So at 1am on Saturday 23rd June 2012, I left Milngavie Railway Station and arrived at Fort William Leisure Centre via the West Highland Way some 15 hours 39 minutes and 15 seconds later.
Here are some of the bits before, during and after the journey in case you’re interested.
For safety reasons competitors must have a motorised support crew of at least two people to provide logistical support as well as the manpower to find a runner should he/she get into distress. I had managed to rope my Old Man, Rich and my beautiful wife, Annie into providing this unselfish and vital role which I think they actually quite enjoyed.
We arrive at Milngavie around 11pm and I throw my drop-bags into the cars waiting at the train station. We then make our way to registration. I collect my race number, get weighed and collect a goodie bag. I then realise that I’ve numbered my drop-bags incorrectly! So off I rush back to the drop-bag cars and search them out, renumber them and throw them back into the cars. All good fun, and made the time pass a little faster. I then return to our car and relax until the race briefing at around 12:30am. Race briefing over, I do my final checks and then make my way to the start line.
As usual I don’t really have a race plan. Jez Bragg’s fantastic record from 2006 was something to aim for. Sure, I wanted the record and I thought that maybe if things go well I would be in with a chance, but you can never take anything for granted. So my ‘plan’ was simple. Run.
Some said the weather was “atrocious”, others said “probably the worst in the history of the event”. Seeing as this was my first time here, I couldn’t really comment but I think it would be fair to say it was pretty wet & windy.
Milngavie – Balmaha (20 miles)
1am and we’re off. Pretty much immediately there is a lead pack of 4, including myself, Paul Giblin, Craig Cunningham and Wouter Overmeire. The first section of the route is pretty flat and it’s easy to go off too fast. There are also a lot of gates. I got to open a lot of gates. There were also a lot of frogs out on the path. I got to jump over a lot of frogs. All good fun.
Just before Drymen, Craig and Wouter really picked up the pace on the tarmac. That didn’t interest me too much so I backed off a bit and started chatting to Paul Giblin. I didn’t realise who Paul was when I first started talking to him. I had met Paul at the Highland Fling briefly and thought I saw him at the start but wasn’t sure. Paul is a top man and he has a fantastic crew in ‘Team Pyllon’ and I hope to see him (and crew) on the trail in the near future.
Running towards Conic Hill was beautiful. The wind and rain had picked up, the paths had turned to small rivers and the climb up the Hill was now a waterfall. I was having an absolute ball! If the climb was pretty funky, the descent was even more fun. It was hard to see if you were running on mud, rock or grass. A number of times I found myself “mud surfing” which was pretty cool. We dropped down into Balmaha and I’m met by the Old Man who’s in fantastic form, toping up my water bottle and sending me on my way. I won’t see my crew now until Auchtertyre Farm, some 50 miles into the race.
Balmaha – Rowardennan (27 miles)
The other three runners had moved through Balmaha pretty quickly but I soon caught up through the woods before Millarochy. Paul then darted off to the right. I wasn’t sure were he was going until I noticed the toilet sign at the Rangers hut. All of a sudden it was just me and Craig running together. It was great to be finally running along the loch side. Now and again Craig would go off into what seemed a wild sprint but then would slow down where I would join him again. This carried on for most of the way until we started chatting on a climb. Craig mentioned he had something going on with his hamstring and was trying to run it off. I wasn’t sure that fartlek training was the best option for a 95 mile race but I guess you never know till you try. I slowly pulled away from Craig before running into Rowardennan, where I found my drop bag and then carried on. This was the last I was to see of anyone else in the race.
Rowardennan – Inversnaid (34 miles)
Not much to report on this section. Some of the streams had turned into full blown waterfalls which added a bit of fun but I was in some sort of grove, enjoying running through nature and loving the trail. I soon dropped into Inversnaid ready to grab my drop bag but the crew weren’t quite ready for me. So I jumped into the van to search through numerous bags to find mine. Luckily I found it quite quickly, had a giggle with the crew and cracked on. That kept me amused for at least a couple of minutes.
Inversnaid – Beinglas Farm (41 miles)
This section of the race is probably the hardest. I wouldn’t call the trail technical; I would say it’s awkward. There are plenty of technical bits to get your teeth into, but there are some parts where you’re just not quite sure where to put yourself. It’s like a game of Twister, the path being barely runnable in places with awkward tree roots to negotiate and plenty of undulations. But, I was feeling great! My previous two experiences with this section were during the Highland Fling races in which I had suffered severe cramp. It was beautiful to be able to enjoy the trail and have legs that could function. Unfortunately, this is where we leave
Beinglas Farm – Auchtertyre (50 miles)
An uneventful section but I had the wind and rain to keep me company. Just keep the rhythm going, one foot in front of the other and run. It was great to finally hit the gate above Crianlarich and enter the ‘
’ for a change of scenery. Not long now and I’ll see my crew for the first time since Balmaha. Happy days. When I reach Auchtertyre, I’m welcomed by my crew, checkpoint staff and supporters. Great to see someone for the first time in a while. I get weighed, fill up my water bottles and I’m off again. Enchanted Forest
Thankfully the weather was still wet & windy! Who needs glorious sunshine when you can get hypothermia instead? It was strange running through By the Way campsite at Tyndrum knowing that I still had 40 odd miles left. It’s the finish for the Highland Fling Race and I usually get to enjoy a beer and some food. Today I had nuun and gels.
There’s a fantastic little climb out of Bridge of Orchy but then after that the route can be described at best as ‘arduous’. I walked from Tyndrum to Glencoe the day after the Highland Fling this year and I remember thinking…well this section sucks. Hauling yourself through the barren Rannoch Moor could be soul destroying but luckily the wind and rain kept me occupied and it didn’t feel too bad.
Glencoe – Kinlochleven (81 miles)
Running into Glen Coe Ski Resort I see my crew who look thoroughly wet but in a pretty cool mood. It’s good to see loved ones again and I leave with an extra bit of funk in my legs. Hell yeah, Devil’s Staircase ahead! Let’s have ya!
I stick on my bright orange wind smock at this point; it didn’t look too appealing ahead. I know the staircase is there but I can’t see it with the thick clag and rain. Legs still feeling pretty good but it was a battle to just get to the staircase running against a constant headwind. The Devil’s Staircase was an enjoyable climb, a welcome break from running but I forgot how long the descent into Kinlochleven was and the climbs in between. I still really enjoyed the trail but boy it goes on. It was just before Kinlochleven that I realised that I had a chance of breaking the course record.
(95 miles) Fort William
Running into the checkpoint it was great to see the buzz and excitement of my crew and everyone else. I guessing at this point they also realised that I was on for the course record. No time to stick around then, I’ve got places to go.
Ah…that climb out of Kinlochleven was hard work. Reaching the top and getting onto the old Military Road took quite a bit of effort. The wind and rain was still relentless and it was hard work running against the headwind. It was also the first time I noticed that I was getting cold. I guess the weather and the sustained effort was taking its toll.
Finally I reached Lundavra where the weather had somehow gotten worse! I could feel my energy being drained away. My legs were heavy and I started to feel pretty sorry for myself. I then looked at my watch and realised that I was slowing down a lot. Time was getting away. It felt like it took forever to reach the forest tracks and get some shelter from the rain. I looked at my watch again and at that point I truly believed I had blown my opportunity to break the record.
The Last 3 or 4 miles
I felt utterly defeated at this point. How could I blow this chance? You idiot!
Thankfully, coming out of the final climb a surge of emotions and raw energy infected my whole body and mind. I’m not giving up on this yet.
There’s only one way to run down the tracks into
and that’s hard. And man did I run hard. I went for broke at this point and ran as fast as I have ever run in my life. My quads were pounding, my feet sore and my groin cramping…it was fantastic. My body was filled with adrenaline and I was taking full advantage. I glanced at my watch again. This is gonna be tight. I still thought I would miss out by seconds. Fort William
Finally the road. Not far now. I can’t feel my legs anymore and this road keeps on going. I know the end is near but I can’t see it. The West Highland Way sign comes into view. My watch tells me that I have seconds but I can't remember how far the finish line is from here. I see Annie ahead. Another surge of raw power ignites my body and I go for it. Full on sprint.
I jump onto the Fort William Leisure Centre steps and I’m done.
I jump onto the Fort William Leisure Centre steps and I’m done.
15 hours 39 minutes and 15 seconds…
Really? I was sure that I wasn’t going to make it. That’s when I remembered my watch is set 5 minutes fast!
I then do my usual post race routine of fainting and passing out for a couple of hours.
On Sunday we joined in with the presentations where every single person who had finished the race was awarded with the infamous goblet and a round of applause. It was simply fantastic.
I made some great new friends during the event and this quote I’ve taken from an email I received sums it up beautifully.
"The Way is a truly magical event that challenges everyone in their own way.”