West Highland Way 2014 – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It’s strange to say that while I DNF’d (did not finish) this race, it was an amazing confidence builder and I’ve come out of it buzzing with excitement and ready to go again.

After picking up an injury during the GL3D, my training had been limited to several short runs, a park run and my ‘long run,’ an accidental 10 miler. Despite losing lots of planned training runs and time on the Way, I was still confident of my fitness for the race. I had just tapered for a long time.

This race really had its ups and downs – less than a week before my toe hit the starting line, I began the search for a replacement support runner due to an injury. Thankfully social media and the great family of Scottish Ultra runners got me a replacement within minutes, thanks to Katherine Harrison for stepping in. It was lovely to meet you and a shame we didn’t get to run together.

As the days counted down, my wife and OIC support Fiona began to panic about the scale of the job and the thought of letting me down; everything was listed, written down, typed, photocopied and transferred to her phone, lists were created to keep track of the lists. A Facebook post by Fiona served to calm the nerves as reassurance poured in from all corners.

Race Day

Kids were collected from school, shipped off to Gran’s whilst I napped; pizza was eaten and the final final kit check completed before we set off to Milngavie playing spot the runner as we neared the town. Registration was hassle free, I was chipped, weighed and ready to go, quick detour to collect my team hoodies and then a walk round Milngavie pointing out the route and selecting the best cheer points.

Back at the car, the final preparations were under way when I succumbed to the first of many midge bites making a last minute coffee. Katherine arrived and we had a great blether about the Way, our racing experience, dogs and everything else. I knew she was the perfect choice for support runner in those final hours of darkness.

As the race approached, I met some ultra friends and chewed the fat until the race briefing. Fiona left to get a good spot while the final minutes crawled by. The race started and I was overwhelmed by emotion as we ran down the high street towards the path. The street was completely lined with people cheering and supporting every single runner.

I have a habit of starting to fast and burning out, so I set my garmin to a low max heart rate and ran under that for the first 10-12 miles. Due to the darkness, the landmarks came up unexpectedly quickly and I was soon running towards Drymen. I gave Fiona a status update and was told I was well down on my schedule, I confidently replied I’d make it up.

Entering Garadhban forest, I turned off the heart rate alerts and ran/walked to feel, passing people as I climbed Conic Hill and skipping down the steps. As I ran into the checkpoint, the marshal called my name and high 5’d me. He was a work colleague of my sister and hugely positive about my performance. It was so unexpected and such a great lift.

Fiona had done an amazing job, everything laid out for a quick cuppa, a wash and change, some midge repellant and my food and drink replenished, I was out in less than 5 minutes and heading strongly to Rowardennan.

I hated this section during the Fling in 2013, but this year I ran well counting down the miles. By now I had made up the time I had lost at the start and left ahead of schedule. I had a quick pit stop – no crew but the race marshals went above and beyond – and off towards Inversnaid.

The section to Inversnaid was good and I was pleased to be able to run all the downhills and flats and only walk the up hills. By this stage in my Fling I was resolved to a power march to the finish. Another quick stop, more amazing race staff, and I was off. This is the tough section with more ups and downs and really technical rocky sections that a runner with my abilities is forced to use hands and feet for. As I cleared the technical section and entered the more runnable trail, I became conscious of a pain in my calf/ankle and worried it might be the injury from GL3D flaring up. I quickly realised it only hurt if I walked so had an added incentive to run.

Into the checkpoint, quickly dibbed in and then headed down to the field to meet Fiona, again it was a slick, well oiled rest break, and I was washed, tea’d and sent on my way incredibly quickly, with some good natured ribbing from another crew as I was packed off.

As I left the farm and headed onto the next hill I could tell the wheels were coming off, my ankle/calf was hurting whether I walked or ran; I was sweating buckets with sweat rolling down my face in streams. I mentally went through the full gambit of things that my crew had been briefed to say to me about quitting; imagine the humiliation at failing, just keep going till the next checkpoint and re-assess it there, mtfu, keep moving forward, etc. but two miles away from the checkpoint, I realised that it was foolhardy to continue I turned and began the walk of shame back along the trail, my race over.

I was truly heartened by the fact that every runner I passed took some time to ask how I was and if I needed anything. I sent texts and called Fiona, but there was no signal. I inadvertently called my father in law and he called back, unexpectedly, he was heading to Tyndrum with the kids to cheer me through and immediately diverted to collect me. I then called Katherine to stand her down, I didn’t want her making a wasted journey. She managed to message Fiona on Facebook, who was sitting in a Crianlarich hotel drinking coffee and using the wifi to give updates, the joys of being a support crew. I returned to the checkpoint and was given a ice pack and seat by the Trossachs Mountain Rescue. My friend Robin was sitting taking food on at the checkpoint and was devastated that I’d withdrawn (sadly Robin DNF’d at the Devil’s Staircase). My crew turned up and I showered and picnicked with them before being driven to A&E, my second trip in as many months – I’m getting a loyalty card. The verdict after X-Ray is tendon damage caused by the stress of the continual pounding. I think that it’s either the old injury not completely healed or weakness caused by the old injury. I need to work on strengthening and protecting that ankle from now on.

The Good
So many positives to take from the race, my initial race strategy worked, I gained 30 race places between checkpoints 1 and 3 and was well on course for a sub 30 hour finish.

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The Bad

DNF and no running for the next few weeks, nuff said

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The Ugly

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I am a police sergeant with a strong interest in policing public order, both professionally and academically. I love ultra running and seeking new challenges

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One comment on “West Highland Way 2014 – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
  1. Great read Andy, and i can vouch for Katherine – she’s great company on a run, one of my best training buddies.

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