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:
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.”
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 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.
A somewhat timely addition to the routes section of the website given that the result of the West Highland Way Race ballot came out this weekend just past – a short page with some West Highland Way information and photographs. Congratulations to everyone who was fortunate enough to be accepted into the 2013 West Highland Way Race. Hope the training goes well.
Saw this article on the BBC website today, something that I am sure many of my fellow ultrarunners will be in agreement with – The West Highland Way is one of the world’s best hikes.
“A walking route in Scotland has been included on a US travel magazine’s list of the world’s best hikes. The West Highland Way covers 96 miles (154.4km) from Milngavie on the outskirts of Glasgow to Fort William. National Geographic Traveler Magazine ranked it alongside 19 other trails, including the Santa Cruz Trek in Peru and Tibet’s Mount Kailash Pilgrimage.”
Warning: the following blog post is quite a graphic account of my quest for a WHW Race goblet.
I travelled down to Glasgow on Thursday evening, leaving straight from work, in the hope that this earlier than previously planned departure would provide a more relaxed day in the build up to the race start, in Milngavie, at 01:00 am on Saturday 23rd June.
Arriving at the house of Leanne’s aunt and uncle, Sandra and John Donnelly, I discovered that my support team had ‘branded’ themselves, team Jonathong, based on a nickname that I was christened with by my wife’s brother. A 6 berth motor home had been hired for the weekend which provided my support crew of Sandra, John, my wife Leanne, and my support runner Ian Minty, with a little bit of comfort and a place to rest up if and when time permitted.
The weather in Glasgow on the Friday afternoon was something else. Torrential rain accompanied by some pretty loud and dramatic thunder and lightning cast a cloud over proceedings (no pun intended). Anyone familiar with Glasgow will know that Glasgow is no stranger to rain. As such, a weather warning that accompanied the forecast was more than a bit concerning and I was worried, more than anything else, that the race would be cancelled.
Fortunately, the thunder and lightning stopped. Unfortunately, the rain did not and the challenge of running 95 miles was further compounded by the atrocious weather conditions.
I had hoped to get some additional sleep throughout the day on the Friday but the combination of a John Bannerman concert soundcheck and then the concert itself taking place next to us on Glasgow Green, interspersed with the aforementioned thunder and lightning, meant that sleep was not on the agenda. By the time I finished the race I had been awake for some 50 hours approx.
We departed for registration in Milngavie around 10:15 pm. I introduced Minty to Sandra and John for the first time and got myself weighed and registered for the race.
Around 12:30 am the race briefing took place in the car park at Milngavie railway station, just next to the underpass which is the start line for the event. From an initial high of 230, we were now down to a field of 172 runners. The race briefing included the following:
“Weather. There will be some. When the sun shines, it’ll be hot. When it’s raining, it’ll be cold and wet. If it’s windy, there’ll be less midges.”
At this point, it was obvious to all that the rain would be hugely significant this weekend and, just in time for the start, the heavens once more opened up with heavy rain.
Despite the weather, there was an excellent turnout with people lining the streets from the start line at the underpass to the turnoff that takes you off Milngavie high street and on to the West Highland Way route itself. The weather certainly didn’t dampen the spirits of the runners, support crews and spectators and this was a real standout high point for me.
Unfortunately, this high was short lived.
By the time I first met with my support crew, 12 miles into the race in Drymen, I had already had to make a few additional stops in the area surrounding the trail as explosive diarrhoea threatened to derail my quest for a WHW Race goblet. By mile 17, I was again suffering an unexpected stop and I was thoroughly demoralised as the torchlights of runners once again moved past my hidden position. I was already contemplating a DNF (Did Not Finish) and was in turmoil.
Meeting my crew in Balmaha, having ascended and descended Conic Hill, the first big hill of the day, I took some Immodium in the hope that this would help settle the stomach. This appeared to work, at least for a while.
The lochside section, from Balmaha to Rowardennan went OK but I was concerned that my unplanned pitstops had put me way back in the field and, it crossed my mind, might even have left me in last position. I didn’t see any runners for a while and, as such, was delighted to finally come across fellow runners.
I met up with Sue Walker in this section and enjoyed catching up with Sue in the run in to Rowardennan. This helped take my mind off the problems I had been having.
Arriving at Rowardennan, I was conscious that this would be my last meeting with my support crew for some time as both Inversnaid and Beinglas Farm were, for one reason or another, inaccessible to support crews. I decided to change my socks as they were soaked through and I was concerned that this would impact negatively on my feet. Large parts of the trail throughout the whole of the West Highland Way resembled streams and even rivers rather than the trail that we had expected to run on. Waterfalls along the trail side bore testimony to the extent of the rainfall as their waters and ferocity were swelled to impressive levels. One of the negatives from this was that the majority of water crossings, normally dealt with by some strategically placed stepping stones, now involved wading through the water. Two minutes after changing into fresh socks, they were once again soaked through.
Approximately 40 miles in, I experienced another low and it stayed with me for the next 10 miles, compounded by the ‘never ending’ forest between Crianlarich and the Auchtertyre Farm checkpoint.
I was looking forward to my support runner, Minty, joining me at Auchtertyre farm. I met Minty on various training runs and, having run almost the entire 55 miles of the 2011 Cateran Trail Ultramarathon with him, I could think of no one that I would rather run the remaing 45 miles of the West Highland Way Race with. Minty had travelled hundreds of miles to support me and I had made assurances earlier in the year that I would most definitely make it past this point and require the services of a support runner.
At this point, things went from bad to worse.
50 miles into the race, the weather finally brightened up but I found myself again ravaged by explosive diarrhoea. I hit a new low. Knowing that I had to get back out there and keep on running, I made a move to leave the motorhome. At this point I suffered projectile vomitting, literally painting the walls and toilet bowl of the small motorhome with the contents of my stomach. Looking back at this point on the drive home today, Leanne and I both agreed that the Family Guy ‘Who Wants Chowder’ scene came closest to describing the events:
There was no way I could run another 45 miles. However, there was also no way that I could let my support runner and crew down. (Just for the record, I made every attempt to clean up the mess I made before departing the motorhome. No support crew deserves to have to clean that up! As I was informed today, I wasn’t quite as thorough as I thought I was).
I don’t know where I summoned any reserves from as I don’t remember feeling quite so low in the entirety of my 40 years, but I made it back out the door, shivering furiously and running on empty.
Minty coaxed me into a brisk walk and arranged for my support crew to meet me in Tyndrum, some 3 miles ahead – just in case.
To everyone’s surprise, none more so than me, I picked up!
There is a saying “If you feel good during an ultra, don’t worry, you will soon get over it.” I would like to add that this can also work in reverse. Checking Facebook this morning, I saw that someone had posted the following message: “To the kind marshall at Bein Glas who strongly suggested I give it until Auchtertyre to decide whether to pull out – thank you”. I know exactly what they mean. What a difference a few miles can make, especially in a race of this length.
The next 45 miles saw me expertly coaxed between running, hiking and, where necessary, shuffling, as Minty kept me moving forward. When we neared checkpoints, Minty would phone in my ‘order’ for food and drink and my excellent support crew made sure that it was ready for my arrival, regardless of the location and/or time of night. This even included sourcing things that I had never even considered (fizzy orange Lucozade) which helped to lift my mood in the aftermath of my projectile vomit session.
Towards the end of the race, and especially in the forest just before the final descent into Fort William, I started to suffer from hallucinations which I can only put down to sleep deprivation. I was certain that I saw a guinea pig on the trail, which turned out to be a rock, and was equally as certain about the presence of both white and brown rabbits along the trail (more rocks!) which refused to move as we ran through them. For a while, everything that I looked at appeared to have hidden depths and shapes.
Getting up and over the Devil’s Staircase and then the long climb out of Kinlochleven, I started to turn my thoughts to the finish.
By this point, my feet felt like they had blisters forming on top of existing blisters. I didn’t want to remove my socks and trainers for fear of the condition of my feet and kept shuffling on. The skin on the soles of my feet felt separated from the feet themselves and I found the rocky terrain underfoot particularly difficult. Each stray stone that jarred my foot ripped at the skin leaving me in pain.
I was also increasingly bothered by pain in my right hip and feared that I had somehow done some real damage to the area. As I found out on finishing, the pain was related to an ITB issue and I also found out that the left ITB was almost equally as tight so I have no doubt that the left hip would also have started to give me grief had I been required to run any further.
Minty and I finally arrived in Fort William at around 08:00 am Sunday morning and I crossed the finish line in a time of 31 hours 1 minute and 51 seconds.
We were 4 hours before the cut off and the start of the presentation of the well earned goblets where each finisher received their goblet in time order.
In that time I had a massage provided by Athletes Angels. This was both heavenly and painful in equal measure but I was glad of the opportunity to give the legs some much needed TLC. Further, the ITB issue was diagnosed at this point so at least I knew then that I had not created a greater problem with the hip.
I slept solidly for 2 hours in the motorhome, possibly the best 2 hours of sleep I have ever had, awakening just in time to grab a bacon butty before heading to the presentation.
Of the 172 starters, 119 finished, an amazing number given the adverse weather conditions.
I am sure that I have left heaps out of the above blog post. However, given that I am still suffering from sleep deprivation and still haven’t really got my head in the game yet, I wanted to get at least some of the weekends events down as a constant reminder of an excellent weekend.
Leanne tweeted my progress over the weekend and I will catch up with everyone over the next couple of days. Thanks to everyone who sent tweets and messages. Hopefully the above will serve as an insight into the toughest weekend I have experienced to date!
So, finally, down to the thanks.
A huge thanks to my support crew of Leanne, Sandra and John, who so willingly gave up their weekend to follow me about as I pursued my goal of joining the WHW Race Family. Little did I realise when I warned you that it is not uncommon for support crews to see their runners at their worst, that it would happen to me. Thanks for getting me through it.
Minty, thanks for agreeing to travel so far to act as my support runner. Thanks also for suggesting that you join me at Auchtertyre Farm, the earliest point at which a support runner is permitted. Given the events that took place there, I doubt I would have made it out of the motorhome had you not been due to join me. Your experience kept me moving forward and ultimately saw me achieve my goal of WHW Race Family membership. I owe you big style!
Huge thanks also to Race Director Ian Beattie, to the doctors, crew, Marshals and members of The Wilderness Response Team who gave up their time so that we could chase our goals in safety.
To all my fellow runners, well done on an outstanding achievement, especially given the weather conditions. I hope that you are not as blistered and immobile as I feel today. Any advice on cankles would be much appreciated!
I am back at my desk, happy not to be moving too much as I have a pretty bad case of the DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). The good news is that I did it, I managed to complete the 53 miles of the Hoka Highland Fling. I even bagged a new PB by some 27 minutes but, in all honesty, I have no idea where that one came from as a single word adequately sums up my race – torture! (albeit scenic torture!).
The forecast for rain soon gave way to a forecast for an overcast and cool day. In the end, we had neither! Other than a strange, all too brief, flurry of hail at the 40 mile stage, the day was sunny and warm. A little too warm for myself and many of the others that I spoke to. However, given what I have heard of the Fellsman race and the Manchester Marathon being run in torrential rain, and with some cases of hypothermia being reported at the Fellsman, I will not grumble about the mercury being a few degrees hotter than I would have liked!
The race starts in Milngavie, on the outskirts of Glasgow, and follows the West Highland Way route all the way to Tyndrum. Along the way you run up and over Conic Hill (approx 16 miles in) with its beautiful views over Loch Lomond, along the side of Loch Lomond towards Rowardennan (approx 27 miles in), then to Inversnaid (approx 34 miles in) and then to the final check point of Bein Glas Farm (approx 40 miles).
The start is staggered which is a godsend given the increasing numbers of runners taking part and the narrowness of the trail in many sections. The starts are as follows:
06:00 Females and Male Super-Vets (Max time 15 hours)
07:00 Male Vets (Max time 14 hours)
08:00 Males (Max time 13 hours)
09:00 Relay teams (Max time 12 hours)
Possibly the only benefit of hitting the big 4-0 this year was my move into the Male Vets category, giving me a 7:00 start (The Male Vet age will apparently drop from 40 to 35 from next year).
I almost came a cropper twice on Conic Hill which is a tough ascent and descent at the best of times. With all the rain of late, patches of the descent in particular were even more treacherous than usual and it was all I could do to turn an out of control skid back into a ‘controlled’ descent rather than ending up flat on my back… twice! It turns out that the leather at the bottom of my running gaiters just took away too much of my tread for the wet and muddy conditions. However, the sheer pounding soon snapped both of the leather strips and this was no longer a problem!
Given that I had been ill immediately prior to the event, I didn’t overplan it with expected checkpoint times. I didn’t want to create a rod for my own back in the event that things were not going well.
As it was, I reached Drymen, the first checkpoint, some 12 minutes up on last year, Rowardennan, 17 minutes up, and Beinglas Farm, where a 5.30pm cutoff is enforced for safety reasons, some 31 minutes up on last year and over an hour in advance of the cut off.
Anyone considering running the West Highland Way, whether it be at the Highland Fling, the Devil O’ The Highlands, or the full West Highland Way Race, would definitely be advised to check out the terrain beforehand if at all possible. I had forgotten just how undulating the route was and I had also forgotten just how challenging the terrain underfoot could be, especially the 3 mile section between Inversnaid and Bein Glas Farm. As more than one person commented, they didn’t expect quite so much climbing and scrambling about. However, the rooty, rocky nature of this part in particular and, indeed, the various sections of the West Highland Way route, add interest to the trail and breaks it up into individual little sections.
I was approximately 17 miles into the race when I was passed by the first of the male sub 40 field which I was delighted with. I had started in the male vet category an hour earlier and had expected to be caught by the leading males long before now.
Relay runners soon added to the flow of runners, each passing looking fresh and fast and most offering words of encouragement to the solo runners on the trail.
Looking back on my time, it was a decent enough improvement on last year and even pipped my earlier PB margin from the D33. However, it doesn’t sit well with my recollections of the day. Other than the beautiful scenery and the camaraderie amongst the runners, my memories are mainly of pain and struggle. There was even a couple of low points where I pondered the prospect of a DNF.
I had to laugh this morning as I listened to a West Highland Way Race podcast on the way in to work. Someone commented “Pain is a luxury for the living” and, if that is indeed the case, I was living it up big style on Saturday!
I was Fuelled by water mixed with High 5 Zero along the route and with drop bags at 4 checkpoints which included the following:
Muller rice: A departure from my pasta based dishes from the year before. Every one went down a treat and tasted delicious regardless of how hot they were. I had found the lukewarm pasta, heated by the sun in 2011 to be particularly stomach churning and it was refreshing not to have this problem again.
Coca Cola: Many people go for the flat Coke option but I like a bit of fizz! The thought of a drink of Coke kept me going from one checkpoint to another!
Slim-Fast Cafe Latte flavour shake: This was also ‘new for 2012′. A fellow runner, Sue Walker, introduced me to the Cafe Latte shake at the end of last years Devil O’ the Highlands race and it went down a treat. This year I had one along with a porridge and banana for breakfast and then one at each of the checkpoints. As with the Muller rice, they tasted fine, even when slightly lukewarm.
Tablet: The traditional Scottish sweet kind provided the perfect sugar rush when things were looking bleak. “Tablet’s hard to describe if you haven’t had a Scottish upbringing; it’s like toffee, but not chewy, it’s like fudge, but more grainy. It’s basically a wee bit of heaven in an otherwise dreich country.”http://scruss.com/tablet.html
Sun tan lotion: It wasn’t as sunny as it has been the past two years but I was glad of the small packets of sun tan lotion that I had included in my drop bags.
The last few miles into Tyndrum felt like the longest miles I have ever run but I soon heard the sound of the pipes and it was a great feeling to be piped in to the finish line where I was met by Mrs Mac & her brother.
I was hit with a case of the shivers shortly after finishing. I am still not entirely sure as to what caused this but I was not alone in this. Regardless of the shivers, for once I actually felt like eating and after a quick shower (We stayed at the By The Way hostel at Tyndrum which was right at the finish line, perfect positioning!) we headed to the Real Food Cafe where I devoured a double cheeseburger and chips, something that I had been longing for over the last 30 odd miles. Strange thing is, it’s not something that I eat all that often but it certainly hit the spot. Hit by another case of the shivers, I decided to retire for the night and managed a solid 6 hours sleep before waking with a huge hunger pang.
Despite my need to eat I didn’t wake Mrs Mac or her brother for another two hours but, after waking, we were all showered, packed and ready to hit the famous Green Welly Stop in Tyndrum for a full cooked breakfast within the best part of 30 mins!
So, that’s the score at 2-1 in my favour when it comes to finishes Vs. DNFs and I have every intention of making it 3-1 next year. The pain and suffering were forgotten almost instantly. Actually, perhaps not the pain (he says, trying to move his legs!) but that will soon pass! It was great to meet up with people, to see some people getting PBs and others complete for the first time.
362 solo runners completed the event with approx 50 DNFs and a similar number who did not start. Times ranged from the winning time of 07:23:11 through to 15:14:49. The final finisher was the legendary Ray McCurdy who, in finishing, completed his 100th ultramarathon!
Hoka One One is the new race sponsor for 2012 and they sent over some of their Pro team to compete in the Fling. The Hoka athletes performed well, especially when you consider that the terrain would have been largely unfamiliar to them. Ludo Pommeret came a close second in the mens race, while Emma Roca came 8th overall and first lady. Going by the number of pairs of Hokas that I saw on Saturday, the brand is really starting to make an impact in the UK.