Category Archives: West Highland Way

West Highland Way Race 2017, Milngavie, Glasgow, Monday, July 24, 2017

95 miles

Aaron Gourley

 

95 miles, 14,000ft – One Incredible Experience

“I’m never running another ultra again,” I muttered to myself as I lay on the floor in the finish hall in Filey at the end of the Hardmoors 60 last September. Feeling totally exhausted and dejected after the wheels of my race fell off in spectacular fashion at Scalby, I’d decided that was enough and I wanted no further part in the activity.

But time is a great healer and before I knew it, I was entering the ballot for the West Highland Way race 2017 after being inspired by the BBC Adventure Show’s coverage of the 2016 race. I also managed to tempt my running partner in crime, Jen O’Neill into entering. With a place secured for both of us, all my focus was on this race alone and I knew I had to seriously improve my training if I was to complete and ultimately, enjoy this race.

But the West Highland Way is a race that comes with many conditions, one being the need for a support crew which is a massive commitment for anyone. I luckily was able to secure the services of Phil Owen whose experience of this race, both as a runner and support crew, would prove invaluable and a good friend who I going hiking with, Brian Shepherd.

As the race approached doubts about my ability started to creep in, a two day Lakeland 100 recce with Gary Thwaites at the beginning of June had me seriously doubting my ability and almost forced me to withdraw, but I stuck by and on Friday 23rd June I set off for the long journey to Scotland.

Arriving at Milngavie station car park was the first moment of real nervousness. I’d tried to sleep in the car on the way up but couldn’t.  The car park was full and there was a real buzz around the place. I went to register, got my timing chip and the first of four weigh-ins and headed back to the car to change, eat and rest until the start of the race at 1am on the Saturday morning. This rest was disturbed when a slightly drunk women drove into the car park and hit mine and another car as she tried to park. Not a great way to relax for a big race like this.

As 1am approached I made my way to the start line at the underpass next to the station for the race brief and met up with Jen who was looking nervous and not confident given the huge problems she’s been having with her knee lately. Soon it was 1am and we were off, through the underpass, up a few stairs and along the High Street before turning off into the darkness of the trails.

The miles from Milngavie ticked by uneventfully, it was dark and the light from head torches stretched into the distance. I kept a steady pace, trying not to get too carried away and running too fast on the fairly flat trail.  Before long we were at the first significant point on the route, Drymen where Phil and Brian were to meet. I didn’t hang around and made off again into the darkness.

Next few miles ticked over until day light broke as we approached Conic Hill, the first significant climb on the route, and provided us with expansive views of Loch Lomond below. The weather had been windy but mild, in fact almost perfect for running in, but the clouds hung low in the distance and looked ominous with the forecast for rain throughout the day. The big plus though was the dreaded Scottish midgies were kept at bay.

All too soon, after a steep drop off Conic Hill, Jen and I reached the first check point of Balmaha at 19 miles. Here we both had a quick refuel and toilet stop before setting off for the next section along the banks of Loch Lomond. The run out was good and the views were spectacular as the sun rose, but all too soon the trail got trickier and more technical to run. We made it to Rowardennan check point together for the first of two drop bag points. I had a square of sandwich and a Boost chocolate bar and we set off once more.

However, I could see my heart rate starting to creep up and was working hard to keep the pace so took the decision to drop back from Jen who was running strong. I really didn’t want to break my race at this point.

As Jen headed out of sight I made my way carefully along the banks of the loch to Inversnaid. This section was really tough and I was feeling tired having been up since 7am the previous morning. I took a moment to refill my water bottles before setting off for the next checkpoint where I would see Phil and Brian again, Beinglas Farm.

I made it in and learned Jen had put 15 minutes on me (she went on to have a storming race and finished in 23hrs51mins – 44th place). I was tired but feeling ok. After a quick sit down and being forced to eat a few fork fulls of Pot Noodle, I was off. From here to the next checkpoint was a bit of a blur but before long I was at Auchtertyre where I was weighed at the checkpoint, I’d lost nearly 3kgs but still within the safe limit. I then found Phil and sat in the car for a bite to eat and a nice cup of coffee and a rice pudding. All was good, I’d gone through a bit of a rough patch getting there but was feeling ok, then as I stood up to head off, I felt an awful sensation run over my body, then before I knew it I was on my hands and knees being sick. The coffee and rice making an unwelcome return.

I was devastated by this then I noticed the marshal from the checkpoint coming over and I feared my race was over. But she kindly offered me a wet wipe to freshen my face with, a cup of water from someone who was supporting another runner and a few words of encouragement from Phil and I was back on my way, I had 3 miles before I would see them again at Tyndrum.

At Tyndrum I met my support and they forced me to eat some pasta and soup but I was scared it might make me sick again. I had a little bit, but bizarrely, I really craved an ice-lolly so Brian went off to the shop and returned with a Calippo. I trudged out of the Tyndrum with my Calippo. I must have looked mental to the walkers coming past the other way as the weather had turned again and the wind and driving rain battered from the west. I didn’t really care as I ate it along with a few Shot Bloks and before long I was feeling ok again as the track stretched out ahead of me towards Bridge of Orchy.

Having found my rhythm again I was able to start running as the track was fairly flat and great for running on. Before long I was making great progress and came into Bridge of Orchy full of beans. Here I had a quick turn around and Phil sent me off up Jelly Baby Hill with a handful of Pringles and a sandwich.

Jelly Baby Hill gets its name from the Murdo who makes camp at the top of the hill and greets runners with good cheer and the offer of a Jelly Baby. The wind at the top was fierce and Murdo was camped firmly in his tent, only appearing when runners reached him before disappearing back to shelter. On my approach he came out, greeted by with a firm handshake and sent me off with lovely green Jelly Baby.

The path down the other side of the hill was very runnable but the wind was fierce and biting cold. Phil had opted to meet me on the road side at the bottom and I took the chance to have some food and make a full change of clothes including long leggings, a new top and OMM waterproof ready for the next section over Rannoch Moor as I knew it would be exposed and cold on this stretch. As I left I had a few more snacks and felt good to still be running, I’d passed 60 miles now, the furthest I’ve ran up to now so I was going into the unknown, but I felt good.

There was a long climb up onto the moor and the wind was really getting up but was manageable, but then as I approach the plateau, the wind really picked up and brought with it driving rain. It became really difficult to see as the rain swept across the open moor and the temperature plummeted. I made an effort to keep running as it was really getting cold and the wind was driving the rain hard. It seemed to take a long time to get across the moor but before long I was at Glencoe Ski Centre checkpoint.

I checked in and spotted my support car so made my way over looking to get full change and a hot drink as I was freezing and soaked through. But when I got to the car I realised they weren’t there, so I headed up to the ski centre where I found them about to settle into nice warm drinks. They were both surprised when I walked in as they thought it would have taken me longer to get there but as I explained to them the conditions and the fact that I’d pressed on they both sprang into action to fetch a change of clothes and Brian kindly gave me his cup of hot tea which went down a treat.

I spent the next hour here getting changed, warming through and having a small bite to eat as Phil changed having decided he would join me for the next section to Kinlochleven. All too soon we were back out in the cold and wet as we headed down the long path and up the valley to the foot of the Devil’s Staircase. This was a drag and I’d lost my momentum, the conditions I’d encountered up on Rannoch Moor had really demoralised me. We pressed on and started the relatively short but steep ascent of the Devil, I was really struggling now and more competitors started catching me on this climb.

Each step felt heavy but then I spotted a sign saying ‘Shop 500 metres’. Was I hallucinating? was this some kind of sick joke? We pressed on and eventually another sign read ‘Shop 100 metres’ and then another at 50 metres. I was really struggling with reality then all of a sudden at the top of the staircase were two bright yellow tents stacked with goodies and cans of pop along with an honesty box. This was a tremendous gesture by someone and I’d have loved a can of Iron-Bru that was on offer but neither me or Phil had any cash on us so we pressed on.

The path down to Kinlochleven was long, gnarly and steep making it difficult to get any kind of momentum. In the foot of the valley we could see our destination but it seemed to take a long time to reach it as we passed through the forested hillside and across various streams and by a dam which was in full flow. It was now around 10:30pm but still light enough to see as he reached the village and made our way to the checkpoint which was a welcome relief.

At the checkpoint I was weighed once again and Brian was there with hot drinks and the bag full of food and treats. I have to admit I was seriously flagging now, shear tiredness was really taking its toll. Once more after what felt only a few moments it was time to head off for the last 15 miles to the finish. I knew I’d cracked it but still had a long way to go over what was probably the roughest part of the race, and it was now pitch black.

Phil continued with me for this last section as we made our way up the long climb out of Kinlochleven. On this climb we passed a guy sitting dejected, with his crew partner, he’d decided to call it a day. He simply had nothing left to give, such shame to see so close to the end but it made me more determined to finish than ever. We pressed on into the darkness. The next hour or so was a steady climb until we reached Lundavra where a marshal team were out and their Saltire flags being stretched in the howling wind. They had a table laid with various fizzy drinks. A cup of Iron-Bru was so welcoming as I sat for a few moments to gather myself.

Pressing on, the track for the next few miles began to resemble a river, it got pointless trying to find a dry line as there was so much water. The darkness was disorientating but I followed Phil’s lines. Soon we hit the forest, or at least what used to be forest but work to clear this had torn he paths up making it awful to cross. It was at this point that Phil took a tumble, (in my sleep deprived state, this is how I remember it, Phil believes I’m over playing it!) heading head first off the side of the path down the steep side of the valley.  It was terrifying to see he fall but he managed to save himself and clamber back onto the path. Then as he brushed himself down, I couldn’t help but laugh, childish I know, but I couldn’t help it.

Anyway, with Phil back up and running we pressed on. It was starting to get light again as we made the final little climb out of the forest and onto the fire road for the final 3 miles. The path was steep and we briefly broke out into a trot but I had a stitch so settled for a fast paced walk. Since Kinlochleven, we’d been trading places with various people along the way, up ahead were two runners that had passed when we had a short stop at the final checkpoint. We caught and passed them once again, then a group of around four runners passed us.

As the gradient shallowed I looked at my watch for the first time in a long time, It was after 4am, I was still moving well and though that I had a chance to get back in under 28hrs. This was the only point in the whole race where time became important and I made the decision to try and press on and get to the finish as quickly as possible.

Just as I dropped onto the road heading into Fort William, Phil took a toilet stop, I pressed on thinking he would catch up. As I ran along the roadside I realised I was gaining quickly on two people up ahead and soon I was alongside them as we ran into Fort William.

The group of four were now just ahead and I laid down the challenge to the runners I was with to catch them, so we upped the pace and soon were alongside them. Now, the leisure centre and the finish line came into view and I’m not sure who began it, but all of a sudden we were racing to the finish line.

It felt fantastic to be racing for this final 200 metres, four competitors battling for position at the end of nearly 28hrs on our feet in dire conditions.  I finished in a very respectable 102nd place in 27hrs41mins.

After a few hours sleep we headed over to the Nevis Centre for 12pm and what is a truly unique prize giving. Nearly every competitor turns up and is individually presented with their crystal goblet in order of their finish position. I must admit I felt on top of the world going out to collect mine, it was  a very proud moment. Even more special is the tradition that the person who came first presents the final finisher with their goblet. This went to a lady who showed true spirit and finished a mere 20 mins before the final cut-off and presentation to rapturous applause.

On reflection I learnt a lot from the experience. Yes, I could have trained better, yes I could have spent less time at checkpoints, I most definitely need to learn how to eat better on big runs but none of those things matter if, especially in this race, you don’t have a good support crew. I’ve never really appreciated how important a support crew is. Phil’s experience really helped and Brian’s commitment to the full weekend ensured I made the start line. Both waited on me hand and foot, made me eat when I didn’t want to and encouraged me to keep going during low points and I will be eternally grateful to them both. At the time I said I’d never do the race again, but writing this report has me thinking that I may have unfinished business, 2018 might be a possibility!

Results are available here

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West Highland Way 2014, Saturday, June 21, 2014

95M / 14,000'

Phil Owen

The West highland Way race starts at 1am in Milngavie (just above Glasgow) and covers 95 miles of hills to Fort William including 1400ft of ascent. This was my fourth attempt, one DNF and two finishes with a pb of 26:47. I truly love this race but it’s hard to explain why. After all there are lots of 100 milers in beautiful places about and it’s not even the toughest of them (but more than tough enough). However there is a lot more to this race than the actual race itself. It has history, traditions and whw family. You just have to be there to understand.

The route of the West Highland Way Race.

Milngavie to Drymen (12.11miles)
Drymen to Balmaha (6.84miles) [overall 18.95miles]

The start is a funny old thing. For a race that takes you through some beautiful landscapes, starting at a subway under a road and along a fairly dreary main street always seems at odds with the race but the electric atmosphere, the nerves and excitement soon put that out of your mind. Through a park and woodland, along old railway lines and to Drymen. This is the flattest section of the route but by no means flat. Head torches bob and folk run way too fast. They usually pay the consequences. I try and switch off for a while. I like to leave Drymen behind to be honest; a couple short tarmac sections annoy me and I want to be on the whw proper. Soon after Drymen we glimpse Conic hill, a 1000ft hill with a good run up to it. I always feel this is where the race starts. On the top, it’s light now and the view of Loch Lomond is superb. Down the other side, lots of steps and into Balmaha Car park to be met by my support. I leave quickly and won’t see the support again till Beinglass.

Balmaha to Rowardennan (7.70miles) [overall 26.65miles]
Rowardennan to Inversnaid (7.26miles) [overall 33.91miles]

Two very tough sections lay ahead with constant climbs and very rocky ground. From Inversnaid hotel we have a few miles of the famous Lomond side rocks to negotiate. More scrambling than running but I do love this section.

Inversnaid to Beinglas Farm (6.63miles) [overall 40.54 miles]
Beinglas Farm to Auchtertyre (9.54miles) [overall 50.08 miles]

I take a bit of a fall just before the checkpoint and have a few scapes but luckily my back pack saved me form the worst. David Hetherington follows me into Bein glass CP, sits down and eats. I know I’ll not be fast this year but I do want to be ahead of David or I’ll never hear the end of it for the next year. I refill my water and eat at the same time, grab something I can eat on the way out and move on. Total time, no more than five minutes. Dave’s still sitting, looking like death and eating what appears to be pedigree chum as I leave. Some decent climbs then some steep rolling hills in the forest finish this section. Under foot is a lot rockier than I remember but I’m glad of the shade in the forest. The heat has been taking its toll on me. I run well into Auchtertyre.

By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes, where the supporters turn out on Loch Lomond.

Auchtertyre to Bridge of Orchy (9.26miles) [overall 59.34 miles]
Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe Ski Lodge (10.82miles) [overall 70.16 miles]

At Auchtertyre I’m weighed and have lost 4kg. Not good, they will keep an eye on me. However a breeze has picked up and I’m finally cooling. As I leave I see David come in and sit again. The cooling has completely changed how I feel and for the first time in the race I’m feeling grand. 50 miles of overheating and feeling rubbish is never that much fun!

I plod along the short easy section to Tynndrum while eating. I meet my crew here, as it’s a good place for them to park and eat. I hate the next 10 miles of rolling rocky track but I’m feeling good and really pick up the pace. As I come into Victoria Bridge, something is up. David’s (one of my support crew), mum has taken gravely ill and he has to leave with my other support, his wife Carolyn. He’s speaking to the race director on the phone as it’s strictly against the rules for anyone to not have support. I tell him just to go and the race is secondary. The RD’s right hand man, Sean a medic and race safety officer is by chance on hand. As I’m looking good, he speaks to the RD and I’m allowed to continue. I’m very lucky not to have been pulled from the race.

Lindley an old pal who I had no idea was there appears. He’s supporting a friend who arrived before me and says I can stick with him. However one look at the lad and I don’t think he will finish so decline to run with him. Lindley does take my gear onward and sadly my support and great friends leave. It’s a short hop over Murdo’s hill to the Bridge of Orchy I realise I have no food on me to see me over Rannoch moor. By chance again I meet a Karen whose runner has already retired and is just enjoying the day helping out. She agrees to drive round and I have the pick of her runners grub.

The Rannoch is long rocky hilly exposed and hard work. I hate it with a passion so do it as fast as I can to get to Glencoe. Lindley’s girlfriend is waiting with pasta and refills my water. I put on a jacket, hat and gloves and head off. I can’t find my head torch and think I’ve left it in David’s car! I always carry a spare micro head torch and although its not great for running with , it will get you of the hills. I say nothing though as I’m not risking being pulled out the race.

Glencoe Ski Lodge to Kinlochleven (10.55 miles) [overall 80.71 miles]

The Devil’s Staircase is next, a zig zaggin rocky 1850ft climb. I usually like this because I know after it is almost four miles of zig zagging rocky downhill that I just love to run. Unfortunately this micro head torch isn’t going to cut the mustard to make that possible so my usual fast decent where I usually over take loads becomes a bit of a trudge with lots of slipping.

Kinlochleven to Lundavra (7.58miles) [overall 88.29miles]
Lundavra to Fort William (6.99miles) [overall 95.28miles]

Into Kinclochleven and weighed again. No change and I still look good so I’m ok. I hear my mate Darren, a Sunderland stroller has had to quit on the Rannoch but David (another stroller) is supposedly 15 minutes behind me. I doubt this because his supports aren’t about. I guess he has also quit and later proved right. I’m fairly sad about this but as one whw runner said:

there is never any real failure, just ongoing series of experiences that enrich our lives

The climb out of killy is another killer and seems to take an age. I know what’s coming as well, nearly seven miles of very rocky way. Again I move as fast as I can on it but suddenly I’m hit by overwhelming tiredness.

I’m not surprised though. On the Thursday I’d had a call to work Friday and had to go so no lie in. I planned to sleep on the afternoon but a neighbour chose that time to take a delivery of paving slabs. In the end I got up and drove the three hours to my supports house in Scotland, had a cuppa and drove to the start. When the race started at 1am I’d been up since 6am. That’s not a good start.

I seemed to kick every rock on that road and hurt my toe a bit. Still I made good time to Lundavra and the turn into the forest & homeward bound. Forest trail with steep drops and climbs follow until a last long climb to the Land rover track and the wonderful view of Ben Nevis. The toe was really hurting now and downhill was a problem. Not good when this track is so high it takes three miles of winding down to get to the road level in fort William. The first time I did this race I ran the whole thing (which is very tough on the quads at this stage) but I now took an age to limp down. Never mind, another finish and exquisite third Goblet is mine when the most wonderful ceremony that takes place later.

The famous WHW goblet.

30 hours running, way over my best with these races you soon learn, the finish is the important thing (as a lot don’t) and a good time a bonus. My future plan is to try and do this near 24 hour pace. Should be fun trying….

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West Highland Way 2013, Sunday, June 23, 2013

95M / 14,000'

Phil Owen

The West Highland way Race is a 95 Mile, 14000ft Race from Milngavie (just above Glasgow) to Fort William in the Highlands.

Milngavie to Fort William.

I could go on about the hills and terrain but suffice is to same it has a lot of it and not much is easy. Last time I did the race in 2010 I’d broken my foot on the 28th of January and had only nine weeks back running before the race. However on a beautiful day I had a sublime run, smiling & laughing all the way, downing a quick pint at Kingshouse Hotel (72 Miles) in Glencoe and a very acceptable finish in 26 hours something. So you’d think given I had trained and probably wouldn’t stop for a beer I’d be able to knock an hour or more from that time. I want be making that mistake again!

At 1am after the usual talk we were set off from Milngavie train station. It always makes me chuckle that such a beautiful route starts at a train station and down Milngavie high street. By the first CP at Drymen, a mere 12 miles in I was feeling slightly uncomfortable and hot. The weather had promised torrential rain and possible thunder storms but the storm failed to break leaving us with an oppressive heat. I climbed the 1000ft of the iconic Conic hill where for me the race starts and into the 2nd CP at Balmaha. I remember here I was still fine but saying the heat was getting to me a bit. It was one of the days where it was too hot for a jacket but every now and then we’d get a sudden heavy downpour. You just wanted it to do one or the other.

At the start.

From Balmaha past Rowardednen forest & Ben Lomond we followed Loch Lomond to Inversanid where I had a drop bag. I was still fighting this overheating, occasionally dipping my head under waterfalls and drinking the cool water from the streams but I just could seem to get cool. Had a bit of a torrid time all the way to the halfway point at Auchentyre farm. Really not feeling well and was astonished to find out I had lost 4% body weight. This is right on the limit of being pulled out and would mean I was being watched.

Still the good thing was my first support runner, Anna could join me here and I perked up a bit passing through Tyndrum onto the bridge of Ochy and even started to enjoy myself over the big climb from B’ochy to Victoria Bridge. That all changed on the Rannoch though. Rannoch moor is the highest Moorland in the UK and the climb to it seems to go on forever. This was where I really started to feel poorly and quite honestly had someone offered me an open grave at this point I’d have jumped right in and laid down. I was almost certainly feeling the effects of dehydration, shortage of electrolytes and probably drinking too much to compensate. My body was fine but my head was another matter. I can only liken it to being punch drunk! I was completely spaced out, dizzy, nauseous and unbalanced at times.

WHW Goblets.

Into Glencoe and David took over from Anna. We both knew that this was now a war of attrition but David was adamant he would get me home. Past Kingshouse where last time I had a lovely pint and onto the devils staircase. I usually love this climb but now I was struggling big time. At the top I sat for a minute and a good friend John Vernon came past with words of encouragement. Jon was doing his 10th consecutive whw race and I assured him I’d be at the ceremony to pick my goblet up with him. We overtook John as a managed a good run down the 4.5 miles of rocky switch backs and into Kinglochleven.

Last of the 3 weigh ins and luckily I had gained a little and the Doctor took little notice of me. David ushered me up the last big climb out of Kinglochleven & onto the rolling rocky tracks heading that head north towards Ben Nevis, the wilderness that is Lundava. The last 13 miles of I did on nothing but will power and David’s cajoling along and I could not have been gladder to see the finish. I can honestly say it was the worst run of my life.

But … none of that is etched on the goblet and I was very proud to pick my 2nd Goblet so differently earned for the first.

The west Highland way race is a special race. All the talk of distance and terrain you usually get in ultras is replaced here with the people, the stories and traditions that the race is steeped in. The ceremony is without doubt the best there is. Starting at 12 o’clock when the last finishers have come in (35 hours) each finisher is handed there goblet in order of finishing and the last runner receives their goblet by the winner. I’ll certainly be back for another goblet.

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West Highland Way Race 2010, Glasgow to Fort William, Saturday, June 19, 2010

95 miles

Phil Owen

Sometime people seem to think I’m not serious about running but they are wrong. I’m deadly serious. I have ideas of what I want to do, how fast and how far but very few people if really anyone knows the plans in my head. In a way i can see why my supports were panicking a bit. I haven’t planned anything. Haven’t got a spreadsheet, no idea where I will be and when but I did have a plan – I just don’t like it down on paper to early because the plan becomes a must do and then you get yourself all tied up in must do times that give no account for external factors and get yourself down about it and worse still not enjoy the race. And of course I just don’t know for sure. I’m not fit and carrying way too much weight.

Phil at the start.

I had said a few times to Sandy when she was getting all hung up and fretting that I will be fine. To be fair she and the others supporting had a torrid time the year before. Jen by her own admission knew within 20 miles she was not going to have a good day. It happens. Her support was marvellous and went beyond the call of duty and with Jen’s bloody minded determination, Jon’s coolness under pressure, Sandy’s magical running and Souxsie’s cool words got her home. But it took its toll on them.

Whereas I had the total opposite experience supporting Karen. Some lovely running watching her as she cruised through the race without a care in the world, they looked as if they had been through a war zone. I think this was uppermost in Sandy’s mind and possibly why later on Sandy and I almost fell out and for the first time ever had serious words …

Anyway, I made my mind up how I would run this the day before. That’s not to say I had not thought about it it’s just I’m getting all the info and making the decision then. See only a couple of weeks before my foot was sore again near the break. Only bomb knew this. The two 23 mile hill races a couple of weeks before and even the fast 3 mile hill race I did two days before this race were testing it looking for weakness. Four months off isn’t fun and seeing as I broke the damn foot again at the top of the devil I’m not going to risk the rest of the year and Hardmoors.

So, with the foot fine after the last race but with only 8 weeks back running I know I’m not going to be that fast (for me) but I will be next year – see I do think about things. This race is part of a plan which I’m afraid I will keep to myself. After this race I know I will slash the time next year (given reasonable conditions, good health and the weight loss etc ). I have a time in mind and I know how I will do this. Serious enough?

Anyway why decide the day before or even on the evening of the race?. Simple, we all do it for other races and one a bit longer than the normal isn’t really any exception. I see how I’m feeling and i look at the weather. Loon & Keith (George Reid Keith H ) had got fried the day before running from the finish to the start – yes that’s right . They were doing Fort William -Milngavie – Fort William (as part to the race). They called it a day at approx 70 mile on the southbound journey because the heat had got to them. Unfortunately they had hit the hottest day of the year and they were afraid they would miss registration for the actual race. The ended up doing 165 miles. A lot of it in baking heat. Respect.

So the weather says it’s going to be pretty hot without a cloud in the sky. While we mill around at the start catching up with whw and fetchies friends. Looking out for the fast one’s who might win (with no Jezz brag this is going to be a hard fought race). I decide i will run a fair bit faster in the cool of night , slow up a bit when it get really hot because (and i know as Scotland’s sun god this is ironic) i really don’t like the heat. Actually that’s not entirely true. What i really don’t like is blazing sunshine. So with a short speech and a minute applause for Dario we start the race.

Milngavie – Drymen-Balmaha (20 Miles)

In the fling (the fling is a race from Milngavie to Tynndrum) I’m not keen on this bit. Bit long and drawn out . However i love racing at night. Its cool and the head torches bob up and down through the park. Ghostly images chat to you as and a train of lights and you follow a train of lights. People say Hi flip, how that foot but i don’t know who they are. I ended up in a nice pace group of about six . Mumbled chatting as we ran. First one? 10 times, UTMB, Hardmoors, mutual friends. The class crystal goblet at the end . You know the stuff.

Before you get to the first support point at 13 miles you cross a small meadow with a decent little hill in it. It here i always think the fling (a race of the first 53 mile of the whw for those who don’t know) starts. Up to the road and some of the support cars are there but also across the road and another short climb there is another road with supporters on. I’ve made it in about 2 hours which was my goal. I quickly look to see if my support on the lower road but no sign. I go up to the top and again no sign of them. This is a good start. I go back down and beg some water for a refill wondering what’s happened to them. I go back up and I’m just about to go when Jane spots me and asks where my support is. I say i don’t know and off course they offer me drinks. I’m just heading off when Jane shouts there’s mike (who we were giving a lift to) and bomb and sandy slowly followed. They didn’t seem in much of a hurry and i had words. I wasn’t best pleased.. I change my shoes to my ino8 mudclaws 285’s that i will run the rest of the race in and went. The group have long gone an i run on my own for a while. Balmaha checkpoint is only 6 miles away.

Dawn is breaking. Only a couple of hours of dark . So different from Hardmoors in September. A after a short bit of tarmac , some forest, we start the rocky road to Conic Hill and the long 1200ft climb with the view of Loch Lomond at dawn from the top . Beautiful! I’m feeling really great and loving the run in the cooler night air. I climb the Conic and flash down the other side picking off a fair few runners loving it. Short run to Balmaha and I check in grab half a cuppa coffee and a roll and more or less head straight off.

Balmaha – Rowardenan (26 mile point)

Bit of Road again then forest track. I’ve been trying to get Dave (Lisrun) up for the fling next year but this section why he did the relay seem to have put him off a bit. I always forget it’s quite hilly because its woodland i a just love running in woodland. Incidentally anyone (like Lisrun) who can do the Hardmoors 55 can do the fling easily. It takes me 3 hours more to do the same distance on the Hardmoors. Up and down and i get a bit of shade here and there because as i thought it’s already getting hot and its still early morning. Hit Rowardenan forest car park in about 5:30 hours again spot on. My plan is to slow up a bit and not get to Tynndrum before 13 hours. Fast enough but not to fast on my unfit overweight body to knack me out in the heat. The thing i like about this place apart from its halfway on the fling therefore a quarter way (well sort off in my head). I eat and drink and head for the loo there. Off up the road and I’m heading for my favourite section.

Rowardenan – Invasnaid – Bein Glass (41 Miles)

The Shoreline rocks start just before the shoreline Invasnaid hotel but before that more ups and downs through the forest and a bit of beach. Love it. Soon I’m on the rocks i love so much. Swing round the trees and flying through the rocks and tree roots. This is just the start. It gets even better after the hotel. You can hear the gushing of the huge waterfall before you see the Hotel and it comes all too quickly. I have a drop bag here. Sports drink , sarnie and soreen cake (buttered)- Yum. I refill my hydration pack and the girls from mountain rescue offer to spay me down with insect repellent. I hadn’t really noticed until now because the midges did not seem as bad as last year (because it’s always worse for the support team) but they were out in force here. A lady sprayed me and then the other sprayed my legs again and rubbed it in to my calves. This took a while but i think it’s important to rest and eat. Lol.

Off down the track to Beinglass and the real rocks. I just love this and wish the whole 95 miles was like this. I over take a fair few as i always do in here. I overtook a few and generally enjoyed every moment. Out the other side. Over Dubh Lochan with more fabulous views of the loch and into Bien glass campsite and the wigwams. Onto the track, checkpoint and my crew are waiting. I have a beaming smile. Coffee and a bacon roll . Wonderful. Kiss from bomb and Sandy wants me off but I’m ahead of time and out in the open i can really feel the heat of the day. I intend slowing down a bit now. Sandy says something like you will be at Auchentyre farm at x time and it tell her again no give over with that. I will be there when i get there. I control the timetable.

Beinglass – Auchentyre farm.(50-ish)

The long and winding track up and down till you hit the tunnel and then the climb past the cows that for the first time weren’t there ! and then the slow climb up to the picnic table and more wonderful view s. Hat on now and a buff on my head and draped over my neck . Suncream on. I’ve been burnt bad twice lately while out running races and this sunshine could last till 10 o’clock tonight. Through the woods and Auchentyre farm is soon upon me. The is half way but i always like to think of Tynndrum as that seeing as its the fling end. I weigh in. Bang on my starting weight. If you’re to much over or under you are out the race. My nutrition and hydration is spot on. There is a baked potatoes on offer and i eat. Jane (UC) offers me some ice cold sparkling water . I think i drink the lot. I don’t think i was meant to but that hit the spot. Clair (amac) gives me some more and i drink most of that . sorry ladies Everyone asking how I’m feeling and saying I’m doing well and tbh i feel fine.

Sandy is itching to run as i can have a support runner now . We are just about to set off when the checkpoint people say i can’t have support. I say i thought you could from here. That’s right they say but not if you’re within 4 hours of the leader. I’m astonished. None of us and considered that. Sandy want to run anyway but i point out Tynndrum is just down the road and I’m not risking getting thrown out the race for a pesky 3-4 miles. Again sandy says you have 20 minutes to get there. This is starting to annoy me now. I say again I’ll be there when I’m there. Its a nice run to Tynndrum and i make good time. HapppGav Is there now after getting the train down . So good of him to support, especially as it was his birthday the previous day. It’s funny only a few years before i was indoctrinating him into the cult of fetch in a pub in Buchlyvie lol. You still think i don’t plan ahead lol?

Tynndrum – Bridge of Orchy – Glencoe (60-ish)

Bomb and sandy join me to run. Sandy runs for 1 second and fall over and cuts her knee. I know we should not laugh. Sorry. Bump into DaveK who has come down to support but again I’m a bit early . last time we were here i had the pleasure of crossing the finish line with him at he fling . A grand day out. Quick chat and he’s up for this next year. He will storm it . I’d forgot about this long road to Bridge of Orchy . I should make more use of it . Rob K goes past . We say hi again . we have been passing each other all day.

The Hills are Magnificent. Meall Buidhe, Beinn Odhar and Ben Dorain. I hope i get to run some in our Scottish hill running fetch weekend. I should have made more of that track . I will next year. At bridge of Orchy, sandy gets patched up by Doctor Soph , John comes in) and we set of up the hill over Mam Carraigh and along to Invororan Hotel. >From there to Victoria bridge and the long slog up to Rannoch Moor. Rannoch moor is 1100ft high up . You forget how long the long slow slog up is. It’s desolate and beautiful. I was cursing the blazing sun but in bad weather this will be wild it so high up and exposed.

I know i have a problem with Rannoch (another long track) and also my best friend and support was starting to bug me. This isn’t easy because i love her dearly. Anyway, she was running ahead and then back full of beans but this bugs me. I feel like she is trying to push the pace again. I’ve run all night and all day before (and all night again) and know about pace. Plus i know I’m not fit and i want to conserve energy. I remember Loon telling me about pushing it to hard one year and the last 13 miles he was on for sub 24 and he blew up big time coming in in 27:35 I don’t want that to happen. The year before he had done 22 hours. I ask sandy not to do it, to run near me and with me or behind or something but not that. It’s annoying me and putting me off. . She doesn’t get it and more or less carries on. We have words a few time. She runs how i want and i pick up the pace a bit. She sulks (yes you did babe) and we carry on. For some reason i develop a cough on the Rannoch. Now after the hill race two days ago i cough and coughed after and prayed i had not got a cold. Now i was coughing again and my chest was tight. Bugger.! Also when i run downhill my stomach muscles hurt. Well that a new one on me . We decide i have been running with my bottle belt to tight. I don’t normally wear one but had decided to for this . It meant i could not lash down the hill losing me a fair amount of time and my one thing I’m good at . We get to Glencoe sandy’s pissed off with me and I’m pissed of with her. She sulks in the car and i have a go at her. This has never happened before and i think we are both shocked. I have coffee and some pasta. Sandy does not get out the car and bomb continues on with me (keeping well out of it btw) . Part of my planning if it’s hot (and its scorching now) is a cold pint at Kingshouse. It’s ready for me – thanks Gav.

More arguments with sandy. I really wanted her to come over the devil with me and see the mythical town (you see it but it does not get any nearer) Kinglochleven again. Just her and me. I love sandy – she’s upset and not coming and I’m getting angry. Kings House (beer) – The devils staircase-Kinglochleven. (82 miles ish ) The race starts here. Believe me. The race is often said to be a race of two halves. To Kinglochleven the first 80 and the last 15. I think it 5 miles before, here at the devil where i broke my foot at the end of January trying a winter North to South whw with George and Karen and friends. I get to the top of the devil and turn back . I love that view. I can’t lash down but it’s a steady jog. My chest clears up again. Most strange. By the time we are at the bottom again I’m coughing a load again . Soph gives me drugs and a squirt on an inhaler which i fail to inhale. Bugger again I hope it clears again. I weight in. Spot on. HappyGav joins me now.

Kinlochleven – Fort William. (95miles)

Two Guy have joined us. We climb out of Kinlochleven . My chest tight and i have to stop a few times. Headtorched on now and at last its a bit cooler . We have had blazing sunshine. The thing i hate most from 6am in the morning to 10pm at night ! dam it saps at your energy big time. That said apart from my chest I’m feeling absolutely fine-really enjoying myself. I know i have another problem track ahead. I hate long tracks. The lundavra track is all loose rocks and boulders. It’s not impossible to run but it tough and an ankle break waiting to happen. We run where we can and fast walk . I looked up my devil time from Kinglochleven to the finish (the Devil race is the last 42 Miles of the whw) and it was 3.5 hours. That in daylight feeling very strong. 3.5 hours for 13 miles! The long slog time is passed by me and Gav catching up. He’s glad to see my love life settling down for our last long chat in the whw last year (we both supported Karen) . He hasn’t made the mistake of rummaging through my bags either this time. Gav has just got engaged and i offer my tips. See i have the experience here . I was once engaged for 14 years. I know . I’m surprised the ring lasted that long. My chest clears up again (go figure) and we run a bit more. Lundavra come and it’s only a small bonfire this year. I’m told its 6.6 miles or something but i tell the other two that its 3 and you are on the land rover track going down the side of Glen Nevis . This is true but first we wind our way through the forests climbing and descending for an age .Its pitch black . I love it.

Then the forest opens and the track is there. Its all steady wide track ,all downhill. We jog down . A text says bomb and sandy are waiting. The goblet is almost mine . Gav hops his way down, his injury hurting. Finally we come to brave heart Car and the girls . I give my bomb a big hug and my sandy a big hug. I’d have killed her if she wasn’t there. Steve and Vicky (Georges support) appear and we run in. I pick up the pace. I see the whw sign and start to sprint. I have fire in me now . The all shout that’s not the finish. I’ve run 95 miles, I’m allowed some confusion. Now the leisure centre is in sight and i take off and sprint full out again. My team are left behind. Dam i feel good. I run through the doors in 26:47. I’m ok with that after only 8 weeks back runningand a complete lard arse. Mark (Drama queen) greets me with a big smile, and shake of my hand He looks a bit bemused i think . I’m beaming ! He asks how it was. Bloody brilliant i say but I’ll smash the time when fit next year. I’m planning already.

PS … Sleep and to the ceremony . I never had a bigger smile on my face picking that goblet up. Some races are important to me. This is one of them. We watch every get presented with there goblet while sandy drinks champers and hollers. George , Karen , Vicky john and lots of other friends We ok now. I know she’s proud of me like i will be of her next year. After party was excellent with runners’ supporters and those organizing the race. I can’t wait till next year. I have a plan.

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