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West Highland Way Race - Cloudy Skies and Rain

21st June 2014

95.1 miles








he time was 12.55am and there was just five minutes until the start of the 2014 West Highland Way Race. There was a nervous tension in the air. Some people chatted and some just remained silent, consumed in their own thoughts. My mind cast back to Saturday 20th June 2009.  A group of us from work had just spent the night in Gorton Bothy. The plan had been to get up early and hike over Beinn Dorain and the neighbouring Munro’s but one of my colleagues had brought in a large stash of wine and the night had descended into a drunken blur. Needless to say there was no Munro action the following day. We did manage to get out however and the following afternoon, with plans scaled down slightly, we decided to hike along the West Highland Way Path from Bridge of Orchy over Jelly Bean Hill (as it is known today) to Inveroran Hotel.

As we sat down outside the hotel a car pulled up opposite. Five minutes later, two runners plodded down the road. One of the runners looked shattered but the other one was in good nick. I watched with interest as the tired looking runner changed his socks and shoes, ate some food and then they were off again. Ever the curious person, I went over to the driver and asked him what was going on.

“He is running the West Highland Way Race” I was informed.

“Which part?”

“All of it!”

Wow! I had walked the West Highland Way on two occasions. A seven day trip back in 2002 and a six day trip in 2005. On both occasions, it had been tough. So how the hell could you run it non-stop? Surely that was not achievable? I had not heard of ultra-marathons in them days and it was totally inconceivable that you could run all that distance in a day. If someone would have said that five years later, I would be running the race myself I would have fell on the floor laughing but here I was on the starting line ready to go. I thought about the guy at the Inveroran Hotel. Would I be as tired as he looked? Would I actually make it that far?

Milngavie to Balmaha – Time 3:39:07, Distance 19 miles, Race Position 110

There was a noise, I think it was a klaxon. Then a roar and my mind was snapped back to the present. We are off! There is something a little surreal about setting off on a race in the earlier hours of the morning. It is just so different. Not that the time of day had put people off from coming out to watch. The streets of Milngavie were rammed. People were cheering and clapping. Someone was clattering a cowbell, it was amazing. Within a minute, I was through the town centre and onto the path. The clapping faded into the distance and was replaced by sound of feet thudding on the path. There was nervous chat as people jostled for position and settled into pace.

Back in April I had ran a 10 hour 51 minute ‘Highland Fling Race’ and apart from a ten day period in May when I could not train because of a chest infection, I had got a solid six months’ worth of training under my belt. I was feeling good coming into the race. I had agonised for ages on my approach. What time could I achieve? Could I get under 24 hours? Should I just aim to finish? Should I set myself splits?

In the end, I just decided to set off slow, preserve my energy in the early stages and see what happened. This was my first ultra over 100km so finishing was the main priority. I had deliberately positioned myself three-quarters of the way down the pack so that I would not get ‘get caught in the moment’ and set off too fast. I was running about a minute per kilometre slower than when I ran the Fling but I did not feel relaxed at all. My heart rate was elevated and I felt sluggish. I had the constant urge to go for a ‘pee’ even though I was not drinking loads.

As we passed Craigallian Loch the field slowly thinned out and by the time I was running along the path towards the distillery there was gaps in front and behind me. This was my least favourite section when I ran the Fling. Long and straight, but in the early hours of the morning in darkness it did not have the same monotony. I reduced my pace to force my heart rate down. I had expected to be about ten minutes slower than my Fling time coming into Drymen but I was going to be a good twenty minutes slower even though I felt had exerted the same amount of energy. This was not the start I had wanted and I needed to get a grip.

I crossed the road and headed up towards the West Highland Way path where a throng of supporters were waiting. I had texted my order to Emma earlier; two jam doughnuts and a can of Red Bull. This was in contrast to most other people who were getting bananas, gels and energy bars. I decided to pause for a couple of minutes to eat my food and take stock of the situation. The first section had not gone to plan but that was over now and it was time to move on. It was time to push negative thoughts to the side and think about the positives. This was an ultra after all and even the top runners have bad patches.

Feeling distinctly better after the doughnuts and Red Bull, I decided to push the pace a little. Looking back, this was a gamble but the combination of eating, drinking, some positive words from my wife and daylight breaking had raised my spirits. I still maintained my policy of walking the hills but I power walked hard and slowly started overtaking people.

By the time I exited Garadhban Forest it was light enough to run without a head torch. I was running steady and feeling significantly better than earlier on. I followed the path up and then down towards the burn at the bottom of Conic Hill, I was behind a guy by about fifty metres or so. He must have been running at the same pace as me because he was neither gaining nor loosing distance. It is quite a fast section and I guess we were both running pretty fast. He must have tripped up or stubbed his toe or something because the next thing he is flying forward Superman style through the air. After what seemed an eternity, he ‘face plants’ on the floor. Fair play to him though because he was up in a shot, dusted down and back running. No harm done.

This incident had reduced the gap and I caught up to him as we ascended up Conic Hill. He mentioned that his plan was to run to a specific heart rate for the entire race and had been experimenting with this technique in previous races. (The chap in question went on to finish in a sub 21 hours). I took my time descending Conic Hill, I wanted to save my quads and with the falling incident earlier still fresh in my mind, I did not want to do something similar myself. I made it to the plantation without incident and trotted along the path to the car park where I was meeting Emma at the first checkpoint.

West highland Way Race - Running into the checkpoint at Balmaha
Running into the checkpoint at Balmaha

Balmaha to Rowardennan – Time 1:45:25, Distance 8 miles, Race Position 102

I had made a mistake during the Fling and not eaten enough. In fact I had hardly eaten at all and I was determined that this would not happen again. I had set my watch to record kilometres splits and every time it bleeped, I would eat a midget gem or jelly bean. (I managed this for 70km until I just could not handle anymore sugary sweets) I am not sure whether the constant eating had anything to do with it but by the time I arrived in the checkpoint I had a decent appetite.

Emma had made me a cup of coffee and handed me a bowl of fruit salad. It tasted delicious and I could relax and plan ahead. For the rest of the race, I decided to implement the following:

  • Splits were out. No point in getting stressed about times
  • Forget the entire race. Just focus on the next checkpoint
  • Continue eating something every kilometre for as long as I could stomach it
  • Ten minutes maximum at each checkpoint if possible
  • Enjoy the race. This is supposed to be fun!

I said goodbye to Emma and set off out of the car park. It was time to tackle Loch Lomond. I was really looking forward to this section. I had ran it a good dozen times during training and knew it well. Although it follows close to the loch, the path undulates up and down and there are a couple of decent climbs. The good news is that recent path works had addressed a really muddy section and it was only about 8 miles to the next checkpoint.

I settled into a nice easy rhythm. Running the flats and downhill’s and walking any incline that I could not see over the top of. By this stage, the fields was really strewn out and for long periods I would be running on my own. I was slowly making progress up the field and I was overtaking the odd person here and there. This was good news and a great morale boost. I was now 35 km into the race and everything had settled down. Had the people who I was overtaking set off too fast? Was I running faster now? There is nothing more demoralising in a race when a person passes and looks strong. Maybe my conservative start was a good thing after all?

Looking back as I write this blog, I think I was subconsciously filling my mind with positive thoughts. It was a game I was playing. Banish all negatives and embrace positives, no matter how small. I am feeling hungry, that is a good sign. I felt strong on that uphill climb. That is a good sign. I was running smooth when I overtook that guy. That is a good sign.

All was uneventful until I hit Ross Wood, then the midges descended. Like most people who frequent Scotland, the midge and I have been up close and personal on many occasion, especially when camping. But these blighters were coming at me hard, hitting me head on. My arms and legs were soon covered and I could feel them attacking my skin. But that was nothing compared to my face. It felt like I was running through a soup of them. If I opened my mouth I swallowed them. They were in my eyes, there were everywhere! I pulled my cap down as low as possible but this was to no avail. In the end I pulled a midge net and put this on. Unfortunately, I just could not breathe properly with this on so I removed it. I would just have to dig in and make it Rowardennan. Fortunately there was only a couple of kilometres to go.

Rowardennan to Beinglas – Time 3:44:25, Distance 15 miles, Race Position 100

Where the hell is Emma?

I ran into Rowardennan, dibbed in at the checkpoint but Emma was nowhere to be seen. I trotted around the car park and found the car but it was locked and empty. I walked back to the checkpoint and she was stood there with a cup of coffee and more fruit salad for me. Somehow we had managed to miss each other. Trying to drink the coffee was not an option with the midges. As soon as I uncovered the top they were in the cup in a flash. Nothing else for it but to get in the car. Emma made me another cup of coffee and I got in the car and munched the bowl of fruit salad.

So far so good. I had overcome the poor first leg and was running better. I was eating well at each checkpoint and managing to eat a midget gem or jelly bean every kilometre. The main thing was that I was feeling positive. It was time to tackle the roller coaster section of Loch Lomond. I told Emma to drive back to the car park and get an hour’s sleep before driving to Beinglas. She had been up all night, had a full days driving to do before supporting me on the last leg from Kinlochleven.

I set off out of the car park and onto the wide track that leads past Ptarmigan Lodge and up to Rowchoish. I find this section a little soul destroying and I had walked large sections of this in the Fling, not just the hills but some of the flats as well. This time I was determined to keep to my plan of running all flats and downhill’s so I just reduced the pace and took it easy. From Rowchoish the path descends and I was able to run at a decent pace. From here the path is single track and it winds up and down. It took me about 90 minutes in total to get to Inversnaid.

It was now time to tackle the infamous boulder section. This was really busy when I ran the Fling and there was numerous hold ups whilst people slowed to scramble up and down the rocky sections. This was not the Fling though and with a field size significantly smaller and I only met one group of people who I quickly managed to get past. It was a relief to get past the rocks unscathed. Whilst they are a pleasant distraction from running, one slip could put an end to your race. Fortunately there had been no rain and the rocks were dry so traction was not an issue.

Once I passed the rocks I quickly phoned Emma to tell her that was about thirty minutes from Beinglas and could she get some Fruit Salad ready. Considering I have ran this section many times, I should have known that thirty minutes was never going to happen. In fact, close to an hour would be more accurate and this caused a mild panic as to whether she would get to the checkpoint in time because she was stuck in roadworks on the other side of the Loch.

It was a relief to be running again after the stop-start rocky section and I made good progress up and down past Doune bothy and then up over Cnap Moor before the final descent to Beinglas

Beinglas to Auchtertyre – Time 2:20:01, Distance 9 miles, Race Position 87

The good news was that when I arrived at Beinglas, Emma was stood waiting for me but the bad news was that the nearest she could park was at the bottom of the field so it meant a 400 metre hump from the path to the car and back. Not ideal but it was just one of things. I felt for my wife, she had been flying all over the place and had only managed to grab an hour’s sleep so she was probably more knackered than me. Fortunately, she would be meeting up with the remainder of my support crew, Scott and Kev, at Auchtertyre so she would have some company and support.

I resisted the temptation to rush my food and this was reflected by the fact that I spent twenty minutes at this checkpoint. This next section of the route is probably my least favourite. The weather was brutal on this section both times I hiked the West Highland Way and being the last stage of the Fling my legs were shot during the two times I have raced it. This time the weather was great and I was feeling really good.

I made great progress into Glen Falloch, following the same routine of walking any hills and a slow run for anything else. I was actually enjoying this and I was really looking forward to have some company for the remainder of the race. (At Auchtertyre you are allowed a support runner, assuming as long as you are not within four hours of the leader). Just past Derrydaroch, the path crosses the River Farroch and heads up before crossing under the A82. A couple of hundred metres after the bridge, I was halted in my tracks. There must have been a couple of dozen cows stood blocking the path and they did not look in the mood to give way any time soon. I will not deny that cows give me the ‘heebie-jeebies’. A recent run-in on the descent of Ben Lomond where drastic action was taken had done nothing to change that view neither.

Just as I was weighing up the alternatives, a runner come flying past waving his arms and shouting at the top of his voice. Like Moses parting the Red Sea, the beasts promptly moved to either side of the path. Call it divine intervention but I was not going to hang around and rejoice. ‘Moses’ was not hanging about and neither did I as I accelerated to about five times the fastest speed I had ran the entire race, close enough to Moses to touch his backpack and through the pack to the safety of the other side.

Phew! I thanked my saviour and continued my progress along the path, under the A82 and onto the Old Military Road. For the first time, I started thinking about the second half of the race. Would I still be running when I crossed Rannoch Moor? Will it be daylight when I reach into Kinlochleven? Will I be walking at the end? My bad patch at the beginning of the race felt a million years ago and as I descended through the forest at Crianlarich I was feeling really positive and looking forward to meeting up with my entire support team.

I dropped down to the road and a marshal gave me some kind words and directed me across to the other side. It is probably about a kilometre from the roadside to the checkpoint but it seemed to take ages. I was reduced to a walk on this section during the Fling but thankfully there was no repeat of that this time, just a plod instead. I arrived at the checkpoint and was greeted by my team, a blue chair to sit on and a cup of coffee. 🙂

West Highland Way Race - Arriving at Auchtertyre
Arriving at Auchtertyre

Auchtertyre to Bridge of Orchy – Time 2:11:00, Distance 9 miles, Race Position 77

My team was made up of Emma, Kev and Scott. I was really fortunate to have three great people helping me out. Kev would be running with me from Auchtertyre to Inveroran. From there, Scott would be running with me over Rannoch Moor, then up the Devils Staircase and down into to Kinlochleven. At Kinlochleven, Emma would run with me to the end in Fort William.

There was quite a lot of logistics to sort out. Or should I say for Emma to sort out. Both Kev and Scott’s cars were parked near the tourist information in Tyndrum. Once Kev and I arrived at Inveroran, Emma would drive Kev back to Tyndrum then drive to Glencoe to meet Scott and me at the checkpoint. Once we set off from Glencoe, she would drive to Fort William to check in the Premier Inn and leave a change of clothes there. She would then drive to meet us at Kinlochleven. When we arrived at Kinlochleven, Scott would drive our car back to Tyndrum and leave it at the car park then drive home and Emma would run with me to Fort William. Our plan was to chill out on the Sunday and then catch the train to Tyndrum on the Monday morning to collect our car. Phew!

It was always the plan to have an extended rest at Auchtertyre so in addition to some food, I changed my top and socks. Whilst Emma was cleaning my feet and Scott arranging some food, Kev sorted my dirty socks out. Fair play to Kev, after 50 miles, I would have been reluctant to touch them myself but he just got the job done. I was really happy that I was managing to eat well and to be fair I felt pretty good at this point although I had a massive craving for some fresh orange juice so Emma suggested that she would drive over to the mini market next to the Green Welly and meet Kev and I there.

I told Kev that I wanted to walk any inclines and run all flats and downhill’s. It was great not to be running alone and have someone to chat to. I had listened to music pretty much since the start and I could finally put my iPhone away. We followed the path under the main road, past Dalrigh and then past where the Fling finishes. It was unknown territory from now on. We met up with Emma and Scott and I nailed the orange juice I had been craving for. We ascended the short hill then when the path flattened out we started running.

Looking back now, I think this next section to the Bridge of Orchy was the best of the whole race. Kev had the pace spot on. I was definitely running faster but I felt really strong. It was during this section that I recorded my fastest kilometre split; 6 minutes 3 seconds. Kev was monitoring the splits on his phone and shouting out lots of encouragement:

“You are running strong”

“That was a great split”

“Let’s push on and take down that person in front”

As soon as we overtook someone we would focus on the next person. This increase in pace was reflected in the statistics for this section. I was 51st fastest for this section (my fastest of the entire race). To put this in perspective, I was 110th fastest for the first leg.

Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe – Time 2:40:02, Distance 11 miles, Race Position 69

We headed down passed the train station, crossed the road and dibbed in. Emma and Scott was waiting at Inveroran (just near where I had seen that runner all those years back) so we just pushed on straight through the checkpoint and headed up Mam Carraigh or Jelly Bean Hill as it is known to West Highland Way Racers! This was the first of the three big hills I had to ascend. The other two being the Devils Staircase and the climb out of Kinlochleven onto Lairig Moor. Additionally, there was the slog across Rannoch Moor as well. I made a decision that I would not stop on any of the ascents. I could rest at the top but under no circumstances would I stop whilst climbing. Slow and steady!

West Highland Way Race - Running past 'Murdo' on Jelly Bean Hill
Running past 'Murdo' on Jelly Bean Hill

Anyone who knows anything about the West Highland Way Race will know that ‘Murdo’ awaits at the top of the hill to hand out a Jelly Baby to every runner passing and true to form there he was wearing brightly coloured pants that looked fit for Coco the Clown. I gratefully received my Jelly Baby (how many packets does he actually buy?) as I passed and we dropped down the hill. I was really happy as we approached the car. Kev had done an amazing job in not only keeping me ticking over but we had gained a number of places. From a positive point of view, nothing beats overtaking people.

I sat down on the chair and decided to try some pasta for a change. For the first time I was beginning to struggle a little to eat, I had ditched the “eat a sweet every kilometre” now. For the first time, I allowed myself to think about the finish. I had the big three to go. Climbs over Rannoch Moor, Devils Staircase and up onto Lairig Mor. Scott was ready to go and we were off running in just under ten minutes.

When it comes to running, no one knows me as well as Scott. We have ran numerous mountain marathons together, the Highland Fling and the Lakeland 50 to name a few. If I started going off the rails then hopefully he would notice before things got bad and address accordingly. As it was, I was still feeling good and there was no problems as we trotted along the tarmac section to Victoria Bridge. Every couple of minutes, he was reaching in his rucksack for some flapjack or a sweet. I guess if I had been on my own, I would have neglected nutrition so it was good to be looked after.

We applied the same strategy as before. Run all flats and down-hills and walk any inclines. The weather was perfect. No wind, great visibility and not to hot. We overtook a few people including a couple at Ba Bridge who were looking in pretty bad shape. It is a great feeling when you are running strong and you are passing people. Alternatively, I have been on the other side of this situation when I have felt lousy and people have pushed past looking strong, so I know how they felt. All you can do is shout some encouragement and push on. We spent the entire section of Rannoch Moor chatting about Scott’s successful Bob Graham attempt the previous year. We dissected his entire race. It really made the time fly.

Just past Ba Bridge the path climbs one hundred metres to the high point of 445 metres before dropping down to Glencoe. I love the descent into Glencoe and opened my legs for the three kilometre run into the checkpoint. Emma had parked the car pretty much opposite the path so there was a small walk up towards the ski centre to dib in.

West Highland Way Race - The checkpoint at Glencoe - 71 miles down
The checkpoint at Glencoe - 71 miles down

Glencoe to Kinlochleven – Time 2:48:31, Distance 10 miles, Race Position 59

I sat down and grabbed a cup of coffee and more fruit salad. I am not sure whether it was all the sweets that Scott had been feeding me or just the fact that my appetite was diminishing as the race was progressing but I was not really hungry. It 16:30 in the afternoon and even though I had not performed a recce of the next section to Kinlochleven, I remembered from when I had walked this section that if I kept the pace steady and bar a major catastrophe I would be arriving in Kinlochleven in daylight.

I changed my running vest for a t-shirt and we set off down the road towards the Kingshouse Hotel. One thing I had forgotten since I walked the West Highland Way was how far it was from Glencoe to the bottom of The Devil’s Staircase. I had it in my mind that it was just a kilometre or so when in fact it was seven. It felt like a trudge and took us about an hour to get to the bottom of the Devil’s Staircase.

The Devil’s Staircase has a forbidding name but I was more worried about the steep climb out of Kinlochleven. The path zig-zags up for two kilometres gaining a height of 250 metres to the col at 548 metres. My legs were feeling it now but I was determined not to stop. We passed a girl half way up. She was making slow progress and stopping every ten metres or so but seemed in really good spirits. By this time Scott must have finished off the sweets and moved onto flapjack. I just could not stomach it and trying to force it down me was making me gag. I was just nibbling away and before I got half way through it, Scott had passed me another piece. I tried to force it down my throat and came pretty close to throwing up. In the end I just shoved it in my rucksack. This would be the last food I would consume before the end of the race.

It was still daylight as we descended into Kinlochleven. It was just 14 miles to the end. For the first time I allowed myself to think about the finish. At that point I knew I was going to complete the West Highland Way Race.

Over the next kilometre, the path drops down to the Allt a’ Choire Odhair-bhig and then ascends back up. The view was amazing. In the distance you could see The Mamores in all their glory. Conversation shifted to the Ramsay Round and a potential attempt in the next couple of years. We had not taken breath since leaving Bridge of Orchy but the conversation took my mind off the race. I wondered how I would be coping in these later stages if I was on my own. Once I again I realised how fortunate I was to have a great support team. The path started descending down towards the Aluminium Works. Kinlochleven was in sight, I could almost reach out and touch it but it seemed to last forever. Just as I thought the misery was going to end, it took a sharp left and headed through a wooded area. Eventually we emerged and hit the town centre. The end was so close, I could almost taste it!

When we arrived Emma was waiting, fully kitted in her running gear with a big smile on her face. I think she relieved that she would be actually doing some running at last after being cooped up in the car all day. Considering she had been up since the Friday night and been rushing here, there and everywhere, she was remarkably cheery. Either that or the copious amounts of Red Bull and coffee she had been consuming had sent her a little ‘loopy’.

I dibbed in and jumped on the scales. I had lost about two kilograms when weighed at Auchtertyre but at Kinlochleven I had actually put on a little weight. Good stuff! It was time to say goodbye to Scott. He was taking our car back Tyndrum and then driving back to Cumbria. I was gutted he was leaving. Both Scott and Kev had helped me considerably and it would have been amazing to have my entire to team meeting me at the end. We said our goodbyes and set off for the final fourteen miles to Fort William.

Kinlochleven to Fort William – Time 4:08:40, Distance 14 miles, Race Position 61

I was still not hungry and when Emma did not mention taking on any food I did not raise any objections. Maybe in hindsight this was a mistake but in the grand scheme of things I just wanted to get moving. As we ran out of the checkpoint I knew that this was it. Once I was on Lairig Mor, there would be no turning back. We trotted down the road and headed onto the trail and up the hill. Pre-race I had wondered how I would feel slogging it up this climb? Would my legs be shot? Would Emma be holding me up? It turned out to be a little bit of anti-climax. I just adopted the same strategy as Devil’s Staircase. Slow and steady, no rests until the top. It was pretty straight-forward. Emma was chatting away. I think she was enjoying the fact that for once on a run she was in a better state than I was!

We hit the top and the path started to flatten out. The strategy was simple. Keep running the flats and downhill’s and walk any inclines – same as before. We made great progress. It was that time of the evening when the light is just beginning to fade. The air was still and as we looked up and down the trail, there was not a person in sight. To be alone anywhere in the wilderness is amazing but to be closing in on the finish of a 95 mile ultra-race in total solitude with just my wife for company was truly magical. The memory will live with me forever.

At that stage I can honestly say that I was running as good as anywhere else on the race. We were even running up some of the smaller inclines. But as I was about to find out very soon, things can change quickly and nothing should be took for granted.

The path undulated up and down but made gradual ascent to the high point where the Trossachs Search and Rescue Team had set up base. We paused and chatted for a couple of minutes and I gratefully accepted a can of cold Tizer. We pushed on and headed down. I knew that there is an unofficial checkpoint at Lundavra and apparently there would be a bonfire and music playing.

When we arrived the bonfire was yet to be ignited but there was music playing and we stopped whilst John Kynaston (who was manning this checkpoint) took our photo. I asked him if I would break twenty four hours based on my current time. He told me that this was in the bag and if I maintained a steady pace then sub twenty three would be achievable.

West Highland Way Race - At Lundavra just before darkness
At Lundavra just before darknessPicture by John Kynaston

Could I really do a sub twenty three hour race? All it would take would be to just do what I had been doing; run the flats and downhill’s and walk the climbs. Deep down I knew this was not going to happen. It was as though I knew what was going to happen next. We left John and pushed on. It was at this point that another runner came running past. It was the first time that anyone had overtaken me on the trail since before Auchtertyre. It was now getting dark and time to get out the head torches.

As the sky got darker, I got more tired. My legs slowed down and I wanted to stop. I was finding it difficult to keep up with Emma. All of a sudden the wheels were falling off. Ten minutes earlier, I had been running strong now I was struggling. I cannot remember much about what happened next apart from the fact that I was really tired and had an overwhelming urge to sleep.

Please can I just lie down at the side of trail and have a sleep? Just five minutes, I promise!

The next thing I slipped flat on my backside. Unfortunately this was just as I was descending a set of wooden steps and the end result was that I bounced off every step and landed in a heap at the bottom. It did not hurt but it was rather funny. Had I fallen asleep? I am not sure but all I can remember is that I just wanted to curl up at the side of the trail and sleep.

Not that I remember, but apparently I asked Emma if I could just lie down for five minutes or so and have a snooze. Somehow she managed to persuade me to keep going. One way or another we made up to the high point in the forest (where the single track meets the wide track) and it was just a case of running down the long winding track and then alongside the road to the finish.

I will not deny it but I was wasted at this stage and I would have been content to walk the remainder of the race. I was probably moaning and giving my wife grief. We struck a compromise; run for one minute then walk a minute. Emma would be the time keeper. It is quite funny looking back now but I was convinced that the running was lasting for about ninety seconds and the walk only thirty. I was being conned! I am sure would not do that to me, or would she?

We slowly made progress down and eventually came to a point where we could either continue straight on or take a sharp right and follow the West Highland Way onto the main road. Someone had sprayed paint on the trail directing people onwards. I did not realise that this would have taken us to the Braveheart Car Park and was the official route. The lack of sleep had made me slightly paranoid and I was convinced that this was some under hand action by the rival West Highland Way Race that was also being run to make people get lost!

After a little deliberation we decide to ignore the painted directions and follow the West Highland Way route. The end result was that we had an extra one kilometre on the pavement. No big deal there though. We plodded along the road and slowly closed in on Fort William. All the walking had put paid to a sub twenty three hour finish but I was comfortably inside twenty four. I remember reading on a blog that when you see a sign at the side of the road for the speed being reduced to thirty then you are really close.

We passed the sign and headed into the town and then onto the finish at the leisure centre. There was no exultation, no big fanfare. It was a low key finish with just a few people were there. I dibbed in for the final time in a race time of 23 hours, 17 minutes and 38 seconds. I had finished the West Highland Way Race! It was over, I had completed it. I was so happy but too tired to enjoy the moment. I had a quick cup of tea and then headed (or should I say staggered) to the Premier Inn where we had booked a room for the night.

The following day, the Prize-giving and post race reflection

Surprisingly, I did not feel too bad the following day. Whilst I did not have a great night’s sleep, I did not wake up in a pool of sweat like I did after the Ultimate Trails 100K. The good news was that my legs felt in pretty good shape and I could walk around without much issue. I was wearing an awesome pair of Salomon recovery shoes Emma had bought me.

We headed down for breakfast and it was not hard to spot people who had run the race. I felt for the runners still out there on the course who had run through two nights straight. The people who come in last are the real heroes of these races.

We took a walk around town and then chilled for a while before heading over to the Nevis Centre for the presentation. Whilst the finish may have been a little low key, the presentation certainly was not. One by one each person is called to the front to receive their prize, a crystal goblet. It starts with the winner first then works down the finishing order until the last person. As a really nice touch, the person who finished last is presented their goblet by the winner. Additionally, there was other prizes for people who had completed the race on multiple occasions.

West Highland Way Race - Job Done -At the prize giving ceremony
Job Done - At the prize giving ceremony

With the ceremony over, we had a wander around town, chilled out for a while then went for a Chinese meal. After a couple of beers in the pub, we retired to bed so that we could be up early for the first train to Tyndrum. The West Highland Way Race was amazing. The organisers and marshal’s have done a great job in delivering a top class event and for that they deserve a huge pat on the back. The organisation was flawless. Would I come back and run it again? Unlikely, there are lots more amazing Ultras out there and somehow I just do not think running it a second time would come anyway near what I experienced this time. In 2015 I will be running the Lakeland 100 and I also fancy one of the Hardmoors events, but I would love to come back and support another runner some time so you never know! 🙂

My Race Statistics

Checkpoint Leg Time Leg Position Overall Time Overall Position Overall Distance
Balmaha 3:39:07 110 3:39:07 110 19 miles
Rowardennan 1:45:25 89 5:24:32 102 27 miles
Beinglas Farm 3:44:52 99 9:09:24 100 42 miles
Auchtertyre 2:20:01 71 11:29:25 87 51 miles
Bridge of Orchy 2:11:00 51 13:40:25 77 60 miles
Glencoe Ski Centre 2:40:02 55 16:20:27 69 71 miles
Kinlochleven 2:48:31 52 19:08:58 59 81 miles
Fort William 4:08:40 64 23:17:38 61 95 miles

My Food List

  • African Peanut Soup
  • Minty Pea Soup
  • Veggie Chilli
  • Veggie Pasta
  • White Bread
  • Carrot and Chilli Bread
  • Herb infused Pitta Bread
  • Roast Potatoes
  • Vegetable Samosa’s
  • Dark Chocolate Orange Cupcakes
  • Coconut, Ginger and Lime Cupcakes
  • Banana, Ginger and Blueberry Flapjack
  • Doughnuts
  • Assortment of mixed sweets
  • Mixed Fresh Fruit (everything you can imagine!)
  • Nuts and Dried Fruit
  • Green and Blacks Dark Lemon Chocolate
  • Assortment of various crisps
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Lemon and Ginger Tea
  • Red Bull
  • Lucozade
  • Water

How I trained for the West Highland Way Race

Training for an ultra (or any race) is an individual thing and what works for one person may not work for someone else but I thought I would document my training in case it is of interest to anyone. First things first. I am not a good runner. I consider myself average. I usually finish in the top half of races, maybe the top third sometimes. I train to enjoy myself, explore new places and keep myself healthy.

My training for the West Highland Way Race started immediately after the New Year but I had built a decent base in 2013 and ran a pretty decent race in the Ultimate Trails 100K in September 2013.

  • Total Distance ran in 2013: 1761 km
  • Total Distance ran in last three months of 2013: 516 km

As the above statistics show, I had a ran a reasonable distance in 2013 with my best months at the end of the year.

I decided against creating a specific training plan and instead would monitor how I feel and adjust my training accordingly. I would however run a long run at weekends and supplement this with a couple of runs midweek and cross training. Ideally I would train in a four week cycle gradually increasing the intensity up until the third week and then on the forth week taking an easy week.

Below are my running statistics from January up to (but not including the race).

Month Distance (KM) Ascent (Metres) Number of Runs Longest run (KM)
January 135.42 1807 10 22.88
February 296.12 3270 15 35.94
March 292.18 7306 17 47.40
April 228.79 4447 11 85.97
May 166.03 4501 11 37.71
June 109.82 1992 10 44.94
Total 1228.36 23323 74

I averaged three runs a week. My best months were February and March. In fact everything was great leading up to the Highland Fling in April. May was not a good month. Firstly, I got a slight hamstring strain that put me back a little and then at the end of the month I got a chest infection which meant my longest run in June was completed just two weeks before the race. Originally I planned to do my June long run three weeks before the race.

The table below details the spread of runs against distance.

Distance (KM) Number of Runs
>= 50 1
40 – 50 3
30 – 40 4
20 – 30 10
10 -20 29
0 – 10 27

I am not a big mileage person. I did one big run (The Highland Fling) and only three other long runs in the marathon distance region. I did however do many ‘back to back’ runs. Something like a run about 15 km followed the next day by a run in the 20 km region.

My running was supplemented by cross training. I really enjoy group exercise, especially the Les Mills classes at my local Bannatynes Health Club. I tried where ever possible to do the following three classes on a weekly basis:

  • Les Mills BODYATTACK – a high energy fitness class that combines athletic movements like running, lunging and jumping with strength exercises such as push-ups and squats.
  • Les Mills BODYPUMP – a class that uses light to moderate weights but with lots of repitition to give a total body workout.
  • Les Mills RPM – and indoor cycling class set to the rhythm of motivating music.

I do not work for Les Mills, honest! But my wife is an instructor and she got me into these and I found the combination of running and classes worked perfect for me. I typically trained six days a week and had one rest day.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Anthony Jones

    Inspiring read…well done for completing the race and writing about your experience.
    Makes me want to do it!!

    • Darren

      Anthony,you should consider the Highland Fling. It’s the first 53 miles of the WHW. Amazing race

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