a chain walk (Google it). At around 2am I probably wasn’t in the best shape to be doing this, so with safety in mind we quickly drove past this section and plonked me back out at inverkeithing.
I was tired now, at points I did feel like I was drunk, my arms moved in slow motion and I was slurring a bit. However Ally kept the food coming and this helped immensely, I was never left waiting around and going hungry at any section we stopped at and I thank both lads for this, they were like a well oiled machine. We mapped out the next section and Chris was back on the bike for the last 7 hours. I was excited to run over the Forth Road Bridge as I knew I would be crossing back into Edinburgh, but also because I knew the rail bridge would be looking amazing as we crossed over beside it. As I was waiting ready to head to the bridge I was very cold, my teeth started chattering and I was chilled to the bone. It wasn’t cold enough for me to feel like this so I could only out this down to fatigue and perhaps standing about in running tights! I felt like I had a full blown cold coming on and felt my throat closing up and filling with phlegm. This would only last around 10 minutes as once I got running and warmed up I felt instantly better and full of beans again, the gloves would come off and the thermal buff was no longer required. But those moments before I got going were not very nice at all.
We crossed the bridge and into Edinburgh pausing for a few snaps. I was feeling great being back in Edinburgh and knew this was the home straight, just over 6 hours to go, time was flying now. I was also back on familiar ground and knew exactly where I was going, this was the first time on the run I felt so comfortable. We followed a cycle path for a while that ran side by side with the road before veering left into the quiet back roads of Edinburgh. We paused and looked out over towards the bridges and the spattering of lights that ran along the coast we had just traversed, it was a satisfying feeling and I turned to run again feeling happy. My knee was still sore and I did feel tired but I knew with every section we completed that the time was ticking away and we were going to do it. At one point Chris asked if I thought I might not complete the run or have to stop, I said absolutely not.
We finished a fairly long 8 mile section before meeting Ally again, who was parked down the bottom of a quiet street not looking dodgy in the slightest. It wasn’t dodgy that he knew this quiet little street that had a dead end where he could park and try and sleep in peace, no its normal for someone who isn’t from around these parts to know little quiet spots like these isn’t it??? We rapped on the window, waking ally from a light slumber and the man jumped into action once again, this time rustling up coffee and the much alluded to haggis balls and sweet chilli dip. Sitting and eating was great as it gave everyone time to warm up, get coffee and food and a bit of banter that helped everyone. It was great to feel knackered and hungry but pissing myself laughing sitting in the back of a people carrier at the bottom of a dead end street with a guy cooking haggis balls in the boot. But before long it was time to hop out and welcome the cold back into my body.
It was good to have Chris back beside me, he constantly kept me going telling me how good I was doing and that we were making good progress. These little words of encouragement really helped me keep going and I was thankful for this and I’m not sure I told him that. I was also conscious he had been on the go since 9am also, cycling with me at the start, driving around to meet me and Ally at each section start/end point once Ally took over bike duties. He had also been awake the whole time and was probably tired, but he jumped on the bike and just got on with it and didn’t once say anything negative, moan or complain he was a legend in that respect. It was around 4:30am as we set off towards the car park of Spartans FC where we would meet Ally again for what would be the most infamous stop of the whole run, unfortunately I can’t disclose the full details of this stop but its one of the best memories I have from the run. Once again I started off freezing cold and my teeth chattering like mad. I was swinging my arms around like a lunatic trying to get some warmth in me and my blood flowing, and once again 10 minutes later I was good to go. This section was a mix of bike paths and quiet residential roads. I was very familiar with this section as I have run and cycled around here many times. This section was over in a flash and we dropped off the cycle path into the car park where after a heads up Ally was up and about awaiting our arrival.
I hopped into the back seat and although mentally feeling good I was rather jaded and my face felt asleep, it was a struggle to keep my eyes open at times. I let myself close my eyes for a second or 2 as a treat, but quickly snapped back into the moment knowing I only had around 3 hours to go. As usual a freshly brewed coffee was thrust into my hand as well as a freshly cooked pancake spread thickly with Nutella. I slowly lifted the chocolate treat up to my mouth, from a distance you would of swore I was drunk, my eyes were stinging and bleary, my movements in slow motion, I must of looked like a baby trying to feed itself. However as always the lads banter was on form and before long I was howling with laughter once again. My belly was full and warm, the coffee was kicking in and I was pumped knowing this section would take us through the city centre making our way towards Arthur’s Seat where we as a team would climb to the top for 9am and complete this wonderful challenge. As I looked out the window the rain was back, it was frosty on the ground and I wasn’t looking forward to those first moments getting back into the run, but I had no choice.
I hopped out and as Ally and Chris chatted, I started to run as I was getting so cold already. Chris caught up with me not far along the path and at this point I felt my weakest and coldest of the whole night. I could barely talk due to the chattering of my teeth, so looking and sounding like a really bad ventriloquists dummy I told Chris I need to speed up and get warm. Although we were around 21 hours into the run I started sprinting as fast as I could, waving my arms around and banging them against my body as I ran. I felt in an almost dream state, half awake not really knowing what I was doing. But all of a sudden the warmth came flooding back and I felt like I had woken up, my body almost started up like and old car, spluttering and creaking into action again. A few miles down the road my teeth stopped chattering and I felt normal again, it was a great feeling. I think Chris was somewhat taken aback by my sudden sprint session and was full of praise for the speed I had ran this section so far.
We edged our way closer to the city centre, seeing the city waking up and feeling like we were just out for a morning run and cycle. We saw people again, and we saw the slightest hint of the sun rising, a very subtle red and purple colour in the distance. By now we were closing in on 23 hours and I felt great (maybe not great but ok). It was brilliant being in the city centre and knowing how close we were to completing this, it was almost like a victory lap. After a slow and steady section we ran past the parliament building and caught sight Ally’s van and gleefully made our way over, me knowing that this would be the last section I would run. We parked the van up and made our way towards Arthur’s Seat as a team. I felt like I still needed to keep pushing on so was out in front leading the way as we snaked up the side of the hill. Slowly but surely we made it up to the summit, I was there first and happily grabbed a seat as the other 2 came around the corner. It was an amazing feeling being up there sharing this experience with these 2 gentlemen, they had both been such an important part of this run and I wanted them to know that. We took in the sights of the city coming to life below before making our way down and eventually home. I would only manage 2 hours sleep when I got in and a couple more later that afternoon, I think the adrenaline was running through my body not allowing me to sleep, but I had got used to this so it wasn’t a big deal, I was lying in my warm comfy bed and I didn’t have to get out into the cold and run anymore. I’m not sure if I was happy about that or not…