Where Did That Come From?
West Highland Way Race, 20th June 2009
95 miles, 7th place in…
18 hours 42 minutes 00 seconds
Before I begin to discuss the race, I want to thank my support crew. My driver Pete, and Mrs pacepusher did everything I could have hoped for and more. Mrs pacepusher always had everything I might want ready, helped me keep my breaks short, and always said the right things. I think the classic comment from her, after I was complaining at Kinlochleven about not enjoying the race as I had been on my own the whole time, was, “Well if you’re not enjoying it, hurry up, get it over and done with and break 19 hours!”… your wish was my command!
And so to the race…
Milngavie to Drymen 12.17 miles
Predicted split time – 1:40:00
Actual split time – 1:45:06 Average 8:38 min/miles
I was standing at the start, chatting away, when Dario said, “Go!”, and off we went. I was near the front and recognised a few faces that I knew would finish well ahead of me, not to worry at this stage though. As we ran through the town centre a number of drunks had fallen out of the pub and were generally getting in the way. “You’re all gonna die”, said one, “but not as soon as you”, I replied!
After going down the steps toward the path, the leader (Dutchman, Jan Lantink, who would finish 2nd) followed the pavement, whilst myself and Richie Cunningham (who would finish 3rd in an amazing PB of 16:24:00), cut across the car park. All of a sudden I was leading the race. “Get in front of me quick Richie”, I said, “if my back-up team see this they’ll kill me!” I ran with Richie quite a lot early on and we were discussing our targets. I said that I had a running schedule of 18:30:00 but that didn’t include breaks, and so I didn’t expect to be anywhere near that, “you never know”, he said!
I let the faster guys head off as we approached about 3 miles or so, and found myself in no mans land. Nobody was gaining on me, despite slowing down and stopping for a loo break, so I just plodded on alone. I wasn’t worried about my pace, it was slower than I was aiming for, but my position in the race did concern me a little. I was in the top 10 and this didn’t seem right. The dark was keeping me slow, so I decided not to worry and to just gowith the flow. I caught Richie again just after the Carbeth Huts as he too had stopped for a comfort break, and again I was punching a bit above my weight. Twice I told Richie that I was slowing and letting him go (I didn’t want to try andrun his race – I knew he was in far better shape than me), but each time I dropped back, I would only stay a couple of meters behind. At the Beech Tree Inn, a few of the guys ahead stopped, but I went straight through. I met my support crew at the garden centre just a little further up the path, leaving there I was in 4th place!
A rather longer comfort break meant that I dropped back through the field, and I didn’t see Richie again until the end. I was now running alone, and would basically continue to do so for the remainder of the race. I arrived in Drymen a little over schedule, but was nice and relaxed. I grabbed two raisin pancakes and a fresh bottle of water, before heading off again after only 28 seconds.
Hands up if you thought I started too fast!?!?!
Drymen to Balmaha 6.87 miles
Predicted split time - 1:10:00
Actual split time – 1:12:50 Average 10:37 min/miles
I ran most of the first hill, stopping just short of the top to start and eat some of the pancakes (I ate most of these throughout this section whilst walking up some of the hills, and foundthem easy to digest), I was aware of a few people aroundme throughout this stage but I didn’t run with any body forany length of time, either I passed them, or they passed me. I met WeirRunner (for the third time) at Garadhban Forrest. He had come out for the night to offer his support to those he knew during the early stages. This time he was on his bike, and so he cycled along side me for a short while. I was worried about being accused of having a pacer, so he shot off further up the path which meant I got another cheer later on. It was great to see him, and really good of him to come out and support us all through the night, thank you. He would’ve loved to have been out for the whole race, but he had to return home for his Mother-in-laws 60th Birthday party.
Conic Hill was fine, and the daylight was starting to appear. The views over the loch were stunning. I’d turned my head torch off on the way down the hill, and after going through the gate at the bottom, just before the forest area, someone took my photo. The flash blinded me and I almost missed the first step. I shouted at him, but according to WeirRunner who I passed (heading uphill on his bike) just before the Balmaha car park, he continued doing it to other runners. He took the light off the front of his bike and shone it on the steps so that people could see safely. He also suggested to the guy that he move out into the open!
At Balmaha I had to change my socks. I was wearing new ones which kept slipping down into my shoes (school boy error – should have stuck with the older, tried and tested pair in the first place), I also had some baked beans and some sports drink, then headed off with gels and water in hand after a total break of 2:37. I felt that I got my fueling spot on for the race. Over each section I carried a bottle of water and at least 2 gels, then I ate and drank various things at the check points. I consumed 18 gels throughout the race!
Balmaha to Rowardennan 7.87 miles
Predicted split time - 1:20:00
Actual split time – 1:20:29 Average 10:13 min/miles
Onwards ever onwards, well after a quick stop to put a load of sticky gel wrappers in the bin anyway, and off to Rowardennan. I ran all the way to the first climb, feeling good, surprisingly good, and then walked up the hill. I was now well and truly alone, nobody ahead, nobody behind, and I realised it was going to be a long lonely run for the rest of the day. There were a lot of campers about, most just going to bed, stinking of alcohol. This gave me more incentive to keep running at a decent pace, especially as we had been warned during the race briefing that there had been trouble there recently.
I met my support team at about half way through the section. I had asked them to be there as I had felt really bad at this stage during the Fling, but today I was fine, and after a brief chat about forthcoming requirements I continued on my way. Mrs pacepusher coped admirablywith my typical ‘whatever’ approach to ultra running, and would make sure everything was at hand so that she could give me whatever I decided I wanted. My only complaint, which I didn’t mention at the time, was that she kept trying to give me a base layer long sleeved top to change into, when I just wanted my usual long sleeved running tops. This was probably her revenge for the fact that I had left all my tops inside out in my kit bag!
I usually bonk during this stage but today I continued running strong (again I believe this was due to my improved fuelling strategy, and the fact I was regularly taking gels on board), my pace hadn’t dropped at all, and Rowardennan arrived quickly. WeirRunner was there again, and he cycled the short distance to the checkpoint to advise my crew of what I wanted… I think Mrs pacepusher had it all under control already though! I changed, ate and drank, restocked with gels and water, and was away again after a stop of 3 minutes 53 seconds.
Rowardennan to Inversnaid 7.22 miles
Predicted split time - 1:20:00
Actual split time – 1:14:41 Average 10:20 min/miles
I remembered this section from the Fling, and how I had run all the way to the gate that marks the start of the first climb. This was the plan again today, and as I did so, I was amazed to see that the pace on my GPS was still not dropping. This continued all day, I took more walk breaks as the run went on, but when I ran, my pace remained similar throughout – although running the downhills of this section my pace was reading 6:30ish at times! Somebody passed me during the long climb on this section, and I was relieved to get a brief chat before he continued on his way. Places didn’t bother me, my time did though, so I kept pushing as hard as I could, arriving at Inversnaid over 5 minutes ahead of schedule. I wouldn’t be seeing my support team again until Carmyle Cottage some 11 miles away, so I’d left a drop bag at Inversnaid full of goodies. I stopped for 5 mins16 seconds, making sure I was well fueled for the following stages, then left with 4 gels, and a freshly filled bottle of water.
Inversnaid to Beinglas Farm 6.62 miles
Predicted split time - 1:30:00
Actual split time – 1:30:23 Average 13:40 min/miles
I officially spat my dummy out on this section. I hated it, and came to the conclusion that when I got to Carmyle Cottage, I was pulling out. I wasn’t enjoying the race, so what was the point? My left foot was also starting to hurt and I began to worry about injury and it preventing me from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro a few weeks after the race. David Muir came past me over this section, I was just trying to maintain forward momentum, but he seemed to be going well, and it didn’t help my mojo! I would see him again later though as he said I would as he passed! Beinglas couldn’t arrive soon enough, and as I reached the top of the climb, and started the ascent, I started to enjoy myself a bit again. “you’re just out to play on the trail”, I kept telling myself, and Beinglas Farm was soon ahead of me. I must have looked better than I felt when I got there as the guy manning the water station asked f I was just a support runner! I had a quick chat with him, filled up my water bottle, and after 1:19, I was away in a better frame of mind. I was really looking forward to seeing my support team though!
Beinglas Farm to Carmyle Cottage 4.06 miles
Predicted split time – 50:00
Actual split time – 48:42 Average 12:00 min/miles
My aim over this section was to run as much as possible, that way the section would be over quicker andI’d see my back-up team sooner. I could see somebody ahead (David Muir, I suspect) for a while but with the undulations, I soon lost sight. I kept looking back expecting to see a friendly face, Sonic, The Crazy German, Sharon or JK amongst others, chasing me down, but nobody appeared. As I looked back from the top of one of the hills, there was nobody behind me for what looked like miles!
My foot was becoming increasingly painful, and I decided that I would change my trail shoes to my road shoes at Carmyle Cottage to give my foot some extra support. I’d also sorted my head out, and no way was I stopping now!
I was soon just short of Carmyle Cottage and there were a few support runners heading back down the path. They were all really supportive and spurred me on a bit extra. As I reached the check point, but just out of sight, I heard a dog barking frantically, “Harvey knows I’m coming”, I thought. He doesn’t normally bark, but I smiled a huge smile, knowing that I was about to see my boy, wife, and father-in-law, at last. It wasn’t Harvey, it was another dog, but it had given me a real boost, and he got a big cuddle when I saw him! Debs was there, and made some, tongue in cheek, comment about me going off to fast, “this is my slow pace”, I said! Murdo was in charge of the check point, sadly unable to run, but kindly giving something back to the race, and he was very supportive. I ate, drank, and set off again after 5mins 13secs in very high spirits. I’d forgotten to change my shoes though!
Carmyle Cottage to Auchtertyre Farm 5.49 miles
Predicted split time – 1:05:00
Actual split time – 1:05:44 Average 11:59 min/miles
I pushed on hard once I reached the top of the climb. I ran as much as I possibly could, and, as in the Fling, once I saw Bogle Glen ahead, I told myself I was running all the way to the gate. I did, and again, as with the Fling, I chuckled with memories of TV’s ‘Monarch Of The Glen’. I climbed up the hill and it felt short and easy. I love this section and enjoy the downhill sections immensely. On the first real ascent though, I felt something go in my foot, it felt like a crack, and when I got to Auchtertyre Farm, I told Mrs pacepusher that I thought I might have a stress fracture. You could see the look of, ‘typical man’, in her eyes, but she humoured me, and reminded me that I had given her some prescription strength pain killers for situations like this. I never did resort to taking them, but I did have some mild pain killers.
Once I crossed the A82, I told myself I was running all the way to the gate after the farm, then I would have a short walk, then run all the way to the check point. As I ran on the nice flat tarmac, my GPS was telling me my pace was about 8:20 m/m and I couldn’t believe I was still running so strongly… ‘today might just be my day’, but as I said to anyone that told me I was looking good, there was still a long way to go!
At Auchtertyre Farm I was weighed by the lovely Mrs Mac, no concerns over that, had a quick chat with the BBC cameras for about the third time in the day. I also met Donald and Stevie (JK’s 2nd half support crew, andclub mates) for the first time. I then headed round to the car, changed my socks and shoes (which felt so much better), ate and drank, then after 7mins 35secs (longer than planned – but needed) I headed off with Mrs pacepusher and Harvey, and a glass of Coke. 100 or so meters down the road, I was alone and running well over one of my favourite sections of the Way.
Auchtertyre Farm to Tyndrum 2.58 miles
Predicted split time – 30:00
Actual split time – 27:13 Average 10:34 min/miles
As said, I love this wee section, especially the short stretch through the woods. I was feeling good, and ran a lot of it, thoroughly enjoying ‘playing’ on the trail through the woods. My foot was still sore, but the road shoes felt so bouncy compared to my trail shoes that I was far more comfortable. At Tyndrum, my team had an ice cold pint of milk for me as requested. I stopped to drink it, then realised I might as well just start walking with it up the hill, so after only 34 seconds, I was off, with Mrs pacepusher at my side. I was so pleased that she was able to be with me for these short times, as it meant that I had some chat for a while, and that I felt she was being more a part of the race. She got her support role spot on andI am so grateful. As I said to her in a thank you card, with a better runner, she’d have won the race! I was soon on my own again though, with her words, “get running”, echoing around in my head!
Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy 6.65 miles
Predicted split time – 1:20:00
Actual split time - 1:09:59 Average 10:32 min/miles
This, in my head, was going to be a tough section. It was further than I had run since this time last year, the wind was getting up, and it’s always in your face at this point. I had set myself what I thought was a challenging time, but I ran well, and really enjoyed it – the wind was fine. I ran all the way from the top of the climb to the farm, and felt great, I was flying!
Team Kynaston were at the train station and gave me a cheer, then another couple of support runners were on the downhill section and told me I was looking good and strong. I ran towards the check point feeling exactly just that, good and strong. I was now feeling confident of breaking 20 hours, and starting to consider the possibility of being considerably faster. There was no way I was counting any chickens though until I got to Kingshouse. In fact, with last year in mind, I wouldn’t assume anything until I got to Fort William!
I’m not sure of the exact break time here (about 3 mins) as I changed over to a 2nd GPS, but I did eat a load more, and almost walked into a car as I wasn’t looking where I was going… thanks to Donald for saving me some painful bruising!
Bridge of Orchy to Victoria Bridge 2.78 miles
Predicted split time – 35:00
Actual split time – 35:39 Average 12:49 min/miles
I set off running, and ran until the climb started. I then made a conscious decision to walk all the way to the top of the hill and to save some energy for Rannoch Moor. Once at the top, I ran all the way (apart from a quick pee stop) to Victoria Bridge. My motivation was increased by the 7th placed runner being just ahead of me and looking like he was slowing. I ran fairly hard, and arrivedjust behind him. We had a brief, ‘how are you doing?’,then his stop was much shorter than my 3mins 58secs and he headed off well ahead of me. Would I see him again before Kingshouse?
I was not looking forward to the next section, but told myself to just run as much as I could, and keep moving forward. Getting to Kingshouse feeling OK was the main objective.
Victoria Bridge to Kingshouse 9.15
Predicted split time - 1:55:00
Actual split time – 1:44:16 Average 11:24 min/miles
So off I went, Mrs pacepusher had walked for a short while with me, then I was on my own. I worked hard, picking spots to run to, or running to the count of 100. Sometimes getting to 100 would be a flat section so I’d make myself go for another 100. I worked hard, and a few miles into the section I started to feel sick. I was still battling hard, I could see 7th place ahead but, a long way ahead. I didn’t care about my place in the race, just my time, so I kept pushing against the clock. Just as I was having a real low, I noticed 3 runners approaching behind. Here we go I thought, this is where I start to go backwards. I was sure that it was Sonic and JK, but couldn’t work out how they’d caught me already. Resigned to the fact they would pass me eventually, I started to run… ‘make them work for it’ I thought. I soon realised though that these guys weren’t in the race. They knew me, but if I’m honest I wasn’t sure who they were, although I recognised their faces. I think they may have been part of the Sonic crew, and I’m sure Atholl (who I went hill walking with sometime ago) was one of them. They asked how I felt, andI said I felt a bit sick. I started to run with them and they told me I was looking strong and running really well. They also told me that I was well clear in 8th place. One of the guys then said, “you can’t be feeling too bad if you’re running at this pace”, I looked at my GPS and saw the 7:40 pace I was running at!
The guys headed off and I watched with jealousy as they flew along the trail, well into the distance. ‘Just keep moving forward’, I thought. I finally found myself on the final climb, andwas joined near the top by a BBC camera man/interviewer. I ran towards him, thinking that the shot of me running with the hills behind me would be a good one. He then walked with me and asked me all sorts of questions about the race and my experiences etc. I was pleased to have the company, and after he filmed my feet plodding on through the trail, he thanked me, and I was off down the hill. Last year at this point, I flew down the hill, working really hard all the way to Kingshouse. After that I was gubbed and couldn’t run. So this year I deliberately took a walking break about half way down, and kept the pace sensible.
At Black Rock Cottage, there were quite a lot of support crews, the guys that had run past me over the Moor were there, and as with almost every supporter, they told me I was looking strong and running well. One guy also told me I was well clear in 8th place… JK wasn’t going to catch me this year! The biggest lift for me at this point though was Debs. She was literally jumping with excitement, and shouted, “you’re flying”. Her enthusiasm gave me a big smile and a lift that kept me running until the slight incline just prior to Kingshouse, where I decided again to take a walk break and save some energy for the next section. Richie had said to me during the early stages of the race, that Jezz Brag walks the hills but runs like the wind on the downs and the flats. This remained in my head the whole race, and I took walking hills as a positive thing, a chance to conserve energy and allow me to run quicker when I ran. It seemed to work for me!
Kingshouse was now just ahead, andonce again Mrs p was waiting with a few supplies. Again however, I insisted on reaching the check point before stopping. I stopped for 3 mins 39 seconds to refuel, then was booted off up the track by Mrs pacepusher!
Kingshouse to The Devil’s Staircase 2.89 miles
Predicted split time - 35:00
Actual split time – 33:52 Average 11:42 min/miles
I ran almost all of the road section up to the fence that leads you back on to the trail, then used the climb to recover, and to prepare myself for the downhill run to the Staircase. I was becoming aware of blisters on my right foot, and spent the whole run trying to avoid it coming into contact with water. I was soon at Altnafeadh, had a quick gulp of sports drink, took fresh water and gels, and carried on… sub 19hrs was now definitely on the cards!
The Devil’s Staircase to Kinlochleven 6.10 miles
Predicted split time – 1:25:00
Actual split time – 1:16:54 Average 12:36 min/miles
When I ran this section last year, I felt that I had run it very well. I had been running with Brian, and my support runner Bookseller. We pushed each other at different points and I felt that my predicted split was going to be hard to make. I pushed up the Staircase as hard as I could, reaching the top in about 23 or 24 minutes, but found it really hard work. I enjoyed the run down the other side, then walked back up out of the valley. Once I reached the final descent towards Kinlochleven, I was feeling good, but put the brakes on over the rocky terrain. I was on for a good time, and wasn’t going to end it now with a broken ankle. Once I hit the flatter downhill terrain though, I was flying, sub 8:00 m/m pace at some points, but it was hurting my left foot.
I was hugely surprised to see my split time as I reached the housing estate, with just the shortish run to the check point to go. I was even more surprised to see 7th placed David Muir just ahead as I turned into the trees. I put on a spurt, just for the hell of it, and arrived in Kinlochleven in 7th place!
I weighed in, Murdo, now here having left Carmyle, and race control, Geraldine, doing the business. My Mother-in-law had now joined my support team having arrived by bus from Glasgow. I had a good feed and restocked on supplies for the next section. After 5mins 14seconds I was off.
Kinlochleven to Lundavra 7.46 miles
Predicted split time – 1:45:00
Actual split time – 1:43:07 Average 13:49 min/miles
David had left just ahead of me, walking with his support runner. I decided I was running all the way to the trail and the start of the climb, and ran back into 7th place with a spring in my step. I still wasn’t really bothered about placings, but I was amused by the fact I was so far up the field. I chuckled with disbelief as I carried on down the road.
The climb up onto the Lairig Mor was tough, and at the top, with yet another camera in my face, I was asked how I felt, “knackered”, was the best I could manage, and off I went.
The Mor is always tough, the long undulating path that you can see miles into the distance, and the often wet, uneven trail, makes running hard. I knew if I could get to Lundavra in 2 hours (15 mins slower than planned) I would still have 1:30:00 to make it to the finish in a sub 19 hour time. I pushed on as hard as I could, running as much as I could. I was now getting possesive about my 7th place, my competative streak was coming out, and I kept looking back. If I saw David, I pushed on harder. I was swearing to myself about the terrain, I felt good enough to still be running well, but just couldn’t pick my feet through the rocks. I was also still protecting my right foot from the water as much as I could to prevent my blisters from getting any worse. My left foot stopped hurting some time short of Lundavra and I forgot about it until after the race.
I soon saw the welcome sight of Mrs pacepusher a short way down the path from the check point. Again I insisted on running there though. I had a quick chat with Duncan, no bonfire yet, and had some milk before heading off after 2mins 12secs, with just over 1:45:00 left to break 19 hours, and a predicted split of 1:30:00 ahead. I was well aware however, as to what happened over this section last year when I also had 1:45, but on that occasion to break 21 hours, and I didn’t make it!
Lundavra to Fort William 7.21 miles
Predicted split time - 1:30:00
Actual split time – 1:30:13 Average 12:31 min/miles
I climed up the hill away from Lundavra feeling very tired, but was confident I had enough in the tank to break 19 hours, and to keep 7th place.
I decided to work on the basis of just keeping moving forward until I reached the woods, then start to work as hard as possible to the final descent, before trying to run all the way to the leisure centre.
I was at the woods surprisingly quickly, and I ran whenever I could. My left quad was tightening up though and the downhills didn’t feel as good as they usually do. The final climb seemed like Ben Nevis, and I just wanted it to be all over! I felt like I had been making good progress through the woods, and as I hit the new long winding path that heads down to Fort William, I was gutted to see David Muir just behind. ‘I’ll take 8th place’, I though, ‘at least I should break 19 hrs from here’. I turned around again, and David was walking behind me, not getting any closer. “Just keep moving forward”, he shouted to me, and I realised he was feeling about as good as me! We reached the downhill section and I figured if I was going to finish 8th, then David would have to fight for my 7th place. I ran as hard as I could down that hill, I had nothing left, my left quad was tight, but I ran, I ran like my life depended on it. My GPS was showing the pace at under 8:00 m/m’s, but I felt like the distance reading was broken, it just never seemed to increase!
I had built up quite a gap now, and as I passed the WHW right turn (that you don’t take!) I looked back. I wanted to make sure David came the right way, but he was nowhere to be seen. I kept on pushing, the Braveheart car park seemingly never getting any closer. Then, like an oasis in the desert, Mrs p was standing there, I’d made it, and we ran down the hill together. I took a fresh bottle of water, and headed off to cheers and shouts of “just keep it going”, from my, and another (probably Davids) support crew.
Through the car park and around the corner. Pop! There goes a blister… agony! Still, on I push, the support car would be passing me again soon, and it does, to a mass of shouts from the crew. There’s the 30 mph signs… always know you’re nearly there when you see them… I stop to walk one last hill, sub 19 hours is well and truly in the bag… but I’m not finishing walking. About 400 meters to go… I can run that, and I do. The leisure centre is in sight, into the car park, Team Kynaston lines the finish, up the steps, hit the door… I’ve done it! 7th place, 18 hours 42 minutes 00 seconds. Dario greets me and offers me whiskey, I decline… I’m off to give blood and pee in a bottle!
And so my 2nd goblet, a huge PB, and 27th on the all time list! As I said, where did that come from?
Another big thank you to my support crew and to anyone that supported me in anyway. To every other runner, I hope you achieved what you wanted, and if you didn’t, there’s always next time… just believe, in the words of Richie Cunningham, “you never know!”
…my left foot continued to hurt, infact it began to hurt more, so on Wednesday, I visited the local A&E. A couple of X-rays later and the Dr informed me that it was fractured… I’d run, by my reckoning, at least half the race with a broken foot!
Back to Hospital on Thursday, and my foot is now in a cast. There it will stay for two weeks, when they will then take another X-ray. The Dr’s are fairly confident that I’ll be OK to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in 3 weeks time… my finger’s are firmly crossed!