Tuesday, 4 July 2017

West Highland Way Race Ramblings

The Seed:

Once upon a time (circa 2010), while speaking with friends, I was told of a race. A 95 mile race that covered a route most people walk over at least five days. All at once? I asked. 'Yes'. Impossible thought I. But I'm a person of extremes and the idea intrigued me. The seed was planted, I would do this race. So I started small. Yes, Dod Reid and Karen Donoghue are to thank for this. The D33 was my first ultra and I was bitten by the bug. Several ultra's later and in 2016 I felt experienced enough that I could tackle the distance. A few factors interfered that year leading to a DNS, but the dream remained. I thought about the race everyday. So getting a second chance in 2017 was the best news ever. I was ready and from December 2016 my one and only goal was to complete the West Highland Way Race 2017.

The Training:

The previous year my training was overwhelming, I was trying to run super long every week without break, and had too many races to train for. So this year I decided to enter no races over marathon distance, instead all my long miles would be training runs. In addition I blocked my training into four week periods. Three weeks of increasing mileage followed by one week of reduced mileage. I kept it simple, doing two long runs per week, Wednesday and Sunday, as my work schedule allowed. Then intervals, hill works, easy runs on my other training days. I did back to back long runs when I was on holiday. I simply increased the length of these runs over three weeks, cut back on the fourth then increased again for the next three and so on, culminating in the whole route over two days mid May. I was ready.

The Race:

I rocked up at my support crews house at about 10:30pm on Friday, having slept well during the afternoon. I'm lucky, I can sleep anywhere at anytime. One of my longest friends Michelle had kindly volunteered to drive the whole race for me. And she had recruited her twins, Dana and Lewis, to help out. They'd later be joined by support crew legend Paul. We loaded the car up with masses of food, clothing and first aid kit and headed over to Milngavie. I was excited and nervous in equal measure. Signing in went smoothly, I was given my goody bag, dibber and weight card then caught up with some familiar faces. Lovely Lois was smiley as ever and Sandra instructed me to 'Go and rest!'.So I did.
We had a cuppa and a banana before heading down to the start, managing to catch Angela, a great friend of mine, and her runner Frank for a quick chat. Then I went with the herd of runners to gather at the tunnel for our briefing. 'There will be weather' we were warned, although at present it was warm and dry. The atmosphere was subdued I like it, excitement makes me nervous. And so, we were off.

Milngavie to Balmaha:

As the first 12 miles are relatively easy going it would be easy to get carried away and storm off too quickly, so I was very aware of slowing myself down. i enjoyed listening to the chat and fell into my groove. The night was warm and it was a novelty being out in the dark with so many people and headtorches. We soon reached the Stockimuir road then onto the rocky descent. I took this easy, and I think a few people passed me, but stories of trashed Quads rang in my head, I kind of wanted to save them for later. Quite a few people had gathered at the Beech tree to see us quietly onto the trail which runs parallel to the A81. we'd split into a small group of about 5 by this point, doing some leaping frogging. At one point I was leading and lead the group off into the sewage plant, silly me, we were soon corrected and back on track. I took a small hike up Gartness road, taking on food, nuts and a cereal bar, then jogged into Drymen. I didn't stop here as I'd advised my crew to go up the Balmaha and get some sleep, so it was straight through, into the woods. Seeing Loch Lomond invoked a burst of wabbling/singing of The Bony Banks Of Loch Lomond, laughing to myself. I passed a runner in the field going towards conic hill, and heard a stumble behind. Shouting back I checked he was OK, he was, telling me the kerb came out of nowhere.
The hike up Conic hill seemed short, I ran the flats and walked when I needed. Reaching the top I glanced back at the headtorches still coming up, and smiled. Again I was very gentle with my descent, I feel I was overtaken a few times here too. But I was not worried, I was on target and was looking forward to seeing my team. It was great to see Michelle, Dana and Lewis, they ushered me to the car as I asked if they'd slept, were they OK. They quickly changed my bottles, gave my a jam sandwich and marched me out. I had a feeling I'd chosen my team wisely.
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Head torches from Conic Hill

Balmaha to Inversnaid:

From here my we's turn into I's, as I was mostly alone, how I like it. Coming out of Balmaha I held onto my pieces knowing a hike was coming up where I could eat. I wanted to ditch my headtorch at this point, but it was still quite dark although the weather was dry and cool. Ideal running. I stopped to pee, but apparently not far enough from the trail. My first mooning event of the day, I am sorry. The section was straightforward and as usual I said Hi to the Glasgow University research building, where I had stayed many moons ago. I didn't leave a drop bag at Rowardennan so I went straight through, happily jogging along, then hiking the fire road before dropping down onto the low path. I love this new track but today it felt quite long. I figured this is when my body is probably most sleepy. I was running well but just sleepy tired. I was still enjoying it and looking forward to seeing Ruth at Inversnaid. Eventually I arrived to Ruth's warm welcome.
'You're second lady!' she exclaimed.
'Don't say that' I replied. Meaning I didn't want to know, not that I didn't believe her. I got my bag and all I wanted was my Blue Spark (other brands are available). I stashed my custard for later and quickly moved onto my favourite section of the first half.

Inversnaid to Beinglas:

I stomped out of Inversnaid slurping my juice and burping, a good burp is my guilty pleasure! Then I woke up. I felt amazing. This gnarly, rooty, tricky section is my favourite because I get to play. Hopping and skipping along, bopping away to my tunes I was loving it. Being so alone isn't for everyone, but for me it's great, I have social anxiety so while I love people, lots of them makes me a little stressed.
I did pass one runner whom I spoke with. He told me he hated this section. I did not disagree out loud but in my head I wondered how?!? I told him it would soon get better and continued on. Run/hiking to the very top end of the loch and Dario's post. I never met Dario but as a mark of respect I stepped off the trail, touched his post, took in the view then off I went. Just the last two miles down to Beinglas and my crew.

Beinglas to Tyndrum:

Michelle and Dana were waiting for me with words of encouragement.
'You've doing great by the way' said Michelle, her praise means a lot.
The word on The Way was that the first lady was struggling, the word on The Way wasn't wrong. I tried not to think about that, I had my coke, and some tablet then jogged alongside the A82, admiring the river Fallon, with it's gorgeous falls and deep valley. Before long I did see a lady ahead. She was hiking and I soon caught up. We walked together for a bit, I asked if she'd eaten, she said yes. I asked if she was ok, she said yes. So I told her to let the food work its magic and go from there. unfortunately I found out afterwards she had pulled out at Auchentyre. I trucked on and it hit me...I was now first lady. I put the thought to the back of my mind telling myself it's a long way to Fort William.
I was running strong as I climbed up to cow poo alley. I'm not averse to s**t and muck so mess doesn't really bother me, although I did manage to get through with dry feet! The rollercoaster in Ewich forest was easier than ever and it passed in no time. I caught up with a fellow runner, who I now know as John Connelly, we spoke for a bit and then I moved on.
The last stretch is flat, even and good running ground, so it was good to get a bit of a more even stride for a bit. I saw race director Ian, previous years winner James, Johnny fling, Lorna and a few others, but the best sight was Paul, who gave me big hugs. I think my face lit up at the sight of him, he is a very special person. Michelle, Dana and Lewis were cheering me, I got weighed, a coffee, more bottle changes and a rice pudding magically appeared. Off I went, chatting with Paul, I told him I was feeling pressure because I was first. Ever wise he told me to run my own race. I took on his advice and continued, seeing everyone again at tyndrum, minus my crew who I'd told to just go on to BOO.

Auchentyre to Bridge of  Orchy:

I find this stretch easy as it's relatively flat and I like the view of Ben Dorain. I ran with Alan Conry for a mile or so but he dropped back, later telling me he thought I'd blow out going at that pace and he was pleased I didn't. I had my first and only fall along this section, nothing serious, I jumped up, dusted myself off and got on with it, laughing at myself. Just before Bridge Of Orchy I caught two runners, they must have taken a longer break here as I didn't see them again that day. A quick pit stop, hugs, coke, food and out. Jelly babies on my mind.

Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe:

I shortly reached the top of jelly baby hill and the weather had turned. But the wind was behind me, and so it was fine. I saw Murdo and was treated to a jelly baby, red. He told me to take another, Thanks Murdo! So I took a black one, very yummy.
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Jelly baby hill by Murdo McEwan
He sent me on my way, as I went down slowly I saw my team. Dana ran up the hill a few hundred yards and joined me for the last wee bit of the hill, which was amazing. A future ultra runner in the making. They ushered me on to Rannoch moor.
It's desolate. I was enjoying myself, I just find the moor a bit too wide, too big, and I don't really like the underfoot stoney path early on, although the going gets much better further on. I was still running strong and the wind was behind. I sang to my music, probably something cheesy like The Proclaimers, I forget, but they are prominent on my play list. I was soon climbing out of the wilderness to my lovely buddies.
They gave me custard at my request, plain water and Paul saw me down the road. I rabbited on about the wind and the custard, most of which ended up on my mush, to my amusement. Crossing the road I was off to my favourite section of the second half.
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Jelly baby Hill by Murdo McEwan

Glencoe to Kinlochleven:

I was still feeling strong, to my amazement, I was now into unknown territory as I've never run over 69 miles in one go. So I think by now my estimated times were out the window. But I was feeling good. And happy, there was no place I'd rather be. A short jog passed the Kingshouse brought me back onto the trail, the wind was now fully head on for this section, but it was bearable. There were lots of walkers out now, but all were very courteous and a little confused I think. I occupy myself here by trying to trace the curved ridge route up Buachaille Etive Mor, soon coming to the bottom of the devil's staircase. For the first time of my many climbs up the devil, I felt it was tough, I felt slightly lightheaded so I hiked up, the wind was howling, the rain was driving, but I had chosen this, I wanted this so bad, for so long, I had no right being down. Bad times fade and the good times stay in our memories. The devil may have been tough, but I'm tougher. I made the top, swigged my coke, bought a pepsi from the shop?!? swigged that and took on the fun, rocky, steep, downward track to Kinlochleven, now THIS is my favourite bit of the second half. The technical sections really suit me, my hip flexor was a bit stiff but nothing to worry too much about. The relay runners were coming passed now and it was nice to get a passing Hi.
I reached the fire road and the final two miles down to the checkpoint and aside from a second peeing incident, I made it down in good shape, and decent time. Was nice to see Dod and Karen here, smiles and hello's all round.I soon went into the community centre where I'd gained weigh, but was told it was fine, to the car, food, drink, out.

Kinlochleven to Lundava:

I had a big wobble here, telling Paul I may have to walk the last sixteen miles. Paul, as usual, did not disappoint, telling me I was running better than I was walking 'gliding' he described my running. And making me laugh with tales of his previous support duties. He hurried me on, giving me a hug and sending me on my way.
Of course I could run, and I shouted back to Paul
'Look! I'm running!' 
He probably thought, what a twit, I didn't mind if he did. I got to the top of the climb out of Kinlochleven and jogged along in the wind, rain and cold. This part is a bit of a blur, I was cold, wet, and realised I'd made a mistake. I should have changed into drier, and warmer clothes before going up there, I knew how exposed it was, and I paid the price, because I walked much more than I should have, and didn't eat much, although I was still drinking well. It was basically rivers underfoot, I think I just gritted my teeth and saw this section through. What a relief Lundavra was, I think all I could think of was dry clothes. That's all I remember saying, that, and telling Paul I didn't need my modesty protecting, just help me change. Warm and dry I felt the resolve to run return strongly

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Larig Mor by Jeff  Smith

Lundavra to Fort William:

The final six miles were good, I caught up with Mr forth place for a bit, just before the wide track down, but unfortunately my hip flexor was rather painful on what is normally a dream descent, so I took some paracetamol, and walked till they kicked in and I could run again. And let Mr forth place get his forth place. Their was a point where I was directed towards the Brave heart carpark where I thought I'd gone wrong, was that arrow for us? It's not the West Highland Way route. I had visions of being disqualified for going off route! But a relay runner confirmed I was on the right track, phew! Cow bells saw me through the car park, up the road, I didn't allow myself to slow as I knew I wouldn't get going again, determination and sheer pigheadedness after 94 miles or so, it seems insane that one can still find the will to push the pace. I did though, At the roundabout, my friend David, and Paul were waiting, they joined me to the leisure centre then let me go over the finish to take the win in the women's race. I could not believe not only had I completed the race, I'd won! Dibber off, I got hugs from Michelle, Dana, Lewis, Paul and David. Then hugs from Ian. I think I was delirious so whatever was said, I apologise if it made no sense. But I was so pleased.
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Finishing hugs
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Awards, I'm sorry I don't have credit for this picture

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Michelle hugs :)
After thoughts:

There isn't much I would have done differently, other than changing into dry clothing, rookie error on my part, as I believe I could have saved time on the last section if I had. I would love to be back, but maybe after the dust has settled, I am not expecting anyone to expect another win from myself, but I put a lot of pressure on myself. If I have another go in a few years I'll be privileged, who knows, but to be honest, if I was on my death bed, I'd probably go happy knowing I've been part of this special race. I salute every finisher.

Thanks you's:

As our races are more than just race day, I think my Mum deserves a thank you. Six months plus more, of me stinking out the house, panicking over mislaid kit, dirtying her bath, and nothing but support from her. She is amazing. On race day, my crew were vital, Michelle, Paul, Dana, Lewis, and even David, although he only made the end. Without them I could never have completed it, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. To all the team involved in the preparation of this amazing event, for keeping it special, race director Ian, all the first aid, marshals, volunteers huge respect, especially in the wind and rain. Until next time...


  1. Well done Lynne, making it sound far too easy! Epic running x

  2. Congratulations Lynne, fantastic run and great read. If it's any consolation I made the same mistake on the Larig Mor, and had to be dragged into the car at Lundavra for a change as I was freezing and couldn't stop shivering. Conditions on this section were really harsh. I didn't get the time I wanted, but was chuffed with 4th so thank you for letting me go!

    1. It was yourself that I spoke with, I'm sorry, I didn't get your name on the day. :)
      Well done on your race xxx

  3. A great read and an awesome run! Well done x