What an incredible weekend that exceeded all my expectations. My WHW journey began in 2013 when I joined ERN to train for my 2nd marathon, before this I thought a marathon was a long way and didn’t realise normal people ran even further! Jo, Phil and Russell enthusiasm about ultras got me hooked and Phil’s reports of the WHW put ideas in my mind that maybe 95 miles wasn’t impossible. I didn’t make my 2013 marathon due to a knee injury and once back running in the autumn I couldn’t help but enter the 2014 Highland fling. I spent 2014 running enough ultras so I could put my name in the WHW ballot.
I didn’t really believe I would get a place in the WHW once it was oversubscribed but somehow my name was on the start list and there was no choice but to start training. Training and thoughts of how I would possibly run 95 miles took over the last few months of my life. I now owe my housemate wine and food to make up for boring her for so many months.
Training went well enough although being told in January that I should maybe get a repeat MRI on my knee as my previous injury was niggling was tough to take but luckily with regular sports massage it hasn’t got worse and tape keeps it held together while running. The fling this year felt really good and running the Devil’s route only 2 weeks later felt tough but made me believe I was on the right track. Missing the last training weekend due to my dad being in hospital was tough as I had so many questions I wanted to ask more experienced runners. It also meant I had to do my last long weekend of back to back marathons on my own which was mentally really tough. The only thing that got me through this weekend was the support I received from ERN when I asked for help with crewing as my dad would no longer be able to come up to Scotland for the race. Thank you to everyone who offered their support
The following weekend I cruised round my last long run a welsh trail marathon (ended up being 28.5 miles and quite a lot of hills) to finish 3rd and full of confidence. Final few weeks training were abandoned due to achillies pain but this meant I was fully rested for the start line.
One of the hardest things about this race is race strategy, I had no idea what to times to aim for but knew I wanted a sub 24 hours. I messaged Stuart who had already given me loads of great advice at the previous training weekend to try to get an idea of timings as I needed to give my support crew some idea. He suggested 22 hours would be a good goal but then a few weeks after suggested I could do more so I set a very optimistic 20 hours and 30 mins A goal and a more realistic 24 hour B goal and a 35 hour C goal.
By Friday my crew were all prepped, my lists were written and far too much kit and food were packed. My mum and I headed over to Milngavie for 9pm for registration and weigh in. The buzz in the hall was electric so we quickly left before my excitement got too high and headed over to the hotel for a quick nap. 11:40pm came around too quickly and it was time to change and head over to meet Ely and Phil at the start. Excitement levels were now through the roof and I think I was buzzing a little too much! Ely and Phil did a good job to keep me calm and gave me some valuable last minute advice.
1am came and 197 runners started the epic journey to Fort William. I had decided to run to heart rate with the aim to stick to an average of 150 bpm, this meant I started fairly slowly as I was really excited. I ran for a while with some really experienced runners who gave me great advise especially ‘if you stop enjoying the journey you need to slow down’ this had to be respected coming from an 8 times finisher!
Mile 5 I managed to fall over my own foot and whack my knees and big toe but after a systems check I realised no lasting harm was done and the rain washed away my bloody knees before the sun even rose. I ran briefly with spiderman just before Dryman which was a little surreal at 2am!! Just after Dryman I caught up with Charlie and had a good chat before he took a quick pit stop and I lost him for the rest of the race. The sun was coming up just before conic hill and I felt relieved to abandon my head torch. One of my favourite parts of the WHW is running off conic hill, I know most say don’t trash your quads so early, but I took full advantage of the down and flew with a huge smile taking care not to run into the scouts walking up.
I was really pleased to see Phil and Ely at the first checkpoint Balmaha, luckily they had colourful bobble hats on as everyone looked the same with midgey nets on! I picked up some mash and strawberry milk and some flapjacks although I never actually managed to eat more than the 2 flapjacks I packed at the start. I then got a little lost in the carpark and a nice midgy net kindly pointed out the route out of the carpark!
The next 2 checkpoints were both drop bags so it was another 20 miles before I saw Ely and Phil again so they hopefully managed to a quick nap in the car while I ran loch side. Loch side I normally love but my toe that I hurt falling over was really catching and this made my shoes really uncomfortable and my footing insecure and I managed to hit my knee on a sharp boulder which although was nothing race ending hurt on every down hill after. Luckily Stuart caught up with me at the end of loch side which picked me up and we ran into Beinglas together. I changed my shoes here as my feet were trashed I think from running awkwardly due to hurting my toe. My new shoes felt better but I had to stop to re tape my feet and ended up running the roller coaster alone.
It was a huge lift running into Auchytere seeing Natalie waiting for me and knowing now my day support crew were all waiting for me. No hanging around though a quick weigh in, a change of bottles and some custard and they kicked me out on my way. It was brilliant running through Tyndrum and realising I could stop saying good morning as it was now mid day – I didn’t know a morning could be so long!
Coming into Bridge of Orchy I caught up with Stuart again and he was telling me all about the ice cream he was going to have – why hadn’t I pre-ordered one of these?! Really quick change over here with some more rice pudding and strawberry milk and my first cup of coke. Luckily I didn’t see the chairs that the support crew I think quickly hid when they saw me coming – maybe this is why Natalie ran me into each checkpoint so they could hide the chairs and nice food!
Coming up to Jelly baby hill I took a quick seat on a stone to re tape my feet as the blisters had now popped Murdo informed me I was 3rd lady and when Stuart caught me up he decided we now had to give Rannoch moor everything we had. He gave me the encouragement and company to run the majority of the hills and we gave ourselves a wee treat of walking a few of the bigger hills. I think Stuart decided it was time to make me try for that podium place I had never even dreamed of before. This was one of my favourite sections and we both ran down the hill into Glencoe feeling really strong. 71 miles done and I was still loving every minute of it, it was hurting a lot but I just felt so privileged to be part of such an amazing event with amazing people that all I could do was smile.
Luckily I was now 4 hours behind the phenomenal Paul Giblin so I was allowed Jo to join me for the last 24 miles. Jo held me together and stuck to my pace, we continued to run the downhills, flat sections and the smaller hills before giving ourselves a treat of walking the larger hills all the way to the finish. I never knew I would still be running at the end of 95 miles. Jo provided me with gossip, laughter and encouragement and she pretended to ignore the sections where I was talking to myself telling myself to keep picking up my feet and moving forward! She was an awesome support runner all the way and only managed to make me cry with happiness once (I think it would have been more but I was exhausted).
Running into Fort William we managed an 8 min mile and I was dreaming of food and removing my shoes! Running into the finish was so over whelming and such a relief. I was completely overwhelmed that not only had I actually managed to complete 95 miles but I did it in 20 hours and 5 minutes and 2nd lady. This was made even more special as I was able to have Jo as my support after everything she has had to deal with over the last year.
Fiona and my mum kindly removed my shoes and socks – true dedication! Phil then went and got me my guilty pleasure of cheese and chips unfortunately I only managed 5 chips before shuffling to the toilet and basically passing out! I hope everyone else enjoyed a hard earned beer before putting me to bed.
Prize giving was so overwhelming and it was such a privilege to be part of the whole event. I attempted not to cry every time someone gave me a hug. It felt just as special seeing everyone receiving their goblet at the end of their own journey as it was receiving mine.
The whole weekend seemed so surreal until I finally cut of my race wristband on Monday evening before work and I was over whelmed with emotions. Thank you to everyone who has made this incredible journey possible and to everyone who has made me a part of the WHW family.
After the race I said never again, 2 days later I know this is not true and it may be difficult to keep my name out of the ballot next year but if I don’t enter I will definitely be there to help support someone else on their incredible journey. What an incredible weekend with such incredible people
By Myvfanway Fenton-May