Report of the Women’s Race by Adrian Stott

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West Highland Way Ladies race report 2014

While the men were blitzing a path to  a record and the second best time recorded on the course, the ladies were also rising the bar in their own way.

Rosie Bell, came into the race with 8 previous finishes and  over the years since her first run in 2005 which took over 23 hours, the Strathaven Strider has steadily improved ,winning the race in 2012 and 2013 with her PB of 19.27.04 set in last years race. Fionna Ross, had run the race once before in 2012 when she finished 3rd in  21.32.50. Her improvement in the last two years as been plain to see, making the GB ultra trail team last year after her fine  Highland fling race and achieving a Gb 24 hour qualifier at the Self Transcendene 24 hour race at Tooting Bec  last Septemeber. On paper these were the two most likely to be contending the lead. Like the men they had both prepared well and had set themselves a sub 19 hour target, a time only achieved by Lucy Colqhoun when she set her record of 17.16.20 in 2007 , and 7 times winner Kate Jenkins who dipped under 19 hours  on 4 occasions with a best of 17.37.48 in 2000.

it was Bell who was the early leader up to  Drymen and Conic Hill  but Ross was in close contention and drifted into the lead on the descent of Conic Hill to reach the first checkpoint at Balmaha (18.9 miles)in 3.02.58 just 8 seconds ahead of Bell (3.03.06)

There was not much more to separate them at Rowardennan (25 miles) with Ross clocking 4.24.09 just under 3 minutes ahead.  like the men they were both well on course at this stage , for their respective target times. Along the upper Loch Lomond trail through Inversnaid and on to The Beinglass checkpoint(40.5 miles, Ross moved steadily ahead,. Although the start of stomach problems which required a few impromptu “Pit stops ” hampered her progress a little. She reached  the 40.5 mile checkpoint in 7.13.23 to Bell’s 7.29.16  a substantial 16 minute cushion. which she stretched to 24 minutes by Auctertyre Farm (50 miles)  with 9.05.03 to Bell’s 9.29.06. and 32 minutes by Bridge of Orchy  10.53.03 to 11.25.47 . Bell has in the last two years always shown herself to be strong in the  second half of the race.it was no different this year  for  on the stretch over Rannoch Moor to Glencoe she reduced Ross’s lead by over 4 minutes .although Ross still held a 28 minute lead 13.09.11 to 13.38.08 she was obviously going through a “wee dip in form” as the phrase goes.

Despite  Ross  still struggling with stomach issues and having more impromptu  pit stops,  her experienced crew of GB ultra internationals Debbie Consani and Sharon Law, really helped to keep her focussed  and on the move , when the urge to take a wee  5 minute “time out”  must have been so tempting. They obviously sensed Bell was “not going to go away”  and she too had a very experienced  support crew of husband Alan and fellow Strathaven Strider and WhWay veteran Ton Wilson to keep her on track  and in touch with developments.

Ross seemed to recover from her little crash and regained  her rhythm  and along with  Bell were both  strong on  the  stretch over the Devils Staircase  and down  to Kinlochleven . The lead remained at 28 minutes in Ross’s favour, (15.34.03 to 16.02.02) . Sub 19 was still  looking good for Ross  if she could  keep her self together and also for Bell with a good last stretch. Bell was indeed the stronger on the stretch over the Lharig Mor to Lundavra,  and on across to Glen Nevis reducing Ross’s lead by over 10 minutes, but it was the Ross who held on for the victory to record 18.45.04 as she reached the Fort Wlliam leisure centre . Bell arrived 17 minutes later to smash her PB from last year by over 24 minutes  but  despite that hard last stretch  just missed the 19 hour barrier finishing in 19.02.19.

In a text exchange with Rosie pre race , she had expressed the hope she and Fionna could ring the best out of each other. They obviously did as Ross’s time puts her 3rd fastest lady over the course,  and Bell is now in fourth ,with only the earlier mentioned Colquhoun and Jenkins going faster.

Reflecting afterwards Ross said,”  It’s all bit of a dream  still really. A few years ago i knew I wanted to eventually run the race as I knew other folk who had done it. My  first race in 2012 went ok  but I felt I could improve. Still can’t actually believe I have won, its such a special race to win.  I was quite nervous at the start , and I settled into my own pace  and knew Rosie was ahead, but didn’t want to get carried away too early.  By Conic Hill I was feeling settled and just started getting into a good rhythm. I always go well down the hills, which is where I passed Rosie, but it just happened naturally , I wasn’t really trying to gain a big advantage , and  although I was having a few stomach problems I felt good all the way up the loch, and just seemed to pull away. I knew if I just kept to my schedule  and went for the sub 19 that I could win it , but Rosie has so much experience  in this race and we all knew she would be strong in the later stages. she ran a great race too and  I am really happy she got a PB too.  I had a bit of a crash over Rannoch Moor and wasn’t feeling good at all, really wanted to take a rest  but Sharon and Debs wouldn’t let me . they really kept me out there and  although over to the devils staircase i  was feeling awful ,once i got over to Kinlochleven , I had revived somewhat. I am delighted with the time, it is what I felt I was capable of , though without all the pit stops could have been closer to 18.30″

Rosie  sent this little comment

 “Fionna was going at great pace and caught me coming down Conic, as we left Balmaha she took of into the distance and I new I couldn’t maintain that pace as didn’t want to blow up later along route. I was pushing myself the whole way in an attempt to close in then it was a case of max out to try and dip in under the 19hrs. Think the biggest gap was 30 mins and I got it down to 17 mins before running out of miles :-))) I’m delighted for Fionna as she ran a strong race and now also happy with myself as I gave it my all. Feeling good today, finding it hard to rest so out for a stroll in the evening  sunshine. UTMB soon so it’ll be back to training soon, hills hills and more hills. Thanks again :-))

 

As with the mens race ,there was a little battle for the final podium place, between the Edinburgh duo of Carrie Craig from Hunters Bog Trotters and Keziah Higgins from Harmeny  AC. Higgins, a club mate of  race winner Ross, held a lead of 6 minutes at Balmaha over Craig (3.14.30 to 3.20.40) , with roughly the same distance between them  at Rowardennan(4.49.59 to 4.55.40). Along the Lochside Craig proved strong and at Beinglass  Farm (40.5 ml) led Higgins by almost 4 minutes  with 8.04.39 to 8.08.16, a lead she increased to 11 minutes by Auchtertyre (10.09.11 to 10.20.12)  Higgins then got her second wind and on the so called “fast runnable stretch” from Auchtertyre to Bridge of Orchy she slowly pegged Craig’s lead back  and reduced the deficit to just two and a half minutes at the 60 mile checkpoint (12.07.13 to 12.09.41).

Over Rannoch Moor  Higgins caught and passed Craig , but didn’t really get away,. The  Dib timings show Higgins reached the Glencoe ski centre checkpoint in 14.31.42 3 minutes ahead of Craig (14.34.57) however with Higgins taking a minute or three to refuel and  gather supplies  while Craig had a shorter stop, they actually left the checkpoint together heading for the Devils Staircase.  When Craig seemed to hit a bad patch shortly after, it allowed Higgins to open up a gap , and she reached Kinlochleven  24 minutes ahead in 16.51.57 to 17.14.56.  she further increased this lead on the last stretch, narrowly missing the 20 hour barrier , but solid in 3rd place with 20.09.35. Craig struggled a little on the last stretch and finished in 20.46.55, still improving on her PB from 2012 by over 2 hours .

Higgins was delighted with her run,

“I am really happy! A year ago I just wanted to be able to finish.   After the Fling I thought sub 20hr was a possibility so I was aiming for that. I was 3rd until a really bad spell and Carrie went past me 3 miles before Beinglas. After a rough 8 miles I recovered and got going again. I passed her on Rannoch Moor but she put up a fight and left Glencoe checkpoint with me. I pulled ahead again and luckily didn’t have another low point and felt great for the last 26 miles.

All of the women runners are getting better and better.  Hopefully. If I keep my training up I can go a bit faster.  Really pleased for Fionna  and Craig was not exactly disappointed either  “I am really really pleased, of course there is the residual nagging “what if”…but that’s what makes us train harder and go back for more 🙂 I set off steady, perhaps slightly too steady but better than blowing up! I caught Keziah just at the end of the Loch, was surprised to see her but she had taken a wee fall and so was cautious.

Coming into Beinglas Stevie called out ‘3rd lady’ and so began 25 mi of looking over my shoulder (unused to podium pressures!). I had a low point just past Victoria bridge & that’s when both Keziah & (the phenomenal) John Duncan caught me. I wobbled for a few miles, then gave myself a talking too, had an excellent smiling few magical miles back into Glencoe checkpoint & got there just as she was leaving. Game on! Drank some lucozade sport, bad move going up Devils, I started to feel rather queasy & lost sight of her from there. I did rather ambitiously set 20 hours as my goal. Based on 9:52 fling I knew tight but doable. I actually started training ‘properly’ in Feb with some coaching from Robbie Britton, a whole new way of looking at things. SpeedWork! So, another time, with a bit more confidence… until then, basking in the 20:46 “

The 2014  West Highland Way race has been memorable in many ways. As with the men , the women are also raising the bar each year, and it seems the healthy state of Scottish ultra running  just now is helping many people raise their game, and this is also having an impact for runners of all standards. A record number of men dipped under 20 hours and  Pbs are being set throughout the field , not forgetting that many folk who thought finishing this race a few years ago was totally beyond them , are now the proud owners of the cherished WHW Goblets. For those who for whatever reason, had to drop out this year,  or after entering ,failed to make the start line, take heart, for history shows , if one is  prepared to  learn from the experience , you can come back stronger , maybe in a year or maybe three and “Conquer the Way”.

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