The West Highland Way Race was fast approaching, I didn't have anything planned for the longest day. I kept an eye on the Facebook page, there didn't seem to be the usual cries for help at the last minute. I started making plans for my own longest day run when the message came through. An appeal, a runner was on the verge of pulling out due to no crew or back-up. Well I certainly wasn't having that and immediately messaged Ian to offer my services.
Richard Whitaker from Leeds and no stranger to the Fling. This year he completed the Fling then flew to London to participate in the Marathon next day, an incredible feat of logistics and endurance. This was going to be his first WHW race and I was looking forward to meeting and crewing for him.
Green on green makes black and blue, it's a well known saying in the horse world. I was concerned, an entrant doing the WHW for the first time and a runner crewing for the first time could equal disaster. The rules say at least two members of support are required, experience was desperately required. Cue Angela Barron, an experienced marshal, support crew member, runner and race director, team Whitaker was complete.
Organising e-mails were sent between us all before meeting at the Premier Inn car park three hours before the race. My car was the support vehicle, driven by Angela so I could be support runner from Kinlochleven or Glencoe if required. With Richard already registered, we loaded the car and made for the train station, the atmosphere was electric with runners getting ready to take on 95 miles.
Richard was quiet but looked calm as we chatted to various runners and support before race briefing. We wished our runner well before finding a prime spot on the High Street to see runners pass. I must point out it did feel strange being on the other side, cheering runners through. I wished I was running the race but at the same time I was looking forward to crewing and looking after a runner.
Torches, up the steps they came cheered on, filmed and photographed as they headed north towards Fort William, in a couple of minutes they were gone. The street was eerily quiet as crews dispersed and made their way up the course. Angela and I went straight to Balmaha, not going to the Beach Tree and opting for some kip before Richard arrived.
The Oak Tree opened early for crew, egg rolls and coffee before heading out to meet Richard. The car park was full and a hive of activity as runners appeared for their first stop. I felt like an expectant father willing and waiting for Richard to arrive. Angela took notes at each checkpoint, a great idea so I'll put them on the post in blue -
Balmaha - In at 4.29am. Looking chirpy, had some Mueller Rice, a jaffa cake, some coke and took a bottle of water. Ditched the white top at this point and departed at 4.38am.
Richard teamed up with another runner from the start, Ruairidh whom he ran with at the Great Glen last year. Once the majority of runners went through it was time for another kip and coffee before heading up the course.
Bienglas Farm where I was on car park duty last year. This was a busy stop with awkward access but all was handled very efficiently by the marshals. We had time to spark up the stove and make something hot for Richard. I had two flasks so thought I would heat tomato soup and make coffee, one of the flasks which was previously used for lentil soup didn't look great inside so Angela went to the campsite to try and clean it. Not wanting to poison our runner, this flask was ditched and soup heated (wrong choice as Richard likes his coffee). It was time to walk up to the checkpoint, Angela was stationed at the gazebo and I stood waiting to guide our man to the checkpoint.
They arrived soon enough, I nipped to the cafe to fetch Richard a coffee while Angela fed him. By this time we were getting to know our runner and to say he was easy to crew for is an understatement. He was concerned for his support always asking if we were okay, we had to explain we were fine and there for his safety and to make sure he was okay.
Bienglas Farm - In at 9.49am. Checked runner had eaten at both drop bag checkpoints which he had. Had Mueller rice, a jaffa cake, coffee with milk and sugar, topped up supplies with water, mountain dew and cereal bar. First sock change here. Smiling and in good shape, departed at 10.02am.
We stayed a while, clapping runners through before packing up and heading off. Richard had thoughtfully provided running magazines to pass the time, I was surprised how little spare time there was while crewing, the magazines were never opened.
Auchtertyre Farm, well marshalled parking once more, in a field next to the trail. This was perfect for setting up camp and having a picnic before Richards arrival, I felt a bit guilty sitting in the sun.
Action stations, this is a weigh in checkpoint. We had the card ready and previously advised Richard not to worry about the weigh ins, just run his race as he normally would.
Auchtertyre - In at 12.18pm. Had pringles, nuts, jaffa cake, coffee with milk and sugar. Packed water, iced tea and a cereal bar. Still running and very positive. Departed 12.32pm.
Richard and Ruairidh were still running together, I began to think that if they stayed together Richard would not need a support runner from Kinlochleven and I would continue to crew till Fort William, but there was a long way to go. I asked Richard to meet us at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel car park, knowing how busy it can be at the checkpoint. Angela and I packed and headed north.
Richard is low on Mueller rice, the Green Welly does not stock it so we just have a coffee instead. The road out of Tyndrum is parallel to the West Highland Way where Angela blasted the horn to cheer on runners, most acknowledged with a wave. The Hotel car park was busy but we found a space and got into our routine once more, the stove was lit for making coffee. The WHW crosses a fast road to the checkpoint, Angela and I signalled runners when it was safe to cross before meeting our two.
Trench foot, or rather trench feet. I can relate and at this very checkpoint. Lashings of Sudocreme and a change of socks were required before Richard checked in and met Ruairidh. The sun was shining as we saw the runners off and returned to the car park.
Glencoe Ski Resort, time for another nap before seeing to our runner. This time Angela watched the trail while I got the car ready. There was a cool breeze despite the sunny spells, on arrival we wrapped Richard in a sleeping bag to keep his temperature up. This was the first full WHW for both runners and I knew sub 24 hours was possible for them. Not wishing to put pressure on, I advised they had seven hours to complete a marathon distance to do sub 24. Both Richard and Ruairidh were enjoying the event and would just take things as they came.
Glencoe - In at 5.37pm. Some Mueller rice (last tub), a ginger biscuit, jaffa cake and coffee with milk and sugar. Packed Irn Bru, coke and a cereal bar. A gel was taken before Glencoe as you felt yourself flagging a bit. Still in pretty good spirits and you had made great time. Jacket on and waterproof trousers into the back pack under instructions from Search and Rescue. Departed 5.54pm.
We packed the car and moved on to Kinlochleven, looking out for runners on the trail in the evening sun. With a bit of time to kill we refuelled at the Tailrace Inn which was very busy to say the least. I felt a bit guilty tucking into macaroni cheese while our runner was climbing the Devils Staircase.
It was getting near arrival time for our runners, this time I went out to look for the runners while Angela waited at the community centre. It was a midge fest as I stood waiting to guide our runners off the trail. Runners would appear way in the distance before getting closer where I could identify if ours. I applauded each one as they passed but there was no sign of Richard and Ruairidh. I was getting the anxious expectant father feeling again and this time I was expecting twins.
My phone rang, it was Angela advising they took a wrong turn and asked if I could make my way up the trail. I ran along the street before meeting a group of runners ahead and was relieved to see Richard and Ruairidh. Richard was suffering, his feet were needing attention. I phoned ahead with the news, Angela asked the doctor if he would do some patching up.
Kinlochleven - In at 8.46pm. A ginger biscuit, a coffee with milk and sugar. Forced to take your usual checkpoint jaffa cake. Not too interested in food by now. Doctor padded your blistered feet to get you through the last section and got fresh socks. Packed a Snickers, water and coke. You were still strong but felt you were slowing a bit and felt slower than Ruairidh. Departed 9.02pm.
It was here I was supposed to be support runner but very quickly decided against it. Richard and Ruairidh started the race together and were seeing each other through, they still looked strong and would obviously look out for each other on Lairig Mor and besides, two's company, three's a crowd.
We dropped bags off at the Premier Inn Fort William before making our way to the finish. We sat and applauded runners as they arrived, cheered on by support and family. It was like an ultra runners A & E. After the elation some managed to walk, others hobbled to waiting vehicles. Some needed to lie down, others needed a moment to recover. It was fascinating watching the finishers after 95 miles of hard graft but we needed our ones to arrive. The anxious feeling returned where I wished every runner arriving was ours. One o'clock came and went, under 24 hours it wouldn't be but we needed them back safe and sound. As the minutes ticked by I began to imagine the worst and regretted not support running. What if one was in trouble or someone was hurt. No news is good news, no phone calls meant we just had to wait for Richard and Ruairidh to arrive.
Finish - 1.47am!
24 hours 47 minutes, a well executed debut WHW run completed in a time I would be chuffed with, well done Richard and Ruairidh.
I can now see the attraction of being WHW support and can see why this is Skye's favourite race to crew. I came away with an accomplished feeling, as if I took part in the event. Thanks to the race organisers, marshals, volunteers, Angela and Richard, it was a great experience supporting a runner.
Week ending June 21st - Tues 3. Weekly total 3 miles.
Week ending June 28th - Tues 4, Wed 8, Thurs 3. Weekly total 15 miles.
Week ending July 05th - Tues 8, Wed 3, Fri 4. Weekly total 15 miles.
Week ending July 12th - Mon 3, Wed 8, Thurs 3, Sat 13, Sun 4. Weekly total 31 miles.
Week ending July 19th - Mon 6, Thurs 4, Sun 4. Weekly total 14 miles.
Week ending July 26th - Tues 6, Wed 10, Sat 23. Weekly total 39 miles.
Week ending August 02nd - Wed 10, Sun 8. Weekly total 18 miles.