West Highland Way Race 2016?

With only 11 days to go until the 2015 West Highland Way Race, social media, and Facebook in particular, is buzzing with race chatter. Given my 2 year ultra sabbatical, inspired by the birth of my son Harris, I thought the West Highland Way Race might be that bit too ambitious for my comeback year, but it doesn’t stop the pangs of jealousy as I read about those who are about to embark upon their own West Highland Way Race experience.

Whether it is your first year or your 10th (or more even!), you are almost certainly guaranteed a weekend that you will remember for the rest of your days.

I ran the West Highland Way Race in 2012, the year of the ‘apocalyptic weather’, and things didn’t quite go to plan (understatement!).

Summing up my own experiences, I wrote the following, and it is as true today as it was the day I wrote it, not long after completing the event:

“Without a doubt, my completion of the 95 mile West Highland Way Race in 2012 ranks as my all-time running achievement to date. That weekend in June changed me and, to this day, I still think back to what I learned over the course of the weekend.

95 miles in under 35 hours with 14,760ft of ascent would have been enough of a challenge. However, I also had to contend with apocalyptic weather conditions, explosive diarrhoea and projectile vomiting. Overall, it amounted to a very challenging 31 hours, 1 minute and 50 seconds of running! Not the time I was aiming for but, under the circumstance, one that I am very happy with.

That weekend was a roller-coaster of highs and lows like I had never experienced before and it redefined just how low I could go and yet still carry on.

I had briefed my support team to expect to see me at my worst throughout the weekend. Little had I expected, however, that this was actually going to be the case!

What’s more, we had only just found out that my wife Leanne was pregnant with our first child days before the race. To this day, I still feel guilty for putting her through the stress of seeing me at my worst.

In a lot of respects, I had the easy part. All I had to do was keep moving forward. My support crew however, had to witness what happened to me through the course of the weekend and to try, where possible, to keep me fed and watered and moving towards Fort William – not an easy task given my reluctance to consume anything for fear that it would soon exit from one end of me or the other! To this day I cannot figure out exactly how I managed to keep moving.

I’ve collated a number of posts relating to that event below.

My own race experience totally redefined what I can and will endure in a race, and demonstrated just how quickly the darkest of lows can turn into a high, from projectile vomiting at the 50 mile mark, feeling absolutely finished, devoid of energy and all but ready to throw in the towel, to running strongly again and knowing that I could make that finish line in Fort William, all within the space of 5 miles.

Hopefully your own race experience will be significantly easier than my own but, regardless, it will almost certainly be an experience that lives with you forever.

I am gearing up for my own challenge, the 70 miles approx. of the Great Glen Ultra, on 4th July 2015 and, true to form this year, my ‘training’ following my shock finish (& PB) at the Hoka Highland Fling has again been blighted by illness.

Regardless, I am still eagerly anticipating competing in the Great Glen Ultra and can’t wait to run along the banks of Loch Ness.

Maybe 2016 will see me return to the West Highland Way Race for another attempt, if I am fortunate enough to gain entry. Failing that, I am sure that I will return one year in the not too distant future. I can only hope that, on that occasion, I have an easier time of it!

All the very best to the 2015 West Highland Way Race runners, crew and race personnel. I hope that you all have a fantastic weekend.

Spiderman’s Heroic Hoka Highland Fling

As I approached the final few miles of my recent Hoka Highland Fling, I spotted ‘Spiderman’ running not too far ahead of me. Unlike my 2012 West Highland Way Race, I couldn’t put this down to hallucinations! This was, as many of you will know, real life superhero Ross Lawrie, running the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling in full Spiderman costume. I should, at this point, stress the FULL aspect. As the video above demonstrates, Ross’s costume doesn’t contain any mouth or eye holes!

It’s not often that I come within sight of Ross at ultra events, other than at the very start, and, as such, I knew at this point that Ross must have been having a tough day of it. Reading his ‘Heroic Hoka Highland Fling‘ blog post confirmed my suspicions:

“Partially sighted, limited oxygen intake, heat exhaustion, leg cramps and I’m only just hitting Conic Hill – 18miles in…!”

Not content with running ‘just’ the 53 miles of the West Highland Way in full Spiderman costume, it’s Ross’s intent to run the 2015 West Highland Way Race, again in full Spiderman attire:

“On Sat 20th June 2015, Ross Lawrie is attempting to run the complete distance of the West Highland Way Ultra Marathon Race. 95 miles in under 35 hours, in aid of CHAS – Children’s Hospice Association Scotland. As everyone knows… …”With great power, comes great responsibility!” ;)”

It wasn’t until watching the above video that I actually realised just how special this charity is:

CHAS is a charity that provides the only hospice services in Scotland, for children and young people who have life-shortening conditions for which there is no known cure.

You can support Ross’s efforts and the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland at the following URL:

Highland flings: Paul Giblin And The West Highland Way Race

Paul Giblin has done it again, with yet another article in the mainstream press. This time, it’s The Guardian’s ‘The Running Blog‘, with an article entitled ‘Highland flings: Paul Giblin And The West Highland Way Race’.

“The West Highland Way race represents an ultra-running challenge in the beauty of the Highlands, and for Paul Giblin it was one he embraced, by breaking the course record.”

Daily Record – Ultra Runner Sets Astonishing Record For Gruelling 90-Mile Race Along West Highland Way

Paul Giblin’s recent West Highland Way Race 2014 victory and new course record is nothing short of amazing and it’s good to see both the event and Paul’s achievement get some mainstream recognition, in the Daily Record (29th June 2014).

What’s more, it’s a really good, descriptive article that charts not only Paul’s achievement but, also, mentions the various sections of the West Highland Way Race and gives an idea of just how much of an undertaking it is to participate in the event.

“A RUNNER has smashed the record for racing Scotland’s most famous long-distance path, the West Highland Way. Paul Giblin finished the gruelling 95-mile trail race in just 14 hours, 20 minutes and 11 seconds. He took an amazing 47 minutes off his previous best time when he also won the West Highland Way Race last year. Paul, 36, from Paisley, said: ‘I still can’t believe it. It hasn’t really sunk in yet. But I am really pleased with the result.'”

Note: Paul Giblin’s achievement has also been picked up on by Runner’s World:

West Highland Way Race 2014

95 miles in under 35 hours with 14,760ft of ascent. It’s that time again, the weekend of the West Highland Way Race. Registration will just be starting in Milngavie in preparation for the 1.00 am start on Saturday morning.

Thinking back to my own West Highland Way Race, in 2012, I wasn’t too nervous at this point. I was all too aware that I was about to step (run) into the unknown, covering some 40 approx. more miles than I had in any race up to that point. Up until June 2012, my longest race had been The Cateran, at 55 miles.

I think, more than anything, there was a sense of relief, firstly, that I had shaken off the Achilles injury picked up only 6 miles into The Cateran less than a month before the WHW Race (I still finished – not finishing my final ‘warm up’ race before WHW Race would have been too big a psychological blow) , and, secondly, that things were, after so much anticipation and build up, finally about to start.

My West Highland Way Race journey started many many months before, from the day I entered the ballot back in November 2011, through to the email just before Christmas telling me I had a place, through the many months of training and racing that led me to the start line of the race in June 2012.

Little did I know just how much of a battle I would face to finish the race. That’s all well documented (links below) though I will caution that it makes for fairly gruesome reading.

Suffice to say, that weekend was one that I will never forget, the weekend when I not only joined the West Highland Way Race ‘Family’, but did so in the face of such adversity – Most definitely a defining weekend in my life.

Hopefully, everyone running the race this weekend will have a considerably smoother journey. The weather conditions appear to be more favourable than those encountered in 2012 but then the weather is just one element of the overall experience.

All the very best to everyone running and, especially, to my good friend Ian Minty, who supported me on my own journey in 2012.

Had it not been for the presence and support of Ian, I very much doubt that I would have continued past the 50 mile point of my journey, when, beset with projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhoea, I hit an all time low.

I did aim to return for a second goblet in 2013 but parenthood got in the way and continues to prevent me from training at the level required. However, I wouldn’t change that for the world and, hopefully, I will be back for goblet number 2 in the not too distant future, hopefully with my young son Harris playing some part in my support team :o)

West Highland Way Race 2014 Links

West Highland Way Race 2012 – My Journey

Not The West Highland Way Race

Back at the beginning of March, a post in in The West Highland Way Race Facebook group by Gavin Durston alerted West Highland Way Race Family members to the emergence of another event, The West Highland Way Challenge, to be held on the same day as the original event.

The 240+ comments that followed made for interesting reading.

I’m not going to go into too much detail with regard to what happened at the 2013 West Highland Way Race other than to say that a highly respected member of The West Highland Way Race, with a remarkable number of race finishes to his name, was pulled from the race when he failed to meet a stipulated check-point cut-off.

Whatever your thoughts on these check point cut-off points, they are imposed for the safety of the runners, are intended to prevent runners from continuing when it becomes apparent that they will most likely not complete the full 95 mile distance in the time available, and, perhaps most pertinently in this particular case, are clearly stipulated in The West Highland Way Race rules where it clearly states that any runner failing to meet a cut-off will be pulled from the race.

The runner in question proceeded to finish the race on his own, within the permitted 35 hour time limit, but with no official time allocated, given that he had officially been pulled from the race.

An independent enquiry held in the wake of the event upheld the decision to pull the runner from the race.

The runner in question has, for 2014, set up The West Highland Way Challenge, to be held on the exact same day as the original West Highland Way Race, starting and finishing an hour earlier.

There are a number of concerns arising from this, from the impact on the original event and the potential for congestion should this alternative event prove popular, through to the safety considerations that are enshrined in the rules of the original West Highland Way Race. Most notably, the West Highland Way Challenge states that there are ‘no irregular and unfair cut-offs’ and that no support is required.

To quote from The West Highland Way Challenge web site:

“Other WHW races are ‘staged races’ where the runner/walker is timed out due to baseless ‘cut-off’ times, when the competitor could easily complete the WHW course in well under 35 hours. These unrealistic cut-off times place a great deal of stress on the competitor and result in a high incidence of withdrawals, or competitors being ‘timed-out’ early on in the race.” 

It’s plain to see from the language used above, and throughout the site, that the Race Director of the Challenge obviously has issues with what happened at the 2013 West Highland Way Race.

Only time will tell whether the new event is a success and, further, whether it impacts in any way on the well established West Highland Way Race, held for the 1st time back in 1985 with only two competitors.

Hopefully anyone wishing to run The West Highland Way will not mistake the new event for the more established West Highland Way Race.

Hopefully it will not become the race of choice for those who fail to make the start list of the West Highland Way Race.

Finally, hopefully the event, if it does indeed go ahead, passes without any safety issues and without impact on the established West Highland Way Race.

The West Highland Way

The West Highland Way, Scotland’s most popular and successful long distance trail, was officially opened on 6 October 1980, becoming Scotland’s first officially designated long distance footpath.

“The 154Km (96miles) Route starts at Milngavie passes through Mugdock Country Park, follows the shores of Loch Lomond, passing Ben Lomond, through Glen Falloch and Strathfillan, crossing Rannoch Moor, past Buachaille Etive Mor to the head of Glencoe, climbing the Devil’s Staircase, descending to sea level to cross the River Leven at the head of Loch Leven before entering Lairigmor and Glen Nevis and finishes at Gordon Square in Fort William.” (http://www.west-highland-way.co.uk/)

Most people walk the route over anything from 5 to 9 days. Approximately 85,000 people use the West Highland Way each year, with some 30,000 walking the entire route.

“The path uses many ancient roads, including drovers’ roads, military roads and old coaching roads and is traditionally walked from south to north.” (Wikipedia – West Highland Way)

A number of people, however, favour a faster approach to completing the route. The West Highland Way plays host to 3 different ultramarathons:

The West Highland Way Race

The West Highland Way Race was first held in June 1985, between Duncan Watson and Bobby Shields who arrived together in Fort William in a time of 17 hours 48 minutes. They opened the race up to fellow runners the following year. In the initial years, no more than a few dozen runners started. In 2012, they year I first ran the West Highland Way Race, a record 172 started the race with 119 finishing in conditions that can best be described as apocalyptic!

As of 2012 a total of 737 people, affectionately known as ‘The Family’, have successfully completed the challenge.

For more information on the history of the race, check out the WHW Race web site.

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.

Moray 10k

This coming Sunday, the 1st September, will be my first race of the year since the D33 ultramarathon back in March. I did have a number of events planned for the interim, including a second stab at the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling, the 43 mile Devil O’ The Highlands and, well, pretty much all of my ‘usual’ ultramarathons (Scottish Ultra Marathon Series). But then, in February, my son Harris was born, and it soon became all too obvious that there wasn’t going to be enough time in the day to train to the extent that I was used to AND be a great dad. That’s when I decided to retire from running ultramarathons, albeit temporarily.

In the run up to a race I am used to getting drop bags ready, spending ages pondering over kit choices, which waistpack/rucksack/race vest to wear etc. etc. etc. This time round, however, I will be lucky to have warmed up by the time I get to the starting line. Why? Because I am running a 10k, 6.2 miles.

I’ve run 15 10ks to date, starting back in May 2007 at the City of Aberdeen Baker Hughes 10k. I can’t recall if it was that very race but I do remember that I reached the 1/2 way point at one Baker Hughes 10k, in May of that year (as it always is), and thought to myself that this was now my longest run of the year! Given the thousands of miles that I have logged since, and especially the miles logged since March 2010 when my focus turned to ultramarathons, it seems funny not to have run anything longer than 3 miles by May of any year!

My PB for the 10k distance is 49:36, set way back in 2007, again at the City of Aberdeen Baker Hughes 10k. If memory serves me correctly, that was the year that the race start was delayed because of cars parked on the route and also the year where it started hailing/snowing just before the start of the race – no doubt the reason for my extra turn of speed that year!

Believe it or not, I am actually nervous about running it. I’ve never been a fast runner and, with a 10k, it’s never that long before the event is over. It’s also my first 10k since June 2009!

It would be nice to finish with a good time, especially considering all the training I have been doing and that, at my next event, the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow on 6th October, I am aiming to set a new PB as part of my role as a PUMA PB Challenge Ambassador. However, I currently have a niggle with my right leg and, thus, will just have to see how the day goes.

On the plus side, even with race registration, transportation to the start line etc. etc., I should be away from the family for little more than a couple of hours rather than the 12-30 hours required for completion of some of my ultras in the past! In that area at least, it will be mission accomplished as far as my running and having realistic running goals is concerned.

All the best if you are running any of the Moray Marathon series of events this weekend. I will be the one kitted out head to toe in PUMA gear :o)