It's taken me a while to begin this race report. After the weekend, I have been walking around in a daze, wishing I could run and experience the whole thing again but time doesn't allow me to go back for some more of a great experience. I have to settle for the memories of spending a brilliant time with families, both close and West Highland Way families, and to be honest I have been a bit low after my main event of the year.
Running the WHW race is a big commitment to take on after pressing the enter key in November. Marcothon winter training, building the miles up through January / February, completing early SUMS races, staying injury free, organising support, accommodation and logistics, all leading to one of the best weekends of my life.
It's a lot to ask of my family, to give up their weekend and travel across the country to lend their support.
For this I am most grateful as there would be no WHW race for me without their commitment, so thank you to Lynne and Skye, my parents George and Heather, and my youngest brother Philip.
Now for the report -
Leading up to the race I was a wee bit disorganised, well quite a bit disorganised to be truthful. It was a bit stressful and my lack of planning wasn't impressing my support. There were a lot of questions and heated discussions between me and my support due to the lack of information for which I must apologise. I was still packing the Thursday evening before myself, Lynne and Skye departed on the Friday. I didn't even have a list to work from, food was hastily bought earlier that day and my instructions to the crew were vague to say the least.
We pack the car and leave New Deer late Friday morning, destination this time is The Oak Tree, Balmaha which will be Lynne and Skye's base for Friday night. We check into our room which is a converted cottage, the room is just across from the checkpoint car park so is going to be perfect for my first stop during the run. It is a beautiful afternoon so we head for the bar and sit outside, with a soft drink I must add. Skye takes a picture of Lynne and I relaxing in the sun and uploads it to the WHW Facebook page. Within minutes someone approaches with an I Pad showing the picture, jokingly enquiring if we had seen these people? It's Ian Minty, someone I know of but never met, it's good chatting to Ian, a fellow runner with less than 12 hours to the start.
We go to the marina, find a patch of grass and relax in the warm sunshine before heading off for something to eat. A light snooze is in order before getting ready and making our way to Milngavie.
Registration is quickly done which leaves a bit of time to kill at the underpass, messing around with Lynne and Skye uploading photos to FB.
After race briefing and the poignant words of Fiona Rennie (words I would remember through various sections of the race), it's a nervous stand and shuffle around till the air horn goes off at 0100. It's a great atmosphere being cheered, running through the high street, passing Lynne and Skye who are filming the start.
Into Mugdock Park and try to settle down, everyone runs in silence for a while before conversation breaks out. I chat to someone from Devon / Dorset running the race for the first time which helps pass a few miles.
I run a steady pace, probably a bit too quick for the start of a 95 mile run but all is well. I also do my run / walk strategy on the uphill road sections before reaching Drymen.
On the uphill to the forest I hear an Australian accent and introduce myself to Keith Hughes, another runner I've heard of but never met. It was a pleasure chatting to Keith as we passed each other up the Loch side.
I switch off the head torch as dawn appears, the morning is cloudy with mist at the top of Conic Hill. George and Karen are walking on the hill this morning, one of a few encounters throughout the race. I take it easy on the descent where Loch Lomond magically appears out of the mist.
Once checked in at Balmaha, I run through the car park to where Lynne and Skye are fast asleep. A couple of chaps on the window and Lynne appears with leftover Pizza from the previous night, fills my water bottles and sends me on my way.
I remembered Balmaha to Rowardennan as midge alley and this year is no exception. They are all over my legs and eventually around and in my eyes. I ignore the biting and concentrate on the amazing bird song. The pizza is not going down well so I resort to Hob Nob cereal bars to get me through. I don't see many runners on this section before arriving at Rowardennan.
Pick up drop bag, keep going. I've got a lot of time to make up from last years race by spending minimal time at checkpoints. The bag contains a cheese and tomato sandwich, I have no appetite for it, eat a wee piece of bread and pack it into my pocket. I know I'll be in trouble if I don't eat but I just can't stomach it.
I force down another cereal bar, half a banana and bottle of coke knowing full well sugar won't be enough to fuel 95 miles. Again the run to Inversnaid is fairly quiet, I keep a steady pace and enjoy the surroundings although I can feel a lack of energy. My dropbag at Inversnaid contains only a banana and bottle of coke so I will have to wait till Bienglas Farm to try something more substantial. The midges are everywhere at Inversnaid where I resist the kind offer to sit in a netted off gazebo. I fill the water bottles and run straight through.
I bump into Keith once more on the technical section who offers some tangerine segments. I just about bite his hand off, they go down a treat and will definitely replace bananas for future runs. I was happy to run with Keith on this section as I knew he would be posting a good time, the longer I held on the better time for me. We pause at Darios post before running on to Bienglas Farm. On arrival there is no sign of Lynne and Skye, it's my fault for vague instructions and not giving set times. With no signal on my phone I wait for ten minutes before deciding to run on, but I have no food and need to refill the water bottles.
In the camp kitchen I chat to another runners support who immediately offer to help out, I'm sorry I didn't get your name but the food was needed and very much appreciated. A peanut butter and jam sandwich (lovely, another food I'll try in future) along with a banana. I also got an energy bar from Julia, thanks very much, I was all sorted and on my way, although concerned for my crew.
On leaving Bienglas Farm I manage to leave a voicemail on Skyes phone, I'll see them at Auchtertyre where I intend to eat. This was a slight change of plan as I was going to pick up my food at Tyndrum and eat it on the uphill section but don't think I can wait till then. There are some heavy bursts of rain on this section but I am well kitted out, carrying full waterproofs in my back pack. The roller coaster forest takes a bit out of my legs but all is well as I cross the road and make my way to the wig wams. Lynne, Skye and my parents are there, ready to spring into action and get me fed and watered. Packet Thai noodles out of a paper cup and a bottle of coke, pure bliss. Something I can eat which energises my body straight away, this is sorely needed. A rest stop, quick top up of water and I am on my way.
It's strange to run straight through Tyndrum where the Fling finishes, its all quiet and the finish for this race is just a wee bit further on. I catch up and chat with a runner after crossing the stream, Alan if I remember correctly. Its a short chat as he stops at the shop to speak to supporters which leaves me alone to walk the uphill out of Tyndrum. With it mostly being downhill and flat to Bridge of Orchy this should be a good fast section but it doesn't feel like it. I have to employ the run / walk strategy on flat stretches. Putting my Geek head on, I must mention the train that passes bye, pulled by a couple of rare Deltic diesel engines, their fantastic sound echoing off the hillside. Okay, that's my Geek head off now. My parents are waiting in the sunshine at Bridge of Orchy. More noodles, some Jaffa cakes and it's time to look at my feet which have been a bit uncomfortable. Trench foot, blast! Something I didn't expect in the drier conditions this year.
I decide to change out of Hokas and into road shoes for Rannoch Moor. The support team next to us supplies vaseline for my feet, thank you very much as once again I didn't get your names. Fed, watered, new feet and paracetamol, its now time to tackle my nemesis from last year - Rannoch Moor.
I bleep out of the checkpoint and head up the hill. The Saltire is flying as usual and I stop and chat to Murdo for a few minutes before eating my Jelly Baby and continuing, thank you Murdo. I'm passed by a couple of runners and their support, they are running well and continuous, I am not but I don't let it get me down. Once again its a steady run / walk strategy which pays dividends as I retake the places up on Rannoch Moor. There is a problem though, my hip has started to niggle, its complaining about the lack of cushioning from the road shoes and I make a mental note to change back to Hokas at Glencoe. I really enjoy this section, I am in a much better place than the race last year, I take in the views before the descent into Glencoe checkpoint.
I am early, my parents are here but Lynne, Skye and Phil have not arrived yet. Its no problem as my folks have all that I need in their car. Phil does not need to accompany me on the next section either so I will meet them at Kinlochleven. Karen comes over and says hello. Karen is supporting her runner on the last two sections and is waiting for her to arrive. I ran with Karen last month during the Glee training run. I put in my order for a hot chocolate from the cafe. There's none left I'm told, NO HOT CHOCOLATE! This is what I was looking forward to at Glencoe, this is hot chocolate checkpoint and I WANT ONE. Well I am a wee bit disappointed but hey ho, we'll just have to bring our own next year. Next year? Looks like I'll be doing this race again! Noodles, chocolate, paracetamol, coke and Hokas before setting off down the hill, gently at first to loosen off the muscles before starting a jog. Glencoe and the devils staircase look spectacular and moody in the evening sun. It's getting cooler so back on with the jacket it is. Three runners arrive more or less together for the hard slog over the Devils. Karen and her runner, Gareth Bryan-Jones and his support runner plus me. Little did I know it at the time but Gareth would become the oldest runner to complete the WHW race and would receive a standing ovation at the awards ceremony, brilliant stuff. Once over the top of the Staircase it is all downhill on the ankle twisting rocky path to Kinlochleven. Thanks for the Jelly Baby from mountain rescue half way down, it took my mind off going over both ankles several times on this section, tired muscles meant the running was getting sloppy. I tail Karen and her runner all the way down to Kinlochleven, their pace helps keep me running so thanks to you both.
Phil is here all ready to go. After weighing in all I need is a coffee and change of socks, I can't stomach any food. It's ten o'clock and it looks like I'm going to smash my time from last year, even if Phil and I walk it and take five hours. We leave the checkpoint, telling our support we'll see them in Fort William between 3 and 4 AM. It's another long slog up onto Lairig Mor, I have to stop and pause for a break now and again.
Another reassuring mountain rescue point is marked ahead with fire sticks. You can see the lights from a long way off and we are drawn to them like moths to a flame. Here we get some refreshment, plain water for me and Tizer for Phil. We say our thanks after getting our picture taken and push on. Phil is doing a great job, encouraging his grumpy brother to run the downhill parts of the trail. I'm getting really tired now and start tripping and slipping all over the place in the darkness. Phil steadies the pace and we eventually see the flames of Lundavra checkpoint. There is a great party atmosphere here, we stop briefly for a heat at the fire and resist taking a comfortable seat, maybe next time. We are handed a tin of 7 UP as we leave, this will give a great energy boost to get to the fire break road. I'm now exhausted, I can't bend my left knee (never had any problems with my left knee before), my hip is protesting and I'm getting grumpier by the minute but all I have to do is recall the words of Fiona and I'm spurred on. We reach the top of fire break road and the lights of Fort William are below. Phil breaks into a jog and runs ahead while I shuffle as fast as I can. We do run most of the downhill until it levels off where it is a walk to Brave Heart Car Park and into Fort William. From the roundabout we run along the quiet main street to the leisure centre and get a cheer from our support at the entrance. It's a quiet affair so early in the morning. I weigh in and get my splits print out from Ian then take a seat. Last years time is well and truly smashed (by six and a half hours) but so am I.
After some photos for FB, all I want is a shower and some kip.
I love the awards ceremony. For me this is what makes the race so special. The fact that everyone involved comes together despite all they have been through and acknowledges the finishers, organisers and supporters, this is what makes the race "Family".
It's time to say thank you to Ian Beattie and his team, the marshals and checkpoint organisers, mountain rescue and all runners support teams. Hope to see you all next year!
Mon 3 miles, Wed 3 miles, Sat/Sun 95 miles Weekly total 101 miles.