Tuesday, June 21, 2011

West Highland Way Race Review

I entered this race back in October and back then I only gave myself a 50/50 chance of making the start line. As the months progressed however I managed to complete my two preparation races, the 50k champs in Perth and the Highland Fling so by this point several scenarios where going through my mind. I had to turn up at the start just to see which one would prevail.
As we lined up at the start there seemed to be a bit of a rush for the back of the back where I chatted to a couple of guys, Graeme and James before wishing each other good luck for the race to Fort William. This seems a bit of a contradiction as I wasn't racing and I was only heading to Drymen for a drink with my support crew , then Balmaha for some cereal etc. Only at the end does the reality of having ran 95 miles sink in, that is exhastion, leg unable to be lifted, muscle fatigue but underneath all that is feeling of sheer elation flickering away.
The journey itself went exactly to the vague plan we had, mostly. Nutrition and hydration went well even though it was never a finalised plan but I was relying on my support reacting to instruction on the way. I had given myself lots of options and had enough food to last a week. I was eating and drinking the whole way and only lost 1 lb in body weight on the race scales.
The weather was better than had been forcast and stayed dry for about 12 hours. When it did start raining it went on long enough to turn some of the path into a flowing water course so keeping the feet dry became impossible. Depite this I had no problems with the feet at all. I had one sock change to check out how they were doing but when it got wet I just had to hope for the best.
I chatted away with many people running the race too, it's amazing how these guys pull you along even if it's just saying hello as they pass by. I didn't really feel in the right place at the start but I soon realise we were all in the same boat.
My support crew of George, Stuart, Anne and Frank were awesome, turning me out of each checkpoint and meeting place with the efficiency of an F1 pit crew. I could have done with a wheel change however as leg problems occurred throughout the race which ultimately determined my finishing time. Left hip, left knee, back of right knee, top of right quads, as soon as one pain eased another would kick in. I was only running freely for a short section in the middle of the course. It occured to me that others would be suffering the same problems I was, so I guessed this must be what this race is like. By now each stop was taking me longer to loosen off after and I knew eventually I wouldn't be able to do so and would have to resort to walking.
The section from Kinlochleven feels like the last section and as I left with Stuart, who had been supporting me since the Ski Center, I had no idea what my fate would be. I had considered dropping out at KLL in my mind but knew I wouldn't get much support for the idea if I mentioned it as it was so close to finish, I mean it's only 15 miles, but that was take us over 6 hours to do. At this point I couldn't lift my right leg much so the steep sections,up and down, and the steps were very awkward and slow. I was hoping it might go as the other pains had. It didn't but the Search and Rescue  aid stations had a remedy in the form of a freeze spray and a reviving drink across the Lairigmor. It seemed to help and we kept walking hoping the movement would help further.
It was getting close to going dark again and we passed a few words with fellow runners making the best use of the remaining daylight by being able to run. The section down to Lundavra is very runnable and I hadn't considered not being able to run this section. It made it feel like a long way down to the final pit stop where George fed and watered us again but my mind was fixed on finishing now. There were 6 miles left with some tricky sections up to a wide forest road which seemed to go on forever. I was kept entertained along this section by the West Higland Way hallucinations, I was pleased not to  miss that bit of the way. 
Anne and Frank had walked about a mile back up to meet us and we all walked in together. It was great to have a support runner, just by being there Stuart had managed to drag me across from KLL and when George met us at the Leisure Centre I was pleased we had all made it from start to finish together, a real team effort, a trillion thanks guys!
It was also good to see the organisors who had reassured me at the start, Adrian, Ian, Mags and the Lord of the Bridge there too. There, I  was provided with Whisky which just about finished me off  but was revived with a heart warming mug off tea. The organisors and all race supporters deserve a huge thank you also.
I have spent a couple of days resting and trying to recover my right leg but am still trying to get my head around the scale of this event and what it represents for me. So far I have worked out that the West Highland Way Race is a phenomenal event and nobody has to take anybodies word for that!