Photo credit: Lucja Leonard
It is quite surreal sitting here being able to write this blog. I wasn’t sure I would ever get here (that may be a wee lie, I’ve learnt never to doubt my conviction and determination – maybe the question was when?):
How did I get here?
Six years ago I injured my leg playing rugby, a completely random injury – a tackle directly to the nerve in my lower leg. I was in a lot of pain (approximately on scale of 7-8 out of 10 daily) this impacted on my ability to be active. For a period I questioned whether I would be able to continue being active. Think of it like: shooting pains down my leg, pins and needle sensations repeatedly, electric shocks, numbness – these would repeat every hour, multiple times within the hour.
This was a devastating consideration when activity and exercise are my work and my stress management tool. I eliminated lots of sports, the list was getting very short, unfortunately running became my sport hahaha. I say unfortunately, it has been a lifesaver. Irnoically my first blog was named – ‘I hate running . . . ‘.
To help me stick with running, I knew I would need a BIG goal. Well, I heard about the West Highland Way Race and immediately knew this was it – my goal –
Complete the West Highland Way in 23 hours ie finish on the same day I start.
West Highland Way Effort 2017
Fast forward 6 years and here we are, two weeks on . . .
The day after, I was ecstatic that I could get off the toilet without having to hold on and pull myself up while making noises (you know so no faces!!!)
There were so many considerations leading up to the 1am start, it throws the newbie that
Photo credit: Karen Brown
this is not a normal time to start a race, but then there is nothing normal about this epic race. I was pretty nervous heading to registration, it’s always the same with new events, it seems like everyone knows everyone but I spotted some familiar faces (Sharon, Jeni and crew). Registration itself was very smooth and easy to follow, blown away with the jacket in my goodie bag . . . karen threatening to steal it while Im out on the course (it had to be purple hahaha). We headed to the car for some last minute relaxation and just closing my eyes for quiet time. But not before Captain Coo also received his band, weigh-in prepped for his race also.
Photo credit: Karen Brown
(Just in case you’re wondering, Captain Coo is Munro Primary Schools newest recruit #schoolmascot )
The nerves ramped up at the race briefing and the guys left me to get a good spot to try to see me run through. Before you knew it we were running through the tunnel, it was pretty awesome, the cheers, cowbells, support along the high street. Then it was all about settling in, I thought it would take ages for us all to thin out but it happened within 1 – 1.5 miles. This first section to Drymen was great just being able to check off the points I remembered from my recce. It felt like each memory was being ticked off quicker than I had anticipated but I wasn’t going any quicker than I should have been. I felt good, it was great seeing people spotted throughout the course encouraging us on, I hadn’t expected this, the time of night and because of the surrounding built up areas.
I stuck to my nutrition plan, eating every hour, even though the temptation was to just push on because I was feeling so fresh. I met my crew for the first time at Drymen in the field, big G spotted me, giving me a wee shout. They told me they would be wearing flashing bunny ears (G) and the other would be a walking rave (Karen), I was. Little disappointed that there was only fluorescent flashing lights. We took the time to top up my water, exchange snacks for the next stage that I might need and ate some more food as well. We had agreed in advance that I would be given an update on my timing and where we were relative to my where I needed to be to hit my target of 23 hours. I’d also leave with the next sections distance to help me stay focused on the here and now, I had learnt from previous big races that I find it overwhelming to keep the full distance in my head at all times.
Despite the moody weather, the big black clouds hovering as the light came in, the scenery was stunning! As I rounded the corner behind Conic Hill, looking out on Loch Lomond, I was again, despite the poor light, blown away by its beauty. The small islands look like the humps of what could be the Loch Ness Monster . . . and no I wasnt hallucinating haha.
Just before Conic Hill I was able to take off my headtorch, it certainly was not as bad as the first time I took on the hill in a recce. It passed quickly due to the memories I had from that day:
‘I remember pushing up the hill on a stunner of a day, glorius sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. There were lots of folks out that day, I caught up with some young-ish kids who were out with their mums. They were playing rock-paper-scissors, I was amused by this and it distracted me from my sore quads. The young lad just kept playing the same hand everytime, this went on for ages. I asked what the score was – it was a draw 😉 I think it remained a draw no matter what. I got speaking to them, the wee man wanted to chuck himself off the hill into the water, you know, the hill was THAT bad, they had been walking for aaaaages!! Hahaha he was very dramatic but clearly having a good time and being distracted by his sister. With words of encouragement, I pushed on that day exchanging jokes with the mums as I passed’.
I tempered my pace coming down the other side of Conic Hill, I didn’t want to burn out my quads this early in the race. I was happy to meet G as I was coming down the last wee section, we came down to the car park and I was shocked to see everyone standing at the checkpoint. I must have looked so ungrateful for the cheering/ support. I dibbed in, I couldn’t get my head around, in that moment, why people were cheering for me as I came in. Of course, I would do the same for anyone on a race, so I dont know why I was suprised, I think the early hour was still throwing my expectations for this race.
G guided me to the car which was really helpful, I grabbed a seat, changed my tops, on went my RAW Dryrobe, this let me dry of my sweaty jacket. Karen drilled me with multiple questions about what I needed and then supplied in quick order. G became a french chef, and apparently had also developed a spanish accent – who knew! Scrambled eggs became the order of the morning – they tasted awesome. It was funny looking around, seeing what everyone else was doing, some were in and out in minutes, these types of things make me question my own strategy even though I should know better than to compare myself to others. I was obviously sleepy, trying to drink my cuppa through my midgie net, this was the only section I was aware of midgie but know the crew had it worse with more standing around.
Balmaha to Rowerdennan
This was my awful section, I left the Oak Tree Inn car park feeling great, Karen ran me down to the road, she was chief photographer as well. #everyoneneedsakaren #multipleroles
I was hit with waves of tiredness, not in the sense that my body felt tired but purely from a ‘I should be sleeping’ feeling. They just kept coming, I didnt know how to deal with these – definitely something to work on for the future. I started having stomach issues, from feeling nausea to cramps, sometimes I could run through it but most of the time I couldn’t. Then the waves of tiredness would kick in again. I think part of this was the low light due to the clouds and dull day, which made it harder to feel like it was daytime.
I’ve never been so grateful for seeing my support crew, it was here that they made the first of their massive impacts on my race. G’s constant check-ins so that he could update Karen and then asking ‘how can we fix this’ really helped to focus on the solutions rather than the problem. A real cup of tea, a ton of jaffa cakes, maybe a few other things I cant remember. This little blip also didnt stop them from getting the right information to me. Because of my stomach I hadnt managed to eat much on this section, so they sorted my water (this was at least going well) and drilled me about my food.
I left with ‘get a couple of good sections in and EAT!’ It wasnt ideal that I wouldnt be seeing these guys for 3.5 hours.
Rowardennan to Beinglas Farm
Rowardennan to Inversnaid along the lower section next to the Loch was great. I accepted that you wouldn’t maintain the same pace as on the trails but this brought me alive. This section had a bit of everything in it, each time I came out of a technical section where I had to concentrate, onto the trail I would be hit with the waves of tiredness. I got into Inversnaid, the marshalls were once again fab. Always cheery, always with a wee joke and checking that you are alright on the other hand (clearly a lover of the hula hoop variety).
Did the essentials: emptied stones out of shoes, tied alittle tighter, Packed the food from my drop bag into my pockets, topped up the water, deep breaths and of I went. I was looking forward to this section, the only part I had not recce’d.
This section did not let me down. I absolutely loved this part, which appears contrary to most other reports. Again, this brings me alive, I love pushing on on these sections. Very stony section, some clambering involved, I think I was more careful than normal as I wanted to save my ankle for the rest of the race and not do myself some damage. I still had a wee hop, skip and a jump in my step on this section. It felt good to be actually moving, to feel like I was moving. I caught up with a young man and we stayed together for a bit. I can’t believe I never caught anyones name during this event – tut tut, but he was telling of his fantastic progress from knee injury to the race.
Photo credit: Karen Brown
This was a great confidence boost section for me, it was a nice feeling to come out at the end of the loch. Beinglas Farm checkpoint was a good one, I was feeling tired still but definitely more awake. G once again, told me the script with where I needed to go to dib in and then where they were based. At this point Karen and G tried to get some more solid food and energy into me . . good ole swig of coke aparently brought colour to my cheeks. This is where I had started to feel my IT band in and around my hip.
Photo credit: Karen Brown
Thankfully I brought my trusty spiky ball with me, Karen sorted out my comfort and a good bit of easing this off helped. Great banter going on between the crews which distracted me.
Beinglas through Auchtertyre to Bridge of Orchy
With a change of shoes, full top half change, I set off on my way to the ‘half way point’. I like this next section it is beautiful, lots of waterfalls and just flowing rivers, its beautiful. Again I felt like I was checking off the memories I’d created on my recce, it seemed to pass all too quickly. It is a lovely downhill through the forest toward Auchtertyre, again I enjoy this section, this was affected by my increasing problem with my IT band which had now shift into my knee.
G met me again and ran me in, guiding me to where I needed to be. First up was my weigh-in, where I was told I had dropped to my allowance already. I couldnt believe it
Photo credit: Karen Brown
because I didnt feel I could have done anything else to improve this situation. Well G took away the ‘feed me’ with gusto haha. Some TLC for my IT band, heard about a mishap with the gas cooker the crew had had, this was enough to distract me.
G and I were soon off for the next phase, what a massive difference it makes having someone run with you. I was super glad to have company, I definitely ran further than I would have on my own with my sore knee becoming an increasing problem.
Photo credit: Lucja Leonard
We met Lucja at Tyndrum with salty chips, hell yeah, they were immense and it was real nice to see her before we properly got underway. This section was one of changeable weather, rain, increasingly stronger winds and sunshine. G did a great job of keeping me going, I took over the lead on the downhill section because I tend to be faster and only had to slow up when the pain in my knee just took over. We kept crossing places with a couple of lads but had to let them go on as I was in agony and struggling to walk never mind anything else. G came to the rescue with his massage skills, right on that spot! I’d highly recommend his skills.
Many will recognise the pain of It band problems, it was frustrating as I was sure this is what it was. The pain you feel just doesn’t seem to represent the seriousness of the injury/ problem in the relativity scale which is frustrating in and of itself. The pain laterally piercing me knee repeatedly brought me to a halt, I would stumble through as much as possible, G was working real hard to keep me going, no way I was stopping if I could make the next point.
We broke the route up into sections that I would run – walk, G took the hit on the wind where he could but the closer we got to Bridge of Orchy the more the wind began swirling. Absolute superstar, always positive, pushing me just enough to get the most from me in achievable bursts.
Bridge of Orchy (BoO) to Glencoe Ski Resort
At BoO I dibbed in again to the cheery words of the marshalls. I didn’t do much at BoO, it was quite an exposed checkpoint with the weather coming in but also with the car being parked away from where we met. G did a handover with Lucja in terms of where I was at, Karen sorted me out in terms of food and fluids and checked if there was anything I needed.
We didn’t stop long, Lucja took me off up the hill with the promise of Jelly Baby hill, now as a first-timer, it’s all a bit confusing. What on earth?!
We marched, Lucja may disagree with this word haha, up the hill, moving at a pace I could sustain. I was pretty much feeling pain in my knee uphill and downhill but with adjustments in pace I could keep going. Lucja was great at speaking away keeping me distracted, I had known I wouldn’t be running out of BoO when I did my recce, I kept trying to push my pace so as not to feel I was too slow, I have to confess to many a time worrying I was going to slow and letting my support crew down. Do others feel this way? Or do you just accept that they are there for you?
I met Murdo (I really hope I quoted the right name???) on Jelly Baby hill, now I knew. What a glorious sight at the top of the hill, jelly babies, smiles, flags and naturally he checked I was being looked after. We ploughed on, into the wind, I was feeling a little hesitant for the downhill coming, the complete opposite of my normal downhill reaction (normally I’d be doing a wee dance). We started downhill, I think you would call my run more of a hobble, a skip and step over and around the stones/ corners. We made it to the bottom, I’d earned a walk period again. I’d hoped being on the tarmac would be a bit of a relief, we broke it up with walk- runs and caught up on runs, future runs and of course Gobi.
We arrived at the entrance to Rannoch Moor, with the trail on the left to Loch Etive. This’ll give you a chuckle and I think I laugh myself every time I arrive at this point:
‘During my recce, which I was doing back to front ie Glencoe Ski Resort to BoO, the signage is a shocker going in the opposite direction for a ‘well-marked’ path. Anyway, obviously my fault but I ended up waaaaaay too far down that track, but with beautiful scenery and wildlife.’
‘The second time I recce’d this section, in the correct direction I might add, at this point on the left in the forest there was a young deer munching away, completely oblivious to the fact we were all awestruck with his beauty.’
This is the straw that . . . . . almost broke the camels back ie my leg. How so much can change in such a short time!
I knew my leg was becoming more and more of a problem, I hated the ground underfoot in this section, I was never comfortable on it and I also found it difficult to gauge how far along we were after a while but that could be tiredness more than anything. We kept trying the walk – run method but that quickly became impossible with the pain it was causing. It was affecting my ability to bend my knee to lift my foot high enough over the embedded stones, I kept trying to find the smoothest section to walk on but often these were so narrower I’d be tripping over the edges and that in itself affected my movement and knee. I couldn’t win.
Photo credit: Lucja Leonard
The weather was in, rain, wind, yes there was even moments of sunshine. Sideways rain, battering our left hand side, I swear my right hand side was pretty dry until closer to Glencoe. Putting one foot in front of the other – I could do that! Finally we spotted G waiting for us, he took us to dib in, they kindly asked how we were doing. Actually, at the very point, I felt not too bad. But that very quickly changed. Karen, Lucja and I headed for the toilets to get changed were told about the drying room – OMG what an invention! This was fantastic, Karen pretty much stripped me and dressed me while Lucja dried herself under the hand dryer. But I started to feel sick and actually thought I was going to be sick, we hurried over to the toilets but I wasn’t actually sick.
We went to find G who had started to worry about where we had gotten lost, apparently it took 40mins for all of the above to take place and he was feeling like a weirdo holding seats for people who never seemed to appear hahaha.
The guys were buying me food, encouraging me to eat, I managed to get down most of my soup in the cafe but struggled with anything else. I was feeling ridiculously nauseous and sick, it just wouldn’t settle. I know they were worried – I could tell by the looks on their faces. We knew my time goal was out, I was a bit of a mess and now know I probably can’t really grasp how I looked or the impact this was having on them. We went through a list if possible ways to move forwards, this included going for a 30 minute kip, with my time goal out, I had time to do this without having to pull out completely. It also meant even if I didn’t feel better I could pull out at that stage having tried the options.
I slept, I ached to start with, felt sick and couldn’t switch off to sleep at first despite being knackered. Then I was out, then I was awake the next second – or so it seemed. G woke me up and we headed back to the cafe, it was very busy, full of walkers and runners. My RAW dryrobe was amazing during this period keeping me warm. I was informed by hawk eye G that I must eat a decent meal to carry on, then I was told I needed to layer up more. The guys were still worried and I’m super sorry to have put them through that worry. I dutifully did as I was told and to be honest I felt much better, my knee was sore but it felt slightly better since my sleep.
Photo credit: Graeme Maxwell
They agreed I could go on, we had decided pre-race that I needed to let my crew make some decisions for me when or if I I was deemed not able. This was one of those scenarios. I trusted them wholeheartedly to make the right decision based on the information in front of them. It was my constant worry that I was placing too much pressure on them and asking too much of my crew.
Glencoe Ski Resort to Kinlochleven
We decided I could go on with multiple layers, I believe everyone was being told to put waterproofs on anyway. So I left Glencoe with a vest, running t-shirt, running long-sleeved top, my new running jacket, my normal running jacket and G’s amazing tent waterproof haha, plus hat, buff, gloves and multiple hoods. We were good to go, we had also accepted I probably couldn’t run much, if at all with all the pain in my knee. It had developed into pain on two areas at the back of my knee and laterally on the knee. But walking down the entrance drive to the ski resort and I felt my knee wasn’t as bad as when I had stopped.
I told G we could try running a bit along the tarmaced sections to Kingshouse hotel – it worked! Get IN!! I was pleased as I knew when we went off road again it was likely I wouldn’t be able to. At the back of the hotel G pointed out a deer crossing the river, pretty amazing to see, then another deer popped out behind the bridge, simply stunning to see these guys in the area. We also spotted a small herd over by some trees, I love this, it make being in nature, the trails worth all the runs. We overtook some folks as we headed along the bottom to the Devils Staircase, we were walking at a decent pace. Head down, one foot in front of the other, this was again a confidence boost, small as that may be but I’ll take that as a small win along the way. Karen and Lucja met us at the bottom of the staircase just to do a last check to make sure I was okay. Thumbs up!
We headed up the staircase, I felt bad for G, this wasn’t how we had recce’d this section. G was a master on the hills, he had tenacity and just plots on, exactly why I knew he was the best guy for me on this section. We were walking, G leading so that all I had to do was follow. Apparently, I didn’t do that very well either, oops!
500 m from the top there was a sign for a cafe at the top, surely a joke right? Apparently not, we had a laugh at this, over the top I ate, G regularly checked I was drinking and eating. I think we had a wee jog down the other side, it was hard. We had slipped into our usual patter when running/ walking together, calling out any obstacles, points to note, this is how we roll and we generally extend this same courtesy to anyone beside us as well. It work S for us, good communication helps each of us to take the best path to our goal.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t take advantage of the great downhill into Kinlochleven, I was also feeling that I could literally fall asleep on my feet, insert the ‘alphabet game’, great distraction. We had agreed I needed to be open and upfront when I wasn’t feeling great so that the guys could help me rather than trying to bang on quietly. It was fantastic to reach Kinlochleven with an indoor checkpoint, weigh-in – my weight was back up – superb!
Photo credit: Karen Brown
I sat down and caught up with Karen, G did a hand over again, I got 10 mins nap while the others had a laugh at my expense. I woken with some amazing noodles!
Kinlochleven to Lundavra
Lucja was up next, it was a long climb out of Kinlochleven, we climbed and climbed, got a little lost but managed to get quickly on track again. It was over to the Larig Mor, I thought we had seen the worst of the weather but no, at points we were literally stopped dead in our tracks by the wind, most the tracks had turned into mini streams with the rainfall. Thankfully I had worked out if the weather was bad that this section would be a wet one – trail shoes were a good bet. We had given up talking because it was impossible to hear each other. So it was heids down and just keep going. It just seemed to go on and on for ever, we were over the weather and that section.
Lundavra to Lochaber Sports Centre (Finish)
Karen had the final shift, she was very positive and full of energy despite having also been up for hours within only small amounts of sleep. As we walked along every so often I’d catch my foot and she would turn to ensure I was still standing. When I look back, it feels like we got through the last section well but I know it didnt feel like that at the time. When we arrived at the final downhill section in Fort William I was keen to try a little run – walking – what a waste not to run downhill.
I couldn’t do it, it was simply too painful, with the pain now coming in at the back of my knee. So, to the finish line it was to be a hobble – to experience crossing the finish line, I was happy with that.
Not how I wantedt but theres time for that . . .
Photo credit: taken by finish line photographer on mobile.