RACE REPORT – The West Highland Way Race 2016

The West Highland Way Race 2016

TIME: 22 Hours 46 Minutes and 31 Seconds

OVERALL : 52nd/159 finishers (40 DNF)

GENDER: 8th/30 females

CATEGORY: 6th/14 senior females

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It has been not quite 72 hours since I finally crossed the line of the iconic West Highland Way race and I am just about coming to terms with returning to reality. Did that actually happen? Was it just an awesome, really long and tiring dream, or did I actually get to to take part and finish this amazing race?

Let’s rewind to Friday afternoon. I’d finished work at lunchtime, Craig’s mum had popped round to drop off their dog for Craig to look after as they were coming up to Fort William to see me finish, I’d then gone to bed for a few hours sleep, taken Craig out for his birthday dinner (Pizza express, suited us both absolutely perfectly!), finished my last minute packing and tried to sit still until Ruth came to pick me up. Just after 9:15pm we loaded up the van, I said my goodbyes to Craig and we were on our way to Glasgow to pick up Kat before heading to Milngavie to get registered and get this show on the road.

Striding into registration like I don't have a worry in the world...
Striding into registration like I don’t have a worry in the world…
This is all getting a little too real...
This is all getting a little too real…

After picking up my registration pack, getting a hug from Sandra, collecting my timing chip, getting weighed and picking up my race goodies and hugs from Sarah, I went about saying hi to everyone. Everyone looked slightly nervous, but more than anything I could tell they were just ready to get going! I didn’t want to be hanging around the start line for hours before the race started, so decided to head back to Kat’s flat to get ready and try and keep calm. I was ready in record time and when I started flapping about the flat, we decided I might as well be doing this back at the start line with a couple of hundred other flappers!

With Ruth H and Kat, two thirds of my amazing crew.
With Ruth H and Kat, two thirds of my amazing crew.

Hugs and well wishes were dished out for the following 40 minutes or so then before we knew it, Ian Beattie and Sean Stone had started their race briefing. My stomach did a back flip and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. This was it. This is what I had worked so hard for for the past year, since I last stood here in 2015 listening to the race briefing before my stint as a marshal and deciding then that this was something I had to do. Now it was my turn.

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1am came, the horn was sounded and we were off. Just under 200 of us trotting up Milngavie high street to the sound of cow bells and our friends and families cheering us on. I couldn’t wipe the grin from my face, this was actually happening! I fell into stride with Emma Wright and we ran the first section into Mugdock park together, only to be yelled at that the front of the pack had missed the first turn off and we had to go back and correct ourselves. Not the best of starts, but I didn’t let it bother me too much. I started off at a pretty steady pace, walking all the up hills and chatting to everyone around me. This running with a head torch is definitely not fun. I get motion sickness from the slightest things (just thinking about motion sickness gives me motion sickness!) and the lights from all the torches bouncing around on the path ahead was not helping! I was glad when the pack spread out a bit after having to slow to go one at a time over a fallen tree, and I fell in line behind Jo Murphy and a few of her Carnegie Harrier friends for the next couple of miles. As we approached the Beech Tree at 7 miles, I had a quick glance at my watch and realised I was probably going way too fast. I was enjoying listening to the high spirited chat between the Carnegie runners and realised I hadn’t been thinking about mileage just from having their jokes and camaraderie to take my mind off it! As we approached the road section a few miles before Drymen, I gave myself a shake and realised they were travelling just that bit too fast for me and I let them drift ahead. The run into Drymen was quite magical. There was a full moon in the sky and it was never quite 100% dark and as I ran through the field to quickly change my water bottles with Kat, I realised it wouldn’t be too much longer until I got to turn my head torch off. Thank goodness, as by now I was starting to fell quite rotten.

The approach to Conic hill is one I’d rather forget. I felt dreadful. I’d put my head torch away not long after Garadhban Forest and enjoyed the first views of the Loch, but every step was a jolt to my stomach and I just felt sick. I stomped my way over Conic hill, managing to pass a few people but not managing much more than a grunt of acknowledgement as I did. Apologies for that. I picked up my pace on the forest section on the way down to Balmaha, took a deep breath and prepared to see my crew and to try and not be too disheartened with how I felt my first section had gone.

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I dibbed my timing chip and was ushered over to the van to try and eat some breakfast. I think they knew something was up as soon as they had seen me and tried to get me to sip some coffee and gave me a selection of things to eat, none of which I fancied. I knew this would happen and I had pre warned them they’d have to force feed me if I didn’t attempt anything. So with a cookie shoved in my face and a couple of TUC biscuits in my hand, I was accompanied by Jemma out of the check point. She gave me a hug and reminded me that this was my favourite section of the trail. Nothing to do but get my head down and get on with it.

I passed a few people on the climb out of Balmaha and by the time I reached Milarrochy Bay I realised I could only see one or two people ahead of me and no one behind me. At this point during the Fling there had still been a steady stream of us and always someone around to chat to. I suddenly felt very alone!! Suddenly there was a huge toot of a horn and I saw Kat leaning out the van window and Ruth cheering me on as they drove by. Just the pick up I needed! They yelled “EAT!!!” at me and slowed right down until I they were satisfied I was eating, then sped off towards Rowardennan.

See, I'm eating!!!
See, I’m eating!!!

Suddenly things started to go right. I felt good! The sun was up, it was warm but not too hot and my legs suddenly wanted to get moving, so I let them. I powered up the stairs after Sallochy Bay, fuelled by how awful I had felt there during the Fling and started to pass people as I did. I DO love this section! Thanks Jemma, I had got my run mojo back and I was flying, which is just as well as by now the midges were out in force!

(Balmaha – Rowardennan 94th to 82nd position.)

On the approach to Rowardennan I was inhaling midges by the thousand every time I took a breath. This was horrific!
I got to the check point and I could see the relief on Ruth and Kat’s faces when I said my stomach was rumbling! They had prepared some tomato soup and under the protection of a midge net I managed a few mouthfuls and at least half a cheese sandwich. After changing my bag and having them stuff some more bread in my hands I was ushered out the check point and on my way along the Loch side, knowing I now wouldn’t see them again for a good few hours as I made my way through Inversnaid and towards the Beinglas checkpoint at 41 miles.

Only so much bread I can fit in my mouth at once!!
Only so much bread I can fit in my mouth at once!!

Drenched in Smidge and armed with my visor to keep the damn beasties out my eyes, I marched out of Rowardennan stuffing my face with cheese only to be joined a few minutes later by Jo. We walked a few hundred metres together but as she was ready to get moving and I was still eating, I pushed her on and said I’d see her further up the trails. I pulled out my ipod and with a wee blast of “Given to Fly” by Pearl Jam, I put my head down to avoid being blinded by midges and tired my best to fly along the Loch side section. I was feeling good and I was ready to tackle the new low road section. But oh, the midges!!! They were ridiculous! I’ve spent a lot of summers up the West Coast of Scotland and experienced bad midges, but this was something new! The air was thick with them and I regretted not taking a head net to run in as it was actually quite painful having them bounce of every inch of your body! Pushing on towards Inversnaid, I spotted Jo a few hundred metres ahead and we ran into the checkpoint together, only to be greeted with people from the Trossachs Search and rescue team…. and a fan!! What a brilliant idea! I manage a few spoonfuls of non-midge covered custard before braving the bitey elements and getting a move on to Beinglas.

(Rowardennan – Beinglas Farm 82nd to 72nd position).

The technical section is just that. Ridiculously technical. There is no path a lot of the way, and you are scrambling along rock and stones a few metres from the waters edge, but this time I loved every minute. Jo and I ran pretty much the whole section together and before I knew it, the path had opened up and we were on our way up towards the end of the Loch side section.

We just ran all that. Good bye midges!
We just ran all that. Good bye midges!

I still felt great as we approached Beinglas, but it was now getting really warm and I was desperate to change my top. As I met up with my crew I put in my requests of a fresh top and socks for when I got to Auchtertyre, along with my road shoes as my little toes were starting to squeal in my trail shoes. After a very quick pit stop I was on my way towards the half way point. And I was feeling great!! Powered by some Audioslave, I danced my way out the check point chewing on Haribos and singing to some very confused walkers. Sorry, I was happy. I had to share it!

Beinglas - still running from the midges. And probably wearing half the population!
Beinglas – still running from the midges. And probably wearing half the population!

It was now getting really hot. Jo had just passed me again as I stopped to take my long sleeved top off and find my sunglasses. The climbs out of Beinglas seemed ridiculously steep in this heat and the run along towards the cattle underpass was the driest I have ever seen it. I was looking forward to the next check point as I felt I was drinking a lot more than normal and really, really craved a glass of coke now! I passed Jo just before the climb to the forest section above Crianlarich and pushed on passing a few more people on the way to my lovely glass of ice cold coke.

(Beinglas – Auchtertyre 72nd to 58th position.)

I was suddenly totally alone again! No one in front or behind and I loved every section of the forest singing my heart out to whatever nonsense I had on my ipod. I dug deep and pushed into a run all the way up to Auchtertyre, knowing fresh clothes, a seat and my road shoes awaited me. I got weighed, had dropped 2kg but was told that was spot on, so went about deciding what I didn’t want to eat and having Kat tend to my feet.

Auchtertyre. It got hot!!
Auchtertyre. It got hot!!
Fuelled by pizza and over half way. Let's finish this!
Fuelled by pizza and over half way. Let’s finish this!

I pushed past ‘By the Way’, where the Fling finishes and up towards Brodies store where Kat was waiting for me with a Solero. I have never picked up my pace so quickly in the middle of an ultra as I did just then! The sun was now beating down and I knew the section across to Bridge of Orchy was very exposed. I savoured every minute of my ice lolly, only to then realise one of my bottles had sprung a leak. I tried running with it in my hand, holding it a different way and even wrapping it in a buff to try and save some juice, but it was no good. I’d already lost over half the contents of the bottle and now had only a bottle and a bit to get me across what felt like a 7 mile stretch of desert! I’d jumped off the path to find somewhere to go to the loo and on returning I realised Jo and her support runner and team mate Kristin had just passed me. I caught up and tagged along with them sharing their chat to the next check point where I was really looking forward to getting some more fluids and picking up Ruth C as my support runner over to Glencoe ski centre.

(Autertyre – Bridge of Orchy 58th to 60th position.)

BoO1

BoO2

The climb up Jelly Baby Hill was tough going. It was roasting, I was craving shelter from the trees and I was being careful not to drink too much as we still had a 10 mile stretch ahead of us across Rannoch Moor, totally exposed to the sunshine. I got my Jelly Baby and was told I could have a second if I could name the flag in the ground a few feet ahead. I answered Norway and was told I was only the second person to get it right that day, and the first guy had been Norwegian!! Now thinking about it, I’ve got a feeling it was actually Iceland and they were just being nice to me?!

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Another tough slog with Ruth running ahead a few paces, pushing me into a run as often as I could saw me pass quite a few more people. I stopped briefly to dip my buff in the river as it was just so hot, and then we pushed into the Glencoe ski centre check point once again on a total high! I’d asked for chips soaked in vinegar here, but once again my stomach was refusing real food so after a quick top change, a slug or two of red bull and about 6 chips I was on my way towards the Devils staircase, with Kat as support and Jemma for chat for a few hundred metres down the road.

(Bridge of Orchy – Glencoe 60th – 49th position.)

Weather - check. Scenery - check. Random weirdo hanging around outside the van - check!
Weather – check. Scenery – check. Random weirdo hanging around outside the van – check!

I really don’t like this bit. It’s just silly. You can see where you are heading and you could go straight there, or you can follow this silly wiggly path a little bit up the hillside, just to come backdown towards the road again. It’s only about 3 miles long, but it’s 3 miles of annoying.

I decided to apply a compeed to my foot before I started the climb up the staircase. I had a few blisters on the outside of my big toe which had really started to annoy me and thought I’d better sort them before the horrible descent into Kinlochleven. My IT Band was also killing me, but at least I could deal with the blisters. A few pain killers and a bit of Disney and Kat and I were bounding out way up the staircase.

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This is where everything started to hurt just that little bit more. Every down was agony, no matter how small. I tried to pick up the pace once over the top of the Staircase, but my knees would not play ball. A few ups, downs and whines later, the painkillers must have kicked in as I found myself descending at quite some pace into Kinlochleven. I was ushered into the checkpoint, was spot on with an 800g increase in weight and I was ready to tackle the last section. 14 miles to go, I’ve got this!!

(Glencoe – Kinlochleven 49th to 50th position).

Ruth was back with me for this last section and we left the checkpoint at quite a pace. O.K, here I am, 81 miles into a race and running. Who on earth am I?! We power marched up the climb out of KLL, passing a few more people and once on to Lairig Mor, the pace was up again. Oh help, I did ask for this but I was now regretting it. The rocks on the path were killing my feet and adding to my already whimpering blistered little toes. On every flat or descent Ruth would pick up the pace and with a nod, I’d follow for as long as I could. All the way to Lundavra we used this code, until the pain got too much and the only tears and major low of my race occurred. I’d also given my crew a no sympathy rule as I knew as soon as I had finished the race I’d regret not having had them push me on, so Ruth silently handed me a tissue, let me get my breath back… then nodded and broke into a run again. Oh geeeez, my poor feet!!!

The minor melt down continued into Lundavra where Kat and Ruth met us. They asked me what they could do but all I wanted was to get to the finish line. I’d like to apologise to the poor marshal at this point who offered me to many lovely things to try and cheer me up and I think I just grunted and put my head down. The tears were close again, so words were not an option. I’m so sorry!!

Last few miles!
Last few miles!

I’d managed to get through Lundavra before the bonfire had been lit, so my aim now was to run as far as possible before having to use my head torch again as I couldn’t bear with that queasy feeling again. Every step sent a shooting pain through my feet and I had to stop briefly to put a compeed on my toe. But…. No compeed in my bag. OK, not a problem, lets just get moving. It got dark, I should probably us my head torch. OK… no head torch. Oh help! Not a problem, something had been missed out when repacking my bag but I really wasn’t bothered as I just wanted to get down that damn Fire track and finish this race. Every step hurt. I’d slow to a walk and Ruth and Kat would give me a minute, then without warning start to run again. Damn, I didn’t have a head torch so if I wanted to see I’d have to stay close. That road really is the longest road ever and it just went on and on and on and on….

Until we hit the tarmac. And the 30mph sign. And the street lights. And the visitor centre.

Let's finish this.
Let’s finish this.

Jemma appeared up ahead, my head was down and I was pushing to get this finished. The 4 of us ran in a line until I rounded the corner to the Leisure Centre, then they dropped back and I bounded across the line with the biggest grin on my face to the best applause from my friends and family. I dibbed my timing chip for the last time and fell into Craig’s mums arms for the biggest hug. I had done it I had finished the West Highland Way in under a day.

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And with that, I was one of just over 1000 people to have completed the whole race in the 31 years the race has been running and I couldn’t be prouder.

After a broken nights sleep, I couldn’t wait to get to the prize giving and see and my team mates and friends. Everyone did so well and I couldn’t be more proud. We all worked so hard for this and I’m so glad so many people finished.

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So what’s next? I honestly don’t know. Will I do the race again? Most definitely, I have a date with a sub 22 hour time. Will I enter for next year? That I don’t know, ask me again in November.

But now I am ready to relax. Canada is calling and this week is the end of term, so I couldn’t be more relaxed.

Make mine a double 🙂

This goes in here right?!
This goes in here right?!

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