The Dream Come True

For me toeing the start of the 95 mile West Highland Way Race wasn’t just a dream come true, it was nothing short of a miracle having come through severe upsets in life leading to nearly losing my life less than 4 years ago and at best the prospect of being in a wheelchair for life due to alcohol induced neuropathy and damaged nerves…..a story that I have never properly shared. I feel it’s time though to show that when your dreams become bigger than your fears then anything is possible!

Drymen and The Headlight

Back to the main story though, the WHW Race, 95 miles of mixed terrain, hills (big ones), trails and rocky moor paths which show no mercy regardless of the training that you have put in because everything changes on race day. Adrenaline kicks in, tiredness creeps in, fatigue muscles in but determination for me overpowered every one of these.

Along the way I had ups and downs, tears (lots) and laughter (in abundance) but more than anything I had the adventure of a lifetime. The first 12 miles to Drymen were done in the company of Craig “The Headlight” as we shared stories of what had brought us here and I remembered when he mentioned that he had completed the UTMB thinking that I was in the wrong place as I shouldn’t be running at the same pace as someone of that standard!!

There were moments along the way where I chuckled to myself as those gents who had decided to take pit-stops were lit up in their full glory by my passing head torch like rabbits caught in headlights.Note to self, make sure to get behind the biggest trees…no portaloos along this route much to the surprise of some non running friends!

Reaching Drymen only 5 minutes slower than I had done in the Fling I knew that I was going a little too fast but in true Wee Yin fashion I thought it better to make time now as I would suffer later….one lesson I’ve learned must change for future races. Having missed the crew here I was keen to get through the next mile or so to where I knew they were waiting although, covered head to toe and adorned in midge nets and hats I almost ran right past them! Caught up with another couple of guys, one of whom I’d not seen since Hardmoors 30 in January and had the start of new chat just as he took a hard tumble to the ground, replicating what I am more famous for doing at this stage of the route. Thankfully he was ok but he took a couple more falls which made me feel that perhaps my curse of falling was being passed on to some other poor soul.

Leading Ladies

Just prior to heading up Conic Hill I took a moment to look up and see the amazing view of the headlight trail of the leading runners making their way to the top. I couldn’t wait to get up there, one for the views now that the light was coming up and two, to see the lovely Lynne Allen who had camped out at the top to cheer the runners along.

Through Balmaha, wee spoonful or two of custard and on my way to Rowardennan. To be honest this section doesn’t stick out in my mind too much other than I was looking forward to seeing the crew again, and head off towards the first of two more technical sections. I remember running along the low road and really enjoying how I was feeling for the first part and then hearing the sound of someone coming up quickly and nimbly behind me. None other than the eventual winning lady Nicola Adams-Hendry…aww well I can say I was up front for a wee while!

Reaching Inversnaid however the good feeling had passed and at 36 miles I felt broken and couldn’t imagine completing another 60 miles to the finish. Along the technical section I struggled with the mind and on meeting a gentleman who had called his crew to come and collect him as he’d had enough, the temptation to join him was overwhelming,but something or someone had a wee word in my head and reminded me of what this was all about. Anyway no giving up and onward to Beinglas Farm where I informed Michelle that was me, I was done, something I repeated at every checkpoint until the end if I remember rightly! Michelle came with me for a few hundred yards giving me words of encouragement, making me smile again and setting me on my way knowing that by Auchtertyre I’d pick up my first support runner for extra company….hmmm that was the plan until I arrived at the checkpoint too early! That may have something to do with my encounter with all the cows at Cow Poo Alley which caused me to put a little spurt on while whispering sweet nothings at them to leave me alone much to the amusement of the hill-walker on the scene. Lovely to see Iona MacKay at this stage looking unbelievably strong and she made me feel so much better with a few choice words too.

West Highland Way Race - Coo Poo Alley

Through to Tyndrum, only getting lost in By The Way car park and actually being offered a lift by a tourist to The Green Welly (declined of course!) and thinking one race down (The Fling) and one to go (The Devil)….that’s some thought I’ll tell you. Ding Ding at the top of the first climb gave me a wee boost and many thanks to the couple there for opening the gate and giving words of encouragement. Lessons may have been learned about pit-stops in the dark but must remember not to go on this stretch again as squatting down and mooning to every City link bus behind you on the busy road was not clever! This stretch was now starting to get very lonely but the beaming smile of Karen Wallace as I approached Bridge of Orchy was enough to cheer me up and yet again remember why I was here.

Little Help From My Friends

Next checkpoint and at 60 miles I could now collect my support runners, starting off with Paul and Alex, champing at the bit to get going but I was having my Angel Delight and sweeties first, all caught on camera by Michelle as evidence that food was consumed.

West Highland Way Race food - eating Angel Delight

Off we went, the “lovely threesome “ as we were referred to by some passers by. The guys were amazing at knowing when to chat to me and when to just blether between themselves , a few times as I walked behind them I shed some tears as aches and pains started to rear their ugly head. At one point along this section I asked Alex if he could see the really strange shaped black cloud in the distance, pointing at it but being met with the confused look followed by realisation that I was pointing at the peak of a mountain poking through some white cloud…the start of delirium 😃 Not long after this I thought I was seeing things as Laura came running along towards us, about 2 and a half miles out from Glencoe. Not one for being cuddly, she offered me a shoulder to lean on and a great big hug that had me feeling very emotional and starting to doubt the continuation of the race.

By the time I reached the checkpoint I was suffering from the one and only proper meltdown that I was going to have. I was really crying, struggling to get a breath and all for climbing into the boot of the car, closing the hatch and not coming back out. Words of encouragement from my AMAZING crew and from the Street family were a massive help in picking me up, along with Lisa’s decision to join my support runners earlier than planned. With her calming nature and stories to tell they managed to cajole me into getting my butt in gear and setting off down the long hill towards the stretch to the Devils Staircase. Unfortunately Paul had suffered at the hands of the strong sunshine and had to leave us at the bottom of the Staircase and so Alex, Lisa and I started off on the climb towards some of the best views on the route. Lovely bumping into some more runners/walkers along the way and every word of encouragement was a massive positive in keeping me going.

The Final Stretch

Sadly on the descent at the other side I noticed my left knee start to niggle and become painful, something that was only going to get worse for the remainder of the race. The main thing for me was that I wasn’t going to let it stop me finish…that much I knew! My language had also taken a turn for the worse and a few expletives were being used, much to the amusement of the others…there seems to be a wee switch that comes on at a certain point in a run and nothing can switch it back off
again 😆

Kinlochleven and a warm cup of coffee which I had been so looking forward to but by this point I knew that I was struggling big time with my knee and that the main aim was just to get to the finish, run, walk or crawl. Longest section ever just because I was exhausted, sore and the day was now dragging on. The climb out of Kinlochleven in my opinion is way more gruelling and arduous than that of the Devil especially as you know that you’re straight out on to the moors afterwards. However what a welcoming sight to see the bright headlights of Jeff’s “coffee wagon” way out in the distance of the track, with Alex going on ahead to put in orders for me and Lisa and two fellow runners who we’d bumped into along the way….the amazing camaraderie of Ultra running.

West Highand Way Race - Three crews come together at Lharig Mor
Photo: Jeff Smith

Shuffle, shuffle, mile after mile we gradually made our way to the welcome smoke signals of Lundavra, one of my favourite parts of the route. The music playing, bonfire blazing and photo opportunities at the selfie photo booth. Smallest of things can give you the biggest of boosts plus I knew that we only had 7 miles to go.

West Highland Way Race fun in the photo booth

As it got darker, objects around me were really taking on a new perspective and eventually I had to give in and put the head torch on when the smallest of rocks started looking like sheep’s heads! Then for the power nap! I literally fell asleep on my feet, landed down on to both hands and bounced back up asking what had happened in a matter of seconds! Not a scratch in sight but felt
like a right plonker 😄 Met at the top of the fire road by the rest of the crew fully equipped with Scottish flag and brightest
light ever it was time for hugs all round and then the sudden realisation that with a march on we were still going to get home in sub 24 hrs!

I still don’t really know what happened between that point and reaching the town of Fort William other than it hurt immensely, I talked absolute rubbish and cried a fair bit but on reaching the Leisure Centre, hearing the cheers and seeing the field of smiling faces, I knew that the Wee Yin had made it!!

West Highland Way Race finish
Crossing the finish. Photo: G Hewitson

One goal I could only dream about became reality with a little help of my friends….

Epic adventure with epic people

Full crew and Angela
Team work made the dream work. Photo: Emma O’Rourke

West HIghland Way Race prize giving ceremony

More blogs and future tales from The Wee Yin here