53 miles 8,500 ft
After an overnight stay in Milngavie Will and I registered for the 7:00 hrs start. We, like most others, distributed our 4 food bags in the relevant cars; these would then be distributed down the course for us to collect. We then made our way to the start line.
Will decided to start mid pack; I started further forward near the elite runners. I noted Jez – the favourite – in front lined up with a few other familiar faces. Murdo set us off and we quickly made our way through the town centre and onto the West Highland Way trail, which would take us all the way to Tyndrum. I set off at a comfortable marathon pace (probably 4 hours ish). My initial plan was to run and break it up with walking breaks from the start. But the terrain was easy until Inversnaid so I decided to run as much as I could, and walk the steep hills. As I approached Conic Hill I could make out the leaders in the distance about half way up. Conic Hill ascent was to be my first walk of any length. I made a good quick descent picking out some good grassy lines, and overtaking a few runners mainly the super vets and women that started at 06:00 hrs.
I soon arrived at Balmaha and the first checkpoint. I collected my first food bag and spent 5 minutes sorting my water and food out, and then off I ran. The route now follows the east side of Loch Lomond through forests. Every now and then the route pops out onto the road and then back into the woods. I ran most of the undulating trail to Rowardenan checkpoint. To this point I was sticking to an, optimistic 9 hour schedule. After a quick break I was on the trail again but this rough section, which for the most part is hard to maintain any speed on, is very rough and rocky with lots of trees to weave around. This started to fatigue me. After this section I never felt quite as strong again. Maybe the fast start had caught up with me.
I reached the last checkpoint at Bein Glas farm in glorious sunshine. Sitting down in the sun made me realise how hot it was for the first time. I had many conversations with runners along the way, but for the first time I had a good chat with a spectator whom had done the race last year. He made me realise that the game was up on the sub 9 hours. I re adjusted my goal, and In my foggy mind I thought that 2 hours 25 mins from here was plenty and sub 9 ½ hours was not a problem. The uphill section out of Bein Glas was tougher than I remember from the West Highland Way race of 2004. I began to suffer cramps as I neared the forest. Occasionally I had to stop to stretch out my calf muscles and even my quads. I have never cramped like that before. I struggled through the forest section were a couple of runners overtook me. I was struggling on the downhill bits of the rollercoaster style steep ups and downs. Eventually I got to the road crossing and flatter terrain.
I managed to get back into a proper running rhythm again, albeit a lot slower than 20 miles ago. I crossed the road again and was now getting that feeling like it was the last 4 miles of a marathon, except I had very little idea of the distance left. Apart from walkers telling me “well done not far to go”, the walkers were great all day, considering the inconvenience we must have caused them. I was trying to recall this section from when I did the 2004 WHW race, but I was too tired to recall it in enough detail. I came to a slight incline in a small section of road and started to walk thinking that even my sub 9 ½ hours was up. But as I rounded the corner I noticed some race marshals. I looked over my right shoulder, and across the field was a large finishing gantry. So I entered the field and noted that I had 1 ½ minutes to make sure I ducked under 9 ½ hours. So I made an effort across the last bit of trail. I did it, just; in 9 hours 29 mins and 40 secs. The time was not that important it just kept me going when I felt pretty weak towards the end.
I sorted myself our and retrieved the flask of coffee just as Will came over the line in 10 hours 22 mins. We both had the beautiful stovies I kept mine down Will didn’t, and vowed to give it another go next year. Both the stovies and the race.
I felt it was a good effort, as I had never done that length of race before. I’m sure I can improve on that time in the future. The race is really well organised and ranks up their as one of my favourites despite my own suffering at the end. Jez Bragg won the race in a new record time of 7:19:09.