West Highland Way Race 2015
Two Weeks To Go!
Support Crew Information and Q+A
As it is the 5th of June today, we’re now almost into the two week countdown until The Race. My feelings about this change on not just a day to day basis, but almost by the hour. One moment I’m imagining running the final mile with my crew, running towards the Leisure Centre doors, and find myself overtaken by a wave of happy emotion…the next, I’m dreading the first sections of the race; the flat first 12 miles in the dark, and the long and lonely first 12 hours of the course which I’ve covered so many times I know it in my sleep.
This week I’ve focussed on getting my support crew arrangements tightened up and my race plans drafted for kit, fuel and support. Not working at the moment means I have rather a lot of time on my hands which is both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I would really like a break from thinking about all of this, but I think that’s how it’s going to be for me now until the 22nd of June – eating, breathing, sleeping and living the West Highland Way Race.
Today I’m going to introduce my support crew, and answer the questions about the race and my training which were sent my way after last week’s post. When selecting my support crew it was of the utmost importance that I had the right team on my side, as a good, experienced crew can make a world of difference when you’re deep in the pain hole. That’s not to say you can’t crew for someone if you’re not experienced, but some knowledge of what goes on inside the mind of an ultrarunner and what they need to do to perform at their best is an obvious benefit.
Heading up the team is Captain Kynon. As my husband, Kynon is best placed to know exactly what is going on in my head during good times and bad, and in theory knows the right things to say and do to get me to do what I’m told. That said, he won’t be doing any actual running with me. His job will be to drive the van and be in charge of feeding me and making sure I’m wearing the right kit. There is a school of thought in these races that having your partner closely involved in either your crew or your pacing is not a good plan, as they know you and love you too much. It can be very hard to see your loved ones put yourself through tremendous amounts of pain and be helpless to relieve it. My Mum finds this particularly difficult to bear, which is why my parents aren’t involved in the race at all, as much as I’d like them to be. Kynon is a fantastic organiser though which is why he is Mr Boss Man, and the support running will be left in the charge of two good chums.
Ali will be my first support runner, who will join me from Auchtertyre (50mi) to Glencoe (71mi). I should still be running well at this point and will be really looking forward to having someone to talk to! Ali is a fellow Stonehaven Running Club member and was on the WHW Race Sweep Team last year. He came into running from an orienteering background, but dipped his toe into ultramarathons at the Speyside Way Ultra a couple of years ago.
Mike will be my second support runner, taking over from Ali at Glencoe and running with me until the finish. I crewed for Mike for his first West Highland Way Race in 2011, which I widely credit as being the catalyst to my involvement in the sport of ultrarunning. With his strict, no-nonsense approach to running, I can think of no better individual to make sure I’m on track in the last 20 miles of the race, which will be into my second night of running and uncharted territory in terms of distance for me. Mike’s reputation in ultrarunning now frequently preceeds him; in 2014 he won and set new course records for the Double Cateran 110 mile race, the 73 mile Great Glen Ultra, and the fearsome and notorious 160 mile The Hill Ultra. With that in addition to three West Highland Way Races and one UTMB finish under his belt, he knows what he’s doing and I’m not going to argue with him.
Questions and Answers
Amanda asked: What, if anything, is the best thing you’ve learnt on your journey to WHW race? And do you think once is enough?
It depends when one deems the journey to have started I suppose… I have learned a lot of things since I decided I wanted to do it back in 2011, but in recent months I’ve learned that in training, sometimes less is more. Churning out high mileage month after month does not necessarily make a better runner.
Right now, I don’t want to do it again any time soon! I would like to do it again in a few years, but I am not enjoying how much it has loomed over life in the last few months and I’m looking forward to having a break from thinking about it. I will definitely continue to be involved in the race though!
Jenny asked: What does your strength training normally look like and has it changed in training for this event?
My strength training consists of Body Pump classes, Power Yoga, and weights circuits which I do at home. I’ve wanted to incorporate Olympic lifting as part of it as well, but I don’t have decent facilities nearby. I have done more core work in preparation for this event – your core is extremely important in ultras!
Erin asked: What are you looking forward to the most about the race (other than finishing!) and what is the scariest bit? Also, I know nothing about ultra running apart from what I read on this blog but I know that this race is A Big Deal and very popular – what is it about it that makes it special?
I’m looking forward to running into and leaving Lundavra, the last check point. I know when I’m through there that I’m home safe and nothing will stop me from getting the goblet. The scariest bit for me thinking about it right now, is the last few hours leading up to the start. I am dreading those hours as the ticking of the clock gets louder and louder…
The special part of this race is the people. We talk about the West Highland Way Race Family and mean it; over the years people have built very special bonds being involved with this event and there is no better way to describe it other than a family. The journeys people have been on to reach the start line are phenomenal, and then you have the journeys within the race itself. When you get a bunch of people together who are that passionate and that committed to an event and its success (either runner, support, marshal or other) you create a very special atmosphere. It is a privilege to call myself part of it.
My Mum asked: How are you going to sustain yourself over the 95 miles?
I plan to eat my usual running snacks (crisps, cake bars, cheese, cereal bars, etc.) punctuated with larger snacks at checkpoints such as tubs of custard, Mullerrice, quorn sausages, butteries, sandwiches, and pizza slices. There are also instructions in my crew briefing for an ice lolly at Tyndrum and an order of salty chips at Glencoe!
CJ asked lots of questions:
I’m a balls out omnomnomivore, eating everything in my path: As a vegetarian endurance athlete, do you ever struggle to fuel up? I would also like to know more about your hydration regime.
In a word; no. Not eating meat has never been a concern of mine. Many of the top ultra runners follow various forms of meat-free, vegetarian, vegan, or plant based diets, including Paul Giblin, who holds the West Highland Way Race course record.
As for hydration; I wear a backpack with bladders or soft-flasks filled with water treated with High5 electrolyte tablets. I probably drink less than average as I don’t sweat very much, so I would go through about 500ml in two hours maybe? It depends on heat, of course.
Injuries, you seem to get them (ITB? Ankles? Etc) and just run through them…. How much attention do you pay to your injuries? (I remember one of your blog posts you smooshed your ankle but still had a lot of miles to go?) how did you get through that?
There’s injuries and there’s stuff that hurts. After a while you learn the difference between injury pain and just normal pain. I have had issues with tightness in my ITBs in the past but I manage that through foam rolling and stretching. I’m lucky to have not ever had to recover from a long term injury which has stopped me from running. I rolled my ankle about 23 miles into the Highland Fling once, but I just walked it off once I realised it wasn’t serious; sooner or later everything starts hurting so much that any peripheral pains like that just blend into the background.
What goes through your mind on the starting line? Do you have any quirky rituals?
I’m usually a bit of a nervous runner at the start of an ultra; you try to relax, but like doing anything that’s important to you, there are still butterflies in your stomach. The night before, I like to visualise the course in my mind and run through what I’ll be doing at each checkpoint when I’m lying in bed – that puts my mind to rest so I can get some decent sleep.
Women in ultras all seem to be total badasses, tell me more about the support/lack thereof, camaraderie/competitive edge, sisterly/rivalry from your fellow ultra runners? (Read also: “are the burds decent crek?”)
The women’s field is always radically smaller than the mens in ultras. There’s been a lot of discussion recently as to why, but as usual I think it boils down to a combination of lack of representation for young girls to look up to, and the fact that if you are spending time in your athletic ‘prime’ having babies and rearing a young family, you don’t usually have the time to go and run for 20 hours each week at that time in your life. Many of the ultra ladies I know are a lot older than me and their children have grown up, but this is changing. Every year there are more ladies in their 20s starting. Anyway, I’ve never found the gender imbalance to be an issue, and everyone looks after each other regardless of age or gender. That’s the unwritten rule of ultrarunning – be autonomous, but always look after your fellow runner in need. I’m not fast enough to know about any rivalry or similar first hand, but the concept seems daft thinking of all the fast girls I know.
Do you get lonely when you’re out training? Are you ever afraid you’ll get lost? Or attacked? Or raped and murdered while you’re out there alone? Do you get scared?
This is an unusual set of questions. No, to all of them. I like being alone; I’m an only child and a massive introvert so being alone for hours in the country is what I live for. The concept of being attacked whilst out on the hills is alien to me – I’ve never even considered it. I feel safer in nature than I ever do in a town, day or night. Incidentally most rapes are committed by people who are known to the victim; the concept of a rapist being someone who lies in wait behind a bush for an unsuspecting passer by is by large incorrect. Whilst it’s important to be aware of potential threats, you can’t let fear dominate your life.
Who do you look up to / who is your hero / aspire to be like?
Women like Emelie Fosberg and Rory Bosio who are taking the ultra running world by storm are amazing; they’re beating the guys and mixing up the races which is changing our sport. But it’s normal ladies like Jo Zakrzewski and Debs Martin-Consani who balance a normal working life whilst simultaneously winning the same Scottish events I do, and then going on to representing Scotland and Great Britain in ultra world championships who inspire me the most. It gives life to my daft dreams that there’s still a possibility that one day I can be that good a runner.