November the 1st, a date of great importance in the Scottish running calendar. Race applications for the West Highland Way Race are now open. It’s time to make a choice, to decide whether you want to enter this, the ‘holy grail’ of Scottish Ultramarathons. Entry is not done on a first come first served basis. You have the whole of November to enter before each entry is considered on its merits. And yet, people still rush to enter, myself included. That’s the kind of enthusiasm that this race engenders.
Back in November 2011, I decided to apply for my first West Highland Way Race and, despite the stomach issues, projectile vomit, sleep deprivation and torrential rain, I am back for more in the hope that I am lucky enough to be selected for the 2013 race.
I remember entering at the very beginning of November 2011, the night that race entry opened.
I remember getting the email at the beginning of December to say that my entry had been successful and the Facebook and Twitter frenzy that followed as fellow entrants took to social media in their shared excitement.
I remember the highs and lows of both the training and the races that led up to the event, starting with the D33 in March, the Highland Fling in April and the Cateran Trail ultramarathon in May.
I remember (vividly) the weekend of the race itself, despite some 50 hours awake and the effects of sleep deprivation (including the odd hallucination!).
I remember what a great support crew and support runner I had and how, without them, I would most likely not have made it to the finish, especially given the issues I had that weekend.
I remember thinking to myself ‘never again’ and even ‘I will never run again’ as I trudged along feeling sorry for myself as my carefully prepared race plans fell apart.
I remember the feeling after 95 long miles, as I finally made my way through the doors of the Leisure Centre in Fort William, the ‘finish line’ of the West Highland Way Race.
I remember the feelings of accomplishment and of absolute relief, knowing that I had finally finished and that I no longer had to put one foot in front of another (at least not until the award ceremony). Both feelings vied for the number 1 spot in my mind.
I remember the feeling of pride at the award ceremony, not just in myself but in each and every finisher as, one by one, we all collected our sought after goblets.
I remember that feeling of ‘never again’ slowly dissipating as I realised there was no question that I would enter the 2013 West Highland Way Race.
Completing the WHW Race in 2012 was arguably my defining moment of the year. I had set myself a goal, an admittedly very ambitious goal, especially given my size and speed, and I had achieved it.
In all honesty, I think I was surprised to complete the West Highland Way Race, possibly more so than others that I managed to complete it. Maybe they had more faith in me than I had in myself. Who knows. Regardless, I now know that I can do it, I just want to do it better, with less issues, with less complications, and with weather that can’t be described as apocalyptic.
Is that too much to ask? Only time will tell.
I don’t think you ever need to ask yourself if you want to do this race. There’s just something about it. You know you want to do it.
Once the entry goes in there’s a month of suspense wondering if you will be lucky enough to get a coveted place. The race is always oversubscribed and having completed the requisite ultras is no guarantee of a place. Quite rightly, the race organisers need to make sure that there are spaces for first timers, for which, as a newbie in 2012, I was thankful.
If you are lucky enough to secure a place, the race is on to get in the appropriate training and, also, to ensure that you get to the starting line uninjured.
No doubt, during training you will ask yourself ‘why’!
When it comes to the actual race itself, and especially if your race experience is anything like mine was, you will ask yourself ‘why’ so many times.
The one thing to be assured of. Once you do complete the West Highland Way Race, with it’s 95 miles and 14,760ft of ascent, you will never again ask yourself why, you will only ask ‘when’ – when is the entry open for next year!