This is racing – this is what we do! A DNF, but a wonderful adventure!
The Journey to the start line
October 2017, having successfully completed the Highland Fling race (53miles) and Devil O Highlands (43miles) in 2017, I decided to challenge myself to three races in 2018 often referred to as the Triple Crown. The aforementioned, plus the WHW race all in the same calendar year.
After being successful in the ballots, it was time to get the body and mind in shape for taking part and completing all three events.
In the previous years, I hadn’t really focussed too much on strength conditioning, at home or in the gym. So I recruited a friend and fitness coach Andy Macaulay who manages Mac health & Fitness based in London. He wrote me a flexible program focussing on core strength and mobility, which is a key for Long distance runners. He also gave me advice on nutrition to support my training approach. Weekly face time and regular chats were the way ahead.
In terms of the running plan, I aimed to run on average 50 miles per week. This would consist of trail running, hill running and recovery style runs. Ideally, I would like to have spent more time in the mountains, but with a full time job and a family (and other hobbies), you have to make the most of what you have. More on this later.
Training went really well and I was making gains steadily through the months. I felt stronger than ever, both physically and mentally. I was completing the sessions mapped out and the nutrition was supporting my recovery. Regular face times with my coach and keeping a good diary really helped keep me focussed – Planning is key to success.
Race 1 of 3 was the Highland Fling. My good friend Angus Alston and me regularly discussed how we planned to run this race. It was not our “A” race of the year, so we wanted to run it well, but not burn ourselves out and be exhausted approaching the WHW race approx. 5 weeks later.
Different to 2017, I was at the start line of the Fling, feeling fresh and confident in my ability to not only complete the race, but to feel strong. I ran steady the whole race, interestingly I was 10 minutes slower to the first checkpoint this year, but 15 minutes faster to the fourth checkpoint, despite stopping for 7-10 minutes at each one. I finished feeling strong, happy and composed a total of 20 minutes quicker than the previous year despite taking it easy.
I had to take confidence from this going into the WHW race. My training was paying off and my approach to the race seemed spot on. I had a week’s recovery and I was able to return to normal training again.
In 2017 the Fling was the biggest running race of my life and in 2018 it was “just a training run”. Incredible how the mind adjusts!
Some training stats
Longest Running week 107 miles inc Fling 100% trail
Longest running week excluding races 104 miles 70% trail
Longest Training run 40 miles 100% trail
Longest Race pre WHW 53 miles (Fling)
Longest back to Back 30m Sat & 25m Sunday. Trail then road.
The WHW race
“If you want to quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go with a team”
Firstly, my race crew – Donna Hutchison, Simon Johnston, Jamie Hunter & Scott Marshall. What a team!
The days before
My last training run was Sunday 17th June. 5 easy miles and then it was time to let the body and mind rest.
The taper went ok, but on the Thursday, I could feel my throat begin to swell a little. I took the Friday off work to try and get some rest, as the race sets off at 1am.
I went to bed a 2pm, slept until 4pm and that was it. I kept off my feet, but I already knew my throat was getting worse.
Simon took me to registration for 11.30pm, where I collected my timing chip, goody bag and get weighed. All done without a hitch and with some time left to chat with some fellow runners and crews. I felt really calm, confident and excited to get going. Yes my throat was bugging me a little, but not enough to make me withdraw from the race. Yet!
Milngavie to Fort William. 95 Miles and 14,000ft of ascent.
At 1am sharp, the race started and off we went through Milngavie high Street. Calm and steady was the aim of the day. Run like a tortoise and eat like a horse as they say.
It was exciting setting off at 1am and running in the dark. Albeit, 240 head torches and the outstanding performance of my Petzl Nao head torch lit up the trails. It felt like no time had passed and I was heading into Drymen. As I reached 11 miles, the first warning kicked in and I started to feel sick. It wasn’t from drinking or eating, purely a swollen throat.
13 miles in and I was stopped on the side of the trail passed the Garadhban forest throwing up. That was it – race over! I decided to walk to Balmaha where Simon would be waiting at the first checkpoint to feed me. Along came George McLaughlan who came to my rescue. He dragged me along, got me running again and it seemed to pass, my mind was taken off the nausea. By this point, the sun was up and we were heading over Conic hill.
My race plan said to get to Balmaha between 3:45 and 4 hours. Bang on 3:45 I arrived and was actually feeling fresh. Legs were strong and the nausea was away. I had a protein shake, banana and custard before setting off again. 8 miles to the next checkpoint, George beside me we ran on.
At frequent points, I was getting a gagging reflex, but just carried on regardless. I was happy to see Rowardennan and collected my drop bag. Simon had also decided to drop passed. Legs still feeling strong, I pushed on to the lochside. This is where it all came undone. Sickness, nausea and wrenching, I stopped at Inversnaid, sought medical attention from the doctor who gave me a thorough check. Throat and tonsils heavily inflamed, no temp and heart rate all normal. I called Donna to explain I was just feeling terrible and I may need to pull out. Some tears and 45 minutes later, I walked out of Inversnaid towards Beinglas farm. Again, on the move it all passed and I was running again, but getting very tired mentally at what I was going through health wise.
The second wind, or the rise before the fall! Donna met me at Beinglas 41 miles in and I was actually feeling very bright. I was so pleased to see her and even more excited at meeting my whole crew 51 miles in. At least some company would perk me up.
I left Beinglas and was happily trotting along until I reached 46 miles. My throat was burning and I had to sit down. This time, I knew my race was over, so I called Donna and explained I would walk to Achtertyre farm and apologise to my running crew. I was mentally exhausted and feeling like I should be in bed. As I reached the gates I met a couple – Jon and Mel Davies. They pushed me on and gave me a stern talking to. They were right, I can’t quit, one step in front of the other, just do not quit!
I made it to Auchtertyre 51 miles and my crew were waiting. Donna couldn’t believe how fresh I looked. 75 minutes behind schedule I had a good feed. Soup, protein, gels and freshened up. Off we went to Bridge of Orchy 60 miles.
The plan was to run at no less than 15-minute mile pace, which we managed all the way to 60 miles. However, despite the great company, talking was becoming hard and breathing heavier whilst running was really burning my throat badly. 2 hours later we reached BOO. More food, aired my feet, had an ice-lolly and off we went. My sight was set on Glencoe and from there I knew I could finish, even if I just walked.
For me, Glencoe 71 miles was significant. My race strategy was to run to Glencoe checkpoint within myself and to get there in once piece physically. Then, use my mental strength and determination to get to the finish line.
The trouble is, I had used too much mental energy and suffered several lows in the very early parts of the race, I just couldn’t visualise myself getting to or passed Glencoe. It all seemed too far and too much for how I was feeling.
As we climbed out of BOO, It was humid and things were beginning to unravel quickly for me. My legs felt strong, no aches or pains anywhere in my body, apart from a small blister or two, but my throat was on fire and I was having trouble drinking, talking and generally breathing without discomfort.
As we got to Inveronan, I made the decision to stop. That was it. My crew and other runners done their best to get me going, but that was the end of my adventure. It was the correct decision for me and my health.
I was upset, there were tears, but there were no regrets. I had to take nothing but positives from the whole journey. I mentally pushed myself from 11 miles to 65 miles. My legs and body were strong, my nutrition was on point and I was actually eating real food in an ultra. My timings were spot on, my crew had what they needed and I had everything in my kit. It was almost the perfect day out, but as I have said before, you can only control the controllable.
Donna and I headed to Fort William, got cleaned up and went to bed. The following morning, I wanted to attend the Award Ceremony, to cheer on each and every runner who finished collect his or her prestigious Goblet. It was an amazing experience and very motivating.
I had plenty of friends who finished, but a special shout out to Angus Alston and George Mclaughlan. I was so happy to see you collect your hard earned Goblet.
Whilst I had so many positives from the race, there is still plenty of work to be done and it will start soon. Oh and another 43 mile race in 5 weeks.
Donna has given me her blessing to apply for the 2019 ballot, where I hope to finish what I started.
Thank you to my amazing team, family and support crew. You were brilliant.
Thank you to Ian Beattie and his wonderful team for year on year hosting such an amazing event.
Watch – Garmin 325
Shorts – Salomon S Lab twin Expo
T-shirt – Salomon S Lab Agile half zip
Socks – Injinji 2.0 trail
Boxers – SAXX 2.0
Glasses – Oakley Radar Path
Hat – North Face running
Calf Guards – Salomon S lab 4
Shoes – Hoka Mafate speed 2
Hydration Pack – Salomon S Lab 5 litre Adv.
Bottles – Salomon soft flask 500ml
Headtorch – Petzl Nao 750 Lumens
Fuel – Tailwind.
Any questions or comments, post away.