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West Highland Way Race 2013

2013
Jun
Place (149) Category Time
Phil Humphries 26 MV40 21:39:09 1

1 = First race over the distance.

The West Highland Way was opened as Scotland’s first long distance footpath on 6 October 1980 and upwards of 30,000 people walk the full 96 miles, (154.5 km), every year. It was less than five years after the route opened before someone came up with the idea of having a race over the distance and on 22 June 1985, two men started in Milngavie and, 17 hours and 48 minutes later, finished together in Fort William. Fast forward 28 years and, on the same day in June, 181 runners stood on the line at the start of the 29th WHW Race, including ERN’s very own Ultramarathon Man, Phil Humphries!

Phil said : The WHW Race is an ultra-marathon foot race along the West Highland Way long distance footpath. It is the longest single-stage race in Scotland with a Scottish Athletics permit, and probably the most iconic and prized of the Scottish ultra-marathon races.

Start: Milngavie Glasgow
Finish: Fort William
Distance: 95 miles
Total ascent: 14,760ft
Start Time: 1am (Sat)
Time Limit: 35 hours

Why did I enter the race?

I first heard about the WHW race about 10 years ago before I took up running. It seemed amazing that anybody could or would want to run such a long distance. I thought it would just be super-humans and fitness freaks that would try such a mad adventure, and definitely not something I could do. Then in 2005 I took up running, joined Edinburgh Running Network (ERN), and gradually progressed from my first 10k race, to half marathons, full marathons and then ultra-marathons. At the same time I discovered the joy of multi-terrain running through the varied Scottish scenery. I realized you don’t have to be mad, superhuman or ridiculously fit to run ultra-marathons, you just need to be able to keep moving forwards at a reasonable pace, running when you can and walking when you can’t. As long as you keep moving and eat/drink when your body needs it, with a lot of will-power you will get there in the end no matter what the distance. The sense of achievement and camaraderie you get amongst you fellow runners outweighs any pain you may have suffered along the journey.

The 53 mile Highland Fling back in 2009 was my first Ultra – it nearly broke me, and I was injured for much of that year as a consequence, but I finished it and from there on I was hooked ultra-marathons. 4 years later after completing 14 ultra races the only race in the original Scottish Ultra-marathon race series that I had not entered was the WHW race. The furthest race I had done up to that point was 55 miles long, and I didn’t feel confident my body could take much more than that in one go, but 2012 was without doubt my strongest year, performing well in every race from 10K up 55 miles. By then I was also a member of Carnethy Hill Running Club and had ran a few hill races, so had become a much stronger all-round runner than when I first start ultras. So in November 2012 year I decided I was finally ready to apply for the 2013 WHW race. With so many ultras under my belt I easily met the qualifying criteria. For the first time the race was oversubscribed with 15 unlucky people losing out in the ballot and 250 accepted, fortunately I was one of those who received the email in early December saying I had been accepted.

Training

With the entries allocated at the start of December and the race in following June that left 6 months for training and preparation. I already had a good fitness base from what was my most prolific year in terms of the number, variety and toughness of races, so I had plenty of time to get my mind and body in a state where I could run 95 miles in one day. Although you have 35 hours to complete the race many people aim not just to finish, but complete it as quickly as they can in less than 24 hours, and that was certainly my goal too.

In December I had been persuaded over a beer to enter the Tour De Helvelyn (TDH) ultra marathon by Graham Nash a fellow ultra-runner and member of Carnethy. The TDH is relatively short for an ultra (38 miles), but is run in winter in the Lake District, is on hilly challenging terrain, and requires good navigation as the route is unmarked and there are no marshals apart from the start/finish and a couple of checkpoints. The weather was awful, it was wet windy, cold and I was soaking wet with frozen feet for much of the race. I also lacked the energy to get into a reasonable pace and rhythm, and ended up walking more than I would have liked. It felt like one race too many for the year, but I knew I had to dig in and finish it, because I had never had DNF against my name in a race before and did not want to finish the year on a low. Also it might help toughen me up a bit which would be valuable for the WHW race next year. In the latter stages I met Andy Cole and ran/walked and chatted to him for a while to keep my spirits up. He told me he had completed WHW race many times, and several other big ultras, and so it was good to run with him for while. After leaving Andy I managed to navigate the last few miles in darkness across desolate mist covered moor land to finish in just over 9 hours, not a great time (Graham was over an hour ahead of me), but I finished which always feels good. One of the best things about the TDH race is that it is held the weekend before Christmas, so is a great excuse for guilt-free over indulgence during the Christmas period as a means to re-stocking the bodies calorie supplies.

In January I went on two cross-country skiing trips with Elly. The first was a gentle warm-up in Austria as a way of getting some exercise whilst eating lots of good food and celebrating the New Year. For the second week of skiing we were in the Dolomites with a hard few days of instruction/training followed by the DolomitenLauf at the end of the week. This is a 42km cross-country race in the classic technique in a beautiful remote tree-line valley over the Austrian border. However, the course is far from flat with some tough hill-climbs and tricky ‘wipe-out’ bends to negotiate. On the day it was quite cold and the snow conditions were not fast, so we did not get as much speed on the down-hills as we would have wished. I was lucky and fell only once – a face-plant on a straight flat session near the end when I got my skis entangled while changing tracks, but no injures other than pride. Still I managed to finish in just over 4 hours (about 2 hours behind the winner!) with absolutely nothing left in the tank. The great thing about cross-country skiing is you get a full body workout and if you push it the pain is spread all over not just the legs, but it is great fun and makes running seem incredibly simple and easy.

During the rest of January I managed to fit in a bit of running and gym work, but did not do much until February. However the fitness I gained from skiing meant I did not have to slowly build up the training miles from scratch. I don’t usually follow a specific week-by-week, day-by-day training plan, because I like things to remain flexible, so I can evenly balance priorities between running, and other activities such as hill-walking and real ale. My approach to the WHW training was the same as with other big ultras – do a series of races as stepping stones and fit as much training in between as is practical with appropriate tapering and recovery periods as necessary. I don’t count weekly mileage instead I try to listen to my body to gauge whether I am doing too much or too little. I like all of my running to be enjoyable including training, so will not force myself to run if I am too tired after work or just not in the mood for it. Also, I don’t try to flog myself too hard in training – I leave that for races. I don’t do any speed sessions, because when I tried them in the past it did not seem to improve anything. I much prefer hill sessions as a way of strengthening leg muscles and feel the benefit of these both in ultras and in hill races. Another feature of my training (as with many others who run ultras) are back-to-back long runs. In training for the WHW race I did more of these than usual including a 40 Fri + 30 Sat + 25 Sun = 95 mile combination over Easter. Those runs went really well the first two of which I did on my own, and the last one I did with ERN runners who were training for the Edinburgh marathon. I equally enjoy running on my own and running with other people, and being a member of both ERN and Carnethy provides two very different pools of runners to train with.

Many people doing the WHW race for obvious reasons tend to do a lot of training on the WHW route itself especially if they live out in the west with easy access to the route. I did Tyndrum to Victoria Bridge and back with Elly (via Bridge of Orchy for coffee and cake) on a cold, windy, showery day in February. Then in March I did Milngavie to Tyndrum over two days with a group of guys from Carnethy (staying overnight at Rowardennan). Again the weather was damp and showery but not too cold this time. Two weeks before the WHW race I did Kingshouse to Fort William with Oz who would be supporting me in the early stages of the race. The main reasons for this were twofold: (a) to re-familiarise myself with the last two stages of the route, and (b) install a positive memory of the last two stages of the route which are the hardest, and my previous memory from the Devil O’ The Highlands race from two years ago was not a positive one. On that training run it was a really warm sunny day, and by chance on the way up the Devil’s Staircase we met John Duncan, Karen Donoghue and George Reid (race directors of the Highland Fling, Cateran Trail and D33 ultras respectively). It was good to run for a while with such fine pillars of the Scottish ultra-running community who put so much into the sport. They were out training with Lorna Macmillan, who was also was also making a first attempt at the WHW race this year. She is so full of infectious enthusiasm and certainly livened up my training run. Also, George offered some very simple but useful advice for the WHW race; “arrive at Tyndrum one hour slower that your Highland Fling PB, put on a fresh top on a Bridge of Orchy and think of it as the start of the race”. In the actual race that is what I pretty much did apart from the top change which came earlier at Auchtertyre after a downpour, but that is for later…

My performance in my ‘milestone’ races leading up to the WHW race varied from good to not-so-good, but as a whole I was happy given that my performance in the WHW race is what would really define my running year.

Date Race Distance Time Position Observations
16 Feb Carnethy 5 Hill Race Not far, but a lot of up and down… 1:16:47 296 / 530 Took it nice and steady I’m not good a short steep hill races, so just wanted to enjoy it and not tweak anything!
16 Mar D33 ultra 33 miles 4:20:38 24 / 252 Ran as fast as I could, but suffered dip in middle section, so was 2 mins off my PB from last year despite no knee pain unlike last year. Wet cold and windy so maybe that is my excuse?
27 Apr Highland Fling Ultra 53 miles 9:58:04 (PB) 69 / 416 Nearly did not turn up as was suffering with lower back pain in week leading up to race. First time I have finished a race in less pain that I started – may be ultras are the new miracle sure for a bad back! I even managed to dance at the ceilidh in the evening (in comparison could not stand up straight on the morning of race!).
18 May Cateran Trail Ultra 55 miles 10:18 9 / 51 One position better than last year but 52 mins slower despite aiming for a PB. I lacked energy and form in middle 20 miles of race, but finished strongly over the last 10 miles. Probably not enough rest after Highland Fling.
9 Jun Dechmont Law Trail Race 10k 43:22 21 / 139 37 seconds slower than last year, but I had run 25 miles from Kingshouse to Fort William the previous day, so still feeling pretty smug with my performance.

Tapering

I had planned the 25 mile training run (Kingshouse to Fort William) and the Dechmont Law 10k as my last significant runs prior to the race. That left two weeks of tapering where the aim was just to do a few easy runs and maybe a little light gym work to keep me ticking over until the big day. However with 9 days to go I did a “beach-fun” circuit training session with ERN on Portobello beach, during which I got a bit carried away with walking lunges and felt a tweak in my left hamstring and adductor. So a minor panic over the next few days ensued, but by the Sunday before the race the muscles had settled down and I got through a slow and steady 9 mile run with no problems. I had a sports massage with Krista on the Monday and she confirmed that everything was fine while removing the knots and tightness in my muscles that had built up over that last month. From then on until the race I decided not to run at all, as I did not want to risk anything and wanted to be fresh and raring to go on race day.

Race support crew

According to the race rules every runner requires a support crew consisting of at least one person and a vehicle to transport food, water, clothing and anything the runner may need to each designated checkpoint. After half-way an additional support person is required who can go and look for their runner if they fail to make a checkpoint or run alongside them over that later stages if they are more than 4 hours behind the leader. Basically the support crew is responsible for the safety of their runner, and are required to tend to their every whim and need at each checkpoint, so they are in the best possible shape to complete the race.

It goes without saying the success of the race is not just about the runners, it is as much about the race organisers/marshals and the runner support crews who put in a huge amount of effort over a prolonged period of time.

Back in December once I knew I had been accepted into the race I set about recruiting my support crew which consisted of:

Oz from Carnethy plus Elly, Murdo and Nicola form ERN. Elly would obviously support me for the whole race, Oz up to half-way, and Murdo and Nicola from half-way to the finish. Murdo would be the support runner over the last one or two legs if required. Ellie B (Oz’s other half) would also be at Tyndrum to cheer me on and pick up a tired Oz. So with such a formidable backing group, and a car containing plenty of water, weird food items and full of every item of kit imaginable, I could not possibly fail to perform well on the day.

The day before the race (Friday 21st June)

I took the Friday off work, so I could try and sleep and rest as much as possible prior to the race start. This also allowed plenty of time for eating, last minute rearrangement of kit and supplies and lots of general faffing that befits someone totally new to a race of this enormity. I picked up Elly from work at 4:30pm and headed over to Milngavie arriving with plenty of time for another meal, another hour of kipping, race registration and a load more faffing.

Race registration took place in the church hall very close to the start. It was all very straightforward and efficient with lots of familiar faces helping out. Each runner was given a wrist band with their number on (the sort patients get to wear in hospitals), a weighing card, and an SI-Card attached to a lanyard to be worn around the neck while running. The SI-Card was a timing chip that would register our time at each checkpoint and upload the data to the SPORTident website in real time. This would not only give accurate race results/splits, but would also enable family and friends to track our progress. Also we received an official race garment for 2013 which was a thermal long sleeve running top embroided with the West Highland Way Race logo, the colour was yellow for men and pink for the ladies. We were all weighed and our starting weight written on our weighing card. We would also be weighed at the Auchtertyre (51 miles), Kinlochleven (81 miles), and at the finish in Fort William. Whilst it is normal for runners to loose a bit of weight during the race (up to about 4%), the weight checks are more about making sure runners are not putting on weight which could be a sign of over-hydration which is a potentially more serious medical condition that mild-dehydration.

Start of the Race Milngavie (Saturday 1am)

After race registration I milled around at the start for about half hour nervously chatting to other runners. Elly and Oz were also there to take photos and see me off.

At 12:40 there was a race briefing in Milngavie station car park. We then moved to the underpass that forms the start line, and at exactly 1am on Saturday the hooter went and we were off. It must have been quite a spectacle to witness 181 runners with head torches switched on run up the high street in the middle of the night heading towards Fort William.

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Elly and Phil before the start

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Race briefing

Milngavie to Balmaha (19 miles)

It had been dry and warm all-day Friday, but by the start of the race the weather had turned damp and showery, but still it was quite warm with little wind. There was a full moon that night, but the cloud was so thick we saw nothing of it and definitely needed our head torches. Over the first few miles we were quite bunched up and I resisted temptation to run too fast and tried to keep somewhere in the middle of the pack. Even though I have run the route to Balmaha several times before, I found it quite different in the dark and was very glad of some company and additional pairs of eyes to spot the way markers and keep on route. Around Drymen (12 miles) there were lots of cheers from supporters. Some runners like their support crew to meet them there, but I had decided this was not necessary and would carry on until the first official checkpoint at Balmaha. As we left Drymen, and began the approach to Conic Hill we could see the sky getting lighter, and a murky glow signalling that it would soon be sunrise.

The path up and over Conic hill was quite wet and slippy in places, so I slowed right down. We ascended through a thick curtain of damp mist on the way up, so I was not expecting a view from the top, but suddenly a twilight panorama of Loch Lomond and it’s islands burst into view framed by clouds – very unique, atmospheric, and worth savouring, so I slowed down to almost a walk.

I took it nice and easy down off the steep west side of Conic Hill into the Balmaha checkpoint, despite the new path and steps I did not want to put unnecessary strain on my knees and quads. I arrived in 3:23 (52nd pos), which was a few minutes ahead of plan. Oz was at the checkpoint wearing a large red Santa hat to help me spot him. I quickly ate a cold can of spaghetti hoops, a banana, and replenished my water bottles. I had been wearing a light-weight shower-proof jacket over a T-shirt and arm warmers, which were all quite damp after several showers, but I felt comfortable and it looked like we would get some more wet weather soon, so I opted to carry on without a clothing change. However over the last few miles I had been suffering from a touch of wind and a bloated feeling. So rather that carrying on and end up having to do a pit-stop in the midge-infested woods, I opted to use the facilities in the Oak Tree Inn next to the checkpoint car park. I was not the only one with that idea, so I it was not until 3:45 that finally managed to head away from the checkpoint in the direction of Rowardennan.

Balmaha to Rowardennan (27 miles)

After stopping for over 15 mins longer than anticipated I headed off quite swiftly and regularly passed other runners including Donald Sanderman who is very noticeable due to his tall height and his tartan running shorts. He was going well and we chatted briefly, but I wanted to catch up a bit of time so forged on ahead. In the Highland Fling race I have often suffered a bit of an energy dip over this section, but not today. I did start to feel hungry, but munching on a caramel waffle and taking an energy gel satisfied my needs. Soon I was at Rowardennan (27 miles) in 5:07 (51 pos) having made up the time and position I lost at Balmaha. Rachel Moir from ERN was marshalling here and gave me a cheer. She was covered up form head to foot and wearing a midge net, and I almost did not recognise her. We were required to beep our timing chips here and I also picked up my drop bag, but the midges were so bad I kept moving, eating my rice pudding as I went. Passing the visitor centre I saw Steven Yule from Carnethy, who said his knee was giving him problems, which did not sound good as we had only covered about a quarter of the race distance.

Rowardennan to Beinglas Farm (42 miles)

According to the race result splits the section form Rowardennan to Beinglas Farm was my second quickest, which I can only think was due to the abundance of midges who had obviously worked out there was a steady supply of fresh blood making it’s way up the loch-side. I did my best to out run them, but it was difficult to move quickly enough on the tricky up-and-down scrambly bits to avoid getting bitten. I was on my own for most of this section, however I did have an interesting chat to a competitor from the Netherlands who told me about an ultra race he completed in his home country in January in which most competitors had to pull out due to frozen eye-balls and other such cold related ailments. This made the occasional rain shower seem like nothing in comparison. Half-way to Beinglas at Inversnaid (34 miles) the Trossachs Search and Rescue team greeted runners through their midge nets. I briefly stopped to pick up my remaining drop bag and re-fill my water bottles, and walked swiftly to get away from the midges while I drank a Complan smoothie and chewed on an energy bar.

I reached Beinglas Farm (42 miles) in 8:16 (36th pos) which was exactly the time I was planning for. The checkpoint was crowded and busy, but Elly and Oz greeted me and escorted me to the right place to beep my timing chip, and then led me to the car. I downed a tin of cold macaroni cheese, ate a banana and re-filled my water bottles. I also decided to change my top and discard my shower-proof jacket, which I had removed earlier just past Rowardennan. Oz sprayed my knees with midge-repellent, but they were already covered in little red dots from the run up the side of Loch Lomond.

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Beinglas farm Checkpoint

Beinglas Farm to Auchtertyre (51 miles)

The next section to Auchtertyre has a lot of up and down, and as I know from running the Fling includes the infamous cow-shit alley, a rough section of path wedged in between a steep hill-side and a stone wall that is normally full of highland cattle and their dung. We were lucky, it was much easier than usual, because the cows were somewhere else, and there was little evidence of them to dodge. Again I was largely on my own, but passed a few runners who appeared to be struggling on the hills. There was a short heavy downpour, but that was fine as there was still very little wind. I took it steady on the descent into Auchtertyre not wanting to trip or put to much pressure on my knees and quads.

I arrived at Auchteryre in 10:31 (31st pos). Elly and Oz were there to direct me to the desk where I needed to beep my timing chip and made sure I got weighed. My weight was now 81.2 kg almost 2 kg down from my starting weight of 83.1 kg, which was fine. I ate a tub of rice pudding and a banana, topped-up my water bottles and also changed my top which was still damp from the earlier downpour. I set off for Bridge of Orchy at the same time as Karl Zeiner, and we chatted for a mile or so on the way to Tyndrum.

Auchtertyre to Bridge of Orchy (60 miles)

Coming through Tyndrum Oz was there with his partner Ellie who had arrived to pick him up to go on holiday, so that would the last I see of him during the race. Murdo and Nicola were also there to replace Oz and join Elly as my support crew. It was a real boost to see them all together cheering me on, and good to know the crew changeover had been successfully made and there were fresh bodies to help Elly look after me in the latter stages of the race.

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Running through Tyndrum

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Support crew at Tyndrum complete with midge nets

As I exited Tyndrum I realised that soon I would have run further than I have ever run before in one day (55miles) and would be into uncharted territory both physically and mentally. I was not worried by this, in fact I was quite looking forward to this part of the race to see if my training had been effective or not, and I was also curious as to how I would cope mentally.

The section to Bridge of Orchy is on a good surface, and despite it being quite humply, it is an opportunity to pick up speed and make up time. I ran most of the section, and munched on jaffa cakes as I walked some of the hills, but did not advance my position in the field. I chatted and ran with David Gow for a while and also John Kynaston. With all his experience from 5 previous WHW races he has managed to minimise the time he stops in checkpoints, so even though I had glimpsed him just ahead of me way back at Inversnaid about 25 miles earlier it took me until now to catch up with him.

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Phil leading the pack into Bridge of Orchy Checkpoint

I arrived at Bridge of Orchy in 12:39 (31st pos) in good spirits, and met Elly, Murdo and Nicola without their midge-nets. They led me to the car where I ate a small tub of chocolate flavoured custard, and yet another banana. The sky had brightened up by now with intermittent sunshine parting the clouds, so I applied some sun cream. Elly told me told me that several people were observing my progress on the SPORTident website and were posting messages on the ERN facebook page some of which she read out. This was really encouraging thing to hear and gave me lots of strength for miles ahead. I ran over the stone bridge to the timing chip station and after beeping my chip, and getting a big hug from Jane (one of the marshals) I headed on my way.

Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe Ski Centre (71 miles)

The next section is one of my favourites on the whole route. It starts with a 500ft climb on a twisting path up an over a broad ridge before descending to Victoria Bridge. I ate a caramel waffle while speed-walking up the hill. Murdo McEwan was on the top of the ridge flying the saltire and handing out jelly babies. Graham Nash had told him to look out for me. I had a brief chat with Murdo and he advised me to get through the checkpoints quicker as John Kynaston was 10 mins ahead of me! The path over Rannoch Moor to Glencoe is mostly up-hill, but not too steep and I was determined to run as much of it as I could. I caught up with David Gow and we ran most of it together passing John Kynaston along the way. A couple of miles before the checkpoint the sole of my right foot started to get really sore, and I knew a blister must be forming. My sore foot stopped me keeping up with David has he raced down the rocky path into the checkpoint.

That section was one of my quickest relative to the rest of the field and I arrived at the Glencoe checkpoint in 15:00 (25th Pos). I was feeling a little light-headed so I sat in a chair and downed a 500ml bottle of flat coke. For the first time in the race I decided to change my socks and running shoes hoping that might ease my sore foot. After running in wet socks for so long they seemed to be welded to my feet and I was struggling to pull them off, so Murdo and Elly hand to prise them off for me. I have to say I am impressed with their dedication to the cause, as it was probably not a very pleasant experience (before the race I had told my race crew that they did not have to go anywhere near my feet unless it was an emergency).

Since I was more than 4 hours behind the leader it would be ok for me to use a support runner over the last two sections. Murdo asked me if I wanted him to run the last section with me – I replied that yes that would probably be the case. He said he would be ready for me when I arrive in Kinlochleven. Armed with fresh socks and shoes, but old tired sore feet I headed off towards the Kingshouse with just 24 miles to go and the toughest sections of the route ahead of me.

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Descending into Glencoe Checkpoint

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Murdo trying to remove Phil’s socks at Glencoe

Glencoe Ski Centre to Kinlochleven (71 miles)

I resisted temptation to pop in to the Kingshouse Hotel for a quick pint, instead opting to catch John Kynaston who was about 100m ahead. I got passed him and headed along a rough undulating path to the bottom of the Devil’s Staircase. My energy seemed to drain away as I slowly trudged up the hill. I drank a Complan smoothie to try and give myself a boost, but found it difficult to drink and walk up-hill at the same time. After reaching the highest point of the whole route I began a slow run down towards Kinlochleven. I struggled to pick up any speed, as the path is so rough and rocky my foot was really hurting with every step. It is so easy to fall or twist and ankle on this section, I was glad to get down in one piece and onto easier terrain in the approach to Kinlochleven. I had run this section only two weeks before, but it seemed so much harder this time and I nearly went the wrong way twice. I can understand how Paul Giblin got lost here in 2011.

Murdo came up from the checkpoint to take a photo and guide me in over the last half-mile. I arrived in 17:55 (25th Pos). Elly told me that Paul Giblin had won the race and broken the course by a good half-hour! I got weighed by Rachel (she was marshalling here), and I then re-stocked my water bottles and grabbed some food to eat on the way. Murdo started walking with me out of the checkpoint, then I realised I didn’t have my head torch so I called back to Elly and she brought it to me. I probably would not need it, but best to have it – just in case.

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Descending into Kinlochleven

Kinlochleven to Fort William (95 miles)

It was a short sharp up-hill walk from Kinlochleven through the trees and onto the stony path that runs through the Larigmor at the back of the Mamores. I didn’t fancy eating, but managed to force down a Complan smoothie. Once we had finished the climb I was able to start running again. The next 7 miles to Lundavra are along an undulating rocky path, we walked anything that was uphill, but I managed to run most of the downhill and flat bits. Murdo did a great job as my support runner. We talked quite a lot as we ran/walked. It was good to have someone to talk to, I can’t remember much about what we said, but it helped keep my mind away from my sort foot. At regular intervals Murdo also reminded me to eat and drink, but he did not try to hurry me along to fast, instead he allowed me to set the pace by keeping level or slightly behind me.

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On the Larigmor

Approaching the Lundavra road-head I could see group of marshals and supporters, and hear music. This is where the path is at it’s worst and covered in loose rocks and stones I was overtaken by two runners one of whom was John Kynaston and his wife Katrina who was his support runner. He was bounding along in a pair of Hoka shoes, and seemed to be full of energy. I wished I had a pair as they looked just the job for tired feet on that terrain. Coming up the hill out of Lundavra the path is softer and grassier which was a relief for my feet. We passed a runner who was unable to run anymore and could only walk. Then I could hear John Kynaston shouting something like “two hours left to finish in less than 22 hours”. I had given up looking at my watch since Kinlochleven and just wanted to finish, but with less than 7 miles to go I was confident I could now finish in less than 22 hours.

The forest on the approach to Glen Nevis is dense with trees and even though it was still daylight it was quite dark. With lots of tree roots and rocks you have to concentrate on your footing especially with tired legs. I was very glad not to be trying to run through the forest in the dark.

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Descending though the forest into Glen Nevis

As we came over the ridge and into Glen Nevis we reached the wide un-paved forestry road which was a joy to run as I just needed to concentrate on keeping going and not where to put each foot. I picked up the pace considerably over the next half-mile of mostly downhill, but then had to stop and walk as soon as there was a slight incline. I had miss-judged how close we were to the road at the end of Glen Nevis and had to walk for half a mile, before gently running again. Once we reached the road I knew it was less than two miles to go, and gradually picked up the pace. After we reached the roundabout and turned into Fort William I was running quite fast and Elly came to join me. I think she was very surprised at how fast I was running, but I normally seem to find a bit of speed for the last 200m of an ultra-marathon and this was no different. Seeing the Leisure Centre entrance and an unmistakable “RunandBecome“inflatable finishing arch was an absolute joy. People were cheering as I crossed the line and it was all over and I could finally stop running!

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Arriving at the finish!

At the finish

Once over the line lots of things seem to happen very quickly. The first thing to do was beep my SI-card timing chip one last time after which I received a small printout showing my finish time and split time at each checkpoint. I could see I had finished in 21:39:09 which was fantastic. There were congratulations from lots of people, and a handshake from Adrian Stott (race committee member and finish-line organiser). To complete formalities I was then ushered onto the weighing scale – down about 3kg from my starting weight, so that was fine. My support team lead me over to a chair and sat with me, while one of the finish line helpers made me some soup and toast. While the kettle was boiling she offered a large plate of cakes in my direction. Without thinking I just put the whole plate onto my lap and rapidly devoured four slices, before realising they were not all for me and rather sheepishly handed the plate back! The cup of tomato soup and toast tasted wonderful – great to have some real food again at last. I exchanged handshakes/congratulations with some of the other runners who came in just before or after me including: Gregor Heron and Steven Yule from Carnethy (great to see Steven finishing despite his earlier knee trouble). There was David Gow and Karl Zeiner whom I had shared sections of the route with. Donald Sanderman, who had overcome disappointments from previous years and put in a storming last 24 miles from Glencoe leaving his support runners unable to keep up and beating his PB from last year by 5 hours!

Finally I headed with my support crew to our B&B, so we could all get some sleep knowing the job was done. After a little drama when I passed out briefly in the shower (no harm done) I drifted off to sleep in a warm comfy bed. However it was not a deep sleep as I kept dreaming I was on a path somewhere and every so often my legs would start moving and wake me up!

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Made it! 21:39:09 and 26th place out of 149 finishers

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Enjoying some soup and feeling very happy!

Results/Stats

Times and splits:

Position 26
Race Number 107
Name Phil Humphries
Category MV40
Checkpoint Time Position Split Split Position
Balmaha 3:23:12 52
Rowardennan 5:07:51 51 1:44:39 59
Beinglas Farm 8:16:19 36 3:08:28 20
Auchtertyre 10:31:34 31 2:15:15 38
Bridge of Orchy 12:39:00 31 2:07:26 38
Glencoe Ski Centre 15:00:09 25 2:21:09 39
Kinlochleven 17:54:59 25 2:54:50 47
Fort William 21:39:09 26 3:44:10 32

Last 45 miles 36.01 mins slower than first 50:

Time Position Pace
Milngavie – Auchtertyre (50miles) 10:31:34 31 12:38
Auchtertyre -Fort William (45miles) 11:07:35 26 14:50
Total (95miles) 21:39:09 26 13:41
Difference 36:01

Garmin Profile from Kinlochleven to Fort William (recorded by support runner Murdo Macleod):

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The Presentation

The presentation was then next day, Sunday at 12 noon which was also the cut-off time for the last runners to finish the race. This a very special occasion for everyone and quite right too given the enormity of the event. The presentation hall at the Nevis Centre was packed with people. Obviously there was a lot of spotlight on Paul Giblin due to his fabulous record-breaking run. But all finishers were afforded the same status when they took their turn to be presented with their crystal goblet. Which is rightful recognition of the enormous achievement just finishing the race is. Also the winner of the race gets to present the last finisher with their goblet as is the WHW race tradition, thus closing the loop, which is one of the many things that make the race so special.

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First three male finishers

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First three ladies

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Phil receiving goblet from Adrian Stott

The goblet has a map of the race route on it, and depending on how big a measure you pour, you can drink from anywhere between the start and the finish.

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The Goblet

On the evening after the presentation many runners and supporters met up in the pub for a few drinks as we were all still rather thirsty. On being herded out of the last pub at 1am there was a light–hearted suggestion of a race up the high-street from Ian Beattie the Race Director, but no-one lined up… the end of the high street is no-where near far enough!

Final Thoughts

Many thanks to my support crew: Elly, Oz, Ellie, Murdo and Nicola for pandering to my every need from start to finish. I could not have done it without you!

A huge thank-you goes to race director Ian Beattie and his team of organisers, marshals and helpers who put in an enormous amount of effort over a long period of time to make such a uniquely wonderful event happen. I now know what is like to be part of the West Highland Way family.

Would I do it again? Yes definitely, to try and finish in less than 20 hours.

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