West Highland Way Race, Glasgow to Fort William, 19th June


Phil Owen

Sometime people seem to think I'm not serious about running but they are wrong. I'm deadly serious. I have ideas of what I want to do, how fast and how far but very few people if really anyone knows the plans in my head. In a way i can see why my supports were panicking a bit. I haven't planned anything. Haven't got a spreadsheet, no idea where I will be and when but I did have a plan - I just don't like it down on paper to early because the plan becomes a must do and then you get yourself all tied up in must do times that give no account for external factors and get yourself down about it and worse still not enjoy the race. And of course I just don't know for sure. I'm not fit and carrying way too much weight.

Phil at the start.

I had said a few times to Sandy when she was getting all hung up and fretting that I will be fine. To be fair she and the others supporting had a torrid time the year before. Jen by her own admission knew within 20 miles she was not going to have a good day. It happens. Her support was marvellous and went beyond the call of duty and with Jen's bloody minded determination, Jon's coolness under pressure, Sandy's magical running and Souxsie's cool words got her home. But it took its toll on them.

Whereas I had the total opposite experience supporting Karen. Some lovely running watching her as she cruised through the race without a care in the world, they looked as if they had been through a war zone. I think this was uppermost in Sandy's mind and possibly why later on Sandy and I almost fell out and for the first time ever had serious words ...

Anyway, I made my mind up how I would run this the day before. That's not to say I had not thought about it it's just I'm getting all the info and making the decision then. See only a couple of weeks before my foot was sore again near the break. Only bomb knew this. The two 23 mile hill races a couple of weeks before and even the fast 3 mile hill race I did two days before this race were testing it looking for weakness. Four months off isn't fun and seeing as I broke the damn foot again at the top of the devil I'm not going to risk the rest of the year and Hardmoors.

So, with the foot fine after the last race but with only 8 weeks back running I know I'm not going to be that fast (for me) but I will be next year - see I do think about things. This race is part of a plan which I'm afraid I will keep to myself. After this race I know I will slash the time next year (given reasonable conditions, good health and the weight loss etc ). I have a time in mind and I know how I will do this. Serious enough?

Anyway why decide the day before or even on the evening of the race?. Simple, we all do it for other races and one a bit longer than the normal isn't really any exception. I see how I'm feeling and i look at the weather. Loon & Keith (George Reid Keith H ) had got fried the day before running from the finish to the start - yes that's right . They were doing Fort William -Milngavie - Fort William (as part to the race). They called it a day at approx 70 mile on the southbound journey because the heat had got to them. Unfortunately they had hit the hottest day of the year and they were afraid they would miss registration for the actual race. The ended up doing 165 miles. A lot of it in baking heat. Respect.

So the weather says it's going to be pretty hot without a cloud in the sky. While we mill around at the start catching up with whw and fetchies friends. Looking out for the fast one's who might win (with no Jezz brag this is going to be a hard fought race). I decide i will run a fair bit faster in the cool of night , slow up a bit when it get really hot because (and i know as Scotland's sun god this is ironic) i really don't like the heat. Actually that's not entirely true. What i really don't like is blazing sunshine. So with a short speech and a minute applause for Dario we start the race.

Milngavie - Drymen-Balmaha (20 Miles)

In the fling (the fling is a race from Milngavie to Tynndrum) I'm not keen on this bit. Bit long and drawn out . However i love racing at night. Its cool and the head torches bob up and down through the park. Ghostly images chat to you as and a train of lights and you follow a train of lights. People say Hi flip, how that foot but i don't know who they are. I ended up in a nice pace group of about six . Mumbled chatting as we ran. First one? 10 times, UTMB, Hardmoors, mutual friends. The class crystal goblet at the end . You know the stuff.

Before you get to the first support point at 13 miles you cross a small meadow with a decent little hill in it. It here i always think the fling (a race of the first 53 mile of the whw for those who don't know) starts. Up to the road and some of the support cars are there but also across the road and another short climb there is another road with supporters on. I've made it in about 2 hours which was my goal. I quickly look to see if my support on the lower road but no sign. I go up to the top and again no sign of them. This is a good start. I go back down and beg some water for a refill wondering what's happened to them. I go back up and I'm just about to go when Jane spots me and asks where my support is. I say i don't know and off course they offer me drinks. I'm just heading off when Jane shouts there's mike (who we were giving a lift to) and bomb and sandy slowly followed. They didn't seem in much of a hurry and i had words. I wasn't best pleased.. I change my shoes to my ino8 mudclaws 285's that i will run the rest of the race in and went. The group have long gone an i run on my own for a while. Balmaha checkpoint is only 6 miles away.

Dawn is breaking. Only a couple of hours of dark . So different from Hardmoors in September. A after a short bit of tarmac , some forest, we start the rocky road to Conic Hill and the long 1200ft climb with the view of Loch Lomond at dawn from the top . Beautiful! I'm feeling really great and loving the run in the cooler night air. I climb the Conic and flash down the other side picking off a fair few runners loving it. Short run to Balmaha and I check in grab half a cuppa coffee and a roll and more or less head straight off.

Balmaha - Rowardenan (26 mile point)

Bit of Road again then forest track. I've been trying to get Dave (Lisrun) up for the fling next year but this section why he did the relay seem to have put him off a bit. I always forget it's quite hilly because its woodland i a just love running in woodland. Incidentally anyone (like Lisrun) who can do the Hardmoors 55 can do the fling easily. It takes me 3 hours more to do the same distance on the Hardmoors. Up and down and i get a bit of shade here and there because as i thought it's already getting hot and its still early morning. Hit Rowardenan forest car park in about 5:30 hours again spot on. My plan is to slow up a bit and not get to Tynndrum before 13 hours. Fast enough but not to fast on my unfit overweight body to knack me out in the heat. The thing i like about this place apart from its halfway on the fling therefore a quarter way (well sort off in my head). I eat and drink and head for the loo there. Off up the road and I'm heading for my favourite section.

Rowardenan - Invasnaid - Bein Glass (41 Miles)

The Shoreline rocks start just before the shoreline Invasnaid hotel but before that more ups and downs through the forest and a bit of beach. Love it. Soon I'm on the rocks i love so much. Swing round the trees and flying through the rocks and tree roots. This is just the start. It gets even better after the hotel. You can hear the gushing of the huge waterfall before you see the Hotel and it comes all too quickly. I have a drop bag here. Sports drink , sarnie and soreen cake (buttered)- Yum. I refill my hydration pack and the girls from mountain rescue offer to spay me down with insect repellent. I hadn't really noticed until now because the midges did not seem as bad as last year (because it's always worse for the support team) but they were out in force here. A lady sprayed me and then the other sprayed my legs again and rubbed it in to my calves. This took a while but i think it's important to rest and eat. Lol.

Off down the track to Beinglass and the real rocks. I just love this and wish the whole 95 miles was like this. I over take a fair few as i always do in here. I overtook a few and generally enjoyed every moment. Out the other side. Over Dubh Lochan with more fabulous views of the loch and into Bien glass campsite and the wigwams. Onto the track, checkpoint and my crew are waiting. I have a beaming smile. Coffee and a bacon roll . Wonderful. Kiss from bomb and Sandy wants me off but I'm ahead of time and out in the open i can really feel the heat of the day. I intend slowing down a bit now. Sandy says something like you will be at Auchentyre farm at x time and it tell her again no give over with that. I will be there when i get there. I control the timetable.

Beinglass - Auchentyre farm.(50-ish)

The long and winding track up and down till you hit the tunnel and then the climb past the cows that for the first time weren't there ! and then the slow climb up to the picnic table and more wonderful view s. Hat on now and a buff on my head and draped over my neck . Suncream on. I've been burnt bad twice lately while out running races and this sunshine could last till 10 o'clock tonight. Through the woods and Auchentyre farm is soon upon me. The is half way but i always like to think of Tynndrum as that seeing as its the fling end. I weigh in. Bang on my starting weight. If you're to much over or under you are out the race. My nutrition and hydration is spot on. There is a baked potatoes on offer and i eat. Jane (UC) offers me some ice cold sparkling water . I think i drink the lot. I don't think i was meant to but that hit the spot. Clair (amac) gives me some more and i drink most of that . sorry ladies Everyone asking how I'm feeling and saying I'm doing well and tbh i feel fine.

Sandy is itching to run as i can have a support runner now . We are just about to set off when the checkpoint people say i can't have support. I say i thought you could from here. That's right they say but not if you're within 4 hours of the leader. I'm astonished. None of us and considered that. Sandy want to run anyway but i point out Tynndrum is just down the road and I'm not risking getting thrown out the race for a pesky 3-4 miles. Again sandy says you have 20 minutes to get there. This is starting to annoy me now. I say again I'll be there when I'm there. Its a nice run to Tynndrum and i make good time. HapppGav Is there now after getting the train down . So good of him to support, especially as it was his birthday the previous day. It's funny only a few years before i was indoctrinating him into the cult of fetch in a pub in Buchlyvie lol. You still think i don't plan ahead lol?

Tynndrum - Bridge of Orchy - Glencoe (60-ish)

Bomb and sandy join me to run. Sandy runs for 1 second and fall over and cuts her knew. I know we should not laugh. Sorry. Bump into DaveK who has come down to support but again I'm a bit early . last time we were here i had the pleasure of crossing the finish line with him at he fling . A grand day out. Quick chat and he's up for this next year. He will storm it . I'd forgot about this long road to Bridge of Orchy . I should make more use of it . Rob K goes past . We say hi again . we have been passing each other all day.

The Hills are Magnificent. Meall Buidhe, Beinn Odhar and Ben Dorain. I hope i get to run some in our Scottish hill running fetch weekend. I should have made more of that track . I will next year. At bridge of Orchy, sandy gets patched up by Doctor Soph , John comes in) and we set of up the hill over Mam Carraigh and along to Invororan Hotel. >From there to Victoria bridge and the long slog up to Rannoch Moor. Rannoch moor is 1100ft high up . You forget how long the long slow slog up is. It's desolate and beautiful. I was cursing the blazing sun but in bad weather this will be wild it so high up and exposed.

I know i have a problem with Rannoch (another long track) and also my best friend and support was starting to bug me. This isn't easy because i love her dearly. Anyway, she was running ahead and then back full of beans but this bugs me. I feel like she is trying to push the pace again. I've run all night and all day before (and all night again) and know about pace. Plus i know I'm not fit and i want to conserve energy. I remember Loon telling me about pushing it to hard one year and the last 13 miles he was on for sub 24 and he blew up big time coming in in 27:35 I don't want that to happen. The year before he had done 22 hours. I ask sandy not to do it, to run near me and with me or behind or something but not that. It's annoying me and putting me off. . She doesn't get it and more or less carries on. We have words a few time. She runs how i want and i pick up the pace a bit. She sulks (yes you did babe) and we carry on. For some reason i develop a cough on the Rannoch. Now after the hill race two days ago i cough and coughed after and prayed i had not got a cold. Now i was coughing again and my chest was tight. Bugger.! Also when i run downhill my stomach muscles hurt. Well that a new one on me . We decide i have been running with my bottle belt to tight. I don't normally wear one but had decided to for this . It meant i could not lash down the hill losing me a fair amount of time and my one thing I'm good at . We get to Glencoe sandy's pissed off with me and I'm pissed of with her. She sulks in the car and i have a go at her. This has never happened before and i think we are both shocked. I have coffee and some pasta. Sandy does not get out the car and bomb continues on with me (keeping well out of it btw) . Part of my planning if it's hot (and its scorching now) is a cold pint at Kingshouse. It's ready for me - thanks Gav.

More arguments with sandy. I really wanted her to come over the devil with me and see the mythical town (you see it but it does not get any nearer) Kinglochleven again. Just her and me. I love sandy - she's upset and not coming and I'm getting angry. Kings House (beer) - The devils staircase-Kinglochleven. (82 miles ish ) The race starts here. Believe me. The race is often said to be a race of two halves. To Kinglochleven the first 80 and the last 15. I think it 5 miles before, here at the devil where i broke my foot at the end of January trying a winter North to South whw with George and Karen and friends. I get to the top of the devil and turn back . I love that view. I can't lash down but it's a steady jog. My chest clears up again. Most strange. By the time we are at the bottom again I'm coughing a load again . Soph gives me drugs and a squirt on an inhaler which i fail to inhale. Bugger again I hope it clears again. I weight in. Spot on. HappyGav joins me now.

Kinlochleven - Fort William. (95miles)

Two Guy have joined us. We climb out of Kinlochleven . My chest tight and i have to stop a few times. Headtorched on now and at last its a bit cooler . We have had blazing sunshine. The thing i hate most from 6am in the morning to 10pm at night ! dam it saps at your energy big time. That said apart from my chest I'm feeling absolutely fine-really enjoying myself. I know i have another problem track ahead. I hate long tracks. The lundavra track is all loose rocks and boulders. It's not impossible to run but it tough and an ankle break waiting to happen. We run where we can and fast walk . I looked up my devil time from Kinglochleven to the finish (the Devil race is the last 42 Miles of the whw) and it was 3.5 hours. That in daylight feeling very strong. 3.5 hours for 13 miles! The long slog time is passed by me and Gav catching up. He's glad to see my love life settling down for our last long chat in the whw last year (we both supported Karen) . He hasn't made the mistake of rummaging through my bags either this time. Gav has just got engaged and i offer my tips. See i have the experience here . I was once engaged for 14 years. I know . I'm surprised the ring lasted that long. My chest clears up again (go figure) and we run a bit more. Lundavra come and it's only a small bonfire this year. I'm told its 6.6 miles or something but i tell the other two that its 3 and you are on the land rover track going down the side of Glen Nevis . This is true but first we wind our way through the forests climbing and descending for an age .Its pitch black . I love it.

Then the forest opens and the track is there. Its all steady wide track ,all downhill. We jog down . A text says bomb and sandy are waiting. The goblet is almost mine . Gav hops his way down, his injury hurting. Finally we come to brave heart Car and the girls . I give my bomb a big hug and my sandy a big hug. I'd have killed her if she wasn't there. Steve and Vicky (Georges support) appear and we run in. I pick up the pace. I see the whw sign and start to sprint. I have fire in me now . The all shout that's not the finish. I've run 95 miles, I'm allowed some confusion. Now the leisure centre is in sight and i take off and sprint full out again. My team are left behind. Dam i feel good. I run through the doors in 26:47. I'm ok with that after only 8 weeks back runningand a complete lard arse. Mark (Drama queen) greets me with a big smile, and shake of my hand He looks a bit bemused i think . I'm beaming ! He asks how it was. Bloody brilliant i say but I'll smash the time when fit next year. I'm planning already.

PS ... Sleep and to the ceremony . I never had a bigger smile on my face picking that goblet up. Some races are important to me. This is one of them. We watch every get presented with there goblet while sandy drinks champers and hollers. George , Karen , Vicky john and lots of other friends We ok now. I know she's proud of me like i will be of her next year. After party was excellent with runners' supporters and those organizing the race. I can't wait till next year. I have a plan.