Sunday, July 01, 2007

My race story

It's now more than a week since the end of the 2007 WHW race and I'm very aware that I have not posted a detailed report. Apologies for the delay, but I've just had a particularly busy week and haven't had a chance to do anything. Hopefully I won't have forgotten too many details. So here goes:

Ian's 2007 West Highland Way Race Story

The Friday before the race is always a difficult day. This year I woke up around 11am, having slept since about midnight the night before. 11 hours sleep, same as the day before – that was pretty good compared with previous years, and I was pleased. I walked the dogs and spoke to John. He seemed nervous too, but was looking forward to it. Friday afternoon dragged by, as expected. I packed my bags late in the afternoon, checked them about half a dozen times to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, then had a huge dinner of ravioli and baked potatoes around 8pm. At 9.30pm we packed the car, and finally at 10.30pm it was time to head to Milngavie. At last.

As I drove down the A80 I felt quite tired. I kept telling myself that I had had enough sleep, but my tiredness was a bit concerning. I was really glad to reach Milngavie at about 11.30pm. I spoke to some of the friends I had trained with for the previous 7 months or so – John, Ellen, Mark, Iain, Iain, Alan, and many others. Everyone seemed to know me from the 2005 race DVD. They also knew Alison from her blog. We soon met up with George and Bobby, who along with Alison would be doing my backup again. I registered, checked my back pack and bumbag, had a coffee, went to the toilet, talked to some more people, went to the toilet again, tried to get in to the briefing but found it full, went to the toilet yet again, and finally made my way to the start line. It was 12.55am. The race would start in 5 minutes.

At 1am we were off. I was near the front of the field, which was where I wanted to be. Almost immediately Mark Collins came alongside me and we ran together. Like others we missed one of the early paths but got back on the proper route very quickly. As I reached Carbeth I checked my watch – 36 minutes – a bit on the fast side but generally on target. Mark and I continued to run together all the way to Drymen. The diversion on the Gartness road was no problem, and I arrived at Drymen in 1.54. That was my fastest race time for that section, but was in line with my plan. I knew I needed to run a bit faster than previous years in the early stages if I wanted to beat my best time of 21.39.

A key part of my race plan was to cut down on my stop times, so I grabbed a cup of coffee and walked along the route with it. Mark and I were still together. We reached the car park at the Garadhban Forest, and to my great surprise a few people in official looking jackets told us to head down the road and follow the diversion. That didn’t seem right to me. I had spoken to Dario the day before, and he had told me that there were no diversions at all – that had been confirmed by the WHW rangers. So why were these people telling us to go a different route? I thought about saying no, but the full group of runners were starting to head down the road, so I just followed as well. It left me disorientated – I hadn’t been on the alternative route before, and didn’t know where I was going. After 25 minutes or so we rejoined the main path, but there was no doubt we had added some extra distance. I was not happy about it at all.

As I headed towards Conic Hill, still annoyed by the detour, there was some heavy rain. It was not at all pleasant. It was gloomy, and I tripped at least 5 times before I reached the top of the hill. I was going through a really bad patch, and before I knew it a runner had caught up with me. It was John. Despite being caught I was pleased to have some company, and my mood improved. We ran into Balmaha together. I stopped for something to eat and was away within 5 minutes or so, but John had stopped for even less time and was now in front. In training runs he had been stronger than I was on the section to Rowardennan, so I didn’t expect to see him until quite a bit later. That was exactly how it turned out. I covered the section from Balmaha to Rowardennan in 1.29, exactly on schedule. I had another quick stop, thanked Bobby as I wouldn’t see him again, then set out for Inversnaid. I was starting to feel good, and just worked away, reaching Inversnaid in something like 1.27 for the section. The next bit to Beinglas Farm is tough, but again I felt quite good. Alison said later that I had looked awful at Beinglas, but looks can be deceptive and I actually felt quite good, certainly a lot better than I had felt at that point in previous years. I was told that John was somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes in front of me – not a problem at all at this relatively early stage in the race, particularly if I could start picking up time from here on in, in the later sections where I was usually strong. I passed through the checkpoint at Derrydarroch without stopping at all, and heard that John was only now 5 minutes in front. That was fine. I was a bit nervous approaching the section over the hill above Crianlarich, as I had suffered badly from cramp the last few times I had done it, including a really bad patch in this year's Highland Fling race. I had been taking electrolyte tablets every 90 minutes, however, and that was making a big difference. As it turned out I had no cramp at all for the whole day. I will certainly use the tablets again in future.

I ran fairly strongly over the hill and in to Auchtertyre, and saw John leave just as I arrived. That meant I was still only 5 minutes behind. Mark ran with me for a bit, but I was feeling really good and pushed on hard, only stopping at Tyndrum to collect a cup of soup which I drank walking up the hill. I was away from Tyndrum in 11.16. That was pretty much on schedule, with some of my best stages still to come.

As I headed up the hill and away from Tyndrum I could see a runner ahead which I thought was John. It was, and I eventually caught him on the long gradual downhill track. We chatted a bit – he was still enjoying every minute of the run, which I found a bit strange – then I went in front. I thought that was probably it, but to my surprise he came past me again about a minute later, running really well, and opened up a bit of a gap. When he started walking I passed him again, and this continued all the way to the railway bridge a few miles before Bridge of Orchy. John then shot off like he was running a half marathon, and reached Bridge of Orchy a few minutes in front of me. He was taking shorter stops, so by the time I left Bridge of Orchy the gap was probably 10 minutes again. All of which meant I had made no progress at all on closing the gap on him.

I took a soup with me when I left Bridge of Orchy and walked quickly up the hill. I was determined to push really hard all the way to Kingshouse, as I felt I had underperformed on this section in previous years. I ran hard up the hill from Forest Lodge, and came within 20 yards of John. He then ran away from me before stopping to walk, at which point I closed the gap to about 20 yards again. And so this went on, all the way to Kingshouse. Despite not being able to get in front of John I was running well and feeling strong. I had a 9 minute stop at Kingshouse, changed my socks and top, put on tracksters (as it was starting to get quite cold), and left. My watch showed that I was running faster than I had run before – when I ran my best time of 21.39 in 2003 I had left Kingshouse at 15.57. Today it was 15.31, so I was 26 minutes ahead and looking good for a PB.

I knew John had left Kingshouse 9 minutes in front of me, so I was a bit surprised to pass him before we had reached the Devil’s Staircase. He was starting to find it tough, and the gap between us widened as I headed up and over the hill. I felt better than normal coming down into Kinlochleven and covered the section in a good time of 2.10. I was feeling confident about my time, so didn’t hang around Kinlochleven and headed off as quickly as possible, stopping only to eat a pot of Muller rice and to take a tablet that was supposed to prevent me from feeling sick. The Lairgmor came and went, and I passed Iain Ridgway just before the turn. He had been having terrible stomach problems, but despite that was determined to keep going and was still running all of the hills.

Soon I reached Lundavra and Duncan’s bonfire. George hadn’t been feeling good so decided to go back in the car with Alison, leaving me to cover the last section on my own. That wasn’t a problem at all, as I was feeling good. I looked at my watch – I reckoned I would have to cover the last section in something like 1.15 to get under 21 hours. I didn’t think it was possible. The last section seemed quicker without the trees, and before I knew it I was climbing over the stile and looking down at Glen Nevis campsite. The time on the clock was 20.30. I had covered the last section in 28 minutes before, but not when I had just run 92 miles – 40 minutes or so was more realistic. I headed down the hill, running for as long as I could, but having to stop every 10 minutes or so for a quick walk. Alison and George met me at the Braveheart carpark. There was only a mile or so to go. The job was nearly done. It was a brilliant feeling running through Fort William in broad daylight, and I felt absolutely delighted when I entered the leisure centre in a new personal best time of 21 hours 11 minutes.

I had a shower, then a fantastic massage. We headed back to the Travel Inn, and Alison and I were able to go for a drink before closing time. That's the first time I’ve run quickly enough for us to be able to do that.

John finished in 22 hours 45 minutes, a brilliant performance, and under his target of 23 hours. There are a lot more details about it on his blog, including a fantastic video diary. It’s well worth a look.

There are a lot of people I need to thank. First of all Alison, George and Bobby, who for the seventh consecutive year provided me with backup support of the highest quality. They do a fantastic job for me, are the envy of many other runners who can only imagine getting such quality support, and I am lucky to have them. Secondly I need to thank Dario, the race co-ordinator. He puts in a huge amount of work to make this far and away the best race in the UK. Without his expertise, knowledge and enthusiasm the event could not take place. I and all the other runners are hugely grateful to him. Thirdly, thanks to the runners with whom I have trained for the last year and who have become such great friends: John, Ellen, Phil, Murdo, Hugh, Adrian, Davie, Mark, Mark, Joe, Alan, and Peter, to name but a few. I'm sure there are many others.

Next year’s race takes place on Saturday 21 June 2008. The Travel Inn in Fort William is booked. I'm looking forward to it already.


Tim said...

You best report yet Ian! I think the competition with John (on the road in in the blog) has brought out the best in you.

Tim said...

Your best report yet Ian! Clearly competition is good for the blogging as well as the running!