Monday, December 1, 2008


Okay - I wrote this a while ago but it's taken some time to get round to putting it on my blog. Sorry it rambles on a bit ...


Fi & I meet up with Gav & Nat at Ian’s house in Kirkie, this gives us a 1st chance to talk through the route as a group. It’s a benefit having Ian there as although he won’t be supporting on the race he did crew for me on the Fling, so his input’s valuable.

Gav, in a typical calculating pilot fashion, works out splits for each checkpoint that will put me on a 24 hour pace. I think he’s being somewhat optimistic, especially in the latter stages when I’m sure I’ll be knackered, but it will give us a rough gauge about my pace.

I make notes for each planned checkpoint about what I’ll be needing, where I’m going to have longer stops, when I’m going to change my shoes, how to mix the electrolyte drink, and we work out a rota for my support runners. Gav will help out initially then we are to be joined at Bridge of Orchy by Jamie and his wife Elaine, so that Jamie can do some of the support running.

Once that’s done we have an hour or so to kill so I go for a shower to try and fool my body into thinking it’s just got up then eat some porridge. Everyone else tries to get some shuteye, it will be a long day.

We arrived at the train station car park at 11.30pm, thinking we were in plenty of time. It would appear that everyone else got there earlier and we struggle to find a place to park. I’m amazed at how busy the briefing is, there seems to be loads of people there crammed into the wee hall and a lot of very fit looking people too.

The Team - Nat, Fi, me & Gav

Once the briefings over it’s back to the car for a last minute check then over to the start line. I’m milling about at the back waiting for the start when suddenly I hear a cheer and the people at the front start running. Crickey we’re off - this is it I’m actually running in the West Highland Way race !

Start to Drymen.

1hr 58mins

A short jog up the high street then it’s into the park and away from civilisation. Running through the park I am relieved to discover that my £8 Tesco head torch is performing well although with the light given off by everyone else I don’t really need it. The first 15 minutes are a busy time for my phone with lots of good luck texts arriving, stupidly I reply to them all whilst running in the dark on a rough track, I was lucky not to trip and injure myself.

I fall into step alongside Andrew a GP from the Borders. Andrew was the guy who some may remember ran the Fling in a kilt, a pretty good effort considering the rain that fell and the absorbency of the garment, although today he’s more traditionally attired. It’s a beautiful still night with a full moon rising behind us and a temperature inversion causing the mist to collect in low points, indeed as we run past Craigallian Loch the mist we’re running through is so dense for a while the torch reflects off it and I can’t see where I’m putting my feet.

Thankfully the stretch at Arlehaven Farm is dry and as we run onto the railway line I meet up with Craig Liddle for the first of what will be many encounters during the day. Craig and I had run together for a stretch at the Fling and we chatted until the Belltree Inn where I lost both my running companions. The checkpoint was mobbed but I was going well and didn’t stop.

I’m not too keen on the next stage along the railway line, the gates are a bit annoying and because it’s single track it’s easy to get stuck behind someone, or even worse, get pushed along too fast. It was here that my expensive headtorch began playing up, I think the batteries started to go which resulted in it flickering at an annoyingly high frequency. It was extremely distracting but my vision was made worse when I looked at something bright such as the horizon or another runners light – it was driving me mental. When I stopped at Drymen (2.58am) I changed from my road shoes into my trail shoes for the stretch over Conic. I also changed the torch batteries and my support crew assured me that it wasn’t flickering but it must’ve been burnt into my retinas because I could still see it !

Drymen – Rowardennan

2hrs 45mins

I was a bit concerned about my trail shoes as they were on their last legs with holes in the sides and that stupid Salomon lacing system ready to break, but they were dead comfy so I wasn’t taking the risk of trying a new pair on this run – it would be difficult enough without having to contend with blisters.

The run through Garadhban Forest was a bit of a low point. I ran with a few others including Lynne Kuz who I would also see on and off a lot during the day ahead. I was quite tired as dawn approached in the run up to Conic, my body’s clearly not used to this level of activity at this time of day (my wife still insists on calling it Chronic Hill, which I feel is much more appropriate).

As we cleared the forest about 03.30am, much to my eyes relief, I was able to switch the torch off. The climb over Conic Hill wasn’t too bad I took it quite easy walking and chatting with Dave Bell ( I think that’s who it was). Looking back at the photos taken by my support crew I presume the view from the top of Conic Hill was superb, but I have absolutely no recollection of it. On the descent Dave ran off but I’d taken the decision beforehand to walk off the hill (I ran off it in the Fling and my quads and hips really suffered until Rowardennan) I figured that taking a couple of minutes longer in the descent would pay dividends later on.

Fi phoned to tell me that the car was parked in the same place it was during the Fling which made it lot easier to find because when I arrived there was a sea of vehicles in the world’s largest car park.

Stopped at Balmaha Car Park

I had a drink of lucozade and took a Golden Syrup sandwich which had been made the night before so that the syrup had now crystallized turning it into the worlds driest sandwich, but I needed the fuel so forced it down anyway.

Sauntering off from Balmaha

Thanks to the walk off Conic I felt much stronger on this leg this time round. On the Fling I’d struggled to keep up with my fellow runners on this stage this time round I found myself at the head of a long line of runners and gradually left them behind. The Buckfast Brigade camped by the loch were an interesting addition and not marked on the map, although they looked like they had been up all night too so were fairly subdued, and probably somewhat surprised at the sight of all these runners running through their encampments.

The stretch up to Sallochy is fairly non-descript, but I really like the path after turning off the road where it winds through the pine forest. Thankfully someone had been out with a tin of blue paint and placed arrows on the ground – thank you whoever you were, without your assistance I would have been lost on a more that one occasion, although your comments such as “nearly there” and “not far now” I can only presume related to Rowardennan and not the finish line.

Running past Lucy, who was on a deck chair at a random point in the forest she informed me I was in 19th place. This was way better than I thought I was doing and I wish she hadn’t told me as now I felt under a bit of pressure to maintain my decent position.

View up Loch Lomond – that’s where I’m heading then another 50ml !

I felt strong as I approached Rowardennan but about 200m out I first noticed the midgies, they hadn’t featured at all until that point but as I me the support crew (suitably attired in their anti-midgie headgear) they got really bad. I had planned a leisurely stop here but it was too uncomfortable to stand still so a quick application of Skin-so-Soft (does anyone actually use this as a moisturiser ?) a pot of rice pudding, a banana and a refill of fluids and I was off again.

Nat’s midgie defences

Skin so soft moment

Rowardennan – Tyndrum

6hrs 2 mins

On leaving Rowardennan I passed Craig again, he hadn’t stopped and was walking with his girlfriend, eating a pot of rice on the hoof – very impressive. I hung back and waited for him and we ran along the track together chatting all the way to Inversnaid. I quite enjoy this section and it flew by, my knee had given me a bit of pain on the descents along here on the Fling, but today was problem free. The midgies were an issue though, I tried running with sunglasses on to keep them out my eyes, but that was worse as they steamed so I couldn’t see anything.

Inversnaid was torture, the air was thick with midgie (makes me itch just thinking about it now) you couldn’t even breathe without inhaling them. I wasn’t really hungry but forced down another pot of rice pudding – still had a long day ahead – but this meant standing still in the clouds of flies, I couldn’t eat it quick enough. It was made worse watching Craig run off into the trees whilst I had to stand still and suffer. Well done to the Trossachs SART for surviving there all day – thank you.

Maybe I’m a little perverse but I quite like the stretch between Inversnaid and the head of the loch. Yes, it’s tricky underfoot and yes, you can’t get into any rhythm but it’s pretty scenic and physically not too demanding. However on the stretch between Doune and Ardleish my knee began to niggle and I was beginning to toil. I had no ibuprofen with me and I wasn’t due to meet my team until Derrydarroch Farm.

This was another low point for me as I watch Craig disappear effortlessly into the distance then I was passed by 2 other runners running together, one of whom may have been John Kynaston. At this point I did feel like the end was a very, very long way away.

The track after Beinglas Farm I recalled went on a bit and I was passed by a few more runners but eventually I saw the welcome sight of DerryD Farm (arriving at 9.35am) and my crew. I stopped long enough to change my t-shirt, top up my drink and wolf down some Ibuprofen !

I was soon off again and found the stretch along the A82 to Keilator Farm much easier and seemed to take less time than in the Fling and thankfully it was dry. Maybe it was the psychosomatic effect of seeing the team and the pills but I felt much better very quickly, but I was still dreading the stretch through Ewich Forest as the descent almost killed me in the Fling, but once I started it felt much better with no pain in the quads or knees - walking instead of running off Conic is definitely the way to go.

Because of the state I’d been in at Derrydarroch me support runner had run back a short distance into the forest to make sure I was alright. It was refreshing to have some company again and by the time I’d arrived at Auchtertyre Farm I felt like a new man.

I could’ve carried on running but forced myself to stop, so after being weighed I gratefully accepted the offer of a baked potato, was fed a had a pot of rice pudding and a rice crispy cake by Fi & Nat, then set off again. This time I had Gav with me as a support runner I didn’t see there being any chance of me making the top 10 so I planned to have a support runner with me most of the way till the finish.

The path up to Tyndrum is quite pleasant and it didn’t take too long to get there plodding along and chatting. I arrived in Tyndrum at 11.45am, total running time of 10 hours 45 minutes, 15 minutes inside my target time. I felt a bit of apprehension as I approached the Fling finish line, once I’d crossed it I was into unchartered territory – this was the furthest I’d ever run ……….

Tyndrum – Victoria Bridge

2hrs 2mins

There is a deceptive climb out of Tyndrum but once it’s out the way then it’s just a slog along the track to Bridge of Orchy which I don’t really remember too much about. Although as we neared the point where the track crosses the railway my other support runner Jamie and his wife Elaine drove past on their way to meet the support team at BoO. He pulled over in a lay-by and a shouted conversation took place between us.

It wasn’t a long stretch and BoO arrived before too long (1.05pm) I took on more water and a change of support runner – it was Jamie’s turn now. My original support team were now heading off to the Kings House for a bar meal and some shuteye whilst Elaine would meet Jamie and me at Victoria Bridge, collect Jamie, drive round to Blackrock Cottage, drop Jamie off then he would run back to meet me.

The climb up Mam Carraigh wasn’t too bad, if I was going uphill I was walking and if I was walking I was getting a break from running. The descent however was a struggle, my knee was beginning to play up again as the drugs wore off. I hobbled down to Victoria Bridge (1.47pm) where I changed back into my road shoes and tried to bully Elaine into giving me 2 more ibuprofen but Fi had been in touch with her Dad who was a GP and he had told her if I take too much they stop having an effect so I should only take 1 at a time to top up, so that was all I got – one.

Victoria Bridge – Kings House

2 hrs 0mins

Because my knee had been playing up and because he was keen to do it Jamie volunteered to stay with me over Rannoch Moor. I wasn’t sure how he’d get on, as you’ll see from the photos (he was repeatedly referred to by the other support teams as the “bare Chested Man”) he wasn’t built for endurance events ! But as it transpired the next stage was my worst of the day and I was exceedingly glad of the company.

I hadn’t realised from the map just what an incline it is out of Victoria Bridge but it meant that I could walk a fair bit. The miles over Rannoch Moor were pretty low, the track stretches out for miles infront like the great wall of China and I could see runners all along its length infront of me, especially Lynne Kuz’s orange shoes.

I was flagging here and had to look at the ground directly at my feet, but that made my eyelids unbelievably heavy, which I could only resolve by looking into the distance but this meant that I couldn’t see where I was putting my feet - it was heavy going and I’ve never felt like falling asleep whilst running before. I just kept plugging away and chatting to Jamie (don’t ask me what we talked about ?) and eventually Black Rock and the Kings House came into view.

I ran through Blackrock waving to Craig who was sitting down stuffing his face and Jamie phoned ahead asking for a VERY strong sugary coffee to be made for my arrival – I needed caffine.

Approaching Kingshouse with the “Bare Chested Man”

Apparently the scenery was stunning …

I arrived at Kings House (3.47pm) absolutely knackered and took my only seat of the day. I sat and stared into space drinking my large thick coffee as the team buzzed efficiently around me. I took onboard some food but I don’t remember what it was, you could’ve asked me 10 seconds after leaving the checkpoint and I still wouldn’tve been able to tell you. At 12 minutes this was my longest stop of the day.

My only seat

Once back into my trail shoes I was off, this time with Gav as support, heading towards the Devils Staircase.

Kings House - Kinlochleven

2hrs 9 mins

After sitting down for the first time it took a couple of hundred metres to get going again but once I did I felt great – it was amazing how refreshed I felt after that stop I was like a new man. The plod along to the foot of the Devil’s Staircase didn’t seem to take that long and before I knew it I was staring up at the dreaded climb. I had no idea how much of a climb there was and how I would cope with it at this stage of the day.

Foot of the Devils Staircase

To be honest the climb wasn’t too bad we walked up fairly easily and didn’t stop. The descent however was much longer than I’d envisaged. During the descent my toes began to give me bother they’d been rubbing against each other all day and now they were blistering. The only thing I could do was to stop and rub Vaseline between them which would ease the discomfort for a wee while.

Once we arrived on the track down from the pipeline I was flying, purely because of gravity – man that slope’s steep, it was quite painful. Near the bottom I encountered Craig again for about the 100th time that day which is just as well because the route at the bottom is not clear and I didn’t know where I was going so thanks for shouting Craig.

Approaching Kinlochleven checkpoint

Into Kinlochleven (5.56pm) where my weight was measured again and I think I changed my t-shirt as well as my support runner – it was Jamie’s turn once more. I had bite to eat and a new water bottle and I was off again all in under 4 minutes. I was in 15th place at this point but didn’t have a clue and if my support team knew they weren’t letting on !

Kinlochleven - Lundavara

1hr 45mins

The climb out of Kinlochleven was a surprise. I was glad I hadn’t looked at the map in too much detail beforehand, sometimes ignorance is bliss. By now I had the bit between the teeth and with Jamie providing the encouragement the ascent didn’t seem to take too long.

Once I was up and shuffling along the floor of the glen I suddenly felt very cold, so the WHW buff got it’s first outing to keep my head warm. Jamie, as he had insisted on doing all day much to the spectators amusement, remained topless. I recall the track here is probably the worst underfoot terrain of the whole route and I had to concentrate on my foot placement. A bust ankle now would have been disastrous.

The Lundavara checkpoint arrived sooner than I thought it would and as I rounded the corner I could see a group of people standing at the fire, although I didn’t recognise any of them. I then heard a shout of “Cummon Gavie !” which I recognised as Gaynor, my sister. Gaynor had travelled up from Dundee with my Mum to watch me finish.

As I approached the checkpoint (7.41pm) I was completely ‘in the zone’ and only managed a quick hello to my support as I didn’t want to stop and was itching to get going. Gav took over the support running again and I remember shouting at him to leave his torch, because we were definitely going to be finishing in daylight.

Lundavara – Finish

1hr 13 mins

As soon as we started the last leg I went past a chap who was obviously in a great deal of discomfort (sorry I don’t know who he was). He was complaining of a pained knee and I offered him some ibuprofen but he declined replying that he was full of tablets and couldn’t take any more.

As I ran through the never ending forest I realised that I had not studied the map and didn’t know how far the last leg was. It was only at this point (1845 hours running time) I realised that, barring disasters, I would break 24 hours. I even ventured to think maybe under 22 hours if I ran well.

We were going great and as we came to the clearing which gave us a view down Glen Nevis I realised that it was pretty much all downhill from here to the finish. No sooner had we started out downhill run we were faced with a detour. I don’t know this bit of the route so I was slightly worried, how much will it add ? what if it’s not well signed ? will we get lost ? Thankfully it was a short detour and was easy to follow bringing us out at a hairpin bend in the forestry track.

As we dropped onto the track thoughts of a sub-21 hours now filled my head. I saw the blue of a running top in the distance, who I now know to be John Kynaston. On hitting the track my pace had increased and we were motoring. I used John as a hare to spur me on and we closed him down quite quickly.

Unbeknown to me John was in 10th place so passing him now put me in 10th therefore Gav should have dropped out as those in the top 10 are not permitted support runners. It never even crossed my mind that I would be so far up the field so we kept on running.

I did not know how far we had to go and earlier overly ambitious thoughts that maybe a sub-20 hour may have been on sneaked into my mind. It was now looking unlikely and, as I did not want to miss out on it by seconds, my pace eased a little. I then looked over to my immediate right and saw the Glen Nevis campsite through the trees. I knew that it was possible to walk into Ft Bill in around 20 minutes from there and I had been running for 19 hours and 40 minutes. Surely a sub-20 hours wasn’t going to be on the cards after all.

The pace was upped again and Gav did well to keep up, I was putting every last ounce of effort I had into this run now. I was concentrating on not tripping and keeping up my pace, but at the same time my mind was trying to work out how long I had actually been running for and if I had done my sums correctly.

We came down through the Braveheart Car Park then all of a sudden we were on the road at about 19 hours 50 minutes ish. I couldn’t remember how long this road went on for so I was really pushing it now, I was not going to miss a sub-20 hours. As we ran along the road Fi drew alongside in a car and rolled down the window screaming “Keep going, you’re nearly there !” Thanks for pointing that out Fi - what else was I going to do ! I wasn’t really able to reply as for the first time that day I was REALLY out of breath.

Nearly there...

I then saw the 30 mph signs at Fort William and with 8 minutes to go I knew sub-20 was in the bag. I surprised my self and upped my pace even more, I was pumped with adrenaline and had goose bumps all over my body.

Fi, Mum & Gaynor looking expectantly

On arriving at the Leisure Centre car park, I realised that I didn’t have a clue where I was going. My support team pointed me in the direction of the doors and bang ! I hit them to stop the clock at 19 hours 54 minutes dead. On passing through the doors I was confronted by a quaich full of whisky – lovely, just what I really wanted.

This time was way beyond anything I’d realistically ventured to think about. If I’m being honest deep down I had probably hoped to get under 24 hours but didn’t know if I would be capable of it. Also to my utter disbelief I had finished in 10 TH PLACE !! A top ten finish I was stunned.

The Aftermath

The immediate aftermath is a distant blur as I walked about in a daze. I can remember taking photos in the Leisure Centre car park with my team, mum and sister then think I wandered off and abandoned them – sorry, I hope it didn’t seem too ignorant. The massage was fantastic and because there were 3 masseuses and not very many finishers they were able to take there time so I lay there for ages (this definitely helped with my recovery in the following days).

Me & my 2 support runners

Gaynor, Mum, me & Fi

Through the last couple of miles I really dug deep and found huge reserves of determination that I did not know I had by thinking about how ill I’d been just 6 months before, it felt like the equivalent of having done an extra 20-30 miles a week in training. I also wanted to show people that I was better and maybe once and for all everybody that I met would stop asking how I was feeling (I know it’s all well intentioned however it was getting a bit weary being asked it after 9 months on every occasion I meet someone). This shows in my times as surprisingly I was definitely faster towards the end, covering the 2nd last leg 5th fastest and the last leg in 1hr 13min dead, the fastest split on that leg.

Once I’d showered and changed I had a cup of tea with my Mum and sister before they headed back to Dundee unaware of the road conditions that awaited them. I headed back up Glen Nevis to the campsite where my tent had already been pitched and managed a solitary beer before the tiredness began to set in.

I’m sleepy, but Fi’s still smiling as always, even after being awake for over 40hrs !

The weather was changing for the worse as it got dark and I was thankful to be finished. I lay down in the tent and the next thing I knew it was morning. When I struggled out the tent the next morning it was pouring with rain and the wind had been so strong during the night that one of the tent’s poles had snapped and punctured my flysheet – I had been oblivious. Maximum respect for those that kept going through that during the darkness.

I wanted a group photo of me and the team infront of the sign at the end so we all lined up and asked a couple group of passing people if they would oblige and take our photo. Unfortunately this was the last competitor, Rab Muir a fellow Dundonian, accompanied by his support and the sweeper, who informed us that he was in a race, but the sweeper took our photo then ran to catch up. Fiona and I jumped in our car and managed to get down to the finish to cheer him in.

The full team at the end of the Way –Gav, Nat, Fi, Jamie, me & Elaine

The presentation was a great event, everyone who finished deserved recognition and that’s what they got. It was a demonstration of Dario’s dedication to the event that he knew something about every one of the finishers. Thankfully he only made mention of the fact that I’d never done anything like this before and despite knowing about it didn’t mention my treatment – I didn’t want to appear like some sort of X Factor contestant who had the obligatory sob story.

Getting my hard earned goblet from Dario

Speaking to Dario afterwards I recall telling him how much I enjoyed it but that I didn’t think I would be doing it again. Now I’ve had time to reflect a couple of months after the race I still get a buzz from the thought of it the entry will be going in for 2009.

Thank You

Finally a big thanks once again to everyone that helped :

Fiona for her support and good humour during my training and the race itself, that must be the longest you’ve ever stayed awake !

Gav & Jamie for the support running, it was definitely a factor in my time I would have been much slower on my own, but would you do it again if you knew what was involved ? And Jamie if you do for the sake of others bring a t-shirt !

Nat for the support and being team photographer & Elaine for her support, but next time I ask for an ibuprofen ignore the doctor and give it to me !

Mum & Gaynor for travelling up from Dundee just to cheer me on at the end (although Gav & Nat drove up from Falmouth just for the race then drove back down the road on Sunday morning – amazing).

1 comment:

  1. Excellent report Gavin! I'm glad you finally put it on your blog. Well worth reading.

    See you soon