So it came to this - a race that I had been preparing for for the best part of two years. I met that likable lad Ben Buckle at a race that helped me to qualify for this spectacular event.
Always remaining positive over my participation of the WHW until the month leading up to it - where even the mention of it resulted in a strong hush coming from me and the words "We don't talk about that" coming out of my mouth on more occasions than I remember.
In fact I had to recognise that it was coming as what I found out to be more trickier than the race itself was organising my support crew for an event that could possibly lead over 35hrs. The marshals had to be sure that you had a capable crew and a runner (potentially for the last 17miles) that would look after you and travel ahead with warm clothes, food and words of encouragement! On hindsight I may have to choose between my mum and my girlfriend Ann next year as apposed to both!
With all the support details in and time ticking by quicker than ever - my attention is now drawn to my food and fluid strategy for a distance and time that I have never experienced - in fact this race is a whole 42miles longer than any other race I have ever taken part in.
The loss of body sodium is a major factor in this race and my weight would be recorded at various points along the way to tell if I am suffering from hyponatremia (where your body mass would rise not fall) so I knew that getting the right kind of fluids into my body was of main priority for fear of being 'pulled' from the race.
With all my top secret food and drink strategy organised - the time was finally upon us to make our final checks of kit and sanity - TRY and get some well needed sleep ahead of the race (failed miserably) - and try and eat my breakfast at 11pm at night! My head couldn't stop thinking about the major task about to get underway so I just gave up and yawned all the way to the momentarily dry start line in Milngavie.
Having registered, weighed in, made final checks, got dressed for wet weather and got the head torch ready for the night, we all stood at the start line anxiously laughing and joking at the absurdity of what was about to happen - GO TIME.
Milngavie - Beach tree inn - 6miles (not an official checkpoint but wanted Ann there if I had any teething problems)
Started with a nice slow pace thinking to myself that I have a very long way to go - Saw Karl Zeiner ahead of me so then turned it up a little to just get up behind him and stay with him for the first few miles. Realised that the pace was going down to 10m/mile as the crowd of runners backed up due to walking up the hills out of Mugdock - decided now to push on and maintain closer to 9m/mile leaving Karl without saying hello (sneaky!!).
Using just a small pouch around my waist for a water bottle and some solids - I found this much better than running with 1.5L on my back - knew that the distance to beach tree was enough to survive on 750ml. Good choice first off.
It started to rain heavily and by the time I got to the beach tree I had my GORE TEX jacket hood up and soaked through so Ann could not tell all of us apart - I saw her - relayed that all was good - changed my bottle - kissed her goodbye and off I trotted into the dark.
Beach tree inn - Gartnahan Forest car park (Drymen was the check point before but due to it being hard to park at and get to us runners - was advised to get my support crew to meet 2miles up the road at a car park - Next golden nugget!)
IT RAINED - I GOT WET.
Anyway - nothing much to relay here as the majority of this is run on tarmac - oh, but it wasn't tarmac because of the amount of surface water - with the reflection of the head torch it looked more like running through a river for 7miles!
Got to the car park and alerted Ann to a change of plan - was going to change my trainers at the half way point - but now was so wet that I wanted a complete change at the next checkpoint. Changed my bottle - kissed her goodbye and disappeared heading towards the might that is conic hill!
Gartnahan car park - Balmaha (first official checkpoint)
Going up conic hill was like running up a river - I shit you not.
I have run up this hill many a time and never seen anything like this! There is NO way that you could have stayed dry at all during this section - in fact a boat and a paddle would have been easier! Conic hill is relatively long and gradual climb so add this to the flowing water and its impossible to run/tab fast - Mental note for next year - if it is dry its a possible 10min saved overall.
Stopping for a breather and to laugh at the fact I'm now soaked - I chanced to turn around and see the spectacular sight of hundreds of head-torches following me along the path I just came up - they stretched as far as I could see and now regret that I didn't take a pic as I was to scared to get my phone wet (it did anyway!)!!
On summitting Conic hill - the massive expanse of Loch lomond was just visible as the light was emerging behind me - The descent is much steeper than the ascent this direction so much care was needed to protect my girly ankles. Gaining confidence and with more ambient light I floored the last downhill section running past walkers coming the other direction clapping in awe at the sheer stupidness of bombing it down a 50 degree incline!
Coming into Balmaha - I immediately found Ann and we ran to the car to initiate emergency protocol alpha - dry me out and feed at the same time! Shoes and socks changed - legs dried off - top changed - fleece put on - water bottle changed for backpack - soup consumed (another gem of info). Ann alerted me at this point that I was in about 15th place - I immediately thought she was kidding and kind of laughed at it but then the Tony competitive head came on - "I feel fresh - my change of clothes gave me more morale - I can do this" :)
There was a break in the weather so I kissed Ann goodbye and ventured up the side of Loch Lomond where I knew I wouldn't see my support crew for another 20-30miles.
Balmaha - Rowerdennan
Straight forward - felt great due to the change of clothes and darted around puddles as much as I could in order to keep my feet dry! Karl had past me by at Balmaha due to my time spent at the checkpoint but I caught him up at the stage and we had a little chat during this stage. I always hate chatting to people during races as it messes with my head - I start thinking 'why are they so fresh? why can they talk?' its not that I can't handle talking - its just that I play games in my head!
Starting to get a little windy again - I worry if I have made the right choice in my change of clothing as its now getting cold.
Rowerdennan - Inversnaid
After getting to Rowerdennan and receiving my drop bag full of goodies I grabbed them and then ran out of the checkpoint straight away. I wasn't wanting to hang around and get cold. Having recently done this section with the fling I knew that there was a lot of up and down, so took the hills at a fast tab and the downhills where at 6:30m/mile.
At this point there was a chap about half a mile in front of me that I thought I was imagining because I couldn't catch up with him - he kept on disappearing ahead of me! Ended up he was real as I was so determined to catch up with him that I pushed and pushed only to realise that I now needed the toilet so let him go on ahead so I had some privacy - On another note - Can you use ferns for toilet paper? this played on my mind for the following 30miles!!
On catching this guy up again - we played cat and mouse for the next 50miles.
Inversnaid - Beinglas
Having known that this is an extremely difficult stage - the terrain is not suitable for running much at all - 2-3miles took the best part of an hour in the fling - I stuck behind some runners who were slowing down - They gesticulated for me to run ahead as I was right up one guys backside trying to push the pace but I said 'no, its ok, I want you guys to slow me down here!'. After a while they couldn't take the pace so both stood aside and off i popped! Coming into Beinglas is tough up and down - but my pace seemed to be good - Passed the guy I was playing cat and mouse with as I said to him 'I need to get back on schedule' running past him doing 8m/mile. From here its starts drizzling again so scared i am wearing the wrong type of clothes in this section.
Beinglas - had an issue - the watch in my Garmin ran out and was blind as to the distance left to go to the next time I would meet my support at Auchtertyre (about 10miles). With this in mind I called Ann to change the plan slightly and to come and meet me half way between these points at Crainlarich (forgot to tell her that there was a mile climb up a hill to get to this point!!) in order to give me the spare watch that Charles had so kindly donated to the cause! Knowing that I was seeing my support crew 5miles earlier gave me such a boost that on arrival at this point I was seen to be able to jump up and kick my heels Eric Morcombe style! (40miles in)
Ann and my mum were there with soup and a towel while I waited for the satellites to gather above! My morale was back up and with only 5miles through the tough forests in Crianlarich, Liam and Noel Gallagher motivated me to run and sing the whole way along to Auchtertyre!
Coming into the checkpoint - I was weighed (lost 2.2kg) and I was told by the marshals that I was in 13th position. Nice.
Auchtertyre - Bridge of Orchy
At the checkpoint I jumped in the car to change my compression tights, trainers, socks, Dried off GORE TEX jacket, top and changed back to the small bottle pack that goes round the waist. A guy passes me so I know I need to get a move on. Feeling good again and with Ann walking with me to the bottom of the road as I eat my soup on the go - I kiss her goodbye and then embark on the next relatively flat 10miles. Given the fact that I knew the guy I was playing cat and mouse with had passed me I pushed and pushed - feeling great and doing 8:30m/mile - but still I couldn't see him in the distance? Had he really gotten in front of me or am I pushing to hard for a ghost?
On approach to Bridge of Orchy I got a glimpse of him (I forget his name) he really must have been pushing hard as I never got a glimpse of him at all till this point. This may have been this guys downfall.
On arriving at BoO I was informed I was in 11th place - of which I couldn't figure out because I hadn't passed anyone yet. Wasn't till later that I was informed that favourite Richie Cunningham and another had dropped out.
Bridge of Orchy - Glencoe
After coming into this checkpoint just behind the guy that I caught up with I found myself leaving after him again and a similar pattern emerging - except this time I caught up to him just as we were crossing victoria bridge. I tried to flat tyre him a little by sitting just behind him. Then as I ran past him I asked if he was ok to which he replied 'he found it hard to get any energy in'. In the spirit of Ultra running I offered him some gels etc, but he declined. So I said I would see him at the next checkpoint. Now in 10th place I decided to stay just in front of him so not to waste much energy and pace myself. That was until I saw a tiny speck of a runner on the horizon. BEAST MODE ON.
Its incredible that 60 odd miles into an ultra and over undulating terrain that I managed to do 8:30m/mile with the sole intent of chasing this next guy, Marc, down. I felt like the terminator - 'he will not stop until he achieves his objective' obviously not in killing the 8th place but stripping it from him. Marc kept turning around and seeing me gaining ground, he then would speed up and then slow down. Finally he gave in and started walking - At this point I passed and did something I probably shouldn't of - patted him on the back and asked 'are you ok?'. He mumbled yes and I carried on loving the fact I was now in 8th. This didn't last for long as I started to become hypoglycemic - I slowed and walked a mile of so trying to get some flat coke and bars into myself. At this point Marc caught up and we chatted for a while about how this was his fourth time and that he was close to tears this time. He informed me that this would probably be his last as it just takes so much from you. I told him it was my first attempt and that I could understand his emotion. We jogged a little more and then the flat coke kicked in so I sped up a little and came into Glencoe in 8th. Once checked in to Glencoe I asked if I could have my support runner if I waited to go out in 10th - they said no, because I was only 1:30 behind the leader at this point. BAWS.
Glencoe - Kinlochleven
So now I finally know that I cannot have my support runner for the rest of the race. This was a distinct possibility and when picking my support runner I had to make them aware that they could have been coming along and there might be a small chance that they would not be allowed to run with me. Chris Black was my nominated support runner - he has a half ironman on the cards in 8 weeks so I said why not cycle from Glasgow to Glencoe and then you could possibly run from Glencoe to FW or from Kinlochleven to FW. He was screwed after the arduous cycle in the wind and rain - so travelled with my support crew in the car to Kinlochleven in await to see what happens with me.
In my mind I now knew that I had 2 10mile sections to get through. I didn't know this part of the course and had heard many stories of the terrain and bleakness of the devil's staircase and Rannoch Moor.
I left the checkpoint in 10th and tried to keep a good pace. At the bottom of the devils staircase I passed the chap who said to me before that he could not get any energy in. He looked gubbed. I asked if he was ok and he just stopped and said on you go. I climbed further and further up the devil's staircase and looked down and he had not moved. Just sat on a rock.
Knowing he wasn't far from the main road i pressed onwards up the steep staircase and over the top to see the path stretch out in front of me for miles and miles. The descent was steep and tricky and each descent was followed by an immediate ascent! This got boring fast. The weather now was fully peeing down so keeping moving meant keeping warm.
Marc had now disappeared and I would never see him again till the end. in fact the only people I did see along the way for another 10miles were walkers on the trail. All of which looked as miserable as I felt by this point. Bugger walking it in this weather. This spurred me on to keep moving - the longer I took the wetter and more miserable I would feel.
Finally the descent that I was sprinting down broke through the trees and I could see a small village deep below in the valley - this must be Kinlochleven - I descended, and descended, and descended, and descended, bugger me - I got bored of going downhill- started to think that Kinlochleven didn't actually exist!! My knees then started to hurt as the massive downhills were taking its toll. This was to haunt me till the end and could potentially be my downfall.
I finally arrived into Kinlochleven and immediately was weighed (lost 0.4kg), got some soup and had a chat with Chris who now knew that he couldn't run with me so decided to make the run to FW himself.
I grabbed some food and soup and changed my bottle again - changed my top and put some compression sock on top of my tights. any help with warmth was now greatfully accepted. Putting my soaking wet GORE TEX jacket on (mental note to self: take more than one jacket), I asked the terrain of the next section where they told me it was slightly steep. Slightly?
Looking back at the relief map of the course via Garmin Connect - Kinlochleven seems to sit at the very bottom of a steep U shape valley. Bugger.
Kinlochleven - Lundavra
Having climbed out of the valley and trying to jog along the undulating ridges that form the route over to Lundavra - I started to see things on the horizon as my mind played tricks on me. I started to become tired and sore and started to doubt myself now. Ann said that the distance to Lundavra was 7 miles but it felt like 10. My left knee was now in agony. I could only run for 300-400metres than would have to walk for 100-200m. Downhill was even worse. Now knowing my knee would play up at this point I know that I could save a lot of time (maybe 30min) by not blasting the downhills earlier and keeping steady at this section.
Finally I got to Lundavra and by this point I had had enough. I knew that I would finish but was in such a dark place in my head. I gave Ann all my weight - bottle, bag, bars, ipod, etc etc - I got a bandage from her and immobilsed my knee. It was the only way that I could reduce the pain - this did massively affect my running dynamics and now run the risk of falling due to restricted movement of one leg. I kissed her goodbye and pushed the last 6miles to the finish.
Lundavra - Fort William.
I don't remember much of this section. I remember cursing everything and not caring if someone passed me - I would constantly turn around and expect to see someone and just give up the place I had worked hard for. I cursed the uphills, I cursed the downhills, I cursed the slugs on the ground, I cursed the guy who told me I was doing well (prick)! But anyone who knows me knows that I can be very stubborn sometimes and this was always at the back of my head. I WAS going to finish this.
The small single track broke onto a massive forestry road and levelled. I turned the corner and was confronted by a massive mountain across the valley from me. It was Ben Nevis :)
This relief was shortlived as I soon realised that I was probably the same height up as 3/4 of Ben Nevis and that is a lot of downhill! But knowing I would have that goblet in my hand in less than an hour motivated me.
I looked at my clock - regardless of the place I was in it suddenly dawned on me that I could make it under 20hrs, in fact well under. So I pushed down the hill but the pain was too much.
Walking - running - cursing - walking - running - cursing
Thats what the next hour comprised of!
Finally I got to the bottom of the valley and onto tarmac, god I missed you.
Gathering myself I started to pick up the pace, but every corner on the road I turned revealed another road section into FW - this felt like it went on for ever!
Until the last bend and I saw white buildings in the distance - It felt like I started a sprint!
My mum was in the distance and signaled to Ann and Chris who started to jog on the other side of the road to me.
I shouted 'where is the finish?'
'Just a little further' Ann said. I finally could see the end!
On entering the Leisure centre and being welcomed by Ian in 19:42:10 in 9th place on my first attempt, I knew that I could laugh now as the hurt would now become a distant memory.
I weighed in at the same weight as the last check point and knew that this was because I had taken in very little fluid over the last 17miles. I was just so focussed on getting to the end that I forgot to drink much.
I showered and dropped body temp very rapidly. Fighting to stay warm - we just decided to pack up and get back down the road as fast as possible. Ian presented me with the great reward of my very first goblet and I knew then I would be back for a better time next year.
In the days after I have found myself being scared of being out in the rain. I spent 20hrs of my life soaked to the bone. I am now away to America and might not come back! ;)
If I can do it, then so can you.
Day 245.1/365 - West Highland Way Race part 1 - Milngavie - Beinglas by tcfitness at Garmin Connect - Details
Day 245.2/365 - West highland way race part 2 - Crainlarich - Fort William by tcfitness at Garmin Connect - Details