West Highland Way Race 2019
This would be my 3rd journey from Milngavie to Fort William. Last year I got a 5 and a half hour PB finishing in 24:53. So, when I sat in John Kynaston’s living room getting interviewed many many months ago, I declared my goal for 2019 should I get in was to crack 24 hours and aim for another triple crown. Unofficial or not, it exists in my eyes, and the stats say to date 217 people have completed it with only 38 people having completed twice or more. It may mean nothing to some folk but means a lot to me.
So the proverbial gauntlet was laid down. The plan was to chill out over the winter and build up the running then come January begin to build it up and train hard over the coming months culminating in an 11-14 day “hellweek” then taper before an all out assault on the route/race I love so much.
All was going well and I was fairly relaxed with regards to crew and training. Then bang, the first setback happened. On an easy 6 mile head torch run, I tripped and landed hard on my side. Thankfully it wasn’t a heart attack but it set me back by just over a month when I couldn’t even breath without pain. Cracked ribs are definitely a pain in the ass not just the ribs. But hey, shit happens, so no big deal, just get on with it.
My first race/run back was the Falkirk Ultra relay. We went out to have fun and fun we did have with a decent place. However, I was in a fair bit of pain but fought thru it, as you do. The ribs were getting better. So I took it easy building up runs then my leg and ass started to get pain. I kept going running slower but while it helped it wasn’t really solving it. So off to physio I went who diagnosed me with tendinitis. Mixed emotions were felt. On the one hand it was good to know the issue and be able to work on it and on the other hand you could go do one mate as I knew what this meant. Little to no running for another month at least while I got treated.
I was back running but the Fling was coming up fast. So for a few weeks I upped my miles and got some hill runs in. Not pretty but they got done. The fling was a run 2, walk 1 affair to ensure I got to the finish in one piece. I did finish slower but stronger than previous runs and recovery was good from it. So I was a bit more positive. But, 6 weeks to the WHWR meant time was running out and fast. So, after a quick chat and coffee with Tony, I had a 4 week plan to deliver consistency. Rest a week after fling, 4 weeks consistent training (20 miles max), 2 week taper (with strathearn marathon), then race day. That all went well so another plus.
The crew was not without problems either. I had Susan (my wife/rock), Gordon (WHW sweeper and finisher) and Billy (fellow club member). Word got to me that Billy was struggling at training. I text him to no reply for a few days. This was normal for technophobe Billy but less than 7 days to go I was stressing. Billy said he reckoned he would be fine. I decided to also ask Robert to join my team as a back up for Billy and because I thought he would add greatly to the team. I know some folk probably thought the choice of a 20 year old with no ultra experience was probably madness but I know the lad well and in the end was a genius choice even if I do say so myself.
So race week and day were a stress-full time. I had the full week of so plenty of time to over think things and stress myself out. My crabby levels went off the radar on race day. I slept well and got ready. We arrived in Milngavie in good time as I registered. I was nervous, miserable and on edge. I was peeing for Scotland! Susan and Robert noticed I was different. I went into the car to get my head down and alone time with my own thoughts. I kept telling myself once I got going I would be fine.
1AM came and we were off, I said my goodbyes and off to Fort William I trotted. I chatted with a few folk but I tend to keep myself to myself in long races. It was very humid and a bit of a sweatfest even though it was the middle of the night. I got to Drymen a bit slower than normal, no big deal as that was expected. What wasn’t expected was the nausea and dizziness I had a few times. Onwards to Balmaha and first chance to see Susan. She asked how I was, I told her about the dizziness. She told me I might need to make a decision to stop sooner than later. I said I know. My head and body wasn’t in it or prepared for today but I was in and out in minutes. I carried on, a mile later Susan passed in the car, I waved and mouthing to myself, who do you think you are, I ain’t no fucking quitter, ill show you! Admittedly, I did chuckle to myself later knowing that was Susan’s plan. She knows me and what drives/motivates me. I chilled out and had a relaxed run to Rowerdennan, taking photos of the Loch and running parts with WHW legend Fiona Rennie. My 2 main thoughts on this section were that it was 10 years since Dario( the previous RD) had passed and he was looking after the runners with the weather and kept the loch incredibly calm. My other thought was one I have many times when it gets tough and that was to Fiona. Pain is for the living and be grateful for that she once said after her run in with the big C and that’s not Conic hill.
Rowerdennan arrived with a decent stop in better head space. I had passed my support runner from last year, Tom.I thought it was him as I passed but wasn’t sure, so grunts were exchanged and I told Susan I thought it was Tom but wasn’t sure. The next 15 odd miles were hellish,technical aka shite shite and more shite following the low road and the hell after inversnaid. Headphones were on and Huey Lewis kept me company. I ran a wee bit with Kirsty from the club here who was running well with her pal. We arrived in Beinglas where there was no crew for the first time. I know there were a few grumps from folk about this but it wasn’t really a big deal. Perhaps, a similar system that was used at Auchtertyre could be used in future years to appease folk? Anyhoo, bottles refilled and a quick cuppa and I was met by Wilson who whispered its worth it though isn’t it. Right now, no it bloody well wasn’t, I was hurting and in pain with 56 miles to go. But, the crew were waiting 10 miles up the road so lets move. I tried running but it wasn’t happening. The next 6 miles were a war of attrition doing what I could when I could. I arrived at the gate to see David Meldrum who asked how I was. I said sore and in pain, he replied I know I know, use your experience to get you through it. These words resonated through my head for the next wee while. I met a few folk on the way to the next checkpoint who all saw how fresh and good I was looking( yep much sarcasm there), I told those I saw that my race was over and Auchtertyre would be the finish for me.
Gordon met me a mile from the checkpoint worried for me and after seeing me that only intensified. I told him it was game over but I had one trick up my sleeve! Get into the checkpoint, sit down, freshen up, change kit, eat and drink hot stuff, load up the bag and head out for 3 miles to Tyndrum before making a decision. I got into the checkpoint to be met by the she bitch from hell aka my loving wife Susan. Unbeknown to me, Susan had decided on the exact same plan but not before a severe bollocking. I did chuckle inwardly to myself seeing the look of the guys faces as she told me how much she erm loved me! So off we trotted, me ,billy and Robert. Gordon told me folk were taking about 45 mins to get to Tyndrum, so that would be the measure. We got there early with Susan and Gordon still getting coffee. So off I trotted with no ice cream from Brodies and leaving Billy to get his bag stocked for the long haul. A decent section towards Bridge of Orchy passing a few folk. It was after seeing me at Tyndrum that Susan tells me she knew I would be finishing.
Here I met my crew and my sister who had come up to see me during the race. She told me she was proud of me and I nearly lost it. That is not the kinda thing I want to hear in a race lol. I also met Robin Wombill who came up and had a chat. I cannot recall what he said exactly but one thing he did say was you’ve got this, you will do it. I got up and made my way to the checkpoint leaving my crew behind to catch up.
As we headed up Jelly bean hill, the conversation went weird with talk of breathing techniques in free divers. Weird but kept the miles going by. I reached Murdo, got the jelly baby and I managed a pathetic grunt. The march to Glencoe was relentless interspersed with some running and Billy stopping us to watch him run and listen to his knee popping. An unexpected break but a fun one that kept the miles ticking.
We arrived in Glencoe to be met by crew with my brother in law making sausage and bacon. It was duly shoved down my throat. I saw Bill Heirs who asked me how I was. My answer was fucked but I just wanna get out of here before Ada sees me. As I made my way out who turns up but bloody Ada Stewart to which I here move yer arse ya fanny. My life was complete! Onwards to kinlochleven and over the Devil’s staircase which was actually ok although how the hell Gordon got up their with no head torch is beyond me. My ankles and legs were in one helluva lotta pain now but relentless forward progress was made. One thing here that filled me with pride was hearing how well David from the club had done smashing his previous time. We checked folks progress when we could and it was great to hear of fellow club members finishing.
KLL checkpoint arrived with Susan greeting me with a pot with rice. I was out of it and said I would get it when I sat down. Not a good idea to argue at that point. I hobbled into the centre to get weighed by Julie Clarke, who was honest in her appraisal of how I looked! The 2 KG I lost earlier I had put back on. I went to the car sat down, ate drank and didn’t be merry! My ankle was taped up and I struggled to stand but I bid the crew farewell as I headed of to grab that goddam goblet. Robert had hoped to carry on to the finish by was shattered so retreated to the car to grab some sleep. The lad was an absolute superstar showing experience beyond his years.
The climb out of KLL is always one I enjoy and this was no different. The next 14 miles were hell on earth with Gordon proving what Billy and Robert had previously proven. Excellent choices, great friends, patiences of saints and the resolve to do whatever was necessary to get me to the finish. In my humble opinion, as with all me previous crews I regard them as legends, superstars and just bloody amazing friends. As we approached Lundavra, I was in a world of pain and would have happily curled into a ball and went to sleep.
From Lundavra, there are 7 miles and not one of them are flat! The climb out reminds me of a local hill, The Law, with so many false summits. Gordon pushed, prodded me and cajoled as much as he dared to but by this point it was taking all I had to put one foot in front of the other. Edd caught up here with Lisa kicking his ass. It was good to see he had been resurrected after looking like crap going into KLL.. The miles went by slower than my shuffle and so the final climb came with every part of me hurting. I had convinced myself I was having a heart attack but said nothing knowing there was nothing that could be done and if it was to happen then what a way to go. I wasn’t off course, I had just taken my body and mind to the brink. We made the climb and it was now time for the downhill across from Ben Nevis. Gordon took pics and said how great does that look. Fucking great I think I retorted. Gordon phoned Susan to tell her how much I was struggling as I headed downhill. He caught up and said ok d you wanna start a wee trot or jog. I said what the fuck d you think I am doing. We kept going with me dozing off and swaying of to the side of the path. Gordon swapped sides with me for my own safety. There were a few tears as I struggled to get of that goddam hill but forward was the only way to go. Susan phoned again, she was parked at the bottom and was gonna walk up to meet us. A wee while later, I saw her with my sister. When I saw her I broke down, I couldn’t handle the pain or her seeing me like this. I think Gordon got a bit of dirt in his eyes here. Susan grabbed me, had words with me and told me I was doing this , I was getting that fucking goblet. My sister also joined me at my other side. The two of them hauled my ass of that hill doing what they needed to do. At one of my several breakdowns, Susan told me she loved me and was proud of what I had done today. This off course made me lose it. We eventually got to the road where Robert took over as the girls went to the finish. 1 sodding mile to go! If a car had been offered to me I would have quit or at least that’s the way I felt but quitting wasn’t an option today. Not long to go now then my very dear friend Jane appeared with hubby, I couldn’t handle seeing her see me like this. I was bruised, battered and a broken man and that was just my mind right now but there was a Goblet to be earned and goddam it I was earning it! Tears wiped for the umpteenth time and I carried on fighting the fight. I saw the finish and almost cheered up. I saw Ian and nearly lost it again. I mustered enough strength to motion to strangle him but shook his hand then went to get weighed in, photo taken and sat down. I sat there gob-smacked as I realised the gravity of finishing. I struggled to hold back tears again. Chuck Gordon, came up and chatted with some really kind words. He also took a photo which sums up my race. He took a photo of a broken man, broken but not beat, victorious in the quest to earn a third goblet and by god I flaming well earned this one. The race well and truly broke me but did not beat me.
At the goblet ceremony, all 7 wee county harriers who started were called up to get their goblets. Proud of myself and even more proud of my fellow club-mates doesn’t begin to express how I felt as I watched them collect their goblets. 7 started at Milngavie and 7 finished at Fort William.Bloody amazing for such a “wee” club.
During the race, I said never again. After the race I said at least a year out. Then on a car journey with Susan where we chatted for 3 hours about the race I turned to her and said, you make it sound like ill be doing it next year. Her reply was, you wanna do it then I will support you but I want to be more involved with your training so I know you have done more than 4 bloody weeks of training! Within minutes, I had contacted a friend who agreed within minutes to crew. During that 3 hour chat, she repeated that she was really proud of me finishing which means the world to me. This may seem a weird thing to say but folk will know me will understand when I say that I AM proud of finishing on Sunday. It may not have been a PB but pulling of that finish and thinking about it still gives me a lump in my throat. I dug deeper than ever before and exposed a side of me that I don’t want to see the light of day again. I will learn from it a return to Milngavie a stronger better runner.
And so it begins again……. oh crap!!
But right now, it is rest rest rest with the devils coming up and that magical second triple crown.