Sunday, 20 July 2008

The West Highland Way Race 21st June 2008

95 miles, 14 725 ft


I need another goblet. I've got three but that doesn't look right on the table. Four will be just right, then I can move on to another challenge, put this one to bed for good. That is the plan!

Chapter 1 - First We Take Milngavie

Everything was planned to the last detail, I had trained like a madman for six months solid, raced over 300 miles in the last three months... i felt ready for it this year. So off to Milngavie we went in Mark's big white van, I jibbered non-stop all the way, a combination of nerves and too much coffee, then as we were still a fair bit from Milngavie we realised we had slightly misjudged the travelling time. It was about 12.20am when I jumped out of the van and almost ran into the town hall to register, the plan was in bits already, my brain was frazzled with coffee and I had too much to remember! I said a few quick hello's then felt bad as I ignored people in my rush to get ready. Everyone else seemed so relaxed, Kate Jenkins was chatting away, Colin "Bunter" Hutt was chillin' (takes more than a 95 mile run to faze him!) and all the Carnegie's looked so organised!

Chapter 2 - Come In Number 6, Your Time Is Up!

The race started and off we went. The plan was to get near to the front to avoid getting caught in the crowds so I shot off quite fast chatting to Kate, then a few shouts from behind and we realized we had taken the wrong track, damn. A quick detour, a sprint and we were back on the trail. Two minutes later, more shouts, lost again! It's great to be organised!It didn't take long to get into a rhythm, I went through Drymen feeling good, I must have been about 7th or 8th, and pushed up into the forest no longer needing the torch. On towards Conic Hill, this was a section I had been looking forward to, but I didn't feel too good. My quads were hurting a lot more than they should have been, I thought it was because of the cold morning air and so pushed a bit harder to try and get the blood flowing through them. As I came into the Balmaha car park I felt wrecked, only 20 miles down, I shouldn't feel this bad. I had some food then headed on for Rowardennen. This section went by quite quickly, I was running with Kate and Jens and felt quite comfortable, maybe I was through the worst. A bite to eat and a big drink of coke at Rowardennon and it was off up the loch for one of my favourite sections. The rough terrain as you go up Loch Lomond means you have to concentrate quite hard on your footing but this also means it seems to pass quite quickly so I had been looking forward to it. I had lost sight of Kate and Jens when George Cairns passed me going like a rocket, I tried to follow but it just wasn't happening. As the trail was getting rougher I was getting more and more tired and my energy levels had dropped way down, then I started to feel sick. It took all my concentration not to throw up, I felt terrible, had slowed down almost to walking pace and was tripping and kicking stones all the time as I struggled to keep my eyes open. How was I going to deal with this? I started to look around me, maybe I could lie down and get 10 minutes sleep then I'd be ok. I stopped for a second but the midges were so bad that wasn't going to be an option. Inversnaid was coming up soon, I could ask the mountain rescue guys if I could have a sleep in the back of their van! Perfect! I stumbled up the track a bit more until I realised running was out of the question, I was gone. I'd had a bit of a stomach bug the week before and had been in denial as to the fact that it might affect my race but now I was beginning to think my number was up. When I got to Inversnaid I would get the guys to give me a lift to Beinglas, I was completely done, game over. Whw 08 Dnf.
I shuffled over the bridge to the Inversnaid hotel, lowered myself down the steps and staggered over to the search and rescue guys. "Well done, you're looking great" "fantastic, dig in, your catching them up" loads of encouragement from the guys, I couldn't say what I so wanted to... "please take me home, mister..." so off I shuffled until I was out of sight then I walked again, only about 7 miles to Beinglas to meet Simon and Mark then they could take me home. I'll phone Tommy and Ryan who were due to take over support at Auchtertyre and tell them not to bother, damn, no phone signal! Next thing I heard voices behind, more runners. I was being caught-up now, a few went past then someone I recognised, it was Murdo McEwan. "What's wrong?" he said. I mumbled something about being finished and dnf ing at Beinglas before they disappeared into the distance. A few more passed then I started to think, maybe I should jog a bit because it was going to be hours to Beinglas at this rate. So I slowly jogged on until I heard more voices behind, a group of about 7 or 8 was gaining fast, I'm going to lose all those places! No chance! Quickly a jog became a trot then a real, proper run and soon I was flying (well, almost!) I caught all the people who had passed me and got to Beinglas feeling better than I had most of the race. I filled my mouth with potatoes, gulped down coke, got another bottle of juice and shot off in pursuit of the next runner. I caught another couple before reaching Auchtertyre on a mission! Game on!

Chapter 3 - The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

I felt super-charged as I munched down more mashed tatties and ketchup, a few gulps of coke, full bottle of juice and I was off again. I was even back on schedule as I left the checkpoint! I ran through Tyndrum and up the hill then I caught sight of Kate in front. I seemed to be catching her so I pushed on, company would be nice for a bit. As I approached it was obvious she was in trouble, I gave her a few words of encouragement but I was having a good patch so was going to make the most of it while it lasted. Pushing on towards Bridge of Orchy I could see the 3rd place runner, Alan Reid, in the distance. I was starting to feel a bit "thin" with the faster pace but thought if I run out my last bits of energy and catch him up, I can get a good feed of tatties and ketchup at the checkpoint and I'll be brand new for the climb out of Bridge of Orchy. I caught him just as the trail met the road and ran hard down the hill to get my tatties. As I got in to the checkpoint I looked around for the guys... nowhere to be seen! I saw Stewart, Kate's support who said he hadn't seen them so I quickly phoned Tommy's mobile. "where are you?" I said desperately. "Er, we'll be there shortly..." was the reply. "Ok, I'm going on, meet me at the hotel further on". They had missed the turning off the road and were heading up Glencoe... oops! The great thing about this race is the camaraderie of the runners and support crews, as soon as people saw I was in trouble I was being offered all sorts of food and drink from everyone, I could have stayed and had a feast! Instead I took a bag of crisps and a bottle of water and headed on meeting Tommy and Ryan a few miles on with more much needed tatties and juice, no harm done.

Chapter 4 - Dancing on Ice

Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! It sounded like a bunch of squaddies marching along right behind me all the way across Rannoch Moor! It was driving me loopy! I was having a hard time, the rocket fuel had run dry and the rough, stoney track was hard going. My schedule was slipping away and that bloody crunching aggghhh! Seemed like a good idea at the time to fill my camelbak with ice cubes but I should have picked up a set of ear plugs too! I was sure someone was catching me from behind too, I thought I could see a figure in the distance moving fast but I wasn't able to pick up the pace. My mood wasn't good and the going was rough again, "I'm never doing this again" I said to myself, "this is the last and I mean it this time" it was all getting rather black in the positive thinking department! Luckily I had arranged to meet Tommy and Ryan at Blackrock Cottage which is about 3/4 of a mile before Kingshouse, the official checkpoint, so help was close by. As I sat stuffing my face with more tatties and ketchup Tommy tried to rub some of the pain out of my legs and I headed off feeling a lot better. I had lost a place though and was back in 4th but I could catch up if I got things going again.I pushed hard after Kingshouse, trying to make the most of the road section because it was rough going from here to the finish. After meeting the guys at the bottom of the Devils staircase I climbed hard and felt totally gone at the top. My legs were really stiff and I could hardly descend at all so I was moving very slowly, trying to build up a rhythm and get going again. By the time I got to the top of the smooth track into Kinlochleven I knew I had to run fast here, it was easy terrain so if I could get some pace here it would get me going again. I got to the bottom in quick time and felt really energised with the faster pace but I was glad to get a seat and scoff down some more tatties and ketchup, mixed with milk this time to help them go down, Tommy, you're a genius! I was weighed here too and was amazed to see I had lost about 5 kilos!

Chapter 5 - Keep the Faith

I had had a good feed at Kinlochleven because I knew what was ahead. In previous years I had crashed badly on this section. There's a steep climb out of Kinlochleven then the track seems to wind on endlessly into the distance and it's rough too, with lots of lose stones to trip on and keep it interesting. You start to feel like you're getting there too, which keeps you going, but I find I have to force myself to eat and drink as I get nearer to the finish because my instinct is to think that I don't need to because I'll be finished soon but the calories are getting burnt at such a rate that if you're not constantly munching then you're going to be in trouble quickly.I made short work of the climb, having done it in training so many times this year I was on personal terms with every stone. When I got to the top and saw the track stretching out ahead I could see the runner in front about a mile. I stepped on the gas but I think he saw me because so did he, would we burn each other out? I just kept the rhythm going trying not to look up from the tricky terrain too much but when I did I could see that Alan had slowed down and I was going to catch him. As I passed I could see he was having a hard time, I shouted that if he kept going he'd get in under 19 hours, he just nodded and I ploughed on. A niggling thought in the back of my head was would Tommy and Ryan find the Lundavra support point ok. It is quite tricky to find from Kinlochleven if you're not familiar with it, so I kept enough juice and some fruit pastilles back just in case. No need to worry though the guys were ready and waiting as I came through, a swap for a full bottle of juice and it was off up the track for the final 6 miles.

Chapter 6 - Between a Rock and a Hard Place

As I went through Lundavra I checked my watch, 6.12pm. I could get inside 18 and a half hours if I work hard, a pb was in sight. I hit the climb hard but there's a few stiles to get over which are agony and ruin the rhythm but I kept it going as much as I could, always thinking about the big rock in the woods which, once you see it means it's all downhill to the finish... I love that rock! What a feeling when it comes into view, you can't buy that! I came through the woods looking desperately, then saw the stile before the descent, "Where's my rock?" I thought! Surely they hadn't moved it! Then I looked behind me and a sign warning of works on the track had been leaned against it obscuring it from view, phew! As I climbed the stile I looked down at Fort William below and just savoured that sight for a moment, nearly done! Then another surprise. The track had been diverted and there was another wee climb, That's why they hid the "rock of the final climb" it all made sense! I ran hard now towards the Braveheart car park, Tommy and Ryan came up the track a bit then I hit the tarmac for the last mile alone, passing pedestrians who must have wondered what this strange smelling runner with a funny look in his eye was about. I didn't care though as I had enough energy to sprint past the West Highland Way finishing post and along into the leisure centre and finished! 3rd place, 18 hours 27 minutes exactly, a new pb by 22 minutes.
Race organiser Dario greeted me with a quaich full of Glengoyne malt whisky which I promptly downed, not a good idea as I discovered when it made its reappearance 20 minutes later!

Chapter 7 - Goblet of Fire!

After regaining control of my stomach, getting showered and having some food, we saw Lyn come in then went down to the Braveheart car park to watch Pauline and Gail coming in, stayed to see them at the end and then went back to the B&B for a good nights sleep. I was starving again so made myself a pot noodle, the next thing I knew it was 5am and I hadn't even made it into bed before falling asleep. The pot noodle was excellent cold though!The next day it was down to the prize giving to see all the survivors. 5 out of 5 Carnegies! What a result! Then off down the road and back to the real world.Thanks to everyone who supported me, it was a team effort and greatly appreciated, I couldn't have done it without you. By the way, keep the 20th of June 2009 free, 3rd place prize was two lovely whisky tumblers... I'm still short of a goblet!

Richie Cunningham '08

The End

You Have Been Watching...

Simon Templeman & Mark Sadler......................................... First half support and midge warriors.

Tommy "theres been a change of plan..." Lawrence & Ryan MacKenzie.................................2nd half support and chief navigators.

The West Highland Way Race family and all its support teams, helpers, marshalls etc...................... Prime source for inspiration, motivation and encouragement


Brian Mc said...

Good report and what a time!

Glad I declined the quaich upon finishing having read of the impact it had on your stomach. :-)

Davie Bell said...

Great report Richie and well done on getting 3rd place,it's encouraging to hear even experienced WHW runners like yourself get really low points in the Race and I wasn't suffering alone :-/

norman mclennan said...

well done on your 3rd place,That report sounded a bit like how I was last year when Bob Allison helped me

Richie said...

Thanks for your comments guys, Brian and Davie you had great runs too, I enjoyed reading about your races. Norman, Good to hear from you, hope you're not too disappointed with Western States, at least you get an entry for next year.

WHW Runner said...

Richie, many congratulations - a great performance. I just hope I won't be able to see as much of it next year :) All the best Ian