WHW Challenge Race 2021

Good to take part in the 2021 WHW Challenge Race, with a different type of race with the unnecessary restrictions from our tyrant government here in Scotland.

The race was in reverse this year from Milngavie to Fort William, so I could have taken the race organisers bus from Milngavie, but I decided to get a lift from my wife and son, so that they could see me off.

Training for the race has been good but I have been carrying more weight, due to lockdown depression. My training wasn’t too heavy with carrying a plantar fascia pain in my left foot, over the years it’s always been my right leg giving me problems.

I have spent those last few months doing KARS Pilates with https://inspiremovement.co.uk/ through Zoom and the class as really helped strengthening and mobilising hips. I will never be flexible but the inspire Movement class has helped.

Running wise I have been doing hill reps up and down Ben Bouie from 10 km to 30 km distances. I have not been worried about training for running up hill but have been doing weighted pack hikes with using the poles.

For steady run I just did regular 10km road runs, but I wasn’t concerned about running the whole 95 of the WHW because I knew I would be speed hiking.

It was a good drive up to Fort William where I got mixed up with my wife about the race start time, she thought it was 12pm when it was supposed to be 11am. But we managed to get to registration at 10.30am and the buses had not arrived which was good. I got registered quickly and the buses just arrived, and we walked down to the start point at the WHW sign at the junction of Glen Nevis Road and the A82(T) road.

It was good to be at the start with my wife and son there and with a crowd of fellow runners. The atmosphere was chilled, everyone looking relaxed. Sometimes you get a nervous atmosphere, but I did not feel it.

So, the race started at 11.10am at the WHW sign at the junction of Glen Nevis Road and the A82(T) road I started near the middle of the back of the pack with over 100 runners taking the start. I started of just at a nice steady pace on the tarmac pavements of Belford Road, watching out for the police no parking bollards. As we ran, I thought we might make our way through the Braveheart car park but instead ran further down to a new trail of the WHW on to the Old Military Road at just over 2.30km.

The Old Military Road was a shocker, it was long and never-ending hike up, I didn’t speed hike but just kept steady. The morning was not too hot but was very humid and started to fuel up with an energy bar. At the top of the climb at about 6km, I was glad to start doing some descending, my legs felt sluggish but kept moving on, hiking the small hills, and running the flats and downhill. I was drinking well and was taking my gels every 30 minutes or so, so I was fuelling up nice.

As I was running, shock came into my mind, and I made a big mistake of forgetting to put nipple tape on. I did a wee rub of my nipples and they felt ok, and I knew I was too sweaty to put any tabs on, but the rest of the run I felt ok.

I was looking for the Lundavra water station coming up and arrived at 12:47, I was glad they had put this station on, with the humidity of the day and it was good to top up the bottles. It was a surprise to get a good welcome with getting my picture taken and of I went.

Heading towards Kinlochleven was my favourite part of the race to get the magnificent views of the valley as you pass Lairigmor (ruin), I passed lots of people hiking the opposite way and it was good to have some cheeky banter with them.

Running down into Kinlochleven this was when I met Greag and Steven, where I would bump into them throughout the race, and I finished with Greag.

I liked the descent down into Kinlochleven where I could open my legs up a bit, but I slid a few times on the slate type rock.

I arrived at checkpoint 1 Kinlochleven at 14:32 and left at 14:47 making it 15 minutes to stop. I got my drop back easily and took out my fold out cup and had a cup of tea made for me. I was glad I took cutlery because with Covid the checkpoint helpers were not allowed to stock cups of cutlery.

I stocked my pack with my SIS gels and poured my Tailwind caffeine powder into my bottles ready to be filled as I left. I had a Ham and cheese roll to snack on and I did not feel like eating but I forced it down with my tea. I knew it was important to eat something with the big climb coming up. I was good to see Jim Drummond in the carpark area, giving advice and helping a runner that over packed her run pack.

So, of I went to get to the Devils Staircase, a few of us walked along and I was a bit nervous of the route getting out the town but other were the same, but I took the courage a led the way. I met a runner who had come from the shops with a can of fat coke and crisps, and I felt envious thinking it was something I didn’t pack in my drop bags.

The climb started up the Old Military Road, it was stinking hot, and I felt I was wilting in the heat, and I was definitely not jogging up. Runners were passing me, and I felt annoyed that I didn’t have the hiking legs. I remember my dad saying to me after he hiked Kilimanjaro, it was all about small steps and keep your head down. In the distance I saw a runner in a yellow top called Chris, he was climbing up steady, and I tried to keep up with him, but I was struggling in the heat. I took my gels, and fluid was running short, but I managed to fill up in a couple of running streams. It was nice to get away from the taste of Tailwind and some fresh cold water.

Getting to the top of the Devil’s Staircase was brilliant the view of Buachaille Etive Mòr was magnificent, and I was so chuffed to see it in the daylight. When doing this race from the other direction I am always climbing the Devil’s Staircase in the dark.

So, I steadily ran down and not to thrash my quads as I descended towards the Altnafeadh area. I passed the runner who had the coke and crisps, and he was projectile vomiting and was in a bad way, I was thinking to myself, glad I didn’t go for the coke and crisps.

Running towards the Kingshouse Hotel, I saw Greag and Steven going towards the Buachaille Etive Mòr direction and looked lost, so I shouted them over to get on track. Running towards the Kingshouse Hotel was a nice rolling trail and I had run out of water, but I knew at the hotel there was a water tap to fill up, but I wasn’t far to get to Glencoe Mountain Resort for the next checkpoint. I met up with Greag, Steven and Chris at the hotel and hiked up to the resort.

I arrived at checkpoint 2, Glen Coe Chairlift at 18:17 and left at 18:40 making it 23 minutes to stop. There were a few runners in, and I managed to get a sweet tea and had another pot noodle, it was good to get some hot food, for some energy for the next long section.

Hiking my way out of the checkpoint and starting along the Rannoch Moor, this was the first time I felt jaded, but I knew my food will kick in soon for the energy.

This is the first time I met James Blom as he must have just left the checkpoint just behind me. Looking at James he had a bloody nose, I thought to myself is his nose came off. He told me how he fell descending coming into Kinlochleven, and there was a doctor at that checkpoint that told him he broke it and told him he couldn’t run the race but only hike it, to stop the bleeding. I was thinking to myself he is determined to finish the race. Halfway down through the Rannoch Moor, James strode off and I knew I couldn’t keep with his pace and spent the rest of this section myself.

Near the end of the Rannoch Moor section, I went into dark time and got very low to where I was in tears. I had to put on my headphones and listen to something as my head was getting very negative.

A group of runners that were doing the 180 from Aviemore to Milngavie passed me, it was amazing to see how fresh they looked, and I drifted in to daydream mode thinking if I could get fit to do the 180.

Going onto the tarmac at Forest lodge crossing Victoria Bridge felt good and managed to get a run in before ascending the hill to Mam Carraigh. I saw loads of people camping and people at the hotel, it was great to see some people which was a good distraction.

I was out of water again but found a couple of streams which was much needed and brought me out of a sluggish mood and at the top of Mam Carraigh, I managed to get some running in and passed another runner, I wasn’t sure who he was, but He looked very frail and he asked how long to the checkpoint where I said he was only 3km or so.

Coming into checkpoint 3, Bridge of Orchy at 21:45 and left at 22:06 with a 21-minute stop. I felt good thinking to myself I have done 35 miles and I was ready to pick up my safety rucksack and keep moving. The checkpoint was a great relaxed atmosphere and good banter. Again, I had my pot noodle and a sweet tea. I took myself away up the hill to sort out my safety rucksack and fill my bottles with caffeine Tailwind.

As I headed up towards the railway station, I heard Scottish music and to my surprise I saw a big old-fashioned train with its carriages, it was The Royal Scotsman. The music was great and gave me a lift and I carried my way down to Tyndrum. It was getting dark, and James caught up with me, also Greag and Steven. We sort of stayed together but distance apart, but I felt concerned for James. As we were climbing over styles, James looked weary, and I felt from that point of the race to try and keep with James to the end.

Before Tyndrum I passed Greag and Steven, Greag looked weary and tired, and I thought they might go for a sleep as I saw Greag taking his sleeping bag out.

Going through Tyndrum after midnight was going to be the difficult part to find the route and markings. As we hiked to Auchtertyre Camp Site, we managed to use my phone map to find the trail, as we hiked, we found a couple of runners who were lost, so we grouped together and headed to Auchtertyre.

Coming into checkpoint 4, Auchtertyre Camp Site at 00:55 and leaving at 01:15 with a 20-minute stop. The checkpoint was cheery, and the volunteers were great at getting me my tea and another pot noodle. It was good just to sit down and enjoy the banter.

One runner had finished and couldn’t go any further and he had to try and sleep in a barn with the hay bales.

As we were sitting Chris Hever came in and told us how he got lost going towards Tyndrum between the valley of Beinn Dorain and Beinn Odhar.

I looked over to James and he looked tired and thought we better get up and head towards Beinglas Camp Site. As we hiked towards above Crianlarich, I think the coldness of the night I started to feel chaffing around my crotch area and hot spots on my feet.

We were hiking well and for the first time I was sticking with James, he was either tired and slowing down or I had some decent energy to press on. When hiking with James he used to caress the leaves of branches every so often and I thought it was nice to be out in the wilderness.

On the trail there is a bench and said to James I needed to stop and fix my feet. It was good to get a seat and managed to put on my 2Toms Blister Prevention Powder packs and felt cooler. I decided to put on some anti chaffing cream (Chamois Butt’r Original) and it stung like mad, I thought I was going to puke up with shock. I had wished I packed some Sudocrem which would have stung but would start to heal the raw skin.

As we hiked through Cowpat Ally which has all been resurfaced, we saw the moon peeking through the mountains, it was great to see, and it lifted us up my spirits.

Descending under the A82 road it was starting to get lighter and my torch started to run out of battery, I could have used my spare, but I turned my torch to a low setting, and it was ok to manage the trail.

We came to our diversion at Derrydaroch and we met another runner, I knew of the diversion before, but I think James and the other runner would of gone in the direction of where the bridge had washed away. So, I managed to convince them to go up the hill and cross over safely. We carried on towards Beinglas Camp Site, I had run out of fluid and food and my energy was low, I had a couple of gels in the back of my pack but wasn’t in the mood to take it off.

Coming into checkpoint 5, Beinglas Camp Site at 04:58 and left at 05:12 with a 14-minute stop, this was a relief, one of the volunteers remarked on how fresh I was, which was a boost. The area was midge infested, so I had to put on my net over my head. We were offered hotdogs or soup which was a change from the old pot noodle. I took the hotdog with loads of sauce and filled my flasks with diluted orange and blackcurrent.

This section was a struggle as I forgot to replenish my rucksack with gels and tailwind. In hindsight I should have filled my flasks with Tailwind, but I needed the change of just juice.

This was a section I recced with Carol of  https://inspiremovement.co.uk/ I knew it would be a tricky section going along the loch side, but I was up for it.

Before Ardleish at the head of the Loch, James strided of in the distance and I hit a dark spot, I took a couple of pictures of the Loch and checked my bag for some food, I was shocked that I had only a few gels and that’s when I remembered I never restocked my bag.

There was a lady before me in the distance who seemed to be struggling with stiffness, but I just focused on her to keep moving.

I met up with the lady and passed her as we helped each other over the steep bridge at the waterfall, this was scary with feeling stiff, but we kept an eye on our footing to get down the steep ladder steps.

I reached Inversnaid at 08:10:31 and nearly did a 100km. I saw James in the distance, and I filled my water bottles at the tap at the side of the hotel. So, feeling determined I kept moving towards Rowadennan, this section was long and soul destroying but managed some wee runs.

The hill before Rowchoich the lower path where we take the high route path, which was a killer of a section, I had no strength to power hike them, so stuck to the mindset of climbing small steps. I was so looking forward to Rowadennan but I was 7km away from that checkpoint.

I came into checkpoint 6, Rowadennan at 11:00 and left at 11:31 a 31-minute stop. I was so glad of this checkpoint to get rid of my sleeping bag and to properly refuel. This was a helpful stop where a lady one of the volunteers helped me like a Formula 1 car racing pitstop.

She helped do my pot noodle and got me tea, she also helped filling my bottles, it was so efficient. I had hotspots on my feet and put the 2Toms BLISTERSHIELD Blister Prevention Powder on my feet and a toe cushion tubbing that I put on my big toes as they were tender.

There were a few people in at this checkpoint, I think some had retired and were waiting for transport. James was here, he looked tired and was ready to go, he was about to leave with a full pack, and he took his sleeping bag out, which must have felt a relief.

I left Rowadennan fed and watered, I felt good and managed so wee runs but after 5km I was tired, it was hot, and legs felt crampy, and I was feeling bloated for some reason. I was glad of the wood called Ross Woods for shelter from the sun. Steven Scott passed me, and he looked fresh, telling me of adventures getting lost through Tyndrum.

Before coming into Balmaha was a challenge, it was hot, people on the beaches were sunbathing and having BBQ’s and I was out of water and body was cramping with the lack of electrolytes. I saw a stream and I couldn’t bend down to fill my soft flasks but luckily 2 kids came along and asked them to fill them up. I must have been weird them seeing a guy in racing gear looking like he was wiped out.

So, the steep climb up to the main street in Balmaha was tough, but it was good to see people, say hello, and have some banter. I got in to Balmaha at 14:40, I had drunk all my water from the stream because I was so thirsty, and I thought I’d get some juice at the shops. As I got to the carpark, I saw the queue at the shop and it was long, so decided to make it for the climb up Conic Hill.

In the carpark I used the toilets, and my pee was an ok colour, I was scared I was going to get to the peeing blood way, but thankfully not. I met a lady there who said hello, I knew her from somewhere, but she seemed to know me. But I was happy to see a friendly face.

On the way up Conic Hill at the start going through the trees, this was tough, I was watching people happy and relaxed and was jealous of the water and drinks they were carrying. I was so thirsty, and I knew the streams on conic hill would be dry.

I was following the slowest of walkers going up the hill, it was fun and entertaining watching different groups of people. All I was wanting really was their water, ha ha.

At 210 meters high near Conic Hill, I heard this guy asking for directions and I looked round, and it was James. I shouted saying you lost again. He was glad to see me as he was getting flustered by getting lost, I was glad to see him. We hiked for a bit and stopped to sit down below Conic Hill as we took on some food. We decided to get a move on as our checkpoint at Drymen closes at 6, I managed to fill my flasks at the Brun of Mar, I used a water filter as there is cows sometimes around that area.

I got in to checkpoint 7, Drymen at 17:50 and left at 18:30 with a 40-minute stop. This checkpoint I just had a small drop bag as I could put it in my run pack so I wouldn’t have to wait to collect it at the end. I couldn’t get anything to eat here as there was no hot water. I had some food from the drop bag and some cola.

This was a long stop; I was jaded, and James looked it too. But we were determined to carry on. Some other runners came in from different directions where they got lost. Jim was at this checkpoint, and it was funny seeing him giving the runners cheek for getting lost. This cheered me up and was ready to go but my body was drained.

Drymen to Milngavie was tough, I was running on fumes, and it took hours to get to the finish, I didn’t remember much of this route as I always have run it in the dark. It was good to have James with me and it was the first time we spoke properly as we went on the tarmac through Gartness.

Near Duntreath Castle was where the start of the long undulating climbing started and I wasn’t in the mood for it, I was telling myself, just keep moving small steps. I met with Greag Reece again, he had run with Steven Scott and the first half of the race. It was good to see him and chat which made the time go faster.

We went through Carbeth at 21.28 at night, I couldn’t believe I was here, I knew I had ages to go yet, I felt like giving up, but I couldn’t just stop and go home. I think James sensed I was struggling, and he looked the same.

My feet were sore, and this was the first time I was getting serious blisters, this made the hike a bit nippy at times. Coming into Mugdock was good as I knew I was near the end, and it was time to put the torches on. We passed a lady runner getting carried and she was very upset, I hope she managed to finish ok.

Climbing the stairs into Milngavie was great, to see streetlights and life. I got a picture at the WHW obelisk which I was chuffed about. We made our way together to the townhall where my wife and Roddy were waiting.

Time getting in was 23:08 which took me 35:58:00 with 164 minutes in checkpoints.

I was chuffed to finish; I was lucky to finish because my fitness was lacking.

Lessons for next time is to make sure I have enough gels and fuel.

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