Tuesday, 24 July 2012
It's never a good moment when you realise that you've volunteered to marshal a race that's being held on the day after your birthday. But the Clyde Stride is four weeks after the WHW and, with the timing of midsummer's day this year, that's the way it worked out. The birthday - my 21st again, as it has been for quite a few years now - was spent being utterly spoilt and indulged at OneSpa in Edinburgh. I failed entirely to remain conscious throughout the treatments and had to retire hurt after only two cocktails in town afterwards...
So after all that rest and relaxation, I should have been raring to go on the Saturday morning. Instead I managed to switch the alarm off and only properly wake up ten minutes before I was due to leave the house. Panic!
One strong coffee later, I was heading west along the M8 at a speed not entirely compliant with Scottish law, when I got a text from Lee, the super-lovely Race Director. Did I have a stopwatch as she'd forgotten hers? Um, yes, but it's 20 odd miles east... 24 hour Tesco?
Miraculously I don't get lost turning off the M8 and find myself pulling into Morrison's car park outside Partick Station at 7.30am, with a whole 15 minutes before registration is due to start. But instead of the hive of activity I'm expecting, the place is deserted. Christ, she's not changed the start location and I've missed it? But there is a small group of fit skinny looking people in the corner, so it's clearly not me.
Wearing last year's bright blue race t-shirt, I wander over and say hello. Among the group are Norrie, who's volunteered to help rather than run, and brought the family along in support. Their day has also started badly with the car over-heating and having to be abandoned a few streets away.
A few more runners arrive and, just as I'm assuring someone that Lee will probably arrive any moment, probably taking the corners on two wheels, a white van pulls into the car park (on four wheels I hasten to add) and it's all systems go. Tables and paperwork out, cardboard boxes for collecting drop bags, we fetch and carry and all's ready to go. Muriel's here to assist with registration as well, so she and I do the individuals, with Norrie's son taking on the relay teams.
Then it's into auto-pilot, ticking off names, handing over numbers and safety pins, having a craic with the familiar faces, greeting old friends, calming a few nervy novices who are now wondering what the hell made them think running 40 miles was a sensible thing to do. Our international runners are there too, among them Gerry Craig's brother Michael who has flown in from Singapore for the race, cutting it very fine with a late Friday arrival in Scotland. Someone wishes me happy birthday but is gone before I can thank them. A familiar name checks in and I have to think whether it's the Hewitson of The infamous banana blog (if you haven't read it yet you really should; you may never look at a banana in the same way again) but fortunately for my composure, it's the other brother.
A passing gentleman (who has clearly been imbibing Buckie for breakfast) proffers a pound coin, wanting a safety pin and a number. He's very polite and very insistent; fortunately Muriel manages to dissuade him and he wanders off, dancing and singing. Only in Glasgae...
Whilst leaning over to the low table, I'm rudely assaulted by a slap on the backside. I turn round in outrage to be greeted by the giggling figure of Sandra. "I couldn't resist" she says. Assault on a marshal indeed, and in full sight of the Chairman of Scottish Athletics too. What is this sport coming to....???
Sophie also stuns me by turning up in a normal number of layers of clothing - only a t-shirt rather than the layers of insulation and waterproofs that she's famous for.
Stan is sweeper this year and wants to be reassured that Ray isn't running. The legendary McCurdy has however taken a late entry and is here and ready to run. Stan groans and threatens to go and buy a dog lead from Morrisons. Shortly later, he comes past with a line tied between him and Ray. I'm laughing too much to get the photo the sight deserves.
Grant Jeans was another late entry but by the time Lee has swept all the runners away for the briefing, he's not turned up. He arrives with minutes to spare, so we take his drop bags and shoo him round to the start.
Then it's down to the road and towards the underpass. After some further herding - yes, you do have to start by running uphill! - they're lined up ready to go. A few words from a race sponsor and the air-horn sounds, sending 130 or so runners off on their 40 mile journey.
Back at the cars, we finish tidying up, removing every trace of our presence from the station forecourt (and probably picking up some rubbish that was there before). Behind four vehicles are piles of drop bags to be transported along the route. Some are already in my car boot but Norrie helps me to load the remainder. Whilst doing so, we find a small box labelled as a present to the marshals for CP2. Noanie Heffron has left a box of sweets and treats for each of the checkpoint teams and I'm ridiculously touched. We always get lots of verbal thanks, but this is a first.
Loaded up, I head for Strathclyde Park via a food and fuel stop at Asda and a bizarre out and back along the M8. What kind of idiot contractor doesn't let you turn left off the Kingston Bridge onto the new M74? Ah, that'd be my lot actually...
It's strange getting to the checkpoint and finding it completely empty. Last year, it was in full flow when I got there but at 10am I'm on my own. Which is a bit disheartening when I lift the boot lid and realise just how many bags there actually are, which all need to be sorted and laid out in some logical manner. I'm about half-way through when the Giblin support crew arrive and Paul's mum Josephine comes over and starts helping, along with a young girl who I guess is a grand-daughter. Many hands make light work and it's soon done. Even the two unlabelled bags have their own position, though how their owners expect to distinguish the generic supermarket carrier bags from the others is beyond me...
At which point I start getting a little concerned about the lack of other marshals. From Lee's plan, I'm expecting the McNeills here but there's no sign of them; has the car let them down again? Fortunately before I need to start worrying about how to deal with a checkpoint single-handed, Karen R arrives. Soon there are plenty of vehicles arriving as relay teams and support crews get set for the halfway point.
Lee's race brief was pretty clear that NO-ONE was to park in the hotel or Beefeater restaurant but to use the public car park behind the hotel. I've assumed that this area is the public car park but it's not and when Lee arrives, her first task is to send all the vehicles packing. Oops. There will be another issue here later when the manager of the restaurant comes over to complain that there are support cars filling up his car park, to the extent that genuine customers are unable to park. These races rely on the goodwill of landowners and businesses to exist; it's so easy for a thoughtless crew to ruin that goodwill by being too lazy to walk a few hundred yards to a sensible parking place.
To our surprise, the first runner through is Donnie Campbell, which isn't quite what we expected based on the positions at CP1. Not sure he has any business running that fast only four weeks after the WHW either... Sadly Grant has pulled out very early on and arrives with Dave, in surprisingly good spirits.
Paul Giblin arrives later than expected, totally covered in mud. Legs, face, head, arms - all are covered in a layer of brown sludge. It's not clear quite how this happened - while other runners have clearly splashed through some substantial muddy puddles, none are in this state - but it looks like he's dived head first into a swamp.
Ian B was supposed to be running but had to pull out yesterday after a tooth extraction (the exertion would pose a strong risk of re-opening the wound and bleeding). Despite the challenges of supporting Sandra and Susan, he's relaxed and cheery, having had a second breakfast between checkpoints. I pick his brains about running with asthma and different forms of inhalers - currently it's not working for me at all. He picks up a tweet from John K who is "At Strathclyde Park watching Clyde Stride Runners go by. #clydestride". We assume he's only yards away from the checkpoint, but is actually some distance away in the park. Still, he and Katrina come over to join us, which is the first time I've seen them since the WHW.
Talk turns to potential winners and someone mentions the blond dreadlocked guy who "appeared out of nowhere", won this last year and then disappeared. Paul Raistrick did in fact win the Glen Ogle but, at the time, none of us can remember his name and are reduced to describing his appearance. Given that one of his most outstanding characteristics was his extremely toned and buff torso, it may not be too surprising that the females in the group get accused of lechery. As if.
My stupid watch is too vague to take times from (very pretty but totally impractical) and I'm using my mobile to record times (having synchronised it with Lee's stopwatch after the start). Between runners I rest it on the flat top of the fencepost by my side to avoid holding it. This works fine until I look up and can't see it. There is frantic searching of the surrounding area to no avail. I then look at the bin bag also hanging from the post and, with a sinking feeling, start to wonder if it's been knocked in by accident. Fortunately for me, Dave is willing to search through the detritus and recovers the phone. Thanks Dave, that's definitely a few beers I owe you...
Most runners have their numbers clearly displayed to the front, although a few have it on the side of their shorts which is not great when we're trying to read it as they run into the checkpoint. But the relay runners are posing a different challenge. Their team names are hand-written and only legible from quite close. Also, quite a few clubs have shown a distinct lack of originality going for [name of club] team 1, [name of club] team 2, etc. There frequently isn't enough time to read the whole label before the runners away and on several occasions I find myself jogging over to the incoming runner to clarify the name.
There are a couple of withdrawals here, but fewer than last year. Stephen T pulls out deciding that it is too much too soon after a tough WHW, an older man (Fraser?) recognises a pulled muscle and heads off to phone his wife for a lift; both experienced runners wise enough to know when to walk away. The last runner in, staggering alongside Stan, is Audrey, who was marshal here last year. This year she is defeated by the run and curls up on the grass with apparently every intention of going to sleep right there. Sometimes it's just not your day, sometimes 20 miles is as far as your body will take you.
After her husband and friend have helped her away, Karen, Dave and I clear up every last scrap of rubbish left behind and all the remaining water and foodstuffs. The road crossing marshal comes back with her signs, which I'm relieved to see are the two missing from my car (I really should have taken them out of the boot after the WHW but I'm sure Sean won't mind them being re-used in a good cause!).
Back onto the M74, forgetting how quickly the turn off to Lanark appears (if that was you I cut up, sorry....) and down the country road. Climbing up into the village of Kirkfieldbank, I see two runners on the pavement, the first looks like Gerry Craig which throws me as I'd expect him to be finished by now. Not until I've tooted the horn and gone past do I remember that I'm much earlier than last year as all the runners cleared the checkpoint much earlier.
In Lanark itself, there is a long queue of stationary traffic. A recovery truck is clearing up after an accident - right outside the police station. Time for a bite to eat while I wait.
Through the town centre and I'm vaguely surprised to see a relay runner on the pavement; surely the route doesn't come up this high? Later, that runner is going to be the cause of much fuss, but for now I'm more interested in the fact that the car in front is Dave's. I frantically beep at him when I think he's about to make a wrong turn ... only to lead both of us down a cul-de-sac. Hmm, that's two lots of beer I owe you, yes?
Driving through New Lanark itself - such a contrast to the grubby town above it - there is clearly a rather smart wedding in progress. I'm not sure what these dressed-up women in heels and fascinators, and immaculate men in kilts will make of the sweaty muddy runners that are about to pass in front of them. Hopefully no-one will interrupt the photos...
On the grassy stretch by the river, the finish line operation is in smooth progress, with Lee's family in full control, down to the young cousins handing out personal goodie bags. Best of all, there is coffee and the legendary tablet. There is also beer but that will wait until later. The first three runners have finished; Donnie taking first prize and proving that a WHW weeks earlier is no barrier to achievement. For some people anyway!
Shortly after, more runners start arriving, Gerry in 5th place then not-so-normal-runner Andy in 6th, trashing a few WHW demons as he does so. A Scottish Athletics news item the day before had pointed out his 2nd position in the SUMS table and I tease him about where he'll be on Monday - the leader Gareth Mayze being otherwise engaged on Anglo-Celtic Cup duties in Cardiff. He's not biting, pointing out that he struggles to train consistently due to family commitments and his "taper" included climbing hills to have a picnic and eight hours gardening the previous day. Hmmm, so what might be achieve with just a few months structured training...?
A few more WHW devils will be vanquished today, amongst them Louise Jones who hurtles across the finish with the wide smile that seems to be her trademark finish.
Another one seems to be dead and buried when I see Sandra running down the steps, only to stop at the gate and not continue despite my frantic shrieks. Then I realise, she's waiting for Susan so they can run in together.
At the height of the busy-ness, a problems arises with the relay teams. The team that finished first is the one whose runner was off course in Lanark. The second placed team (by two minutes) are aware of this and not particularly content. They had been 15 minutes ahead at CP3 and think the other team must have run short. Unlike the club road races they're probably more used to, there's no way of judging this. Logically the runner has probably run further (and certainly had more climb than necessary) but nothing can be proven and he doesn't have a Garmin. The issue recedes, returns, recedes, returns, until Lee has to step away from greeting finishers to try and resolve it. As someone who delights in greeting every finisher personally with their medal and a hug, this makes her very sad.
I'm doing my best to cover in her absence, assisted by Norrie's son (the Clan McNeill ended up here, rather than CP2, after borrowing a different vehicle) and hopefully nobody feels too hard done to. In the middle of this, two worried parents approach me about a drop bag that couldn't be found at CP2 and they think may be in my car. I'm sure it's not but we can go and look later.
When I can step away from the finish, I take the father down to my car and we confirm the bag isn't there. Apparently it contains a phone and wallet; I bite my tongue at the idiocy of putting such items in a drop bag, but do point out that the mobile phone should be in possession of the runner, not sitting at a checkpoint. Dad tells me that the son thinks he put the drop bag in a van, but that he also thinks he saw penguins on the run... Well the penguins are clearly a common ultra runner's hallucination, but the van is probably the one containing the finish line bags. We go and investigate the pile of bags and a very relieved dad spots the missing back-pack.
"He's never even done a marathon before" he tells me. Nor has the son really done any training it seems. i never learnt his name but if he can do 40 miles on no training...
Quite a few runners today appear to have missed out on the marathon stage of their progression up the distances, going straight from the 13 miles of the Half directly to an ultra. I'm astounded. And yet... I know more people who've run an ultra than who've run a marathon. But then again, I hang around with some very mad people...
Like Tim Downie who pauses feet from the line to strike a Morecambe and Wise heel-clicking dance pose, only to be cruelly overtaken by Dave Etchells, who is not missing the chance to get one over on Tim (I should point out that they are the best of friends) by putting his foot down and sprinting to the line. The rest of us collapse in laughter.
Prize-giving starts and is interrupted over and over again by new arrivals who have to brake sharply to avoid the crowd who have stayed to cheer. The ladies winner is Charlotte Black, wearing a jacket that indicates she's travelled down from the Shetlands. Second is Rosie Bell, fresh from her WHW triumph.
After prize giving finishes, there is still a flurry of runners coming in. I drive two familiar faces up to the railway station as the shuttle bus has finished and miss saying goodbye to Ian, Sandra and Susan, Andy and Jo Rae. It might have also helped if any of us had known where the station actually was and not had to ask a pedestrian.
Nine hours twenty two minutes after leaving Partick, Stan arrives with three runners together, all grinning and happy - Noanie, Dave Egan, and Alan.
Then there is the final tidying up session, dismantling of gazebos, more lessons on asthma and running from Soph and a last beer. Behind us we leave some mud where there was previously grass.
But scattering to the four corners of the compass are 195 runners who've all had a great day, whether they ran 10 miles or 40. The Race Director and her team are pretty happy too...
Additional photos from Colin Knox, Gerry Craig and Lorn Pearson