I’ve previously written about my preparation for this race.. or lack of! Things had not quite went to plan but still I managed to head into this race feeling mentally and physically strong. I’m not sure how to write about 53 miles without it being an essay but i will give it a good go!
The weekend started with me travelling to Glasgow to meet my housemates for the weekend. This quickly lead onto kilt shopping and eating food. Thankfully the apartment we were staying in was just outside of the town centre so we didn’t have to drag all our kit too far. I’d packed like I was going travelling for a year but the weather forecast kept on changing so had to cover all bases.
The night before the race i fuelled up on my usual chippy supper and a few glasses of bourbon. Still feeling confident but the nerves were starting to build.
Race day started with an early wake-up call of 3.30am. A taxi to registration at 4.15am in plenty time for the race to start at 6. The race starts at Milngavie train station and they had actually opened the cafe for us! So a coffee, bacon sarnie and a few cheese sarnies in my bag cheered me right up! The place was soon buzzing, we handed in our drop bags, put our finishing bags on the bus and took the opportunity to meet new people and talk tactics. The weather was dry, cold as you’d expect at 5am, but perfect for running in.
After a race briefing from a man standing on top of a van, and a few songs from the bagpipes, I found myself in the starting tunnel in the 10-12 hours section.. oops! The horn sounded, the cowbells were going mad and we were off.. through the tunnel, up the steps and then took a right onto the West Highland Way. I tried to get onto a comfortable pace quite quickly. Going off too fast could be the end of this race much too soon.
The first 10 to 15 miles were fairly flat, runable trail paths. I felt comfortable and was just plodding on with no issues, smiling and chatting. We came to the first climb of Conic Hill. a steep up hill which levelled out at the top where, of course, there was a photographer and an absolutely breathtaking view of Loch Lomond. I felt comfortable on the hill but knew I had to take the downhill easy. Knowing at one point my knees would give way, I had to hold it off as long as possible.
We dropped down off Conic Hill into the first checkpoint at Balmaha, 20 miles in. Feeling strong and comfortable, I grabbed a chocolate milkshake and gels from my pack and kept on moving. . I knew the next 20 miles were technical and barely runable, though I wasn’t sure to what extent. It was a single file path, with a rare break for overtaking, consisting of tree roots, slippery rocks and a few puddles. There had only been a few showers that day, which I’m sure made this section a million times easier than it could have been. If there was a record for the longest conga line during a race, we would have smashed it on this section.
Every ones spirits were high, a few songs and a few life stories later we came to the half way checkpoint at Rowardennan, 27 miles in. I was only wanting to stop there briefly but ended up needing a toilet break, a bladder fill up and to take some proper food down. I think i spent about 5 minutes total there. It doesn’t sound long but it is enough to put you off your stride and for your legs to stiffen. I rushed out of the checkpoint and didn’t pay attention to my kit. I didn’t let the air out my bladder and it was sloshing so I had to stop and sort that. Then it started raining so I had to stop again to put my jacket on. A few extra minutes in the checkpoint would have been better than stopping mid-hill to sort all that out.
I completed the first 26 miles in 5 hours 30, right on schedule.
We left Rowardennan and continued on a trail path that took us 14 miles along the other half of Loch Lomond to Beinglas. It was more of the same, with absolutely beautiful views all the way along. You have to remind yourself to look up and see the view, you get fixated on the floor and your feet so as not to cripple yourself. Again, I felt strong in this section, hardly any niggles in my knees or hips which was lovely! There was a checkpoint at Inversnaid half way through this section, which I again ran straight through, taking just the chocolate milkshake, gels and a couple of paracetomol in anticipation. Another 7 miles down the trail and I made it to the last checkpoint at Beinglas, 41 miles in.
41 miles into a race I was expecting to feel a little bit sore, I can run 3 miles and be crippled for days so I was somewhat surprised at this point. It wasn’t until mile 45 where all hell broke loose. Beinglas to the finish was a gradual uphill with undulating paths through wooded areas and rocky paths. The last 8 miles have to be the hardest 8 miles of my life. I was trying to run on what I felt like was a dislocated left knee and a right hip that needed to ‘click’. Movement was limited, worse on the downhills than the uphills and my energy levels were falling. I managed to drag myself 3 miles, luckily well ahead of any cut off times! With 5 miles to go I had to do something as I wasn’t giving in at mile 48! I took the risk of more paracetamol and used a lot of ibuprofen gel on my knees, was feeling the need for real food but wasn’t carrying any. At 50 miles I remembered about the shortbread I stashed! it is now my favourite food! It perked me up, the painkillers kicked in and the path flattened out. Surprisingly, I ran the last 3 miles to the finish comfortably, like nothing had happened.
I have never, in my life, finished anything feeling like I did at this race. A red carpet, cowbells, bag pipes, crowds of people.. and a marshal giving out hugs at the finish line. How I didn’t break into hysterical crying I don’t know. I was quickly given my finish bag and walked into the tent where I was greeted by Caroline from Heaton Harriers with a beer!
One thing I haven’t talked about yet in this post is the people. The people I met I could write an essay about so easily. Deborah and Steven who I shared the apartment with, one who was like a mum away from home and the other who gave me alcohol! Caroline from Heaton Harriers who I ran almost the full last half of this race with, an unlikely meeting place but now an unbreakable bond and a shared feeling that is so hard to describe. I was given the nickname ‘Geordie Kilty’ by a ‘Scottish Kilty’ (We were both wearing kilts) just before Conic Hill and we spent the rest of the race cheering each other on and dragging each other through hard times. I grabbed a conversation with fling royalty John Kynaston who gave me some good pointers in the starting tunnel. I met a lady who was over 70 years of age who had completed countless West Highland Way races and completely put us young ones to shame! The whole conga line of people I met could keep me smiling for weeks, you’d struggle to find a bigger mix of personalities anywhere else during a race.
The support and marshals in this race were incredible. at 6am there was lines of people in the streets of Milngavie, cheering us through the streets and onto the West Highland Way. A few miles in there was a lady playing the violin for the whole field of runners. There was countless bagpipers, countless cowbells, countless photographers and just support coming from everywhere. Running into a checkpoint a marshal would shout your number to another marshal, before you get to the marshal they had your drop bag open in their hands, ready for you to grab whatever you want. They even gave well needed hugs, confidence boosts, pats on the back if you needed it and clapped you off as if they were there just for you! Unbelievable!
Of course i have to mention the support back at home. I am absolutely overwhelmed at the messages I have received from my actual family, my running family and my hockey family. I cant thank you enough for getting me through this race. I read your Facebook comments at mile 45 and I knew i was finishing this race. One poor man in particular has put up with my constant whinging, questions and has dragged me over hills and fells in stupid weather to get me ready for this. Rob Brooks take a bow, you deserve a medal! Now its my turn to support you!
Overall.. This race went to plan. I crossed the finish line in 13 hours 11. I was hoping for 13 hours. Of course lessons were learnt, don’t rush out of checkpoints and to always have ‘proper’ food on you being the main ones. I still haven’t peeled myself off the ceiling and I can’t wait to find my next challenge!