West Highland Way Race by Stewart

Three years ago I entered this race for the second time having completed it in just under 25 hours the year before. Things didn’t go to plan leading up to and during the race and I withdrew after 50 miles. It was now time to go back and try again!

So here I was back at Milngavie railway station car park with Steven MacFarlane, Mark Yule, and 210 other runners ready to start WHW 2017, 95 miles and 14,000ft ahead of us.

At registration I met Gayle, and it was good to get a quick chat with her before getting weighed and heading out to get organised for the race start. After a race briefing from medic Sean Stone, and a few words from race director Ian Beattie, it was 1am and we were off! We headed through the underpass and onto Milngavie Main Street, which was lined by supporters cheering the runners on- this combined with perfect weather conditions created a fantastic atmosphere and we couldn’t have hoped for a better start to the race.

After turning off the Main Street onto a small path and it’s head torches on for the next few hours and we made our way towards the first checkpoint at Balmaha.   I tried to stay relaxed and run at a comfortable pace and ran the first twelve miles to Drymen with Steven MacFarlane.  We continued on towards Conic Hill just as dawn was starting to break. I adjusted the light on my head torch to try and save some battery as it was starting to get a bit lighter; this might have been a mistake however, as thirty seconds later I found myself on the ground with two skint knees! I picked myself up and started the ascent of Conic Hill, the view of Loch Lomond from the top of Conic hill in the first light of dawn was an awe inspiring sight, and I arrived at Balmaha in 3:17 (20miles)

I met my first support crew, my dad Tam and his partner Sandra and grabbed some food and fluids before heading off towards the next checkpoint at Rowardennan. I have ran this section several times  this year in training so I felt quite comfortable here and reached Rowardennan in 4:58 (28 miles). I picked up a drop bag at this checkpoint, ate a cereal bar, and headed on towards Beinglas. The weather conditions were still good- a light breeze was keeping the midges at bay! The race route uses a new lower path which is more technical than the higher route and I lost some time negotiating this section before passing through Inversnaid and picking up another drop bag. Another technical section then lay ahead before I reached Beinglas in 8:32 (41 miles). I was slightly down on the time I’d planned for at this point and was starting to feel tired and sore. My support crew met me here and I had a cup of tea, a can of Irn Bru and some crisps. I also took paracetamol and caffeine tablets. I met Gayle again, who was now marshalling at this check point and she gave me the exciting news that Mark was currently in second place! Encouraged by this news and the effects of the painkillers and caffeine, I felt a lot stronger and headed on towards Auchtertyre. I ran this next section better than I have ever done before in previous races and felt fairly comfortable. I managed to regain some of the time I had lost in the loch-side technical sections and reached Auchertyre in 10:44 (50 miles).

This check point was the first weigh in and also where I met my second support crew, my wife Susan and her dad Jim. There wasn’t any significant loss or gain in my weight and I was feeling pretty good, and headed on to do the next couple of miles into the village of Tyndrum. Although not an official checkpoint, this is a good place to grab some food and I met my crew again, who had got me some soup and more tea from the Green Welly café, which I ate as I began the climb out of Tyndrum. The next section into Bridge of Orchy is fairly straightforward; a decent path with very little climbing and I reached there in 12:59 (60 miles).  The first signs of rain and an increasingly strong wind as I entered the checkpoint were a sign of things to come!

The next section begins with the ascent of Jelly Baby Hill, so called because race stalwart Murdo McEwan camps at the top and hands out jelly babies to the entire race field. I gladly accepted a jelly baby and moved on towards RannochMoor. The weather increasingly worsened over this section with stronger winds and the rain becoming more constant. I arrived at the checkpoint at Glencoe ski centre in 15:19 (71miles).

Soaked through I decided to put on some warm, dry clothes on my top half, as I sat in the car for a bit to take in some more tea and soup (which my crew had somehow managed to heat on a camp stove despite the howling wind and rain!)

It took a bit of effort to get going again as my legs had stiffened up a bit sitting in the car. Susan ran with me for the next couple of miles until we reached the foot of the devils staircase and I was glad of the company to take my mind of the weather. I had my lowest point of the race here as I set off up the hill, the cold, wind, rain and sleep depravation combined was starting to take its toll.

I walked to the top and started to feel a bit better. I began to make good progress on the long descent down into Kinlochleven and arrived in 18:15 (81miles), to the surprise of my crew who were still sitting in the pub!

Runners get weighed again at this checkpoint and the marshalls where carrying out kit checks due the weather. My weight was fine and I decided to change into a complete set of dry clothes and wear full waterproof kit for the final stage. I enjoyed a cup of tea in the warmth of the community centre, but wasn’t able to eat anything substantial. I met up again with Steven and his support runner Gavin who was accompanying him, and we set off together. Once we got up onto the Larigh Mor section I started running again, feeling good and stopping for a quick drink of irn-bru kindly supplied by the Wilderness Response team who support the race in this remote section. I made it through the final checkpoint at Lundavra in 20:42 (88miles).

The last few miles to the finish proved to be the toughest, I was struggling to eat or drink anything, and was walking more than running. I lost a couple of places in the race and finally finished in 38th position in 22:36 (95miles).

I met up with Steven at the finish who had finished 36th in 22:34.

Gayle was also still on duty at the race finish, an effort which epitomises the commitment of the volunteers who make this race the special event that it is.

The race was won by Rob Sinclair in an amazing course record time of 13:41, and Lynne Allen the female winner 18:48.

Mark had a fantastic run and maintained his second place with a time of 16:57, it was an amazing achievement and it was great to see him collect his award at the presentation ceremony on Sunday.

Stewart Ward – July 2017