Red Wine Runner

A Scottish Running Blog

Tag: ultramarathon (page 1 of 19)

Ultramarathon Training | January Round Up

We’ve reached the end of the first month of 2017, skidding to a halt in the midst of a changing world which twelve months ago many of us would find unfathomable. Twelve months ago I wasn’t up to much; staggering through a pretty hefty dose of the January blues and trotting around Stonehaven every so often if I could find the motivation. However I’m really pleased to report that this year I’ve had a great start to year in terms of training, and I think the tide is finally beginning to turn on the slump that I’ve been in for months. Here’s what went down!

Lunch Running – #Runch

We’ve been blessed with extraordinarily good weather in Edinburgh this January, making it easier than ever to log off from my computer and head out of the office for an hour or so of running. From my central Edinburgh location I’ve enjoyed tempo jaunts along the Union Canal, speed reps around the Meadows, and adventures on the ‘Inner Tube‘ routes out to the Coast. I’ve been aiming to get out at lunch on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and most weeks managing two of the planned runs and shifting the other to an evening.

A need for speed

I’m getting faster again! I’m seeing my splits on ‘easy paced’ runs get shorter and that pace feeling a lot easier. The sense of relief at running becoming less of a struggle is amazing, and I’m so glad to be enjoying myself again. I’ve lost a little weight and got some of my running form back, and it all seem to be coming together again. It’s remarkable what some commitment and consistency can do.

Long Runs

There were four weekends in January and I smashed a Long Run on each of them. Week 1 was an 11 mile / 11 mile back to back on roads, Week 2 was 18 snowy trail miles in Stonehaven, Week 3 was a 20 mile solo road run, and Week 4 was a 26.3 mile micro-ultra at the West Highland Way Race training weekend at Balmaha. I was really pleased with the 20 miler as I maintained a good steady pace and finished strongly – I wanted to do this to test my road legs and my endurance to benchmark ahead of the D33. I completed it in 3hrs 16 minutes, which is pretty much exactly where I want to be for aiming for a 5 hour D33 finish. The West Highland Way run was tough and took me 6 hours, but it was a great (albeit wet) day out.

Trail Running

Two of my Long Runs have been in two of my favourite places to run this January. Here are some shots which I’ve shared on Instagram; are we following each other over there? If not, then head on over to @rhinomittens.

stonehaven fetteresso snow

stonehaven fetteresso snow

stonehaven fetteresso snow

18 sunrise miles on snowy trails in Fetteresso Forest

loch lomond

milarrochy tree

loch lomond

26.3 miles on the West Highland Way by Loch Lomond

So the running has been good so far – a total of 156 miles ran, which is my highest monthly total since FEBRUARY 2015. My highest monthly mileage in 2016 was 104 in July, and whilst I ran 175 miles in February 2015, in the rest of that year my highest monthly total was only 135. This represents some serious change, and I am delighted to finally share this with you.

Other Things

It was the Stonehaven Running Club prizegiving ceilidh and I (somehow) achieved a bronze standard award for my running achievements in 2016. This means I completed 4 formal events of which 1 must be a minimum of 10k, and two of which must be over 55% WAVA. I completed 5 events and my two over 55% were a 25:03 parkrun in January which scored 59.03% WAVA, and the Stonehaven Half Marathon in 1hr 56m 28s, which netted a 56.59% WAVA.

stonehaven running club ceilidh 2017

I would like to aspire to achieve a Silver standard like I did in 2014, but rather controversially the standards have been made far more strict since then, which makes a Silver standard a bit more out of reach for your moderately average Senior runner. Ironically my best chance of a Silver is to stick to short events – 1 Mile, 3k, and 5k; so perhaps this summer I will do the Sri Chinmoy short races in the Meadows. And try not to throw up afterwards.

Mikeller Running Club

In my last post I mentioned that I went along to a new running group. but then I failed to follow up on the promised details. Apologies; I moved house recently and these things rarely go smoothly alongside normal life, and I also had some major PHP database issues with my website hosting recently, but that’s not very interesting to read about. Anyway; I went along to the Edinburgh branch of the Mikeller Running Club in January and really enjoyed meeting some new people. They are sponsored by the Danish brewery, meet once a month, go for a run, and then finish at their ‘Clubhouse’ (local craft beer bar) for a few drinks. Sounds perfect, yes? They also have Chapters all over the world where you will always be welcomed to join in if you’re visiting. The next run in Edinburgh is this Saturday, and you can find out more here.

So what’s next?

Other than my first 11/11 back to back, I haven’t completed any proper ultramarathon training back-to-back runs. This has been because I’ve noticed that lately I’ve taken a little longer to recover from Long Runs than I used to – this is hardly surprising as I’ve taken more than a year off from tough training. I’m not an idiot, and as much as I love seeing the miles clock up, I’m aware I need to be wise as I re-introduce training to my routine which my body has temporarily forgotten about. I’ve been feeling a lot more fatigued after Long Runs, and my legs have been stiff – which is quite normal for most people, so I’m not concerned!

In February I’m going to reintroduce back-to-back weekend runs and see how it feels. I’ve got another 11/11 easy planned this weekend, then three more weekends of 26, 28 and 20 mile Long Runs before a two week taper for the D33. The 26 is actually 26.2 and a trial of a trail marathon event Stonehaven Running Club is hoping to launch next year, and the 28 will be the traditional Stonehaven – Balmakewan road run, ending with lots of cake.

This will all be supported by lots of yoga, foam rolling, and sensible food and drink choices (I’m remembering how much better treats taste when you know you’ve solidly earned them, and I like it!). I’ve done a lot of work in the last month, so if I can do it all again this month then I’ll be skidding to a halt at the start of the D33 in great shape.

How is your training going?

When is your first 2017 race?

What is your favorite treat after a big effort? I love a big breakfast the morning after a Long Run

Shopping For Races!

It’s the time of year when runners everywhere are looking beyond the Festive season and well into 2017 in order to plan their racing year ahead. After an unstructured year in 2016 (in more ways than one!) I have embraced forward planning once more, and thrown myself and my credit card full-heartedly into ‘ballot season’ this year. Here’s what I’ve got planned so far:

The D33 Ultramarathon – March 11th

d33 ultra
Surprise, surprise; I’ll be kicking off my 2017 season with my first and favourite festival of flat racing, the D33. This will be my 5th (whaaat?!) crack at this race and I have an early, flexible goal of getting under 5 hours. It’s not open yet, but when it does I’ll be ready to commit.

The John Muir 50k – April 1st

john muir ultra

A new-to-me race which is a mere 20 minute train-hop away from Central Edinburgh. I’m looking forward to trying a new route and will enjoy a gentle jog around this one.

The Cateran Trail Ultramarathon 55 Miler – May 13th

cateran trail ultra

I am so excited to run this race for the second time. When I ran it in 2014 I had the toughest ultra experience I had ever endured at the time, and had to push through a challenging amount of pain and mental difficulties. I’m very hopeful that I’ll be in much better shape and will cruise to a massive PB.

The Strathearn Marathon – June 11th

strathearn marathon

I was getting a bit click-happy on Entry Central and saw this one was open, so I thought ‘why not?’. I had a great time this year, and now I know the course I will be able to execute a strong race as my last long run before the…

Great Glen Ultramarathon – 30th June/1st July

Glreat Glen Ultra logo

I haven’t entered this one yet, as I’m not made of money and between Christmas and these race entries I am haemorraging my pay check. Thankfully it fills up slowly, so this one will be on my entry list come January. Much like with the Cateran, I’ll be looking to improve on my 2014 time. That year I struggled with an ITB injury from 20 miles in and eventually made it home in 17 hours 40mins. I can do a lot better.

Devil o’the Highlands – August probably, not open yet.

Devil o the Highlands Footrace

This is another race which I feel I have unfinished business with. I’d like to race it rather than run it, and see how I perform on the top half of the West Highland Way. My instinct is twitching at me saying that this is maybe too much and that I should leave it ’til another year, but I’ll make that decision when entry opens next year. Unfortunately it looks very likely that entry will be via a ballot system, which is the fairest way to do things, but makes planning that little bit harder when the decision on whether you get to run or not is taken out of your hands.

Glenmore 24 – 2nd September

g24header

Both Kynon and I are signed up for our second crack at the 12 hour event. I was briefly tempted by the new challenge of the 24, but I remember how utterly glad I was to finish after 12 hours in 2014 and can’t see that changing this year. I’d like to reach 60 miles – I came close-ish in 2014, but I lost the will to live in the last 2 hours and stopped pushing for speed as it was cold and wet and I basically had trenchfoot.

Chicago Marathon – 8th October

bank_of_america_chicago_marathon_logo-svg

Yet another World Marathon Major ballot to be rejected from… what can I say? I’m just going to keep trying and sooner or later I will be allocated a place or will get fast enough for a Good For Age place. At the rate I’m going at, I think I have more chance of casually bashing out a 3:45 than getting a General Ballot place for any World Major… (this is me attempting to tempt fate one way or the other)


That’s about as far ahead into the future that I can see right now. If, as I predict, I am unsuccessful in the Chicago ballot, then I am quite interested in taking a little trip to Hamburg for their marathon in April. It’s flat, and if I hit it healthy and hard, then a PB might be in order. If it’s enough to score a London Good For Age time, then you’ll finally hear the end of my griping about the London Ballot!

In all seriousness though, I do need to address my soft marathon PB which at 3:58:30 is now over three years old. I have progressed so much as a runner in the intervening years and I haven’t trained ‘properly’ for a long road race since then, due to my desire for distance being greater than speed. I know the endurance work I’ve done since 2013 can translate into a great marathon time if I apply the correct targeted training, so I’m keeping everything crossed that the ballot fairies say yes to RedWineRunner in Chicago. If not, then race shopping in Europe shall commence!

Fingers crossed!

What have you got planned for 2017?
Are you waiting on any ballot results?
Where should I go in Europe to run?

 

Edinburgh Life

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m writing this from my couch in Stonehaven with day two of the Olympics playing on television in the background. I should be basking in a post-run glow,  having just completed my last long run before the Speyside Way Ultra, but instead I’m feeling a little queasy and quite frankly, a little traumatised, after suffering a great disagreement with some food I ate last night. I thought I’d take this rare opportunity of spare time to write a catch-up post and attempt to compensate for my inconsistent blogging of late.

edinburgh castle

Life in Edinburgh

I’ve been living in Edinburgh for a little over two months now and have settled in to my new job well. I work in the city centre and have been enjoying walking three miles to and from work every day, exploring the opportunities that my new location has on offer, and soaking up the amazing atmosphere which Edinburgh is famous for. It is not without its challenges however, and now that initial sheen of excitement of living a new city has worn off,  working through various issues is testing my patience at times.

forth road bridge

The biggest frustration is that I am still living in Edinburgh by myself; I’m not sure that I’ve mentioned that here, but Kynon is still working in Aberdeen and living in Stonehaven with Saskia. I get the train down to Edinburgh at 6am on a Monday and arrive back in Stonehaven at 9pm on a Friday. It is a tiresome lifestyle which has presented considerable barriers to truly settling into my new city and making new friends. After commuting, work, and training has been done, there is no time to do anything else but eat and go to bed.

edinburgh

That makes me sound very disciplined, but as anyone who might follow my Strava account would know,  I’ve not been running all that much!  So far for me, 2016 has been the summer of bugs… the first two weeks I was in Edinburgh I had a nasty cold with a cough that took ages to shake, and then a couple of weeks after that I caught another cold which turned into a chest infection which took two weeks to clear. It has been so frustrating and I feel like my fitness has really taken a hit with a lack of consistent training.

Speyside Way Ultra Training

My ‘goal’ race this summer is the Speyside Way, and I’d been hoping to train strongly over the summer in hope of being able to claim a huge PB. Last year I ran it conservatively as I ran the Fare Challenge the next day, so there is a big chunk to come off my time. However, my training has been severely impacted by having two periods of illness, and has lost all sense of direction. I had written a plan for myself to include speed and hills each week as well as an easy run and a back-to-back at the weekend, but I’ve been lucky to complete even half of my scheduled sessions and there has certainly been no speedwork to speak of.

In terms of long runs this summer, Kynon and I ran to Musselburgh and back one Saturday for a 20 mile run, but I had to bail at 14.5 miles due to my chest infection.

edinburgh

We had a successful 24 mile run from Stonehaven to Aberdeen via Drumoak.

edinburgh

We attempted a Pentland Skyline run (16 miles) in lieu of the Fort William Marathon (*more on that below) but ended up cutting the route short at 4.5 miles because it was just.so.damn.hard and I wasn’t coping with the massive elevation. In total the run came in at about 8.5 miles in two and a half hours. I was so disappointed and embarrassed – the route just chewed me up and spat me out, and provided a sharp reminder of what poor shape I’m in right now.

pentland skyline

And then there was today’s planned 20 miles on road, which has just not happened. Thankfully, after 15 ultramarathon finishes, I am blessed with the kind of daft confidence which means I know I will still complete the race, but I didn’t want to just ‘complete’ this one. I will give it everything I’ve got, but I suspect my performance may not be anything to write home about. I finished in 7 hours and 4 minutes last year; I was hoping to take an hour off my time and perhaps even duck under 6 hours…

* Unfortunately I was unable to use my place in the Fort William Marathon because of accommodation difficulties, and big issues with transport. I have no car down in Edinburgh and ScotRail ever so kindly were striking on the day of the race. There was really no way to make it work, so I had to email my apologies and DNS the race 🙁

Where do I go from here?

I feel like a bit of a lost at the moment, as I have done for much of the last year. It is very hard not to compare myself to where I was X months ago and long to be that thinner, faster version of myself. After 8 months of unemployment, I’ve not been in a good place mentally or physically for quite a while and I need to recognise that coming back from that cannot happen overnight. I know I’m going in the right direction with a new job and a new career, but it really doesn’t help that the circumstances under which that is happening means I am living apart from my husband and all that is dear to me. It is making it really hard to move on when I’ve still got one foot stuck in a different city, but that’s just how it has to be right now.

Obviously Edinburgh offers a wealth of fitness opportunities and I have been paying attention to what is happening, even if I haven’t trying anything new yet. I have chosen a running club to try out however I haven’t made it along to a session yet due to my colds, but I think this week might be the week I’m ready to put my brave pants on and go and meet some new runners. Also this week and throughout the rest of August, the Edinburgh Lululemon store is running free lunchtime fitness classes to celebrate the festival. I work just around the corner so it’s a perfect location, and doing something a bit different (like Piloxing or Voga!) will be fun.

There is also the crazy concept that is ‘Project Awesome‘. A free fitness class on top of Calton Hill every Wednesday morning…at 6:30am. I really like the idea but I just can’t see how I can make it work with that early start. My Achilles heel in fitness is my hatred of early mornings – in fact, if only I could train myself to do my running before work (perhaps even running to work) then I could free up my evenings to enjoy Edinburgh a bit more. I’ve said a few times – I wish I could clone myself so I could join an evening class or a musical group, and still keep up my (meagre attempts at) training, but the only way around that is to embrace early morning exercise…

To conclude; I’m not really sure what I’m doing next, but I know I’m looking forward to Speyside in two weeks and I’m beginning to think about 2017 races too. Preliminary thoughts are perhaps a repeat of 2014, with a D33/Fling/Cateran build up to the Great Glen Ultra, with hopefully a road marathon in there too. I’ve entered both London and Tokyo Marathon ballots, so when the inevitable rejections come through for them, then I will look at some other options around Europe for marathon fun.

edinburgh

Have you ever had to live and work apart from your partner?
Are you an early morning runner? 
Have you entered any 2017 races yet?

West Highland Way Race 2016 – Support Crew Race Report

West Highland Way Race 2016
The West Highland Way Race 2016
Support Crew Report

My 2016 has been…interesting so far, so in the end it was no surprise that the 2016 West Highland Way Race ended up being a bit of a strange one for me. I decided quite quickly after my own West Highland Way Race in 2015 that I didn’t want to come back for a second attempt in 2016, so I hoped that I would be able to support someone else to achieve their goals at the race this year instead. When the time came to put crews together, I agreed to support my friend Jemma in her first attempt to claim the goblet. As it happened, 2016 was not to be her West Highland Way Race year, so in May I found myself potentially missing the race for the first time in 5 years. It was around then that a Jury summons arrived in the mail for Kynon, messing up any potential plans for this most important of annual events even more. If selected, his presence would be required in Aberdeen High Court at 8:30am the morning after the race and of course the way the UK judicial system works, you call up the court the night before you are required to find out if the case is still scheduled to start on time. Hugely frustrating, but we wouldn’t even be certain if he would need to attend court until the very last minute. Everything was up in the air.

Enter Steve. Steve comes from Los Angeles and was heading over to Scotland for his second attempt at the West Highland Way Race, after DNFing with hypothermia at the same point in last year’s race which nearly ruined me. Steve needed a crew and put out a shout in the West Highland Way Race Family Facebook group, asking for some local assistance. I was more than happy to help and put myself in touch with him immediately to see if we could work something out.

It took quite an exchange of emails before the final plan was made, but the important thing was; at around 8pm on Friday the 17th June, Steve’s team assembled in Milngavie to start a big adventure. There was myself, Jemma, Patrick, and an Astra hatchback stuffed full of supplies, ready for the journey ahead.

West Highland Way Race 2016

In short, we had a (dreadful) meal at the Milngavie West Highland Gate Beefeater (they’ve changed the menu since last year and the service was a horror show) before heading to Tesco to stock up on food. Next was registration, then the usual dance of hellos, hugs and well-wishes before we put Steve to bed in the car to rest for a bit and joined Mike, Jeni, and Sharon (David Scott’s crew) to chill out and chat in the last hour before the off.

It was amazing to be back at the race, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t harbouring a few nerves. Whilst I have supported twice before, I’ve never been 100% in charge of a crew, and indeed, someone’s race. Jemma and Patrick were newbies to the race – which is no impediment if you’re smart, committed, and in possession of an enduring spirit – but in general everyone will do better if there’s someone in your crew who knows what they’re doing and can take the lead.

At 12.30am we got Steve to the start and joined the Midnight hubbub of activity. Alongside the crowd of around 500 people there was the usual confused amazement of those alighting from the last train back from Glasgow, and an assortment of local neds scooting around getting in everyone’s way. I caught up with the Stonehaven Running Club crew and wished them all well, and managed to get around most other friends to deliver hugs and well wishes. It brought a lot of memories back. It was hard to believe that I was one of the runners 365 days before, but it was not the time to dwell on those meandering thoughts.

After the briefing we said our final goodbyes and took up a good position on the High Street in Milngavie to shout and cheer our loudest for the runners. It was the most perfect night – about 15C, clear skies, and with a full moon hanging above the hills. If you’re going to pick a night to run though – this was it.

A ripple of cheers flowed up from down the street as the runners came towards us. Headlights dancing, eyes bright and faces stretched with smiles. They were doing it! It was actually happening! As my eyes brimmed with tears and I screamed and hollered for them, for a moment I was one of them again. Running up a Scottish high street on Midsummer’s eve into the darkness, and towards the hills.

But, this isn’t about me. This is about Steve who came to Scotland from California to avenge the demons he left behind on the Lhairig Mhor in 2015. Steve wasn’t sure how fast he was going to run, which made it challenging to work out how best we could crew for him. He declined any assistance until Balmaha at 19 miles which was very useful – it allowed us to drive straight there and attempt to get a little sleep. Together we had previously estimated his arrival at 5am, and alarms were set accordingly…imagine our surprise when the agreed ’10 minute warning’ phone call came at 4am!
This was a little miracle – we had agreed that Steve would call at the top of Conic Hill and my phone was placed on the dashboard in full signal, ready. Except it didn’t ring. I woke up about 4:05am and decided to check the time, only to see a message received from Steve only minutes before. Had my sixth sense not been on the ball that morning them we would have been in trouble, but some things you just can’t explain I guess.

Balmaha at 4am was oddly devoid of midges. No nets were needed and the air was calm and moist – it didn’t make sense at all, but we just got on with the job. For those who had been standing still it was cold, but the runners all came in dripping with sweat. Steve was running fine and with nothing to report, so we just refilled his pockets with gels and his Camelbak with TailWind and off he went. There was one thing which made crewing infinitely easier, which was Steve’s choice of nutrition. Coming from the school of ‘stick with what works’, with a side of ‘keep it simple’ he just eats gels – one GU every 30 minutes and that’s it. No really – that’s really it.

West Highland Way Race 2016

After we saw Steve off, we drove up North for some more sleep after a hot drink and a breakfast roll at the Oak Tree Inn. Here’s where the insider knowledge comes in handy – there is a public car park half way between Balmaha and Beinglas where you can park and rest in peace until you need to meet your runner hours later at Beinglas. No slamming doors, no engines, no chat – just silence. We arrived before 6am and clocked up another chunk of rest, before arriving at Beinglas in glorious sunshine before 8am.

We really had no idea when Steve would arrive, but given his accelerated performance in the first 20 miles I didn’t want to take any risks. It became immediately obvious where all the Balmaha midges were hanging out when we reached the checkpoint area at Beinglas and were instantly swarmed with bugs. Jemma and I wrapped up to defend ourselves whilst we left Patrick to sleep in the car.

West Highland Way Race 2016

Steve came blasting through at about 9:20am looking and feeling well. He had really struggled over the Lochside section in 2015 so getting through that was a big mental hurdle for him. I was very pleased to see how ok he was and began preparing for him to reach the quicker end of his projected potential finish time.

By now it was really shaping up to be the most glorious day – clear skies and hot sun. Glorious if you are a Southern Californian perhaps, but all of our Scottish compatriots were having to seriously consider their options and ration their water in between check points. Not something we’re usually used to doing, but the West Highland Way Race has been well over-due a scorcher for several years. A race in June in Scotland, does not guarantee good weather; in case that was ever in doubt.

West Highland Way Race 2016

So we fast forward another 12 miles to Auchtertyre, and the half way point. We arrived around 10:30 and enjoyed catching up with the other crews with runners around Steve’s pace who were now becoming familiar. We basked in the sunshine and I got ready to run the first support segment, although it would be touch and go whether I would be able leave with him to due to race regulations. The revised criteria for 2016 state that runners may have a support runner after Auchertyre after 11:30am only – with Steve going at the speed he was he would be faced with waiting until 11:30, or pushing on for the next 10 miles to Bridge of Orchy alone.

However. Right on target I received a phone call from Steve, calmly reporting that he’d cracked his head off the sheep tunnel about 5 miles out from Auchtertyre and it ‘looks a lot worse than it is’. Right then. I had a quick chat with the medics to forewarn them and spoke to a runner who arrived who had been with him when he did it. When our warrior turned up, it was obvious he was right; it did look a bit drastic, but once the blood was wiped off it was just a soft tissue scrape. Steve passed the medical test despite having lost a chunk of weight, but we weren’t too worried as it was 11:31am and we were allowed to leave the checkpoint together.

West Highland Way Race 2016

Off we trotted and I got the chance to gauge how he was really doing. All in all he was fine and he even managed to cope with my dreadful chat which I was pumping out just to pass the time and keep him distracted. I soaked up the sunshine and couldn’t believe how lucky we were to be out there enjoying it.

West Highland Way Race 2016

It goes without saying that the weather was basically Scotland turned up to 11 and the run could not have been more beautiful. This section remains one of my favourite parts of the route.

West Highland Way Race 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016

At Bridge of Orchy, Jemma took over pacing duties. Everything was going perfectly so I have nothing else to report other than we refilled his fluids, took his litter, and gave him more gels, before kicking him out on his way. F1-standard ultrarunning at its finest.

Next stop: Glencoe. On the road this is a short journey so we arrived a good couple of hours before Steve would arrive and allowed us to enjoy the breath-taking beauty of Glencoe in perfect summer. There were parasailers circling high up above us, having launched themselves off the ski slopes, and if we weren’t surrounded by scorched heather there would have almost been an alpine feel to the day. I’ve never seen Glencoe look like that before; we arrived at 2pm and enjoyed an afternoon in the sun at one of Scotland’s ski resorts – when can you ever say that?

West Highland Way Race 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016

Steve arrived at 4:30pm and we sent him off with Patrick, who would then take him though to Lundavra. I then drove Patrick’s car along the road to Altnafeadh which blew my mind; despite my own car also being an Astra, it is ten years older than his and from an era when electronic handbrakes, clutches, and lights on the dashboard telling you what to do were not a thing. I can think of fewer times when I have been more anxious than when I was trying to negotiate Patrick’s car in and out of the hilly boulder field which passes for a road at Altnafeadh, with nothing but an electric handbrake for support. If this is the future of driving then I am not impressed at all.

Jemma and I then headed to Kinlochleven where we basked in the last of the evening sunlight. It was clear that barring disaster, Steve was going to really smash it. His vague goals or expectations had been, maybe around 24 hours, 21 on a really good day, but maybe 30 if things aren’t ok. Parking the car at Kinlochleven, we were expecting him around 8pm, with a potential 22 hour finish on the cards.

I wasn’t due to run until Lundavra and had a raging craving for some hot food, so I went to the chip shop and enjoyed a portion of hot salty chips. It came as a little bit of a surprise when our support runner rang on time as expected, but letting us know that he didn’t want to run any further because he was tired. He also offered a suggestion that we might not bother going to Lundavra and just go straight to Fort William, for a sleep. The less said about that the better, but unsurprisingly I found myself saddling up to run another 14 miles with a belly recently stuffed full of fried food.

Before long I found myself back on the trail which I both love and hate the most. I have never managed to enjoy a crossing of the Lharig Mhor; it’s always at the end of something – a race, a support stint, a big back-to-back. I want to love the desolate beauty, but every step I take there is always full of wishes that I could traverse it more quickly.

West Highland Way Race 2016

I knew I needed to bring my strongest self for this section as I could see Steve start to flag in places. He still had a lot of fight in him but it was getting to the point where he was going to benefit from a secondary mind working on his behalf. I told him when to run, when to walk, and when to eat. I mostly ran a few steps ahead of him, setting the pace and willing him on behind me; pulling him on in the obscene cat and mouse chase which is ultramarathon pacing. We worked well together and didn’t need to say much; I gave him walking rests when he needed them but kept the relentless forward progress ongoing. All with a belly bursting full of chips.

My early concern in this section was the temperature. There was a cold wind rushing down the glen which chilled my sweaty, sunburned skin to the bone. I was concerned that Steve might not have enough clothes on and kept in contact by text message with Jemma, asking her to run back towards us from Lundavra when arrived, with a thicker jacket for Steve. My main concern, as was his, was getting him past the milepost of Lundavra and on to the final 7 miles. There is a reason why there are Wilderness Medics out on Lharig Mhor; it is a cruel and barren place where the weather can turn on a sixpence, ending the strongest of races without mercy.

Despite Steve’s physical strength he was beginning to give me clues that things were beginning to get tough. He constantly asked how far we were away until the next checkpoint and other than that, the chat had dried up. There was an unspoken knowledge that the time had come to dig in and work together to move onwards as efficiently as possible as a pair.

When Jemma came into view there was less than a mile to go to Lundavra. Knowing this seemed to fire up Steve into another gear and he shifted his position to be in front of us with us chasing behind. Chasing is the right word; when he reached Lundavra, he blasted right through and on up the hill at speed. I paused for a cup of red bull, thinking I’d be able to catch him up quickly, until I saw him rapidly disappearing into the distance as he RAN up the hill.

Jemma and I hastily chased after him and for the next few miles we had to work really hard to keep pace. Steve was pausing for no-one; even when I tripped over my own feet and ended up tumbling off the path and smashing my elbow on a rock with a yelp, he gave nothing more than a cursory glance behind him as he continued onwards without pause.
Just before the final ascent up towards the fire road, we took a walking break for one last gel as I talked Steve through the final couple of miles of the course and what he had left to cover. Moments after he summited the hill Steve took off again, and we began the quad-juddering descent into Fort William at a comfortable but swift pace.

Upon reaching Braveheart car park we took a final walking break to catch our breath before the final push. As a group we locked into a solid pace and covered the last mile towards the leisure centre in just over ten minutes. It doesn’t matter whether you are running, crewing, or sweeping, making that final turn into the car park is very special and my heart leapt when I was finally able to tell Steve “Go on – it’s all yours” as we peeled away from him to give him his moment of glory sprinting towards the finishing arch and the end of the race.

Everyone is happy when they finish a race, but Steve had to be one of the most ecstatic finishers I’ve ever seen. He seemed genuinely surprised and delighted to have achieved his goal – as if it were ever in doubt! Steve completed the race in 22hrs 39m 17s. He didn’t want to hang around at the finish line, so within half an hour we had checked into our hotel and Steve was getting ready to have some well earned rest. I was certainly tired, but having a runner that finishes well under 24 hours makes a massive difference, so Jemma and I spent some time reflecting on the weekend in our room before we went to sleep, drinking warm beer and eating cheese and chocolate.

The next morning, after checking on Steve and eating some breakfast, we went back to the finish line to cheer in the final finishers. It was as emotional as it always is, and seeing those final warriors come in to reach the finish after 33 or 34 hours is amazing. Cheering Norma (the oldest female finisher ever) and Adrian (achieving his 15th goblet!) reduced me to a blubbering wreck of happy tears.

West Highland Way Race 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016

We then headed to the goblet ceremony and cheered all 159 finishers until our voices cracked and our hands hurt from clapping. I got the chance to catch up with most of my friends before we parted ways, but Steve had booked us an extra night in the hotel so I still had the after-party with lots of peole to look forward to later on that evening. We both went back to the hotel for lunch and then to rest for a little bit, but I ended up taking a little walk back down the course in the rain to see one last runner cover his last miles of the day…

Whilst the race was officially over, Keith was still out on the course. He had a legitimate excuse though, as he had started his run on Thursday evening in Fort William. Having ran 95 miles to the start in Milngavie, he turned around and came right back again, just because he could. After shooting the breeze with Lucy, Dod and Karen, a very tired looking figure came into sight as he entered Braveheart carpark. He stopped to say hello before his support runners chided him for not moving, so we quickly drove back to the Leisure Centre to be there when he finished.

In the pouring rain and devoid of any gantries or ceremony at all, the finish of this run looked quite different to the official race finish a couple of hours earlier, but the small group of supporters cheered like banshees when he inexplicably sprinted into the carpark after finding one last burst of energy. The amazing accomplishment was complete when Keith slapped his hands on the Leisure Centre doors in traditional ceremonial style, much to the surprise of the staff inside. A lady came out and disapprovingly wiped the doors clean of his hand prints – quickly erasing any lasting visual evidence of the 190 miles of hard work which had been clocked. A sobering reminder that not everyone ‘gets’ it.

Wrapped in an embrace of warm, happy running feelings, I went back for another nap before the party. I finally got to my bed at 4am after the after-after party and drinking champagne with a bunch of friends including esteemed guest, Hal Koerner, but that’s perhaps another story for another day.

West Highland Way Race 2016

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