Thursday, 31 May 2012


Well it's not long to go now and if I'm honest I'm still not entirely sure why I'm doing it. I talk of course about the 95 mile West Highland Way Race. I've asked myself 'Why?' more times than I care to think about and I wouldn't know how to express it properly vocally in one breath. I think the blank look on my face tells it better than words could. No doubt I'll be muttering 'why?' on the start line in a few weeks time, but by that point it'll be too late. I mean, why would a 'normal' person willingly want to subject their body and brain to 30 hours of running? Obviously I'm not normal!
I've only been running 'Ultras' since mid 2009 and have now chalked up 15 of them, soon to be 16 when I hopefully complete the mother and father of them all. For me completing the WHW Race will tick one of life's boxes.It was at the Highland Fling Race in 2009 that my affair with the Ultra running madness began and where I became aware of the Devil O' the Highlands Race and the full WHW Race. My first introduction to it was whilst standing in Milngavie Railway station car park at 6 in the morning, while queuing for the toilet. I overheard a conversation between 2 runners in front of me who were trying to out do each other with their tales of grandeur. I was just begining to get bored of this when one then said that he was using today's Fling race as a training run and that the next morning he was going to get up early again and run from Tyndrum (where the fling ends) to Fort William (the end of the WHW). He said he was doing this as a two day training run in preparation for the 'Big One'.
When I finished the Fling in 2009 I nearly needed a wheelchair, so how someone could then run another 43 miles was beyond comprehension. More to the point, why would you want to? What goes through someone's brain to think that that would be fun? Answers on a postccard please!

The 'Fling' in 2009 was supposed to be a 'one off' never to be repeated venture. Now look at me, 15 Ultras later. I've often wondered, normally after I've broken myself, why do I put myself through these events. What the hell is wrong with me?! Did I flick a switch in my brain marked 'stupid mode'?
When I took up running in early 2007 it was only supposed to be a way of fending off the flab and for just general well being. Even as I lined up for my very first 10K I didn't see where it would take me and how it would develop. So fast forward 5 years and here I am about to undertake an act of lunacy! When I ran the 'Fling' in 2009 I didn't have a Scooby Doo what I was doing, I didn't know how to train for an Ultra, I had no clue of how to pace myself over 50 odd miles (which I'm still trying to sort) and mentally I didn't know how to prepare. However, I survived to tell the tale and surprised myself by finishing well inside the time limit. Afterwards, when I had regained the power of fluid upright movement, walking, I looked into what other Ultra races were out there. At first it came across like a secret society, like a cross between the Mason's and fight club. Those who did them were mythical figures, shadows, extradordinary beings and lunatics. I didn't do another Ultra in 2009, the next wasn't until the D33 in 2010, followed by the Fling again. 3 Ultras in 2 years. And then I went a bit mental and did 9 of them in 2011. It was like an illness, an itch I didn't want to go away by scratching at it!. If Ultra running is an addition, I have a serious problem. I hadn't really thought about the WHW Race that much since 2009, mainly because I had absolutely no intention of ever doing it. But being around other Ultra runners the conversation often led to it being discussed. So, in 2011 I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and for 20 hours on a June weekend I followed the race by driving north and stopping off at a few of the checkpoints as I made my way up towards Fort Bill. Once at Fort William I walked from the finish up the last hill to Lunvadra and back. I wanted to cheer on the runners as they covered the last few miles. During the day I had several runners I knew commenting that I should enter for next year (2012), my replies are unprintable here but to summarise, I declined! However........after watching them finish and the emotions they had gone through during the day I began to think. And thinking for me can be a dangerous thing and normally results in a moment of unadvised madness that can have dire consequences!
I decided that I would do it. Then I changed my mind. Then I decided I would do it. Then I changed my mind. This went on for a few months and then in November last year I stupidly typed in my Visa card details and had entered the Ballot. I had 30 days in which to wise up and withdraw. But I didn't, despite having given it serious thought and then before I knew it I had been given a starting place. Oh Shit!!
It's something I want to do at least once. It's the ultimate challenge for me (unless I find something even more mental) and why not?
How will I know what I'm capable of achieving if I don't get up off my ass and try it. I'd rather fail in the attempt than fail to attempt and never know.  I need to get it out of my system once and for all. I've no idea what my game plan will be, except to just finish, enjoy it (if thats possible) and say I did it and get my hands on a goblet at the end. I had my final pre-race Podcast with John the other day and there were some things I wanted to say about how I'm feeling now that it's just three weeks away. As usual I rambled on and didn't say all I wanted. I have mixed emotions about this event. Fear and excitement are there in both equal measures I guess. I know that along the way I'll have low points when I'm exhausted, knackered and just plain gubbed! But it's how I deal with these that'll get me to the end. My longest race to date has been 56 miles so I have no yardstick to measure the WHW Race against, no experience of what the brain and body go through during this distance. When I get to Auch Farm on the day that'll be the 56 mile mark and as I stumble forward from that point I'll be in new territory and the battle from there will be as much as about mental strength as it will be physical. Staying focused and moving forward sounds easy but i'm under no illusion that it WILL be tough, tougher than anything I've ever undertaken before.
So far this year I've run 3 Ultras and achieved PB's in each of them. I'm on a high at the moment as everything from fitness levels, confidence, nutrition, health and race preparation have all gone better than I could have expected. Fingers crossed that this has provided me with the momentum to do well in the WHW Race. As John says at the end of every Podcast 'Slow and Steady wins the race'. This will be the approach to the day, or in my case 'days'! Run at my own pace and not to run with others who I know can maintain a higher pace for longer. I'll be letting others bash on ahead and to not worry about anyone else in front or about how many people pass me during the weekend. If I need to walk, I will, no shame in that. I'll have my time targets as I mentioned in the last Podcast, although I'll see how it goes on the day. I've been not too far off my time splits so far this year but with this being a lot longer there may need to be some 'flexibility' in my predictions this time round. Satisfaction will be in the acomplishment of completion, afterall. Having had a single purpose this year has proved difficult as everything has been focused on this event. In previous years there hasn't been one single event that i've concentrated on fully. Each event so far this year has been a means to an end and had to be treated as 'warm up' events, training runs and an opportunity to try out new things and find out what works and what doesn't. They have given me the opportunity to identify areas for improvement and to track my progress as the year has gone on. I suppose the preparation for the WHW Race first started at the begining of December last year when my starting place was confirmed. Trying out new nutritional plans and sorting out my pacing have been my main objectives since then. Staying healthy, fit and injury free has been hugely important and now I need to maintain this between now and the start in three weeks time. Between now and then every training run, however short or long it may be, will be filled with possibilities. John asked me what my 'fears' surrounding this race were. The biggest is the thought of picking up an injury before the day. That would be too much to bear. Already there have been several people forced to withdraw through injuries or illness and I'm gutted for them. So if anyone I know has a cold or a plague related illness, stay the hell away from me!!
So the final prep' is underway now for all those taking part in a few weeks time. Most things I can control, those that I can't I'm not going to waste time or energy worrying about. One of those being the weather on the day. It can be anything from 30 degrees and sunny to howling wind, driving rain and freezing. But i'm sure if we wait 5 minutes it'll change anyway!! No point in worrying about that as long as I'm prepared for all the possibilities by packing sunglasses, lotion, thermals and bombproof waterproofs. And then there are the horrors that await us in the form of those little bitting insects we all love. Although I think they will be more of a problem for the support teams than us running. I'll have a couple of 'team meetings' to discuss my plans and strategy for the day and try and cover all the 'what', 'where', 'when', 'how' and 'why' stuff that will come up. I know you can't plan for every eventuality and some stuff will just have to be dealt with on the day.
I know what works nutritionally for me now so I'll get my food sorted out fairly easily and there are a few places along the route to get something hot should I need a more normal meal. Although I doubt I'll be able to eat a full fish supper or a curry in a hurry. I know what kit I'll be using on the day too and will be using a mixture of trail and road shoes during the day. Some sections I know are more suited to a road shoe and having a bit of extra cushioning for a few miles will be a luxury. I'm still not convinced as regards to either the 'minamalist' or the 'hoka' approach so will stick to what I know works for me. To start changing the type of shoe I run in now would be ill advised this close to race day. I can experiment during my recovery period. I plan on changing socks a couple of times during the weekend to keep my feet feeling fresh and it'll help identify any friction points early, so I can deal with them before they develop any further into blisters. It only takes a minute to do this and will prevent problems later that could hamper my progress. I normally don't run with an MP3 player but I'll pack one in my kit bag so if I need a distraction from fatigue in the later stages I can plug myself in and hopefully with some good music playing I can give myself a boost. At check points I'll be in no rush and will take time to refuel properly. I want these checkpoints to be as stress free as possible and allow me to re-organise and re-focus for the next section. I know alot of runners arrive and grab food and eat on the run out, but I prefer to take a few moments and chill. My checkpoints will be sponsored by Zen!
So with the taper about to begin I have time for a couple of runs of around 15 miles and then it'll be dialed down to a canter. Tapering for a 95 mile race is going to be vastly different to that of the 50 odd mile races i'm used to so it'll be important that I do it right. I need to avoid the temptation to go out and run long over the next few weeks. I've taken the few days off before the event so as to get plenty of rest and carb load properly which can be hard working the shifts I do. I've prepared the best I can and know how to, there's nothing left to do now except turn up and run. The best thing about the day will be running with 200 other runners feeling the same pain I will be!

 I hope everyone else is training well and stays fit, healthy and injury free from now until 1am on the day.
95 miles? Bring it!


  1. You are perfectly prepared, now it's time for the hardest bit... waiting for the adventure to begin!

  2. Great Post Colin.

    Looking forward to sharing the Journey with you.

    Taper well and stay Fresh.

  3. Great post! Not long now I know! Though I still have my highest mileage push to come this weekend. Best wishes, health, patience, sanity (?) for your taper time. See you at the start. Silke

  4. You'll be fine. But if you think that you just do it once then it's out of your system, then you still don't understand.....

  5. I look forward to be enlightened Andy....

  6. You've done the training and your heads in the right place, you've just got to turn up and run it now. And have fish and chips for lunch on Thursday 21st June.