WHW Race Friday:
Bags packed? Nope. Thanks to the newest member of our household, ‘Minty’ our new VW T5, my wife Eilidh has prepared for this coming weekend’s adventure with Tupperware!!! “Very well fitted Tupperware” says Eil!
Taper week was a little more testing for me, than perhaps most, as I had been previously resting and nursing both of my calf muscles from earlier niggles. I had realised by now though, that most runners never turn up “100% race fit” for every run. But this was no ordinary ‘race’, this was to be my first West Highland Way Race! I was simply honoured and excited at having been selected, to be standing shoulder to shoulder with some of the finest national and international ultra runners of today!
Van packed and Jimbo (my 2nd vehicle support crew member and childhood buddy) arriving early, meant that all that was left was for a quick crew photo and off to Milngavie we head…! En route, we collected the man mountain, my good buddy and trainer Donnie Campbell. He was on form and sad to be missing out on this year’s race but this was due to him being prepped for his expedition to Africa, “Lessons from Africa”. On the Monday – Donnie had already given me the goal of a sub 24hr time, which I took with a pinch of salt, as I had always ran just shy of his predictions but perhaps this had a little something to do with my love of ‘photography’ on the trails! This time though, Donnie had a place to be, in a certain time, and that was Glasgow, to pack his bags for his African flight! O_O Nothing like a target to keep you on your 95 mile track! I had however, arranged for a good friend of mine to come up and drive Donnie home if needed, but hopefully we’d be crossing the finish together as planned…
Things were now getting ‘real!’ O_O
I was still quite relaxed with the whole affair, just sucking up the atmosphere and enjoying the hussle of all the other runners and crew members. After a short regroup of the whole crew – Eil, Jimbo, Donnie and now meeting up with David and Julie, we were all together to get this show on the road. Over to the church for registration, all went smooth here, got myself registered, weighed and goodie bag in hand! The atmosphere in and around the church was electric, everyone buzzing, smiling from ear to ear with excitement. In a short time, we’d be engulfed in darkness, rain and running the times of our lives….! I couldn’t wait to stretch the legs, relax and begin to lap up the first few miles of this epic trial route!
All too close now – all too real!
There was Ian Beattie, standing mic in hand and addressing us, me, the runners and crew…
I had already read his brief that he had previously posted online and was very much aware of what was to be said. Just as well as I was ‘hearing’ Ian but my mind wasn’t allowing me to ‘listen’. All my muscle fibres, including my brain were beginning to fire up and tingle away with the promise and expectation of what lay ahead. All of a sudden though, as I was focusing on my thoughts, rhythm and breathing – Ian began to read a quote from a very special lady of the WHW Race. I was focused on those words as I was before, when Fiona posted them online for us all to reflect…
Fiona Rennie has been an inspiration to me. I have not yet had the honour of meeting her but have become friends on Facebook, seeing her from afar at various races and social catch ups. Fiona is a runner, a rock, an inspiration. A woman that has and is battling with cancer but still bounces back, again and again to enjoy the trails with a refreshed, cleansed, unbridled spirit! I had taken a copy of her words, that Ian had read, on my phone. If I thought times were getting tough out there on the trails, I planned to read these. These were her words:
“This week is a tough one where you can get bogged down with lists, splits and packing a truck load of gear, ok it will give you something to do. But when the word “Go” is shouted at Milngavie, take a deep breath, relax, the adventure has started, enjoy.
Keep it simple, we do this because we love to run, it’s not rocket science, don’t look too far ahead, if you must, no further than the next checkpoint and the culinary delight you’re going to have.
Live in the moment, enjoy the morning bird song along to Rowardennan, the dodgy, scary path along the Loch, the peace and beauty of the Angel’s Playground, the fun of the rollercoaster, the wide openness of Rannoch moor, the majestic brooding hills around Glencoe, if it isn’t hurting by now it soon will, remember you are here because you have the privilege of good health and had the ability to train for this whether it has gone according to plan or not. In xxxx hours it will be over when you slap your hands on the door of Leisure Centre. The pain and discomfort you will feel in this challenge of your own choosing will never come close to those fighting terminal illness.
Remember how lucky you are, the sense of achievement when you pick up your Goblet will never ever diminish and will enhance your life forever.”
As Ian finished the race brief, I was all focused, fired up and thinking about Fort William and the elation I would be in ‘when’ I got there! A few quick handshakes, man hugs with the crew and a kiss from Eil and the countdown was upon us…
Suunto at the ready… 10…9… that’s all I really heard, the horn was blasted and we were all off, in a stream of head torches, running through the notorious Milngavie underpass! I gave a few callouts, in the underpass, towards my pup Turry that wasn’t with us but had been a strong companion of mine through most of my training and I wanted the echo to be reverberated around me as I begun this epic run! From this I had already decided that this callout would be my way in letting the crew know of my arrival in the dark at the various checkpoints ahead. Although I do not think that any of them noticed, but it still made me feel good and lifted my spirits every time thinking of my pup!
Here’s a short video link to the beginning of the race:
With Milngavie behind me and heading into the darkness of Mugdock Wood. I had decided to keep my rain jacket on from the start and this was now paying off, as it got heavier as we headed further into the woods. I began to relax, picking a rather easy pace and see how things faired. I had a long way to go and just wanted to make sure that my calves allowed me to have an uneventful trip to Drymen and then over Conic to Balmaha. The route was easy, steady, all good. I had been chatting with a few other runners during my time from Milngavie to Drymen. One guy that I was to see for a stretch was Neil Rutherford, I knew I had seen him before and then it came to me. I had come across Neil at one of Adrian’s evenings at his Run and Become store. Where Neil was being used as a ‘model’ for his trainer and illustrating how he had been focusing on specific training, that allowed himself to progress with his abilities whilst working shifts. This was of particular interest to myself and my buddy Ross Leslie. Ross works 6 days a week and this approach to training, was music to both our ears. Neil was running his 4th consecutive year and went on to run an amazing race and finished within the top 20! Nice one mate!
A few other familiar faces popped up and out of the dark. Having enjoyed some random chat, from Hokas to Quantum Physics with Richard Bowman, a man I had recognised from ‘The Fling’ earlier this year and as it turns out, a Physicist from Cambridge! O_o Thankfully also a fan of the hit tv show ‘Big Bang Theory’ – so there, I had managed to carry on a conversation with a guy with three or four times my IQ!!!!
Running with Neil and Richard certainly passed by the early miles into Drymen. It was here where I thought I’d zone out a little and enjoy the night run by myself and explore the dark trail ahead… it wan’t long until I had passed Drymen and into the Garadhban Forest. This had significance for me here, as it was where my good buddies from Team Marvel were going to be driving up the track to there very own challenge that morning. The Rob Roy Challenge, one that I had been an active member of in previous years, running and cycling for charity. I wished them luck as I crossed the road, thinking to myself that it was only 6hrs or so and they would be all suited and booted, in the superhero lycra clad outfits and entertaining the world once again! As the WildFox Events team had put it themselves, on their blog,
“What Rob Roy Challenge would be complete without the return of Team Marvel, superheroes old and new!”
Conic Hill was now in sight and I was just trying to focus on keeping my feet on solid ground. It was beginning to get lighter but due to the wet weather and low cloud cover, I was not going to get to experience the glorious sight of a sunrise as I ran over the top of Conic. I still found the new path quite strange here, as you’d find yourself running ‘downhill’ but ‘up’ steps… this just had me running routes in my mind similar to an Escherian stairwell! O_o The top of a damp and slippy Conic Hill arrived. This was to be a major landmark for me, as it meant my calves had stood the test of time and distance. I was also welcomed by the natural fault-line that begins the change in terrain and the introduction of the majestic Highlands ahead!
The lack of a sunrise was not too much of a let down though. I still had my crew to look forward to seeing for the first time. The first pit-crew-stop and perhaps a possible few high5s and man hugs, to celebrate making it this far. “Hey, I’m running the West Highland Way Race!” My thoughts were, that this was to be celebrated at as many given chances as possible!
Balmaha: 18.9 miles
Celebrations! Donnie though, had other plans! O_O This was where he came into his own…
…his vast experience of racing and crewing for races was to be different to my usual ‘fun loving’, ‘floaty fun run’. I came into Balmaha, with my callout for Turry – “Pookoi!” I was having fun anyway…! Having time chipped myself in, I saw my crew and headed over. “Keep walking, keep moving” came from Donnie. The swap over of fuel here was excellent! “Keep walking, eat this, take that, hand us your empties, what sweets do you want, keep walking, take this banana…” Donnie knew exactly what I needed and was at hand to deliver. I dropped off my rain jacket here, although it was still wet, the humidity had me wearing it more around my waist than on my back. I was so caught up in the efficiency of this F1 pit-stop, that I had not managed to get my kiss and hug from Eil, that I was looking forward to. Not only for me, but I wanted to let her and the rest of the crew know that I was appreciative of their sacrifice and efforts and this was the first main regroup for us all since Milngavie. I’m still walking through the car park and having to look over my shoulder to where I could see Eil now far behind. And then I was gone – back on the route and running towards Rowardennan.
Now that was fast! I had planned on a quick crossover of food and such but “thatwasfast!” O_O
Having just simply seen the crew and enjoyed a mouthful of everything – I was reenergised and on my way – thinking next stop porridge and a little rest in Minty My calves were still tight at this stage but nothing too serious to worry about. My legs were fresh and aerobically I was fine and enjoying a steady, relaxed pace.
I was passing a few houses by now and thinking how quiet and peaceful it all was – thinking of myself like Santa, doing something epic and just passing silently through – sadly no gifts left. Though I don’t think that they would have appreciated any of the gifts that I could have deposited on their doorstep anyway!
As a little boost and treat, David and Julie had very kindly decided to head on up from Balmaha to another car park and say hi, as I ran on by. I was barley there but it was enough to give me the lift I needed, to know that I had plenty of support out there that were thinking of me and wishing me well
Rowardennan: 26.6 miles
I was being met by the early morning splendour along the banks of Loch Lomond. A place I had kayaked many a time and knew very well. Off into the trail I headed, focusing on whether I could capture that rhythm I had found when running this route earlier during The Fling. It was only about 7 miles until I was to meet up with the crew again and enjoy some breaky. I met Donnie first and he asked how my legs were, it was here where I realised that my calves had stopped being tight and my legs were running lose and light. I said this to Donnie and he welcomed me into the checkpoint for breakfast – Porridge!!! This was fantastic but my time there was to be short and it wasn’t long, I’m sure I made a direct effort to give Eil a hug and then tuck into my warm porridge and banana. All going well, little bit of light banter in the van – David ‘the motivator’ Mooney was also here. It was good to have the complete crew together and bouncing off each other, even though it wasn’t for too long. I was beginning to notice that these stops were going to be short and sweet, just as well Jimbo had his SLR camera on sports mode to catch me passing through! I had to get back out there before my muscles started to seize. I remember leaving without jacket again as it was rather close outside, with a high humidity and felt I didn’t really need it. Instantly though, as I stepped out of the van, I could see that I was wet, damp and began to shiver… I had to get running again. The whole breakfast affair couldn’t have been longer than 4-5mins max. I did feel slightly rushed, having had various amounts of calories thrown down my throat and told to “Hurry up, time to go!”. I was only 20mtrs or so from the van and I thought I was about to throw up :/ I stopped, took a few deep breaths and began walking. I couldn’t face anymore of my banana, so that was lost.
The rain began again and annoyingly got heavier, and I wondered if leaving the jacket behind was such a good idea after all. It wasn’t long though until I was back into a warm rhythm and enjoying the trails of Loch Lomond once more. From here, this was to be the longest part of the race without support. I would run from Rowardennan to Inversnaid (7.3miles), collect a drop bag and then run to Beinglas Farm (6.6 miles), a total of 13.9 miles before seeing anyone. This would take time as the next two sections were the most technical of Loch Lomond. Significant climbs, including one I nicknamed “Minty’s Hill”, as well as the notorious 3-4miles of sheer rock and boulders, that was simply not runnable.
The section of hills by Loch Lomond, managed to show me that I need to focus on and train more for ‘power walking’. I was passing people on the flats and downhill sections, but I was being overtaken on the long hill climbs. There was evidence of some strong power walkers out there, that took advantage of every gradient that we were hit with and there are a few…! I had even managed to bump into John Kynaston, who was not just passing me on a hill but also talking away to himself, as he recorded a little snippet for his next WHW Podcast! O_O :)
Inversnaid: 33.9 miles
This checkpoint came and went. I wasn’t in the mood for stopping, I was too focused on hitting Dario’s viewpoint and seeing the guys at Beinglas Farm. The mighty midge were out here on form! I thought there was the opportunity to escape from them, in a little anti-midge tent, that one of the volunteers had very kindly set up. Sadly some previous runners had left the zip open and there seemed to be more of them, feasting away in the tent than out! So, I munched on a snickers, swallowed some baby food and was on my way once more…
The mighty midge did not let up! They were everywhere and I think they knew where the technical parts of the trail lay ahead, as they seemed to be in swarms up and down the climbs of the rocky banks. At one point I was gathering as many of them in my eyeballs, as I was in my hair and mouth. I remember one guy running by, as I was gagging, saying to me “Yup, the unwanted protein of the WHW!” The pro out of all of this, was that the midge spurred you on, as you had no intentions of wanting to hang around too much in their company. The only annoying thing was, that this section from Inversnaid onwards was the roughest and most technical of the whole route. It was simply not runnable. You did have the odd opportunity to hop and leap from time to time but there was no way you were getting into a rhythm here and flying along.
I did love this part though. For me, the technical part of it had your mind sharp and focused. It was just too easy to lose your concentration and then suffer from a slip or twist. This was a wet run and it was extremely unforgiving terrain to be half awake and running on… The other bonus of this section for me, was that it reminded me of the terrain that you might find described from a Tolkein novel. So here I was running not from the mighty scottish midge but from some ‘Ringwraith’ creature from another realm!
Beinglas Farm: 40.5 miles
The last few miles to this farm always seem to drag. I’ve been on this route a few times now but when you’re focusing on it being a timed check point, the trail seems to go on that little bit further than you remember. Having ran through the last few burns and cooling myself down, there was the footbridge for approaching the farm. Round a corner and bouncing down a slope, I was the check point tent and my crew once more!
Chipped in and handed a few goodies, I quickly grab a hug from Eil before I’m herded off once more. Donnie asking how things are and giving a few pointers. I’m off once more, passing a few walkers and into the hills, as well as cow poo alley! Cow poo alley was actually a surprise, as this year, there were no cows around for general conversation and it was also extremely clean! No ankle deep poo-puddles to be avoiding this time round This part of the route is a bonnie one as you meander towards the roller coaster forest above Crianlarich. These sections of small but steep ups and downs are a real tester and burner on the legs, but in a sadistic way enjoyable. And the sights you get at the top of every climb are fantastic! Still running fresh here, I come down and out of the woodland and cross the road, heading towards Auchtertyre Farm.
Auchtertyre Farm: 50 miles
I approach this check point with comfort and a spring in my step. I’ve met a runner at a gate and where we chat for a stretch about the age of some ruins that we are running by. I then lift my head to see a well known silhouette. Donnie, standing on a hill top waiting and filming – bugger I’ve been caught ‘walking’ no less! :/ So I say my farewells to the other runner and try to look impressive… “Saw the camera did you!?!” shouts Donnie. He knows me too well! He’s asking how I am and what I fancy from the van. A change of top and some chicken noodle soup was in order. Donnie promises me some rest at the van with soup. This is the warmest welcome I could have heard! I tell him my legs are fine and I’m running fresh, so he decides to join me towards Tyndrum and through to the Bridge of Orchy.
It’s great seeing the crew here, sadly as there was a limit to the cars, I missed out on seeing David here but heard he was going to be at Tyndrum waiting for us… Jimbo was on form and snapping away with his camera, as he has all morning. If there’s one lad to have on your crew with a cracking creative eye for shots – it’s Jimbo! And you have him to thank for most of what you’ll see from the photo gallery below. Having got myself weighed here, I strolled over to the van to enjoy some soup and a change of top. With only 3 miles or so to Tyndrum, I run lighter and drop one of my waist bottles for this small stretch.
Tyndrum: 52.7 miles
Donnie leaves with me from Achtertyre to Tyndrum and it’s great to have some company and chat! I feel revitalised. I’ve been running through the change of day, from night to morning, to high noon. Now we are running along at what seems a lighter pace and shooting the breeze. Not long into the run and we’re passing some old haunts, Donnie pointing out the route we took to run the Arrochar Alps. With the slight increase in pace, I notice that I have slightly aggravated my right ankle but all is well, just feels slightly niggled is all. We get to Tyndrum, Donnie on form, opening all the gates and guiding me through. This small section seemed to take forever when I ran it during this year’s ‘Fling’ but before I know it, Donnie and I are running past the river and about to hit the bend that bring you to the ‘By the Way’ hostel. A stretch notorious for being flanked with flags for the finish of the 53 mile Highland Fling Race. With more than half way covered, I’m running well and the rest of the route is my favourite! Fun times ahead! Right!?!
We cross the road to meet the crew, just up from the Green Welly Stop. Here I see the whole crew again since Rowardennan It’s good to see them all but it’s a quick refuel and I’m on my way once more towards the Bridge of Orchy. Running the section towards the Bridge of Orchy is an old familiar one as well, one with social runs and others where Donnie has put me through my paces, running 5 munros in a day and then running this stretch back to where the car is parked. Pace is good and strong, and this is where my ‘education’ begins…
Welcome to the West Highland Way ‘Race’! O_O
Having run under my own ‘steam’ to this point, and still feeling fresh, Donnie now introduces me to ‘the race!’. With the pace now increased, Donnie begins to point out other runners up ahead and says “See him? He’s our target. We’re taking him.” This was an education! I have never truly raced before and this change in tempo and mind set was just what I was after. Well, kinda! Having passed the first target, Donnie points out two, three, four more… whether they were runners or walkers, we were focused and racing! Every now and again, when I would overheat, Donnie asked me to let him know and he’s run off and soak my buff in a near by spring and come back to ‘slam-dunk’ my head with a sponge of cool fresh water, before heading off once more for another soaking, this time for my buff to be placed on my head, allowing the water to run down my front and back, regulating my body temp and allowing me to run more efficiently under the hot sun and high humidity. At times, it rained and this also kept you fresh on your feet but I really did appreciate the efforts that Donnie was going to, thinking ahead and how best to act on my behalf. Normally we’re up some Munro and he’s thinking of various ways to ‘break’ me!
Bridge of Orchy: 59.3 miles
I was very happy to be coming down the hill towards the road crossing at the hotel here. I did however begin to feel my ankles giving way more on the downhill sections but again, was happy to have made it to this landmark I was quick in to the checkpoint, running over the bridge with Donnie, chipped in and then turned round to see that Eil’s parents, Gay and Al, had made the effort of coming down to see me during my attempt. Although it might not have seemed it, my spirits were lifted with the sight of others that had given up their time and put a lot of effort in to see me through this epic challenge!
I was expecting the monster quads of Mooney Motivator to join me here, through the ‘coe and up and over the dreaded Devil but sad news came in that he had fallen sick and was in Fort William resting up and waiting for my arrival. Sadly we later heard that David was ill and had to sign out of his stay and head home, missing the prize giving and all – this was a clear sign that he wasn’t well and wished him a speedy recovery! Seems our runs together are destined to be jinxed in someway or another. My next one with him will include a relaxed park run, coffee and cake!!!!!!
I have been really appreciative of David and his support for me in the past. This included our first adventure together, meeting on the CS40
Again, it wasn’t long until we were back off on the trail once more and leaving the Bridge of Orchy behind us as we climbed our way towards Inveroran Hotel. The weather was still the same, wet and humid so there was no change of clothes here just up and away…
…I knew I was in for a sneaky wee pitstop that Donnie would have to allow me. This was the mandatory and very welcome Jelly Baby stop! A good friend of mine, Norrie told me about this point, where you’d notice the Saltire flag and be welcomed by a handful of Jelly Babies as you ran on by. I was beginning to get tired of the regular percy pigs and energy gels, so the change in flavour and sugar was perfect!
Hitting the top of the hill and heading down towards Inveroran Hotel, whilst enjoying the first sights of Loch Tulla, helped take my mind off of some panful ankles that were beginning to niggle me some more, especially on the downhill sections – Joy! This was where I had hoped to come into my own, cover some serious distance and beast away. Right now, I was settling for a strong but steady jog. It was also about here where I may have had my only mental block or issue, I was looking at my watch and seeing what distance I had covered and no matter what amount of effort I was putting into this run, I just never seemed to be getting closer to breaking away from mile 60. I remember saying to Donnie that I thought my Suunto was playing up but nope, I was just struggling to cover significant distance in relation to my expectations. We passed the hotel and soon caught sight of Eil and Jimbo again and I was once more filled with relief! Only to watch Eil fire up the van and drive off – WTF!?! Where’s she going Donnie!?! What she doing!?! STOP!!!!! I was in need of a small rest, a break from the pain more than anything else, a change into another dry top. Eil had actually only gone another small stretch around the final bend to where Donnie had gestured, out of my sight, was a better place to park the van – all was well with the world once more! Another quick refuelling, dry top and we were off once more. This next stretch across Rannoch Moor, towards Glencoe was where I was going to have to put my head down and graft. There was a big education in power walking here, as I noticed how I’d run past a few runners and then be passed by them on the gradients yet again. I was just trying to cover the distance without too much of a niggle from my right ankle. Donnie was great here though, there was simply no rest, keep going, no matter what. I had realised something by this point, that I was in actual fact able to run and work harder, for longer than before. I have previously been on 10hr trail sessions with Donnie, tackling 5 Munros in a day but I knew the WHW Race was going to take me beyond this in time, distance, effort and spirit. I’m not sure what Donnie would think of this but I thought then and still do now, that we run well together. Obviously at my pace than his, but we are able to bounce off each other and pass the time shooting the breeze and grafting. By this point in the race, Donnie had earned himself the nickname of ‘Sponge Boy’, due to cooling me down with soaked buffs and I was ‘Splash Pants’, as I insisted on running through every single puddle I could to keep me fresh and cool. “Lookout Glencoe, here comes Sponge Boy and Splash Pants!!!!” :facepalm: I’m not so sure you’ll be hearing any Kenyans chanting that as he and Andrew Murray run across the terrain of East Africa!
Glencoe: 70.1 miles
Reaching here was a big milestone in my running and I was elated! It was even better as Jimbo was ready with his watchful eye and trigger finger, to welcome us. He snapped me with one of my most favourite wild animals this country has to offer – the majestic stag! With my photo taken, I was quickly put into the van where I enjoyed some more chicken noodle soup and sadly some more red bull, of which I was getting really sick of by this point in the race, but needs must!!
Leaving the van was tough and my legs were stiff, it took a little bit of time running and stumbling my way down the tarmac towards the road crossing and Kingshouse. Kingshouse came and went. We were running well and we didn’t see the need for another rest spot, before tackling the might of the Devil’s Staircase! It felt like a significant amount of effort and time had been taken to make it to the base of the Devil. Here I was promised a change of pace by Donnie when we got there. The change in pace was true, this was simply due to me now having to tackle the Devil and it certainly wasn’t going to be a run! I was chased and pushed up the hill, “Don’t stop, keep going, another bend, just keep pumping the arms and legs.” This constant support from Donnie did work and I did thank him for it. It must have been such an effort for him to be constantly focusing on me and each and every step I took, in this 95 mile distance. I was fully appreciative of it and did say so The other way to get me up a hill with no stops, as Donnie soon realised, was to promise me a photo. One condition – if I managed it without stopping. Bugger! He had me sussed!!!! These climbs, I just had to do… I wanted that photo!
We get to the top and yes, celebration! Not for long, “keep moving and carry on”. The photos that would be taken were just as easily shot with me in motion, as they were with me standing. So moving on it was, there was no other way. With Donnie, there would be no other way…! O_O
The section from the top of the Devil towards the descent into Kinlochleven happens to be one of my favourites. I have always ran, leaping and gliding over this section. I remember running it with my buddy James, during the Glencoe Marathon and it was so much fun. I felt as if I was flying, soaring across the trails, lifting my head and enjoying the panoramic delights! This was not to be the case today. I was broken by this point. My ankles were just not allowing me to ‘soar’. It wasn’t all bad though, my mind and aerobic fitness had not been pushed too much at this point and I had plenty still left in the tank. This had me feeling mentally strong and very happy with where I was within the race. I was frustrated with the fact that I had to stumble my way across this section, with Donnie offering words of encouragement. I so wanted to open up here and run but the pain in my ankles just would not allow me to power on. Donnie was extremely patient with me and really appreciated this once more.
Round the corner we saw Kinlochleven and it just left us with the descent.
Kinlochleven: 80.7 miles
Arriving in Kinlochleven was fantastic, I felt a buzz within myself when hitting the tarmac and heading for the checkpoint. Having timed in, I was welcomed and congratulated by Ian Beattie, who was in active duty, as well as waiting to welcome Sandra, who was not far behind. Ian’s congrats really boosted me. I hold a huge amount of respect for him, with his efforts previously running the race, along with organising this race. I focus on a mental picture when planning my ultras and this one was no different. Ian played a very important part of my visualisation and seeing him acknowledge me and my efforts in Kinlochleven really gave me the boost I was after. Ok, time for “CHIPS ‘n’ SAUCE!”
Jimbo directed me to the van, where I was welcomed by Eil and a warm portion of chips and a seat! I’m pretty sure things were short lived here as Donnie had said that we were running strong and looking at a sub 23hr time! I couldn’t believe it – sub 23hr…!?! I’ve know of people that have blasted over this terrain on a bike in sub 23hr times but never thought for a minute that I would be within this time period myself. This stop was also where I enjoyed my first coffee O_O
Down that went and we were off once more! Rather unsure of how I’d handle the serious climb out of KL, having struggled to pump myself up and over the Devil, I surprised myself. Donnie and I blasted our way up this and enjoyed blethering as we went! Once at the top, I think Donnie was taking a photo of me, as my little bonus for making it NON-STOP but for some strange reason, I was off!!!!! I took off, lifted my pace significantly and was running strong! I remember hearing Donnie shouting from behind, “Jesus what have you taken!?! Where’s this come from? You’re away!” I just shouted back “COFFEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” From somewhere, whether it was caffeine or endorphins kicking in, I was flying again! Donnie was so taken by my response to the coffee, that he was straight onto the phone to ‘Starbucks’ (Eil and Jimbo) to place another order for Lundavra. The rain was still with us but I felt good and we headed on and enjoyed the beginning of dusk.
A few miles in, the wind had picked up a little and I was beginning to slow due to my ankles anchoring me to the rough rubble of the trail. Donnie again, kept my mind open and strong here, and also threated to start singing if I slowed down too much!!! :shock: So on I power marched! We came across a favourite landmark of mine, a ruined shepherds steading, where there was a photographer based, welcoming us and taking a few snaps. He also offered us some delights within a small tent/shelter that he had put up. My eyes were welcomed to a feast of fizz! Tizer and boy did it taste gooooood! The photographer laughed at me, from the sounds I was making from his tent. It was as if I was relieving myself within his tent – that sugar flavour and fizz was boabbbbydazzler! :panic: Donnie himself had to double back to see what I was enjoying so much. Anyway, off we headed once more into the wind and rain…
…the next few miles took their toll on my ankles and I guess this can be seen from my times and things got slightly slower and harder as I tried to eat up the last few miles. 16 miles was all I had to cover from Kinlochleven to Fort William and we were nearing our Lundavra coffee stop
Lundavra: 88.3 miles
Donnie was on form and doing well to keep me uplifted here and keep me moving. This was one of the best parts of the race for me to be running with Donnie. He had never experienced the notorious ‘Lundavra Party’ due to him powering through in previous years as a podium finisher. Donnie clocked the smoke from the fire pit that everyone was partying around and pointed it out to me. I couldn’t tell whether he was excited for the experience of this or just trying to pick me up and boost me onwards but it was great to see and hear him getting more vocal and excited as we got closer. As we approached, the theme tune of Rocky was playing loud. This as well as the sight of a fire and party goers lifted me and carried me in to the celebrations! I couldn’t have asked for a better way to be welcomed by Jimbo and Eil – well apart from the fact that Jimbo was about to sacrifice his jacket to me, as I was soaked through and beginning to chill cheers buddy!!!!!! With the coffee sunk, Jimbo being mugged in the wet dark night for his warm, dry jacket, gloves and gore hat, I was off once more into the dark. This section I kind of knew was going to be tough, as it has numerous false summits, through a roller coaster off rough trail. It wasn’t too long until we had hit the gate that lead to the forest and our last few miles! Sandra had caught up with us here and was on form!
Sandra (aka Santababy) is a notorious fun loving ‘celeb’ of the WHW route and I’m sure the blood from her veins is connected to these trails. If not ‘metaphorically’, most definitely ‘physically’, through all of the stumbles that she’s had and the blood and sweat she has given during the dedicated hours spent on these hills!
Donnie greets her as she passes and asks how many stumbles she’s had – None! is the reply and off she bounced into the dark!
I was now beginning to hurt, more! The trail got a little technical and more ups and downs, this coupled with the dark really had me slowing down and needing to watch every single painful step. The odd tree root was hit and stumbled upon, with pain flashing through my body, like electric shocks that pulsated from my ankles to my head and finger tips. I simply need to ‘MTFU!’ I tried, I really tried but it was tough. It was a weird moment in the race, one where I still felt strong and my mind clear but the pain was my focus now, not the race! Donnie was again a legend for his patience and drive here. It was pointed out to me that if it was painful to walk and painful to run, the only option was to run! I’d be finished sooner and resting with the crew, but only if I ran! I couldn’t argue with hard facts but I was struggling to even walk on this dark, rough terrain.
And then it hit me – PAIN! I’d given Donnie a heads up that I thought I might pass out or throw-up with the magnitude of pain going through me right now – it wasn’t fatigue, that was the frustration, it was simply a niggle that had gotten worse over the last 50 miles… PAIN! And so I threw-up. On all fours, I was retching away. In a sadistic manner, I enjoyed the break, as this meant that Donnie had allowed me to actually stop, even though it was for me to throw up! This again was where I held a lot of respect for Donnie, his professional experience within the Marines as well as the world of Personal Training, he was able to keep me as focused as I possibly could and I knew he’d been in harder places than me right now and that this was where I was truly beginning to being tested for my inner strength and indomitable spirit, all of which Donnie ate for breakfast!
Sadly, I hit a wall here – Pain, pain, pain! It was now downhill and the angle of this on my ankle was nasty! Uphill I could manage but down just hit home and HARD!
Donnie had tried everything to get me going and sadly I now had missed my sub 23hr finish and I fell into a period of silence that was a true struggle all the way. I must have stumbled down the final trail and distance for a while but at some point I broke our silence with the question, “What’s the time? How are we for my target sub 24hr?” Donnie must have been waiting for this, as he knew he now had me – sneaky wee fecker! He lied and told me I had 25mins to cover the last 3 miles and this was all I needed to hear to grit my teeth and try to run and power home – I was NOT missing the sub 24hr NEVER!!!! I felt I owed it to Donnie, if nothing else. So off we stumbled and eventually, we hit the fire track trail, that just seemed to go on forever…then the Braveheart Car Park, then TARMAC! Tarmac, this was it, I was on the home run. My heart was beating with excitement, my ankles firing shocks with every step and now the soles of my feet felt as if they were blistered and about to burst and come away form my feet. I’ve always ran well, since running with Injinji fiver finger socks and never blistered before, so I took this as a false alarm and bit down to run on. This was my race and I wasn’t stopping now, not now! A car passed and I was looking out for the 30mph limit sign, but no sign. The car followed the meandering road and still no bloody road sign!!!!! I had this in my mind, as I’d once ran this route with a mate Paul Houston, who spoke to me of the elation you feel, as you see this landmark, welcoming you home. Where the ‘feck’ was it…!?! I was against the clock and needed to see this bloody sign…! There it was and on I ran into Fort William. Next was the official road sign of the end of the WHW route, didn’t care – this wasn’t IT. Then the roundabout and a spray painted message on the pavement finish 400mtrs – YES!!!! On I went, bearing in mind to give the welcome slap to the WHW sign, that’s sign posted on the pavement, another one of Paul’s landmarks and traditions that I have adopted
And there it was the leisure centre car park entrance and finish! My jacket already zipped open, timing chip swinging away, I was after every single second to bag this goal. In I ran, to the cheers of fellow supporters as well as my crew – Eil, Jimbo and Andy were there to see me power home and sign in!
West Highland Way Race – 95 miles of 14,750ft done! 23hrs 52mins! - 66th out of 181 runners!
I need to thank many people here for my achievement – this was by no way a solo effort!
First and foremost I would like to thank my long and suffering wife Eilidh. She has been a strong supporter of me, over the past couple of years and has always managed to convey her belief in me and convince me that things are possible and attainable! Donnie Campbell for his personal training, support and fantastic friendship. With his professional experience, he has transformed a 10k charity runner, with ‘spirit’ into an ultra runner, within a period of 18 months! This guy IS A LEGEND. You just need to see how his other clients have managed to eat up the trails and milage of the epic race.
Lorna McMillan 2nd Female Finish – who ran a superb race and held pole for a significant amount of time – amazing result for her first attempt!
Jo Rae 5th Female Finish – simply put, she runs like a machine!
Sandra McDougall 7th Female Finish – who knocked significant time of her previous runs, bagging a PB and a sub 24hr!
A huge thanks also goes to my wife and crew members, without them none of this would have been possible – this race IS a TEAM effort. Eilidh, love you! Jimbo, Andy, and David, “Thanks!” simply isn’t enough but I hope you understand what this meant to me and that I hope I ran and did you all proud!
Thanks to the WHW race director Ian Beattie and all other board members and volunteers – without the many, many hours that are sacrificed for managing and arranging the logistics of this race, we wouldn’t have the successful race that we all get to enjoy today!
Thank you! and see you all next year!