West Highland Way Race 2014 – 95 miles

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” Romans 5:3-5

Why I decided to run the West Highland Way race:

I first heard about this race almost a year ago on an forum and it’s been in my thoughts ever since. I was hesitant to put my name for the lottery as I only recently started running on trails and with 29,520ft of elevation (14,760ft of ascending and 14,750ft of descending) over rocky terrain, it seemed very intimidating. Coming from a road running background and as a person who was born and raised in Chennai, India. (It’s extremely flat with one hill in the entire city but we got alot of beaches though, Mind I did go up and down that wee hill at least a million times!)

I’ve always found the mountains quite intimidating and daunting. The unknown had really intrigued me in the past and that was probably one of the main reasons I entered the West Highland Way race. Had a few sleepless nights and was really hoping my name doesn’t get pulled out during the draw but alas I got the email saying I got selected and had to pay up and of course man up. I could have done the logical thing and given up my spot but decided to take the plunge after mulling over it for a week. The enormity of the challenge hit me only after entering it and doing more research about the race and its history. Up until then I’ve never heard about it and was thinking it’ll be a nice stroll on some candy-ass trail with a few hills thrown in, little did I know it was going to be so rocky with scrambling involved! Although I was warned by a friend who did it before and told me to be wary of the challenge and not take it for granted.

Pre-race:

I arrived in Aberdeen a week earlier and stayed at my uncle’s house. They were going to be my crew and are not runners but gladly accepted to support so I had to prepare lists and post codes of checkpoints to let them know everything that I might need so that they can deal with me especially towards the end of the race. I was pretty much stuffing my face a week before the race with lots of curry and spicy food but was generally feeling good, my tapering included very short 3 mile runs everyday just to keep the legs moving. I only stopped running a day or two before the race. On wednesday we went out to Tesco and basically bought the entire place out. Lots of sugary stuff,savoury stuff,cakes, scottish short breads and some healthier stuff too. The helper lady asked me if we were going on a camping trip with the amount of stuff I was buying, I told her “nah I am just running the entire west highland way, its kinda like a race you know”, she thought I was crazy but wished me well. After seeing Noanie’s post about the level of detail she puts into sorting stuff out I was panicking as I wasn’t so well organised. I got the drop bags sorted and the plan was to eat real food until I can’t stomach it and then go for the sugary stuff like GU gels/cookies/baby food etc.

Think I bought a little too much but I did eat the rest post race 😀

Race day:

I couldn’t sleep on thursday night as I was too excited about the race but I knew I’ll be fine (I’m a firm believer that the sleep you get 2-3 nights out from the race is what matters, so I really don’t stress over sleep the night before).  I was lazing around that morning after breakfast and lunch, tried to nap but simply couldn’t sleep so was sorting my kit out and just being calm. We drove to Glasgow from Aberdeen after a routine dinner of pasta and boiled chicken and it took us around 3 hours to get there, I was trying to rest but couldn’t shut my brain down. We got there around half-past 11 so there was plenty of time to register etc. Parked at the railway station and went to the church to register, could already see the place was buzzing! Met lots of known faces, a quick chat with Johnny Fling and then went into the church to get my wrist band & timing chip sorted and get myself weighed. I got some curious looks and comments about my choice of taping my feet as I was wearing slippers at that time. After meeting John Kynaston and Carrie Craig, I met with Lorna and Gavin again, I was still undecided on what shoes to wear 45 mins before the start, yea I was cutting it a little close. I brought two trail shoes (Mizuno Wave Ascend & Salomon S-Lab XT6) and two road shoes (Saucony Guide and Hoka Stinson Evo) with me. Gavin told me to go with road shoes as it was pretty dry the week before the race and the course is very rocky. Got some insights from both of them and it was very reassuring to know that I would definitely finish, just what time depends on me. I went back to the car to slather myself in vaseline and put my shoes on, it was the shoe I trained with although this one was a size bigger to the one I normally use in anticipation for swelling, both my road shoes were a size bigger. After a quick word of prayer we headed out to the tunnel where the race briefing was going on. Since it was already published online I didn’t pay too much attention to it as at that point I read it by heart lol. Saw Jamie and Bob steel again at the start and after a few minutes I hugged my aunt and uncle and went to the start. Met Carrie again and she wished me well and I knew she was hoping for a good time, it’s always good to see known faces around you and exactly at 1 am we set off.

Checking in before the race, got my bracelet and they weighed me. Was quite nervous at this point 🙂 Photo credit : Graeme Hewitson

A quick pic with my aunt just before the Start 🙂

Race Briefing! Photo Credit: Graeme Hewitson

Milngavie to Balmaha (Mile 19)

              The start was pretty lively with everyone chatting and we were getting to know each other. While the fact that we had 95 miles to go was very much in my head and I was trying to not think about it too much. I tried to avoid conversations as I was pretty nervous and it was dark so was just watching my feet and plodding along. 30 minutes into the race I realised my fancy GPS watch wasn’t working like at all as it wasn’t showing anything just a whole load of ZEROS! So much for fenix 2 being the best garmin watch, later it hit me that I set the recording interval at 30 minutes instead of 30 seconds (facepalm). After getting that sorted the field was spreading out and I bumped into Fiona Rennie. She’s an absolute legend who has survived cancer and was doing the race for the 10th time this year, after a quick chat and telling her how much I looked up to her I kept shuffling along. Was running with another lovely lady who was doing it for her first time aswell, we went past drymen (mile 12) and I was reminded about the crazy support here during the fling but tonight it was very quiet with some crews waiting there to meet their runners. I had enough stuff with me and opted to carry a handheld bottle so that I don’t have to wait around in the next aid station. I was feeling pretty good and tried to hold myself back although my stomach was giving me trouble 10 miles in, met two lovely ladies who were running together and I was either following them or they were following me until we saw day light and started our long ascent up Conic Hill. It was much better today as the times I’ve run up conic, it’s usually covered in mist so can’t see the summit. After a couple of false summits we finally saw that breath-taking view of Loch Lomond and tried to descend down it carefully as its easy to slip and break something in those rocky steps. After descending down into balmaha I felt kinda sleepy and in need of a toilet break, after checking in my time I went in search of my support car since my crew were camped inside as Balmaha was midge infested. After a quick sandwich and some refills, I dropped my windproof jacket and my handheld and went in to the Oak tree for a quick toilet break. I realised then that I had my head lamp on and I really didn’t want to carry it around until Beinglas farm (mile 41) where I’ll meet my crew next so went back and gave it to them. It kinda didn’t strike me at that time that I had a rucksack which can carry a tiny headlamp, sigh it was the nerves I think!

That view of Loch Lomond never gets old at the summit of Conil Hill!

Coming into the midge fest that is the Balmaha checkpoint! Photo credit: Stuart Macfarlane

Balmaha (Mile 19) to Rowardennan (Mile 27)

I was starting to feel pretty good and was sticking to my strategy at this point, passed a few runners and was generally moving well as I remember this was the section I wasn’t feeling too well during the fling. It had a lot of undulations with lots of climbs and descents and one very steep “hands on knees” style climb. There was a small section where you’re running on pebbles/beach sand along loch lomond which was very picturesque and the sun came out. Then we came into the section where you’re running along the loch and into the checkpoint. I was tip toeing my way into the CP as I really didn’t want to twist my ankle so early in the race. The checkpoint was midge infested as all the volunteers were wearing bee keepers hats and I sat down to eat the contents of my drop bag. Could barely see any thing with the amount of midges! In hindsight I should have listened to the volunteer and not sat there at all. Ate my new favourite Ambrosio Custard, a little bit of coke and filled my bottle with the water. I think I ate a mars bar too!

A nice section along the Loch except for the bloody midges!

Lovely pebble/beach sand section along Loch Lomond!

Rowardennan (Mile 27) to Inversnaid (Mile 34)

As I walked out of the aid station gingerly I knew I had one more aid station before I meet my crew again so wanted to run this section decently as the next one is a bit of a scramble! Was running along with a lovely gentleman in his 60’s whose name escapes me, he was pretty surprised that I’ve taken up ultra running when I’m all of 23. He was trying to take the mickey by saying  “shouldn’t you like be partying and getting drunk? You’re a lawyer you should know better!” Fair enough as he had a son my age but was very supportive of what I was doing. He did mention he didn’t care what time he finished as long as he got around and got his moneys worth! While moving up the climb we met three other guys of whom I remember only Flip Owen. He seemed like a really nice guy and we had a lot of common friends, he was telling me about his 2 finishes and one DNF. He did remind me of how special it is to get to fort william as the awards ceremony is second to none, I was close to tears listening to that soul stirring speech and it toughened my resolve to finish at all costs. He also mentioned his DNF at 100 miles into the Hardmoors 110 after breaking his foot, later he sprinted off into the horizon while the three of us were looking at each other baffled, they blamed me for scaring him off lol. I was running with the 60 year old at this point while his friend looked like he was part of a zombie invasion and was trying his hardest to keep it together. He turned at me and said “if you keep running around all over the place you will end up like him!” I chuckled and went towards his friend to cheer him on. After a good bit of banter we were around 3 miles away from the checkpoint and were getting frustrated. I was feeling rubbish at this point and was trying to eat. While the 60 year old was telling me about his races and we were talking about how beautiful India is. He later called me his sherpa and that I must lead him to the next CP since I knew where it was, I was like “If I was a sherpa I would be leading this race not be in the middle of the pack having a whale of a time!” 😀 We went through some dark moments here and I was starting to see stars due to not eating enough. After some hiking and running we finally made it to inversnaid where I breathed a sigh of relief. I couldn’t quite spot the checkpoint as it was behind a giant bus and was starting to panic (as you do when you really want to have a sit down!). Sat down and consumed most of the stuff in my drop bag. I met Alan Stewart and his friend also sitting down next to me. After standing in front of the giant fan they had set up to blow away the midges we headed off to beinglas farm. This was supposed to be one of the hardest sections of the race.

The Gent I ran with 🙂

Inversnaid (Mile 34) to Beinglas Farm (Mile 41)

While its only 7 miles long and seems fairly simple on paper, this lived up to its billing as it was totally non-runnable! Alan stewart, his friend and I were working in tandem and taking turns to lead while power hiking/scrambling along this section and being very careful not to twist an ankle or fall into the loch! They both were lovely lads who had finished the race a couple of times and knew their way around, we had some good conversations to kill time as this was a section where it’ll take you 2-3 hours to get through 3 miles and you wouldn’t notice it took that long! After going across boulders and hitting some runnable trails until a quick hike up Dario’s post where we had two lovely people shouting abuse from the top to keep us going. I was slowing down here with about 2 miles to go until beinglas, I was running alone and feeling abit low so just wanted to get to beinglas and meet my crew. After running along high up the hill and seeing the road from a distance I knew I had a fair bit to go before I would get there. Met a volunteer along the way who was very polite and lied to my face saying that I was looking great! After some steady running I finally got to the checkpoint and checked in, was searching around for my crew who I could not spot so I ran towards the car park to see if they were there. Nope not to be found, I met Graeme Hewitson who was supporting a israeli runner and his husband was also crewing. I called my uncle who couldn’t find Beinglas so I told him to go directly to auchertyre (mile 51) since Graeme offered to help. Had a quick sandwich, some orange juice and a quick bottle refill. I met Graeme earlier during the fling when he was taking pictures up conic hill, he told me that he finished it last year and that the goblet is extremely precious! It’s this family feeling about the race that sets it apart from most ultras as other’s come out to your aid. In hindsight It was a good thing that I didn’t meet my crew here as I would have most likely dropped as I felt so rubbish.

Umm trail?

Beinglas CP

Beinglas(41) to Auchertyre (Mile 51)

It was a pretty lonely section after leaving the check-point I couldn’t spot anyone ahead or behind me so was just shuffling along. Saw one runner ahead who was barely walking, after a quick chat and motivational talk I kept going. I was feeling pretty low so tried to eat and was looking for inspiration. I decided to get my ipod out and listen to some tunes but later realised one of the ear buds must have fallen off somewhere along the trail so just kept putting one foot in front of the other. There was a fair bit of sunshine which helped me pick up the pace. Then I hit the roller coaster section with lots of nice downhills and uphills and was really enjoying it. Came across a hiker who had stopped and was asking him how long to go until auchertyre and he had no clue but he did say that I was on the right path which was reassuring. After some soul searching I came across three french girls who were walking along with their massive rucksack’s, was chatting to them and telling them about this race that’s apparently going on and I again asked them how long until the next checkpoint and they didn’t have a clue either. I guess I looked pretty rubbish at that point so they broke into a dance and were cheering me on, so I ran the uphills until they were out of sight then strode along at my own gentle pace as I really didn’t want to trash my quads at this point. I then came across a road crossing with two marshals who were chirpy and cheerful, thank you for the kind words that really did give me a lift. I think I went through a rather dry cowpoo alley with mutated cows the size of dinosaurs! They were literally dwarfing me so whenever I came across one near the trail I stopped and walked until I passed them, very intimidating animals especially when they moo! I had to slap myself to make sure that I wasn’t hallucinating as they were just massive. With about a mile to go to the check point I was pretty certain that I was going to drop out as I never felt so rubbish in a race at mile 50 and I knew it would take me another night of running to get to fort william so was really contemplating a good excuse to quit but none of my petty excuses came close to my desire of owning a goblet (As Alan said next time I want a crystal Goblet I am definitely getting one from Asda instead!). My feet were trashed as I used road shoes which had no rock plate and my running pace was pretty pedestrian so mentally it was hard to accept and justify. As soon as I entered the check point they wanted to weigh me so went to my crew and got the weighing card, they said I lost 2.5 kgs and that I needed to eat more and drink more to avoid being pulled out at the next CP where they’ll weigh me again (mile 80). Got into the car and removed my shoes and was about 80% certain I was dropping but still ate a PBJ sandwich and a protein shake and was still contemplating on how I am going to crawl my way to the finish. After looking at my state my uncle was pretty worried and asked me if I genuinely could make it to fort William and my automatic response was a emphatic YES! Just to get me going again I sent my pacer Gavin a text saying that I’ll be at Bridge of Orchy (BoB) in an hour or two and that was the one thing I was looking forward to the most, now I couldn’t back out ha!. After a change of t-shirt (my Salomon exo was sweaty and looked more like a midge net at this point) and reapplying vaseline, I decided to slip into the Hoka’s as they offered superior cushioning so that I don’t feel the rocks as much but my feet was swollen about 3 times its regular size and was very tender from the rock bashing so even with a bigger shoe the toe box seemed too narrow but battered toe nails was something I was willing to take if it meant I would finish. I was still well ahead of the cut-offs so thats never been a worry its just that mentally I was a mess but I refused to be drawn into the self-pity cave. I knew this was the last section I’ll be running alone so was just trying to keep it together and not cry, even if I did no one was going to hear it on top of a hill! 😀

The world famous Cowpoo alley!

Auchertyre CP where I was pretty close to dropping but with a view like that I ran out of excuses! Photo by Graeme Hewitson

Auchertyre (Mile 51) to Bridge of Orchy (BoB) (Mile 60)

After having a quick stop at the toilet before leaving the checkpoint (Probably the only time in my life where I didn’t care which toilet I was getting in whether it was mens/disabled/womens!). I left auchertyre knowing that I had crossed the point of no return so no quitting and feeling sorry for yourself anymore I just had to get it done. After some solitary miles across some stunning scenery with majestic munros following you, they seemed to get bigger and bigger every time I looked at them so had to snap out of the constant mountain gazing. Had a few people running ahead of me so tried to get to them and walk some bits with them, I saw two lads in kilts marching along with purpose! After some long solitary miles I came across three beautiful ladies on the side of a hill with the Highland Fling hoodie on and cow bells to cheer us, that really got me going to start running with purpose again. Thank you for telling me that I would finish, felt very reassuring and gave me a lift. Descended down from that hill into a ditch and met some flingers with the fling buff running on the opposite direction wishing me well. Kept a steady approach and reached the BoB train station and breathed a heavy sigh of relief. A nice couple who were crewing for their daughter were on hand to direct me to the check point and the descent on tarmac seeing Lorna, Gavin and their friend in the distance walking towards me gave me a real lift. After meeting them and a quick hug to Gavin we were chatting for a few seconds before we started running to meet my crew. Lorna and her friend really liked my colourful Hokas, I told them “if you’re going to wear clown shoes might as well get a rainbow coloured one!”.

Enroute to BOB, getting into Munro Territory! Photo: Katie Hall

BOB CP where I linked up with Gavin 🙂 Photo : Katie Hall

Bridge of Orchy (Mile 60) to Glencoe Ski resort (Mile 70)

After being handed a big slice of sandwich we checked in at the CP and saw Fiona having a quick sit down. After cheering her we started the ascent and I was feeling really good at this point. Felt weird how I felt absolutely shattered at Mile 40 to 50 and yet was feeling fresh now. We were chatting along the ascent and Gavin was encouraging me to run bits of it, he was telling me about how amazing transvulcania was (Definitely one for the future!) and before we knew it we were approaching the infamous Jelly Baby hill with Murdo in a clown costume. As soon as we got to him he asked me if I wanted wine/whisky or a jelly baby, I asked for a jelly baby and he said that I would finish in daylight, tomorrow! Although my heart sank a little when I heard that at least I knew I would get through this in one piece with Gavin with me.

Jelly Baby Hill, Photo : Lorna McMillan

Jelly Baby hill!

We descended down that hill and went through the gates to enter Rannoch moor, met Flip Owen again and chatted for sometime and we kept pushing on, we were literally yo-yoing back and forth until we started running again. I was telling Gavin about how beautiful this place was and that it was soo peaceful and quiet. The snow-covered peaks were spectacular and I really enjoyed that undulating section. I also told him how weird it felt to feel this good at 70 miles into a race and that I never thought that would ever be possible! After making steady progress we charged into the glencoe ski resort checkpoint. They had a massive fire truck there which served as the checkpoint base. Met my crew here and spent sometime eating and drinking. Got my headlamp on as it would go dark soon and I knew the second night was coming and that I may see hallucinations. 

Not a bad view at Glencoe 🙂

Going up the Devil’s staircase!

Glencoe (Mile 70) to Kinlochleven (Mile 81)

After leaving the checkpoint I spent a couple of minutes stretching as Gavin was on the phone then we crossed the road and Gavin was showing me the three sisters and the majestic brooding hills in that region and he also pointed out the devils staircase, from afar it looked very scary as the legend has it that soldiers would get drunk in the pub and had to walk up it to reach their army base and that they would see ghosts and demons during the night! Not something I wanted to know when you’re going to go through it during night time. I noticed a big pothole in the road and was staring at it, it definitely looked like there was a snake coiled up inside it and told Gavin about it, I still wasn’t sure if I was hallucinating or it really was a snake so we moved on! We played this little game about naming all the body parts which were three letters and I was doing well, I knew he was doing this to keep me distracted from the pain 😀 Flip came and we were playing this game with him aswell, as we were approaching the forest just below the devil’s staircase I was marvelling at the breathtaking scenery, the mountains were so beautiful that I could sit there all day and just watch them but I had to remind myself often that I wasn’t there to buy a piece of land and that I was still in a race! As we were getting closer to the foot of the big climb the light was fading so had to turn on our headlamps and met a couple of people there who were cheering us on. After reaching the foot of the devil’s staircase the rock formation looked like a skeleton fossil of a baby, Gavin agreed and laughed at me saying I wasn’t hallucinating yet! The climb was pretty steep and was one of the biggest climbs of the race. I was all hands on knees and powering up the hill, taking breaks to get my breath back. There were a lot of false summits and once it got dark I started to feel really low and struggle. I was seeing things at this point so tried to avoid looking anywhere else but the trail, the white rocks on the trail were shimmering under our headlamps, after getting to the top of the hill I threw my toys out of the pram and demanded to have a sit down so I sat on a rock just chilling and taking a break.

This was me on top of the devil’s staircase!

Fiona and a few others greeted us while they passed by. We later started running along the ridge and it was pretty treacherous in the night after having been sleep deprived for so long, I was tip toeing my way along and there were some loose scree while descending down into Kinlocleven. Met the 60 year old again with his pacer and he looked pretty dead but still moving. Tried to cheer him up and we kept moving, it was pitch black at this point and I was feeling abit scared (sleep deprived paranoia!). I couldn’t really run downhills at that point as I clipped my toe on a rock and later found out that it was bloody and no wonder it was soo painful! Kept running short bits and taking breaks, we were passing some people and I was doing my version of a death march when Gavin halted me and commanded me to march with purpose and to swing my hands. I really needed that tough love to keep me going and I knew I chose the right person to pace me. I couldn’t wait to reach the checkpoint to have a quick nap as I was really struggling to stay awake as my body clock literally begged me to sleep. I could not move very fast anymore due to increasing toe/foot pain, and any ambition I had for a good timing had disappeared. I remember having this conversation with Gavin “I forgot just how hard this was. It’s just not fun. What the f* was I thinking signing up for this again? If I ever ever want to do this again, shoot me”. Bold statements. But really, I was very grateful for Gavin being with me and I felt bad at the same time that he had to witness my temper tantrums, but he was very sweet and supportive, though I am sure he was as happy as me when we finally got to Kinlochleven around 2 am.

The long descent into Kinlochleven in the night on this trail covered with scree was quite treacherous!

After reaching Kinlochleven we had to go through a camping site and we were all trying to find the checkpoint, met some drunk kids who were coming back from a party to celebrate their friends 21st birthday. The birthday girl came and asked me for a hug and I told her that I was smelling like a dead rat after being out there for more that 24 hours at that point, they knew about the race so she still hugged me and gave a peck on my cheek and said that it was going to be alright and told us to finish it for her! After finally spotting the checkpoint, we went in and got myself weighed. Called my uncle to find out where they were and after seeing them I went in for a quick tea. Julie Clarke was dishing out some tough love and asking the runners to get back out there. Gavin had hurt his achilles and it was swollen so he was icing it and the physio told him to not continue, I was gutted for him and was told that I couldn’t continue without a pacer and had to wait until day light before they let me go. So I decided to take a 15 minute nap in the car and tell my uncle about what was going on, after waking up I used the toilet and by then Gavin had asked Shelly Spencer and her pacer Ivan Bertram if they could run with me. They kindly agreed and I wasn’t feeling so good at that point but since we had a lot of time left I decided to go with them. I told my crew to go to the hotel and rest for a bit as I’ll only be able to see them at the finish, they were really tired as it was taking me ALOT longer than my expected time. After a quick hug, my uncle,aunt and Gavin set off as it was a midge fest so there was no point waiting around and I was sitting and chatting inside the checkpoint with the volunteers there and telling them that I was smelling of sweat,piss and cow poo and Julie clarke told me that “No ultra runner ever smelt good, this isn’t a fashion parade!”. I saw another runner who was planning on dropping, Viks Williams and Gavin told me about her. I tried to convince her to keep going as she had come so far but she was injured and couldn’t continue which was a real shame. We started to have light at 3.45 am, after spending almost a hour and a half at the CP we set off and my muscles were really stiff so took me sometime to get going.

This pretty much sums up my relationship with my pacer : (From whatisultra) 

When he first picks me up!

15 miles later when things start to get rough

When things got REALLY rough!

A pic of Gavin from another run when we both were much more happier! 😀 Photo credit: Lorna Sinclair

Kinlochleven (Mile 81) to Lundavra (mile 88)

Shelly’s boyfriend was walking with us until the end of the town where there was a climb. He then wished us well and left. Shelly, Ivan and I were powering up the climb and at that point I felt like most of the things that could go wrong in my race had already happened so I was very content to just finish and be done with it. We had some nice conversations and after ascending into lairig mor which was very exposed we got our jackets and gloves out which I hardly used until the second night. Lairig mor was also a very beautiful place although my legs were shot so it was hard to run/walk/crawl. We spotted a colourful flag in the distance, Ivan told me that it was the wilderness response team who were camping out there to attend to any injured runners as it was a very lonely spot.

Looking quite chirpy at Lairig Mor after being sleep deprived for almost 28 hours! Photo by Jeff Smith

There were lots of steam crossings where we were trying to not get our shoes wet and once we reached the flags. We had two dogs come and greet us and Jeff was still awake, he offered me Irnbru and I’ve never tasted it so downed it immediately and was so grateful for him being out there. We saw the lovely doctor who was passed out in the car and we kept moving along. I was getting pretty impatient and was asking Ivan whether we were close to Lundavra like every 5 minutes! It was pretty sad to go through this section and see all the trees that were cut down, after almost an eternity we finally heard the cheesy blaring music of the lundavra aid station. Met John Kynaston and his wife Katrina, they had set up campfire and were having a wild time but were being butchered by midges yet they were still smiling and loving every minute of it. I had given John K a drop bag earlier so I downed an entire bottle of coke and ate some food to get ready to charge the last section. After having a small chat and photo we kept moving. Shelly decided that she wanted to run as much as possible and Ivan said he’ll be with me.

Ivan, Shelly and I at Lundavra, she started running after this CP! Photo by John K

Lundavra (Mile 88) to Fort William (Mile 95, finish)

I started running most of this section with short walk breaks and kept moving well as I knew once I hit the fire roads it was all downhill from there. Soon enough we went into the forest and Ivan was running behind me, we kept moving at a good pace and he was telling me how many climbs were left as I was pretty anxious to finish by that point as everything was hurting! After reaching the final climb, we ascended it and reached the fire roads as planned but I realised then that I still couldn’t run downhills as my toes were just smashed so it was a pretty painful and slow descent but Ivan kept my spirits up as he knew exactly what to say to keep me distracted. I didn’t care what time I would finish but was content in the knowledge that I would indeed finish. Once we reached the car park and hit the tarmac, I saw the 30 mile sign which Debbie Consani had posted saying that it was the most beautiful 30 mile sign in the world as it was just outside Fort William and about a kilometre before the finish. I was feeling woozy and dizzy at this point as with all the running I forgot to eat during the last section, so had to sit down for a couple of minutes and get some calories in before we set off. Once we entered the town it all felt real and I was really looking forward to showering and getting some sleep! As we got close to the leisure centre I spotted Shelly standing and cheering so we started running and I crossed the finish line in 32 hours and 58 minutes just a shy under 33, I’ll take it! Katie Hall was at the finish and took my timing chip and I had to go in to get myself weighed again and get the all clear from the doctor. Race director, Ian Beattie got a print out of my timing splits and congratulated me on the finish. I was relieved to be finally done!

Met my uncle there who had been waiting there for a few hours and he hugged me and once we got out we met Shelly again who was shouting saying “You completed this at 23! Well done and I am sure you will only get better from this experience”, after having a quick word with her I finally hugged Ivan and thanked him for putting up with my whining and getting me to the finish in one piece! We drove off to the hotel and I had a quick shower before heading out to the awards ceremony. I was in a calorie deficit zone and being sleep deprived didn’t help either so was just trying to consume food and keep drinking. The awards ceremony was beautiful and we had a standing ovation for Paul Giblin for his win and new course record but every finisher was applauded and cheered. The last finisher got the biggest cheer and the winner handed the Goblet to the last finisher, that was really good to see. We had 4 people that were finishing it for the 10th time and they got a decanter! There was such a nice family atmosphere to the race and that was evident in the awards ceremony aswell.

All in all it was a worthy adventure. WHWR is hard but eminently doable if you just keep going, even slowly and I can only recommend this race to anyone.

John K handing me the Goblet, it was so worth it in the end 🙂

The support crew and runners were all present during the awards ceremony, it was a very emotional experience 🙂

Still smiling after being awake for 40+ hours! 😀

A few odds and ends and thank you’s from the experience, in no particular order :

I thought I found some dark places towards the end of a few Ultras. That was nothing compared to where I went in this race. As I said before, I never doubted I would finish, but it certainly seemed at times like I would simply never reach the finish line.

I think you need to run this race or be a part of it to “get it”, I feel privileged to have finished and hope to be a part of this race in some way for years to come. People have always said that this race will change you and I can agree on that fact.

The work that goes into putting on this race is hard to comprehend. The race organisers, volunteers, sponsors, wilderness response teams and everyone else involved were absolutely on their game all weekend. My sincerest thanks.

My crew : David uncle and Rachel aunty. Thank you for stepping in and crewing for me as I was struggling to find someone and for putting up with my grumpiness and also managing the midge fest at certain checkpoints (read Balmaha and Kinclochleven!)

My parents – Thank you for cheering and supporting me in this endeavour. I know it must have been nerve-wracking at times (especially for mom) to be looking at a computer screen for a couple of days, but knowing that I have your full support in running and in life means so much to me. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to thank you both enough.

Gavin & Ivan –  I picked Gavin to be my pacer because he’s run long distances and know’s the dark places the miles can take you. Ivan stepped in when Gavin got injured and I would not have finished were it not for his selfless efforts. You put up with my bitching and moaning and cursing without batting an eye. I’m not sure how I can repay you, but hopefully some opportunity will present itself.

Thank you to everyone out on the course (and at their computers) who cheered for me and all of the other runners. You guys were instrumental in all the performances!

95 miles is damn far and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Congratulations to those who finished, and to everyone who got to the start line in Milngavie. Even if you didn’t finish, your efforts are remarkable.

I’m happy I picked WHWR as my first big trail race. The experience was like nothing else. I will run another 100 mile race but it almost certainly won’t be as good as this one. Hopefully I can enter and get lucky in the lottery again sometime in the future and not make the same mistakes again like deciding on what shoe to wear 30 mins before the start 😀

“The most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well” – Pierre de Courbertin

Kit Used: 

Shoes : I took 2 pairs of trail and road shoes and ended up using both my road shoes. If I were to do it again I would get a bigger size shoe for the latter stages as I suffered heavily with toe and foot pain due to the swelling and also one which is lower to the ground to avoid ankle twists

1. Salomon S-Lab Xt 6

2. Mizuno Wave Ascend

3. Saucony Guide 7

4. Hoka One one Stinson Evo Tarmac

Kit : 

Top : Salomon S-lab Exo Tee, changed it out at mile 51 with another exo tee 🙂

Shorts : Salomon S-lab Exo shorts

Socks : Injinji toe socks (no blisters and never changed them out during the entire race)

Calf guards : Compressport R2 Calf Guards

Waterproofs : Montane Minimus top and Salmon Bonatti Bottoms, only used the top during the second night as a windcheater

Gloves : Salomon XT Wings Waterproof gloves with an inbuilt mitten

Arm Warmers : Addidas arm warmers

Headlamp : Petzl MYO Rxp

Also used a buff and a warm hat 🙂

Pre-race kit sorted into zip loc bags 🙂

Thanks for reading 🙂

Ash

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