West Highland Way Race 2014

I’ve always advocated that you should ‘Aim high, anything is possible’. Indeed, that’s the name of my blog over on The Running Bug website. However, at least as far as 2014 is concerned, I won’t be aiming high. Or at least, my aspirations will (hopefully) be slightly more attainable than they have been over the past few years.

November has, for the past few years, been a special month. As most readers will know, it’s the month when the ballot opens for the West Highland Way Race and, again as most readers will know, despite the ballot remaining open for the duration of November, there’s always a flurry of activity on opening night as people are so keen to get their West Highland Way Race entries in.

November is also a month where the majority of entrants find themselves on tenterhooks, in a state of uncomfortable suspense, awaiting the all important email of acceptance or rejection. This time last year, I had somewhat naively entered the ballot, not quite appreciating just how much of an impact the birth of my son Harris, our first child, was going to have on my running. Little did I realise just how much of a life changing event it would all be and, I will admit, little did I realise just how accepting I would be of the changes and the drastic reduction in running, both in terms of training and participation. Not that there was much of a choice, but, fortunately, something about becoming a dad changed my priorities and I soon realised that there was little or no time for what, ultimately, can be a selfish pursuit, especially if it involves spending great chunks of weekends and/or evenings out on the trails.

I did make it to the finish line of the D33 in 2013, albeit on a stupidly low amount of training and, by the day of the race, my ‘long’ slow run preparation had not exceeded 11 miles. From approximately mile 18 onwards I suffered, big style, so much so in fact, that a walker that I encountered in the final miles of the race offered me paracetamol! The pain must have been etched across my face for that kind gesture to take place and, believe it or not, I actually did try to convince them that they should consider the D33 for themselves in 2014!

As the year progressed, training dwindled and I soon realised that I was not going to make it to the start line of the West Highland Way Race, never mind the finish line! When it came to finally officially withdrawing, my biggest regret was not that I was pulling out of the race that, just one year previous, had been the driving force and focus of my year. The biggest regret was that I had deprived someone of a place. Fortunately, as more and more competitors fell by the wayside, those runners who had failed to get in via the ballot were given the opportunity to fill the vacant spaces.

Despite not being present at the 2013 West Highland Way Race, I followed it through the night with interest. I still wanted to follow the progress of all involved and, especially, the progress of Ian Minty who, just the year before, had been there to see me to the end of my own WHW Race adventure, despite everything from chronic diarrhoea to projectile vomiting doing its best to derail my efforts.

This year, there is no November anxiety. There’s no concern over whether I will be lucky enough to get one of those coveted spaces. There’s not even any regrets. I have my hands full like never before. I can’t even recall what life pre baby was like and, certainly, have no idea what I managed to do with all of that free time. Surely I can’t have spent all of it running! This year I watched from afar as the WHW Race Facebook group went into a frenzy as the date for the ballot approached. I will no doubt keep an eye on the starters list, to see who the fortunate few are. And I will no doubt follow the race on-line come race weekend.

My training levels of late are such that it would be foolish to even contemplate the West Highland Way Race next year. Thanks to the Running Bug and PUMA, my running did get the kick up the backside that it so desperately required mid year. Having been selected as the PUMA PB Challenge Ambassador for the 1/2 marathon distance, I benefited hugely from the nutritional advice, a structured training plan, and physio support.

Little had I realised prior to this point just why my dieting attempts were doomed to failure as a result of eating too little while training, why my continued use of the Long Slow Run as my preferred/only training method was only ever going to see my performance plateau, and why my ‘ultra shuffle’ running ‘style’ was only serving to slow me down and aggravate ITB issues.

Unfortunately, my PB Challenge didn’t go to plan. With 5 weeks to go to the big day, a niggling calf issue worsened, leaving me unable to train. I found myself unable to run anything more than 2-3 miles before the pain levels became unacceptable.

With the help of some painkillers, some Rock Tape, and the pacing skills of my good friend Allan Bruce, I did attempt to beat my PB as planned at the Great Scottish Run. I hadn’t expected much given the issues encountered over the past 5 weeks but, in the end, ran faster than I have done for 5 years, only just missing out on the all important PB.

It had the potential to be a spectacular psychological blow, especially considering that my failure was so visible, shared with all of my fell Running Bugs. However, I was happy with my progress in the face of adversity, something that running ultramarathons taught me to appreciate.

Almost immediately after the Great Scottish Run, I was unfortunate enough to catch hand, foot and mouth. This rather unpleasant affliction, whilst fortunately nothing to do with the bovine foot and mouth disease, further compromised my training. When my son and his baby friends first came down with HF&M, I checked online and found that it was rare for it to be transmitted to an adult. Obviously this particular version of HF&M wasn’t party to that information as it proceeded to spread amongst a number of the parents and I, unfortunately, suffered more than most. I was reduced to an almost completely immobile, lurching wreck, with feet covered almost entirely in blisters that made ultramarathon induced blisters appear tame.

After approximately a week the worst of the blisters had subsided. However, this was just the start of the recovery process. I don’t want to go into too much detail here but, suffice to say, the old skin needs to give way to lovely new (and very tender) skin. Due to the extent of the blistering, the end result can best be likened to a reformat of your PC. Everything is wiped and ‘reinstalled’, a somewhat painful process that, even after a few weeks, has yet to complete.

Writing this, I should soon find myself in a position to resume training again. It’s going to be back to basics for me. At this point, the only race that I am committed to next year is the Baker Hughes 10k in Aberdeen. Ultramarathons seem like a distant memory and, at this point, my only real consideration as far as ultras go is whether to maintain my 100% attendance record at the D33 ultramarathon. Whether I even apply or not is, at this point, touch and go. Whatever I decide, I certainly don’t want a repeat performance of last year’s PW.

The aim for 2014 is to get that all elusive PB, and not just at 1/2 marathon distance. I’ve never completed a timed 5k. There’s a 10k PB set around the same time as my existing 1/2 marathon PB that needs smashed, and I believe that a sub 4 hour marathon is also attainable. I even have aspirations of running closer to 3:30!

The West Highland Way Race above all others will always have a special place in my heart. This race, more than any other, tested my resolve to finish and the fact that I finally made it to that finish line in Fort William, despite everything that went wrong that weekend, means so much to me. That single weekend ranks higher in terms of accomplishments than years and years spent in education amassing degree and postgraduate qualifications! Whilst a return to the race is most definitely not on the cards for 2014, I hope to again join the eager masses in that car park in Milngavie some day soon(ish!).

All the very best to everyone hoping to participate in the 2014 West Highland Way Race.