Friday, 2 April 2010

Broken by the WHW

I was hoping to update this blog about my walk on the West Highland way but instead this post is going to be about how just 27 miles of the route broke me. I am writing this in Prestwick after having to be rescued from Rowardennan by my parents. I have let myself, all the kind people who have donated funds but worst of all I have let Dario down.

The physical pain is bad and I am a in a bit of a mess but it is nothing to how awful I feel for not getting to Fort William. I still can't quite believe that I only survived 27 miles of a route that thousands of people walk every year and that many of my close friends run in under a day.

The weather warnings on Tuesday were for severe weather but our route for the Wednesday from Milngavie to Balmaha seemed to be not affected by the worst weather forecast. Layers and waterproofs were in the rucksacks so off we went on the Wednesday. We got the 6am train from Prestwick and arrived at Milngavie to start at 8am. I was in a good mood and off we went. The walk to Drymen went well, we talked as we walked and I was even doing a little dance as we past the Beech Tree as I was listening to my Glee soundtrack. We walked through the car park at Drymen and up along the road, as we turned left up the path I felt and heard a squelch from my left foot heel. Mark sat me down and removed my walking boots. A huge blister had popped on my heel. Mark applied a dressing while I had my first blub of the day. I was concerned that only 12 miles in, my feet were already looking a bit of a mess, unaware that blisters were soon to be the least of my problems. So, after my blister had been sorted and a cuddle from Mark we set off up the incline.

As we made our way towards Conic hill and our destination for the night - Balmaha, the snow started to become an issue. My thighs were feeling very tight and very sore and I was struggling to lift my feet up more than an inch. As the incline increased and the snow deepened this was becoming a real problem. We went through the forest but with the up and downs and my feet sliding all over the terrain I was starting to feel a bit down about everything. We passed a man walking from the direction of Conic Hill who explained that there was a gale force wind at the top of Conic but if we just kept plodding we should be okay. Well, that was it for me. I was sore, tired and physically struggling and that news bulletin just brought on the second blub of the day. Mark tried to help but I said just let me have a little cry and I should be okay. Mark asked if I wanted to turn back but that was not an option I wanted to even consider. After the blub I did feel a little better if not a bit of a twat for blubbing in the first place. So I dug in and continued through the snow and onwards to Conic hill.

After what seemed a very long time and a feeling that the route took you a very long winding way to the hill that seemed just over the corner we entered a field. This is when it went wrong for me. Mark fell almost as soon as he got into the field as the snow was knee deep. I was immediately concerned as we were in the middle of nowhere with no-one around for miles and all we could see was snow. Mark made his way up the hill, every so often his legs disappearing and shouts of watch out. I could barely lift my legs so wading through the deep snow uncertain of every step was making me begin to panic. It felt for every step I took it was taking the energy of five. By the time I fell for the third time I just lost it and yes, you guessed it, I blubbed. The realisation that I was in the middle of a snow covered field in the middle of nowhere with no-one knowing where we were and neither of us with snow survival skills was almost too much. I felt claustrophobic which seems a strange given that I was so isolated, but it was that feeling of no control, that feeling that I was physically weak and that sense of fear of how am I going to make it.

Mark said that we needed to move as we were risking getting cold. I got up and thought there is no way we are going to make it. If this is what it is like in a field what is Conic hill going to be like at how many feet above sea level. As I struggled to move my legs and every so often feeling the pain in my injured knee for twisting trying not to fall in the snow, I started to think that maybe this is it. I wanted to call my parents to say goodbye but I could not get to my phone. In hindsight that was a good thing as my Mum would have had a breakdown and called every rescue team in the country.

I started to think about the impact I have made with my life. If this was my last day, what difference have I made? I started to think about what would be said about me at my funeral. I was expecting to be challenged on the route, not to be reflecting on my life. As I sit here writing this, it is making me think about what the experience has thought me. Currently, I am in a very negative place and feel the attempt to walk the route has highlighted that I am a physically and emotionally weak person who does not deserve the love and support that I have be shown by my parents and Mark and all my close friends such as Sean, Adrian, Ian, Karen, Lee and Dave, George, Keith, Ken and Tim who were texting throughout the day with messages of good luck.

When I decided to call it a day at Rowardennan, I texted Sean to tell him and he immediately called me. Sean was greeted with a hello and then me blubbing. Sean told me that I was not to beat myself up; that Dario would have said well done just for getting as far as I did in the conditions. I am still struggling to accept that. I feel that I have really let Dario down. I wanted to finish the route in his honour but instead I was a physical mess having to be call it a day after only 27 miles. The snow just beat me. I am not a fit person. The toughest physical test I have done in years is the Strathaven 10K race last November. As race control since 2002, I have seen hundreds of runners undertake the route in one go so I am more than aware of the severity of the route but I never predicted its sheer brutality when the weather turns. I was unprepared and physically inadequate for the route and that is how I feel I have really let Dario down.

So, as I sit here with blisters all over my feet, about to lose two toenails, my ankle swollen, my injured knee sore and legs that ache even when I am lying down and barely able to move, I know it was the right decision as it would have been dangerous to continue and there was no way I would have made it to Fort William by Sunday but I know it is going to take a long time to get over the disappointment. Mark has already offered to walk with me again whenever I want to but right now I just want to try to come to terms with what I failed to do in memory of a dear friend.


WHW Runner said...

Geraldine, I know and understand how disappointed you must feel, although I think you are being far too hard on yourself. The conditions have been awful the last few days - I am hardly able to walk across the moor behind our house because of the snow. Conic Hill can be dangerous when it is like that; no wonder it left you shattered. And as for your comments about letting Dario down, that is just not true - he would have admired the fact you gave it a go, and had the common sense to know when to call it a day. Is that not what he told everyone at the start of the race each year?

You'll be back. And when you do complete it, the experience will be all the more special because of what you have been through this time.

Take care

Ian x

John Kynaston said...

Geraldine I completely agree with Ian. Don't be hard on yourself. You will learn from this and come back stronger and more determined.

Dario would be so proud of you for attempting it and so please don't think you've let him or anyone else down.

Part of the problem is you've been around runners who do crazy things and it's easy to think that it's normal but very few people in Scotland could walk to Rowardennan in the conditions you experienced.

Be proud of yourself for having a go and being sensible enough to realise the right time to stop.

The fact you are able to write it down so clearly and honestly shows your strength of character.

I hope you recover quickly in every way.


allybea said...


You are not a weak person. Like me you are surrounded by exceptional people who make it look easy. The WHW demands respect especially in this weather and 99% of the population couldn't even make it to the start.

You know that Dario would never say that you had let him down. Really listen to his voice in your head. Only you know what he would say to you if he was still with us.

Let yourself heal. And make Mark spoil you rotten. You're worth it.

Take care

Ali x

Davie said...

I'm reading this in absolute disbelief! I only met you a couple of years ago and have admired the way that you have taken on the many and varied challenges you have undertaken. Many of the participants in the WHWR fail to get as far as you did, in June in what are often perfect conditions. Getting as far as you did in the conditions you met is at least worth a " Fling" finish! Would you have managed that a year ago?
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger is a maxim often quoted in these blogs. Try again Ger. When you are ready, the Way awaits.
My son,Andrew,tried the Way a few years ago, and failed to get past Beinn Glas. But, after my efforts, wants to run the race. He learned a lot from both his initial attempt and from supporting me last year. As you know, my niece's son, Darren, inspired me to finish. I would never have finished had the race been held this week. Get your heid up and be proud you tried. Your successful WHW is only delayed.
You don't even have to TTFU (as some may say). Just get the timing right.

Love to you and DQ ( well maybe not DQ)



Subversive Runner said...

Chin up, missus. Dario wouldn't have wanted you to hurt yourself and neither would I or any of your friends.

Pour yourself a glass of wine, then another and plan for better weather.


Tim said...

Geraldine, you did not "let anyone down". At worst, you were unprepared for the awful conditions. Those conditions would have tested any of us and it would have been silly to push on.
Of course with hindsight I'm sure you can think of any number of things that you could have done better but I'm sure that you will build on what you've learn't and complete the WHW another day. Get some miles on your feet and get them toughened up and I'm sure you'll do it.
In the meantime, rest up, recover and take your time before thinking of having another go. You've been through the wringer physically and emotionally and need time to recoup. Remember, Dario was always a "safety first" man. I'm sure he would have applauded your decision.

weesilvie said...

Don't be ridiculous, you crazy girl - of course you haven't failed or let anyone down in the sightest! You just haven't finished it yet. And you've got plenty of time to do that when you're fit and well and ready. It may have knocked you down just now, but as the cheesy song says, you'll get up again and nothing will keep you down. We're all with you! xx :)

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