Tuesday 26 June 2018

2018 West Highland Way Race

Pre race:
Susan and I arrived at Milngavie around 10:45 on Friday night, registration was busy but moving smoothly, pick up my wristband (race number 67) and parking pass then moved along to get my timing chip which you have to 'beep' into a recording device at each checkpoint. Who is handing out the chips, only ultra running legend Debbie Martin Consani!  Spent a few minutes chatting to Debbie about getting sleep before a race starting at 1am, and also took the opportunity to ask for a photo too.

Outside and went to hand in my drop bags for Rowardennan and Inversnaid, on the way Susan and I walked to the race start point and a voice behind asked "Did you request that number mate?" It's only James Stewart, West Highland Way Race winner in 2016. I had 10 minutes in James company and received some invaluable advice. James is a very humble guy, to put this into context, if you were involved in running a Sunday pub football team, this is like Brendan Rodgers coming along and giving your team talk!

This totally sums up the ultra running community and why I love it so much. Then to top it all off, just before the race briefing, Team Bastardo member Steven Watt turns up unexpectedly and he Susan and I share a few moments before the race start.

The Race
Section 1: Milngavie>Drymen>Balmaha (19 miles), Cut off time 6am
Was aware that it's easy to get sucked into running a pace faster than you would like to with those around you, so purposely kept an eye on the pace on my watch to remain around 12-13 minute miles. It's quite a sight when all around you are the beams of runners headtorches and a buzz of energy in the air. The run to Drymen was great and daylight was just breaking through as I walked up the section just out of Drymen onto the WHW trail. On the approach to Conic Hill I bumped into Jonny Hill (JFH) and had a quick chat. Jonny advised he was out for a run and encouraging people along the way. Also told me his sister Katie was out and about too.
Up and over Conic Hill, it's a fair old climb but I was feeling good, the view of Loch Lomond in the morning is always welcome. I arrived into Balmaha at 5:12am, bang on schedule. I was met here by John and Ruth Houston, they were to be with me at every checkpoint all day (now that is some shift!).
Had some Coke, a rice pudding and replenished Tailwind, water and snacks in bum bag, was in and out pretty quick and on my way to Rowardennan. It was also at this point that I realised I would like to comb my beard (this became an obsession!)

Section 2: Balmaha>Rowardennan
Felt I ran this section quite well, it was the low rout of the West Highland Way, but you have a helluva climb before the path goes down to the lochside. There are a set of steps before you get to Rowardennan that would break your heart, in my case it's head down and get it over with, I'd just got past the top of the steps and catching my breath and I bumped into Katie Hall (sister of JFH), stopped for a quick chat and another guy appeared up and over the steps, we said our goodbyes to Katie and headed off together.
This guy...I now know him as Wilson Dornan, we shared a few miles together and chatted about a number of different things. I was delighted to see Wilson receive his goblet on Sunday afternoon, he faced the challenge head on and nailed it.
Rowardennan soon came along and I picked up my drop bag, this one had a pork pie in it (always love a wee treat!) replenished the Tailwind/water and was out in around 10 minutes.

Section 3: Rowardennan> Beinglas Farm (42 miles), Cut off time 1pm
The section from Rowardennan to Beinglas has a mini-split in there to. Inversnaid is half way through and that's where the next drop bag would be. About a mile out of Rowardennan I was overtaken by three ladies, I became aware that I was maybe not pushing myself enough so decided to tag along on the back of this group about 50 yards behind. Luckily for me one of these ladies was Fiona Rennie (WHW Race legend) so I ended up with a 90 minute masterclass of how to run this section of the West Highland Way!
Into Inversnaid got my drop bag but I was now aware that I was slipping off my time schedule and I phoned Susan to let her know to push all estimated times back by one hour.

The next section along the lochside is the most technical part of the whole course for me, roots and rocks to avoid and I used my hands on trees and rocks for balance. How the faster runners get through here in the times they do I would love to know!
Met a lovely lady called Marian here, she informed me she was 64 years old, and man she was going like a train! The chat with Marian brought us to the end of the lochside and I can't thank her enough for making this section a wee bit easier for me.
An uphill to Dario's post and it then a downhill into Beinglas.
Dario's Post

I arrived into Beinglas at 12:19, 1hr 20 minutes behind schedule, 41 minutes before the cut-off. It was starting to play on my mind that I may be timed out later on in the day.
As I approached Beinglas I spotted Jon Baker, I was only expecting John and Ruth as previously at Balmaha, but as I turned the corner, here was Johnny B, Susan, Megan and Samara.

What a lift that gives you seeing your crew, changed from bum bag carrier to race vest, and after what felt like an F1 pit stop I was off and out heading for Auchtertyre, 9 miles up the road.

Section 4: Beinglas Farm>Auchtertyre (51 miles), Cut off time 4:30pm
Just outside Beinglas, I was feeling good after seeing the support crew and I came over the brow of a hill and thought I saw good friend John McKeand (a bit early for hallucinations!), it was John, he'd driven up to Crianlarich and walked along to meet me on the Way, what a buzz that gave me. We had a quick craic and I set off, taking a wrong turn for about 40 yards cos I was to busy smiling away to myself!

I felt this was my best section of the whole race (turns out it's where my nutrition slipped), I put in a massive effort to make up a bit of time and it was getting hot.
After reaching the gate around the turn for Crianlarich (Donald Sandeman with a cowbell was here!) you enter the section of the Way referred to as the 'rollercoaster' because it goes up and down, and up and down! TeamBastardo refer to it as 'gently undulating!'
Eventually you reach the road and cross over and make your way to Auchtertyre Farm and the checkpoint. John, Ruth and Susan are here, Susan has the weigh card (you get weighed four times from start to finish of the race to make sure all is well, it was all good on the weight front)
I arrived at Auchtertyre at 13:25, 1hr 5 minutes ahead of the cut-off. Sat down had some IrnBru, tried a few potatoes, and a bit of quiche that I'd been looking forward to. Susan was to run/walk the next 2 miles into Tyndrum with me.

On the walk into Tyndrum, Susan sussed something wasn't quite right with me. I'd been so focused on checkpoints and that last section was hot and I'd used a lot more energy but not had enough carbs to keep me going. As we walked I had a packet of Salt and Vinegar Squares (tasted like shit) and a squished banana (actually loved that).
When we arrived at Tyndrum, TeamBastardo members Shona, James, Kaya and Brian had arrived to welcome me, however I wasn't in the best state, so as I headed off to the loo at the Green Welly Shop they all met up with Susan.

Section 4: Auchtertyre>Bridge of Orchy (60 miles), Cut off time 7:30pm
Felt better after the toilet stop and now Susan had decided to come all the way to Bridge of Orchy with me, this was great news for me as I was really needing the company. It's one of my favourite parts of the Way and it's mostly great path which makes it pretty much all runnable. Walk the ups, run the down's and the flats, that was the plan.
Susan had on her hiking boots and she was the one saying "right, let's go!" Can't put down in words how much this section was a game changer. I was struggling, but I didn't realise it. We agreed that I should now eat at least every 20 minutes, my plan thus far had been to eat every 40 minutes. I wasn't wanting anything to eat, my appetite had deserted me (that's never happened before in my life!)
We made decent time on this section and it's one of the highlights of the day for me, this photo sums it up, I'm kinda back with it thanks to Susan.
Bridge of Orchy

Arrived at Bridge of Orchy at 6:28pm, a quick change of t-shirt and Brian Scott and I headed off for the section over Rannoch Moor to Glencoe.

Section 5: Bridge of Orchy>Glencoe (71 miles), Cut off time: Midnight
There's a fair bit of a climb at the start of this section, and it leads to Jelly Baby Hill, Murdo McEwan goes to the top of the hill and gives every single runner a Jelly Baby. There was also a chap playing the Chariots of Fire theme (there was wasn't there?)

We got our Jelly Baby and made our way down to Inveroran and onto Rannoch Moor. Walk the ups, run the down's and the flats. Brian set a timer on his phone for 20 minutes so we could stick to the little and often food plan. Tablet, Jelly babies, Chocolate, flat Coke...and repeat...and we did. We also had a wee sing song, the Braes o Killiecrankie being the star of the show. I don't think I've ever heard Brian talk so much, but we passed the miles away chatting about football, music, and countless other subjects. The path leads higher and higher until you then start to descend towards Glencoe, you can see it, but it's miles away! We met Graham Kelly (Beardy) and he walked back with us for a wee while, he told me I was looking great, but I sorta felt a bit like in Papillon (if you've seen the film you'll know what I mean)

Arrived at Glencoe at 22:08, loads of time in the bag, legs sore but they're gonna be, and then it went wrong...

When I've finished previous ultramarathons, my core temperature drops and I do this shivery thing, where my whole body uncontrollably just shakes, normally lasts about 15 minutes, then I try to have a sleep and it's all good. However, this is in Glencoe, it's getting dark and I still have 24 miles to go.
John Houston gets me into the front of the van, the heaters been on and I try to get warmed up, Megan gives me her woolly hat and Susan arrives with a foil blanket too. I get some tracky bottoms on and my puffy jacket. I think I'm OK, get out the van, take off the jacket and instantly start to shake again.
So it's back in the van and we agree a time I have to sit there until (22:36)
I decide I'm going to wear the puffy jacket over the Devils Staircase and into Kinlochleven.

Section 6: Glencoe>Kinlochleven (81 miles), Cut off time: 5am
Johnny B and I set off down towards the A82 from the Glencoe Ski Centre at a slow jog. This is me officially into unchartered territory, my previous longest distance being exactly 71 miles (Great Glen Ultra)
It's also as we crossed the road behind Kingshouse that the hallucinations started. I was seeing rocks turn into people and animals. Johnny B treating all as part of normal conversation and I now realise asking me questions to check if I was OK (also sticking to the 20 minute feeding plan)
The Devils Staircase in daylight is a challenge, but to take a hallucinating Papillon over it at midnight in the pitch dark is a different level altogether. 
If you ever need a calm, composed night time guide Johnny B is yer man.
I was also seeing frogs at this point, and I made John come back and shone my headtorch on it and asked "that frog is real eh?" John confirmed it was indeed a real frog. Phew!
"You see the spearfrogs too right?" 
Turns out only I saw the spearfrogs (frogs with spears) so we moved along. I also saw the handbag Susan bought in Italy recently and the spaceship from Star Wars flying around my feet. It passed the time if nothing else! 
On the descent into Kinlochleven I was simply behind Johnny B following his footsteps. Stacey Holloway passed us going down (Stacey has been contributing to the WHW Podcasts with John Kynaston) 
When we got to the edge of Kinlochleven, daylight was just breaking and Johnny B asked me if I fancied a wee jog. So we jogged all the way to the checkpoint, which is inside at the Leisure Centre. We arrived at Kinlochleven at 2:50am
This checkpoint is under the charge of Julie Clarke and I helped out here last year, so it was lovely to be greeted by my name. Got weighed (all good) and what an awesome feeling to be inside, and to go to an inside toilet, and to wash your face, and to get a hot cup of tea, and to...wait a minute? Where's Steven?

Steven was to run the final section to Fort William with me, Megan informed me that Steven had decided to run from Fort William (Steven had told me this the week before the race), collect me and then run back with me to the finish. "He's just coming Dad, he's on the hill!"
So I set about getting changed, I'd bashed a toe on the approach to the Devils Staircase and was terrified my foot would be covered in blood, the medics would see it and I'd be pulled from the race. 
So I gingerly took off my shoe, nae blood, fantastic! Was still bloody sore though, Megan set about my feet with wipes and changed my socks, Samara was fetching me tea and biscuits, John 'Tailwind technician' Houston was sorting out my drinks, Susan and Johnny B were having some sort of debrief and I was trying to decide if I have a kip for 30-45 minutes of just crack on. 

Steven arrived while I was getting ready, he was wearing shorts, t-shirt and arm guards. My mind was made up, change kit, tracky bottoms off, change into shorts, put on base layer and t-shirt, we're going now.

Section 7: Kinlochleven>Fort William (95miles), Cut off time: Midday
It's a long steep climb out of Kinlochleven, and by the time we get to the top it's daylight. Steven and I have ran a few things together, he's seen me in the depths of despair and also when I'm happy, this wasn't a happy place...yet.
We ploughed on over some very rough terrain and I can appreciate how difficult this must have been for Steven coming the other way in the dark. I've ran this before (Devil o' The Highlands) but don't recall the terrain being as rough before?
A few runners and support were overtaking us and I was trying my best to get some 20 minute miles in but always just missing them. 
Now...Steven had these wee ball shaped digestive like biscuits covered in chocolate, oh ya dancer, I loved them. I think it was just the fact they were something different. It was great to enjoy something to eat again.

Steven was informing me of the miles left and we went through Lundavra I thought there was about 6 (ish) to go.

The path goes up and up then descends, there have been a lot of trees felled in this area and you can see the fire road your heading for quite a bit in the distance. This gave me a wee bit energy and I started to march on a bit faster. We hit the fireroad, Steven got a phone signal and I heard him talking to someone at TeamBastardo saying, "We've got 4 miles to go, we'll be about an hour and a half"...

Aye, that'll be right, I started running down the descending path into Fort William as hard as I could muster, covering that last 4 miles in 40 minutes, where it came from I do not know. Steven was relaying message from the team to me and even went live at one point but he stopped when he saw how that was affecting me, I was entering blubbering wreck phase.

The last mile was a blur, I remember now wanting to walk a bit but Steven saying it's just there, round that corner. I spotted Susan, Megan and all the support crew in the distance and I just tore it up (well for me it was tearing it up).
The feeling of running to meet Adrian Stott and get my timing chip beeped for the last time will live with me forever. Then I was hugging Adrian, Sandra Beattie, then Susan, Megan and I think every single member of Team Bastardo, but I don't really remember, my mind was reeling.
Nailed It

We arrived in Fort William at 8:38am, my official finish time was 31hrs 38 mins 50 secs

I'm a West Highland Way Race finisher, and still cry every time I think about it.

I was dispatched for a shower, and Johnny B (as if the Devils Staircase wasn't bad enough) was dispatched to look after me!

Received an awesome massage from I think...Kirsty? This was really appreciated, both the massage and the lie down.

I had been awake for 39 hours, the prize giving was in 3 hours, there was no point in going to bed, I'll just stay up. Good luck with that then...

I now know that Susan drove with me fast asleep from the leisure centre to the Nevis Centre where to prize giving took place, and I never had a clue.

What a feeling when my name was called out, we had done it, we had completed the  West Highland Way in under 35 hours. We are TeamBastardo

Many thanks to Race Director Ian Beattie and all of the committee, volunteers, marshalls, I send you much love, this wouldn't happen with you all. 
To support crews and other runners I met along the way, you folks are awesome, keep doing what you do, spread the love.

To those who never completed, learn from this year, get an application in again and go nail it.

What have I learned?
  • I have endurance
  • If I want to, really want to do something, I can
  • I have the most amazing, supportive family and friends

TeamBastardo, this is ours. Thank you.


  1. Loved reading your blog John! What a journey! Huge Congratulations

    1. Thanks Alice, I may have thought about Tom a few times on that journey! Still on a high from it all.

  2. Excellent tale John - well done again !" Looking forward to finding out what's next .......

    1. Thank you Colin, this was my 'biggy', my ultimate.
      What's next? Not sure I know the answer to that...yet!

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you John, I've spent a lot of time poring over previous race reports in my preparation for the race, maybe someone out there will use this in the same way. #whwrace

  4. Brilliant! Well done. I've done a 30+ hour WHW (didn't know I was preggers) and it's way harder than those speedy guys. Hope you're recovering ok xx

    1. Thank you Debbie, really gave me a buzz talking with you and then James before the race start. It's only now I sorta feel like I'm recovered and ready to go again.
      More challenges and adventures await!

  5. Hi there, I've been reading loads of the WHW race blogs and I've purposely left yours as my last one before tomorrow night.... it's a brilliant blog sir. In a little under 29 hours I'll be toeing the line of this year's WHW. You're among the list of names I'm carrying with me for inspiration for what will follow. Particularly when the going gets tough.... which we both know it will:-) I have no idea how it is going to go - but I'll be taking one more step for as long as it takes to get to the end of my own personal race, which will hopefully end in Fort William some time on Sunday morning... Aw the best and thanks for your support. B