June 22, 23:00 hrs: Gareth, my support runner, and I have exited the Braveheart car park and are on the pavement heading into Fort William. Darkness has fallen and I am expecting to see urbanisation and street lights any minute. The legs are tired and aching and I am waiting to see when I can start my “sprint” finish. Street lights start then we round a bend and I see the sign for the roundabout. I kick! According to Gareth he’d looked away and I had opened a gap of 20-30m. My dad was on the roundabout trying to take pictures in the dark. When he saw me he tried to run to the finish to get photos of me finishing. At over 70 years of age his running is not the best anymore but he put on a valiant effort. It spurred me on though to add an extra push to my sprint effort and out sprint him – should have let him get ahead to take the pictures really.
I felt great. Pain had gone. Although I was starting to think these last 200m from the roundabout were getting rather long. Then finally the Leisure Centre came into view and although I had to weave through parked cars I crossed under the finish gantry.
23:05 hrs: I have completed the West Highland Way Race 22:05 hrs after starting in Milngavie at 1am.
The journey was as long as it sounds and if it wasn’t for my fantastic support runner Gareth (whom I will be supporting in the Celtman Triathlon on July 6) and a very well organised support team I doubt I would have finished – at least not in the time I did. The rest of the team were my girlfriend Fiona, my dad Elmar and one of Fiona’s best friends Sue.
Last year I had one team for the complete race but even though I was planning to do the race in a reasonably fast time and finish within the same day I decided for Fiona’s and my dad’s benefit that we would have 2 teams – one for the southern checkpoints (dad and Fiona) up to and including Auchtertyre and one for the Northern checkpoints (Sue and Gareth). The Northern team would only join us at Bridge of Orchy meaning they’d be fresh (it also meant they could have a normal working day on the Friday).
Dad arrived from Austria on Wed night (1:30am) which meant a bit of a short night for us but at least it wasn’t Thursday night. As already mentioned in my pre race musings I managed to keep Friday free from work. Dad and Fiona picked up the rental car for the weekend and I made my last preparations such as my food bags. I had planned to have a good lie in to get some extra rest but my body clock had other ideas. I let Fiona pack the kit I wasn’t actually carrying from the start as she would be responsible for where it would be in the car.
By mid-afternoon we were all sorted so we jumped in the car and drove over to Milngavie where I had booked a room in the Premier Inn to chill out for a few hours ahead of the 1am race start. When we got to Milngavie we headed into the High Street but the suggested Italian was closed. A local woman recommended the Chinese by Tesco’s. Great suggestion and we had a nice dinner. From other stories I have heard I am pleased we didn’t pop into the Beefeater by the Premier.
Had dinner, chilled in the Premier, registered at 9:15pm, met some of the other competitors including Debbie who had joined me on my 3 day run at Easter, back to the Premier for more chilling, got changed into my running kit just before midnight and arrived at the start at 0:25am just in time for Ian Beattie’s briefing.
The weather at the time was drizzly so I spent the minutes before the off in the tunnel which we run through after the hooter goes.
My plan for the race was to run at 7:15 min/km pace up to Auchtertyre and then switch to a 7:30 min/km schedule. This would get me to the finish in just under 20 hours. As you will see it didn’t quite go to plan. Also as I got into Balmaha (1st checkpoint) I realised that something was wrong with my pace calculations. Something I still need to work out as to why.
The forecast was for heavy showers with possible sun and temperatures around 13-15 degrees which really didn’t sound too bad if the showers stayed just that. The wind was due to be light. I was paranoid after last year that I would get too cold if there was any precipitation at all so I started the race with compression socks and a second pair of socks, a pair of compression tights and a pair of running shorts. On the top I wore a t-shirt, arm warmers, the Montane Minimus waterproof I got through the Likeys sponsorship and a cap. Sounds a lot? – It was!
Likeys (an ultra marathon shop based in Wales) were kind enough to take me on to their sponsored athlete programme and supplied me with a number of items that could deal with the inclement Scottish weather. The items are on display here. I have to admit that my wish in some way was not to have to use any of it as that would mean the weather would be great all day. As it turned out I used most of the kit.
There were a number of other runners in the tunnel, some I recognised, some I didn’t, most of them guys who would be finishing in the top ten. Little did anyone know at the time that Paul Giblin would run the course in a time that should be unbeatable for many years to come. That was said about |Terry Conway’s run last year too. Paul looked concentrated and composed in the tunnel early on that Saturday morning.
We are off
Ian sounded the hooter at exactly 1 am and we were off through Milngavie high street which was lined with supporters and camera flashes going off all over the place. I always wonder what locals must think about this – but then they may actually be used to this even if only for the WHW walkers, such as the receptionist at the Premier who wondered if we would want breakfast … then realising we would be leaving before midnight 😉
My plan early on was to go very conservative. Last year we’d covered the first 12k in about an hour but then I only got into Balmaha – the first checkpoint – in 3:20 hrs after things went wrong ahead of the climb up Conic hill. I wanted to reach Balmaha in 3:25 this year running at a very steady pace. I let lots of runners go past and when I came up to the Beach Tree Sandra Mcdougall and John Kynaston passed by. Lorna McMillan had gone past earlier as had Neil Rutherford. All of them wondering why I was so far down the field. Things felt fine and I was happy to stick with that plan.
The weather was fine even if damp and I felt overdressed. I sat in with a huge pack of runners heading up to Drymen but then everyone suddenly dispersed and it turned into more of a solo trek up to and over Conic hill. I was hoping to see the sun rise here but instead the hill was shrouded in mist. The new path made a big difference to the raging waterfall that came towards us last year. Once we started descending the mist was gone and we had a good view of Loch Lomond. It had something magical. I descended pretty fast off Conic and got into the checkpoint just ahead of John K. and bang on my 3:25 target. Both Fiona and my dad were waiting for me at the checkpoint and guided me back to the car. Had some coffee and jaffa cakes (I think) a quick toilet stop and a switch from back pack to the new Inov-8 bumbag.
Milngavie to Balmaha
Distance: 18.05 miles; Time: 3:25:19; Schedule: 3:29; Position: 60th
The checkpoint stop went fairly quickly and I set off again still on target. Must say at this point that I was on target time but not target pace as I was planning to come in on 7-7:15 min/km pace but was on 6:43 pace – flaw in my spreadsheet.
On my way out I guided one other runner to the next climb out of Balmaha and after the ascent pushed on. The stretch from Balmaha to Rowardennan is my favourite and I covered it in 90 min including the Balmaha checkpoint stop. I was going at a controlled pace but still picking up runner after runner including John K. again, Neil and Jo Rae. I got into Rowardennan 10 min ahead of schedule feeling really good. Stuff was going according to plan and I wanted to get out of Rowardennan with time in hand so stopped for less than 10 min. Unbeknown to me at the time I had moved from 60th to 31st place during that leg. I am sure I hadn’t passed 29 runners between Balmaha and Rowardennan though so some must have taken longer at the Balmaha checkpoint.
Balmaha to Rowadennan
Distance: 8.6 miles (26.65 from the start); Split Time: 1:32:22, 22nd (plan: 1:40); Race Time: 4:57:41, 31st (Plan: 5:09)
Changed my t-shirt at Rowardennan, got swarmed by midges and had an almond croissant on the way out. Once again John K. was ahead of me, an event that would repeat itself a few times more. Need to copy John’s pit stop strategy.
Strangely for the next 7 miles up to Inversnaid I never caught John. I was also being followed by another runner who never caught me. A bit surreal as we could all see each other. I actually closed the gap on John on the flats and downhills but John walked uphill faster than me.
He had a brief stop at Inversnaid where I closed the gap. For the next while we ran together chatting about strategy and John recorded a brief interview for his WHW podcast. I then went on ahead but it didn’t last. I felt OK over the rough terrain after Inversnaid but mentally seemed to gradually lose focus and drift away. Somehow things didn’t feel right but so far I can’t put a finger on it. John came past me again just after the rocky section together with Neil Rutherford. I had a walk/feed break and let them go but kept them in my sights. By the time I got into Beinglas Farm I had nearly lost 30 min on my target and was in a bad mood. I had decided to have a decent stop to get my head sorted. Fiona said later that I looked pale when I got into the checkpoint. The only thing I can think of that got my mood down was that my target for that sector was too ambitious and when I drifted off target I struggled with that. I wasn’t moving as well as I would have liked to have after 40 miles of running. I may even have been too hot.
My mood wasn’t lifted by the fact that the boullion I was looking forward to had been left at home. I had coffee and something to eat and headed out again. Fiona came with me for a couple of minutes. The team did a great job in finding a boullion replacement by the time I got to Auchtertyre: Bovril.
Rowardennan to Beinglas Farm
Distance: 13.89 miles (40.54 from the start); Split Time: 3:16:40, 38th (plan: 2:56); Race Time: 8:14:21, 35th (Plan: 7:50)
Last year I had planned to use music if things went wrong but was too afraid to use the ipod due to the terrible conditions. Before coming into Beinglas I decided I would leave with music in my ears. My ipod is always set to shuffle so I had no idea what uplifting or depressing song would drive me on. Early on the heavens opened again and the earplugs kept slipping out of my ears but I kept going. Once I had passed through the A82 and railway underpass I plugged myself in again. Now I always knew that music can aid performance but I hadn’t realised how much this would help. Heading up towards Bogle Glen and past the farms on that route I was running uphill to the tunes of Metallica. I was suddenly having a ball. I hadn’t seen another runner since Beinglas, John had left just ahead of me but was going well when I was struggling. Heading through the rollercoaster forest before Auchtertyre I was climbing well and descending even better. This music thing was really working (and I never run with music!). Caught a couple of runners and then on the way into Auchtertyre spotted John ahead of me again. Fiona had come out to meet me and held the last gate open for both of us. Into the checkpoint and got weighed and off to the car for some warm food. On the way in I felt that a blister was on its way so I had that seen to before I headed out again. I expected John to be away for good this time.
Beinglas Farm to Auchtertyre
Distance: 9.54 miles (50.08 from the start); Split Time: 2:13:36, 34th (plan: 1:51); Race Time: 10:27:57, 29th (Plan: 9:41)
I left Auchtertyre with Phil Humphries and we had a good run together all the way to Tyndrum. Once we crossed the road at Brodie’s supermarket John was ahead of us once again. I caught up with him briefly, passed him, plugged myself in and he passed me back and that was the last I saw of him until the finish. Last year I had a relatively good run from Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy. This year it felt rubbish. I don’t think it was helped by the fact that I was getting too hot. A few runners passed me and I let them go. I did run into Bridge of Orchy but there seemed to be random walk breaks when I just didn’t want to run anymore. Maybe it was just not the right music in for that sector. I wasn’t eating regularly enough either.
Auchtertyre to Bridge of Orchy
Distance: 9.26 miles (59.34 from the start); Split Time: 2:09:30, 43rd (plan: 1:51); Race Time: 12:37:27, 29th (Plan: 11:52)
My Northern crew waited for me at Bridge of Orchy and I also exchanged a few words with Alexia who was on Andy McDonald’s support team. Sue asked if I they should drive over to the Inveroran hotel as an interim meet point but I was happy to go over Jelly Baby hill and then onto Rannoch Moor. Passed one runner on the way up and had a nice chat with Murdo at the top. Descended really well until my blister that we nursed at Auchtertyre burst. It only hurt for a few minutes though and I continued to descend well. Music kept me going on the tarmac section and I ran a fair bit of the early section of Rannoch Moor. Looking back I feel I walked a lot of Rannoch Moor but I guess it was about half and half. It did drag on though and as with the section into Bridge of Orchy a few runners passed me and I let them go again. Oddly looking at the results later I didn’t seem to be dropping many places.
I came into the Glencoe Ski Centre in 35th. The Sector into Bridge of Orchy and the Sector into Glencoe were my slowest compared to other runners except for the first section Balmaha. I was 43rd and 62nd in those respectively.
Early on going over Rannoch Moor Debbie Brupbacher passed me and we had a bit of a chat – she was 4th female at the time and going well (she finished third eventually). I was looking forward to getting to Glen Coe as I knew Gareth would be joining me for the final 2 sections of the run and that would be a huge help to get me to the finish. Fiona came out to meet me on the way in to Glencoe which was lovely. Before I went to the car to grab my Salomon backpack with the kit to head over the Devil’s Staircase I paid a visit to the toilets at the café. Back to the car, some food and a change of shoes and Gareth and I trotted off towards the Kingshouse. It was good to chat although I felt rather achy but chatting took my mind off the pain. At one point I did wonder why I was carrying 5 bottles of water though – a slight miscommunication between me and my team. I only drank one of them all the way to Kinlochleven so was carrying some unnecessary extra weight.
Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe Ski Centre
Distance: 10.82 miles (70.16 from the start); Split Time: 2:46:53, 62nd (plan: 2:10); Race Time: 15:24:20, 35th (Plan: 14:02)
Although I didn’t feel that we were moving particularly fast we were moving with notably more purpose than I had been doing in the preceding few hours and started overtaking a number of runners and reached the foot of the Devil’s staircase in good spirits. There were a few supporters there and I called out something like: “Last year I DNFed at this point, I am through it this time!” Felt good! Strong powerful walk up to the top of the Devil’s Staircase after that and then a not fast but steady moving descent down the other side. The views from up there were great in the early evening sun. We kept a steady pace and got into Kinlchleven around 7:15pm. I had said to Sue that it would take us 3 hours from Glencoe. It took us 2:49 including the long Glencoe stop much better than expected. Overall I was well behind schedule but compared to last year I wasn’t too bothered. Finishing was the main thing.
Gareth went and bought chips while I got weighed. All the water bottles I was carrying meant I weighed more than at the start of the race … oops. At Auchtertyre I had lost 1.5kgs.
Glencoe Ski Centre to Kinlochleven
Distance: 10.55 miles (80.71 from the start); Split Time: 2:49:22, 34th (plan: 2:06); Race Time: 18:13:42, 34th (Plan: 16:08)
Our stop at Kinlochleven was relatively short we thought although Jo Rae who we had passed on the way in with her support crew was well on her way up the climb onto the Lairig Moor before we repassed them. They weren’t hanging around. We had left Kinlochleven just after 7:30pm and I asked Sue if we would need headtorches. We agreed that we wouldn’t. Well it was one way of making sure I’d finish before it got too dark. The Lairig Moor felt like slow progress but with Gareth there was a regular “let’s keep running when we can” going and I seemed to keep my motivation up for this. Gareth also made sure I ate regularly. Apparently this was under Sue’s instructions. Thank you both, it helped. Half way across the Lairig Moor I was starting to struggle though and we stopped so that I could have some food, drink, a couple of pro plus and paracetamol. 5 minutes later I decided I was cold so we stopped again and I put my Patagonia Merino wool layer on and Gareth’s gloves as one of mine had fallen out when repacking the Salomon pack. I felt a bit of a nuisance at the time – constantly stopping – but Gareth made sure I had everything to help me perk up again. Apparently I had started slurring my words. Most likely not entirely surprising after being awake for over 35 hours.
We kept our steady pace going with a few runners around us doing roughly the same pace and soon made it into Lundavra. Gareth and I seemed to have this constant discussion about how far it would be and how far Gareth would have to go. I had apparently originally said he’d be running with me for 20 miles and this was looking increasingly like a marathon and a very long one too. Got into Lundavra and Caroline said to us it is another 7 miles. At least I knew that we had a few short climbs and then the downhill finish. We passed a few runners on the way down to the forest including Andy Cole. Going into the forest a head torch would have been useful but Terry Addison who had just caught up with us made full use of his. I was starting to wonder if we would finish before or after 11pm. Terry was having similar thoughts. I suggested that it was about 4 km to go when we reach the fire road that descends into Fort William. This was met with approval and hope that a sub 22 hour time would be on the cards. Once we reached the fire road and the descent started we all started going for it but my legs were not moving anywhere near as fast as Terry’s for example. A few others put in a very good finish effort. I was happy with the way things were going even if I was not that fast. I was reasonably confident of the sub 22 but my 4km suggestion was way off. The fire road went on forever. Steven Yule came flying past me and I just thought – Wow! When I spoke to him at the finish he said: “I hadn’t realised it was that far”. He had left his support runner well behind.
After what seemed an eternity we finally turned into the Braveheart car park and had less than a mile to go. I knew then that I wouldn’t finish under 22 hours but had thought I would put in a sprint finish which I started when I saw the sign for the roundabout. Considering that my legs had been aching for most of the last 50 miles I was surprised how comfortable that felt.
After 22:05 of running/walking and eating I dibbed in at the Leisure Centre in Fort William. Job done!
Kinlochleven to Fort William
Distance: 14.57 miles (95.28 from the start); Split Time: 3:52:07, 38th (plan: 3:30); Race Time: 22:05:49, 35th (Plan: 19:04)
Gareth’s first thoughts were for food so he headed off with Sue for pizza. I was just endlessly tired but did manage to get showered and a quick chat with Donald who had a storming run to finish with a 5:30 hour PB and John was there getting a massage.
We drove off to the hotel and after 3 slices of pizza I was asleep.
Picking up my goblet the next day together with all the other finishers was fantastic as was catching up with everyone at the after party.
I still have a lot to learn for this race and there is huge room for improvement but for now I am very happy with 22 hours.
Another year I will attack a sub 20 hour effort.
As I mentioned at the start this would not have been possible without the team I had. Huge thanks to Gareth, Sue, Fiona and my dad. Thanks to Ian Beattie and his crew for a great race. And finally thank you to Martin and Sue Like for their Likeys kit sponsorship.
To my surprise I needed nearly everything at some point so it turned out to be well worth it.
Related Links: Paul Giblin’s Race Report