Paul’s Blog – West Highland Way – Posted 18/05/16

I’ve needed to give it some time to be able to reflect a bit more clearly on what I went through last week, probably still a bit too early but I’ll give it my best shot.

To attempt to run the West Highland Way (WHW) in 2 Days has been on my mind for nearly 4 years indeed it’s seeds were sown when I was first walking the WHW over 4 days with Fraser & Neal in June 2012. A lot has happened since then but it was the thought of turning 50 earlier this year that finally galvinized the thought into a plan.

As I headed North last Monday with Dorina & Fraser in support my first realistic chance to achieve one of my 5 goals for this year of being 50 was ahead of me but confidence was low, why? The weekend before my ankles developed new pains & a respected voice said ‘that is the start of something serious’, then just days later a back spasm caused by some particularly vicious brambles was followed by an even more vicious Horsefly bite that puffed up my left ankle. All very disconcerting, I needed & gave myself a spell in front of the mirror berating ‘Paul pull yourself together, you are going to get this done!’

5:15 am Tuesday, first mistake, with no breakfast available at the hotel at that time I headed to the start in Milngavie eating two banana’s & an energy bar. – Lesson, should have delayed the start by a couple of hours & had breakfast.

5:30 – With photographs taken I said my farewells to D & F & began to gently jog away from the Glasgow suburbs, I was on my way. A beautiful morning, early highlights bluebell woods, the suns first rays hitting me at 06:05 & a couple of Roe Deer crossing my path just yards in front. The first leg of 18.7 miles was to be my longest, it went well but with hindsight (should of course have been foresight) I should have slowed to a walk on the climb around Conic Hill. Descending down to Balmaha Fraser came to greet me & lead me to the waiting car where Dorina, Gaby’s Goulash & other supplies lay waiting, I was now 3 & a half hours in & bang on schedule.

9:20 – Leg 2 began, non-technical but several short but steep climbs. I was by now passing quite a few walkers, red mist, I’ll run those hills, not too hard, but with hindsight………

10:40 – Still on schedule & now with 26.2 miles (a marathon) under my belt, I was again met by Fraser to lead me to Dorina for a shorter re-fuel. By now I had fallen once (lack of attention) & was beginning to feel the first signs of fatigue. That said as I set off again I was lifted by the voices of two American women enquiring to D & F what I was up to, they seemed impressed. However I was now embarking on the dreaded technical sections either side of Inversnaid, progress I knew would soon slow. Despite this I again ran an initial seemingly endless hill, hindsight…….. It was to be a hard leg split into two roughly equal halves, D & F would wait at the end some 14 miles ahead. 7 miles later at Inversnaid the first significant concerns began, I was tired drinking fluid faster than the supplies I had in reserve so I was forced to make a good call, STOP. No not for good but long enough to wait at the Hotel bar for my turn to be served & promptly bought & drank a litre of water. Here I also ate a Banana & energy bar, an impromptu but much needed re-fuel. By now I had run all of the first 33 miles, time to grow up adjust to the terrain & get to D & F in one piece if not a particularly healthy one.

14:20 – I was greeted once again by Fraser as I ran into Beinglass Farm amazingly only 5 minutes later than my schedule. Fall number two had drawn a little blood & this time was caused by fatigue but luckily no serious damage other than to confidence. As the mental relief of reaching a point of comfort came upon me any remaining energy simply drained away. I led down, Goulash had gone off (a coolbox malfunction that was stupid & laughable in equal measure) so I turned to Electrolite’s & a lot of them. Fraser pulled me to my feet, I cramped massively in my left leg, Dorina led me to the car, Banana’s, fluids, I’m really not sure if I can carry on, 13 miles more today, that’s a half marathon, then tomorrow, the negative thoughts flowed faster than the fluids going into me! Somehow I stood, the legs moved with the grace of an arthritic penguin, I was on my way just. Next hill was walked this was now all about effective survival management being my only chance.

Slowly the fluids, Banana’s & energy shots helped me regain something like a rythem until the next problem loomed around a corner. Cows, Calves & what looked to be young Bulls (& lot of them all). Now I am usually nervous when confronted with them but this time I had an additional concern. Back at Beinglass I had asked for a clean running top, I knew I was going to climb up a valley into a headwind so wanted a long sleeve one in case my slow pace would cause me to cool, all very logical given the state I was in. In the car I had two long-sleeved tops, I & then Dorina fumbled to find the Yellow/Grey one, frustrated, tired, impatience, the other one will do, can you guess? It was RED! I stopped, stripped, tucked the top into my more red than black bag & walked nervously forward & through the middle of the beasts. Thankfully they were clearly use to human traffic, why wouldn’t they be after all it’s the WHW.

Unexpected hazard passed, top back on I began the climb towards the forest north of Crianlarich, people ahead, stop for a pee before I get to them, two of them arn’t moving, it was D & F, that wasn’t expected but great to see them. They had thought I was never going to pass them, I was thinking I’ve got a small but significant second wind. Re-fueled once again the next few miles went relatively well including a chat with a fast walker who commented I was the only one to pass him all day, little things help make you feel better. Reaching the A82 with a little over 3 miles left to go to reach my overnight stop I was once again pleased to see D & F. More Electrolites, final short section, set sat nav. to measure my progress & count myself in. Quite how I ran as much as I did of those last 13 miles from Beinglass I’m not sure but I can now look back on it with pride, it was the beginning of a turning point but there was a lot to get right before Day 2 could even begin.

Excluding the Goulash which was mostly my fault D & F then put there first foot wrong, as I jogged into Tyndrum, where was Fraser, where was Dorina. After a failed attempt to find them at the hostel, what do I do, luckily I went back down the trail, there they were, what are they eating, bloody ICECREAM!!!!!!!! A 53 mile day, 13 miles from hell, ICE-CREAM!!!!!!!! I was calm, they led me to my room, I led down, energy & colour drained from me, Dorina’s thoughts turned from ICE-CREAM to concern.

Logic took over, I couldn’t even sit up, must eat, must eat, Dorina can you go & buy me a large full fat Yogurt. It went down well, I can stand, hot shower, 3 boiled eggs please, that’s better. Soon we were heading off to a much needed evening meal at the famous Tyndrum Fish & Chip shop, no I didn’t, I wisely ordered the Chilli & less wisely some ‘recovery’ wine.

Reasonable but pain interrupted sleep, I am so tired still, text to tell John & Marion such but at least the limbs & legs are moving, the legs get me to the hot shower & then the breakfast area where Dorina is cooking my favourite breakfast, Poached Eggs, Beans & Toast. She burns the toast setting off the fire alarm, I open the door to vent smoke & then stand on a chair to disable the alarm as two women woken up enter the room. The first smiled, the second looked like thunder, gladly it was the first who minutes later sat opposite us & struck up the conversation that became a game changer….. ‘Did you run past me yesterday’ she asked, ‘quite possibly but I’m not sure’ I replied, ‘I was the runner standing on a rock taking a photograph’ she explained.

As we continued the conversation & without exchanging names she explained she was doing a charity run from Lands End to John O’Groats & back again, her first 3 days through Cornwall had covered 100 miles & her body had been in pieces, then it slowly repaired itself. I can’t remember all the details but hearing this positivity I turned to Dorina & said ‘if she can do that, I can bloody well do this!’ We all exchanged names, D & F are now following Evie on facebook & here I am telling you about my comparatively minuscule escapade.

07:10 Wednesday 11th – 10 minutes later than planned Day’s 2 run begins but don’t despair I will be a little more brief from here-on (in hindsight that was in-correct).

I manage (by this I mean strategy wise) Day 2 far better, the 42 miles are split into 4 main sections with a 3 shorter sections slotted in (thanks to D & F for spotting two of these & using them to ‘surprise’ me). Today I will mostly walk the ups & run the flats & downs trying forlornly to work my mind & body through a section at a time but thoughts of sections to come still rip annoyingly through my mind. Again it is a glorious day, allowing me to enjoy arguably the finest section of all, Rannoch Moor, in all its majesty.

Slowly I tick them off, Bridge of Orchy (think of what Evie is doing), Inveroran, The Kings House, Altnafeath to reach the climb many fear the Devil’s Staircase. I don’t fear it I know I will fast walk it & do, then as the ground begins to level I start to run, around a corner people sat dotted everywhere taking in the view. They see a runner, he feels good, if only they knew, but he now feels good! The long 1,700′ descent over 4 miles into Kinglochleven had long been on my mind & more to the point what would it do to my quads, they hurt but as I pass numerous walkers to frequent kind comments like ‘respect’ I began to realise that I was going to do it.

Running into Kinglochleven, no Fraser, next corner, no Fraser, main road, no car…. walk, take out phone, ‘Dorina, where are you?’, in a pub having lunch………….. ‘in a bloody pub having lunch’ I thought to myself!!! It was at this point that my almost perfect support team got re-christened ‘Wallace & Grommit’, I leave it up to your imagination as to which is which. Soon re-united & refueling me they apologised by accusing me of cocking up the estimated timings leading them into a false sense of the snail’s pace I was expected to have been making, almost a fair point but lucky I was too busy eating rather than option two, swinging a fist!

Actually despite this the re-fuel was within the 20 minutes I’d allotted so no harm done & just something to laugh about. What wasn’t to laugh about was the temperature reading on the car, 26.5 degrees in a valley with no wind & a steep initial climb to come on the longest section of the day.

I was more lonely on the initial section of this than at any other, mid-afternoon there was no one else setting off & it would be 7 miles or so before I caught the first (i.e. last walkers of the day). Passing them gave me the ‘comfort’ that if I should fall now someone would soon be along to mop up the pieces. The leg from Kinglochleven to the Information centre in Glen Nevis was a brutal 13 miles, phone-calls were made, I am O.K., going well, later than planned but O.K! Near the bottom of the final descent I approached a junction with a large group of walkers & 4 signposts, one said Fort William but none said WHW, I ask you……., well in fact I asked the walkers ‘WHW’, they said ‘Fort William’, then as I re-started my trot a girl said ‘don’t tell me you are running the WHW’, pride over took me ‘yes, I left Milngavie at 5:30 yesterday’ as I moved on their stunned mumbles brought a smile of satisfaction to my tired face. Minutes later Fraser awaited, I ran past & onto the car for the last re-fuel. It was then a pavement & high street run of just over two miles, I changed tops to ‘look good’, discarded my bag, gritted my teeth & ran, ran & ran, 17 minutes later at 17:34 some 1 hour & 29 minutes later than planned there they were Dorina & Fraser at the finish line smiling with camera’s in hand. I had had an epic of totally new proportions but I was there & it was finally over.

It took me 22 Hours & 35 Minutes actual running time to cover the 95 miles & 12,000′ of ascent excluding of course a much needed overnight stop at Tyndrum. Had I got the nutrition & run/walk tactics right on Day one it is just about imaginable that I might have done it in under 24 hours without this stop. Lets put that into perspective, most people spread the walk over a much more enjoyable 6 to 8 days, a proper fell runner recently broke his own record for the WHW, the record now is staggeringly under 14 hours, I’m not even going to try to get my head around that!

Did I enjoy it, no not at the time, of course there are numerous small moments when I did immensely but collectively no I definitely didn’t at the time but I do now. I have found out more about myself as no doubt others do when taking on a challenge beyond their previous experiences, negative thoughts are more & more turning into positive ones & why not, I arose from some serious low points. That is life, we go through pain to hopefully realise what we have got & what we can do, I can look back on the WHW with pride & having re-learnt some basic rules about nutrition & inner belief.

Of course the support & interest of others helped so thanks to all who sent messages before, during & after. Unlike Evie I could not have achieved my lesser goal without the support team, Wallace & Grommit I salute you & thank you from the bottom of my heart! Anyone for ICE-CREAM???

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