Balmaha to Beinglas Farm
Checkpoint #1 - #2
On the elevation chart, this looks like it should be the easiest section of the course. It follows along the shoreline of Loch Lomond with no significant single climb. But this section is infamous for its wet, rocky, and rooty ankle traps. It's slow going for a good chunk of it.
After a couple miles on the most technical stretch, I started to feel a pulsing, straining sensation in the top of my upper left calf. This is the exact same spot that tore in the 2012 race.
"You've got to be kidding me!" I thought. Looking back to 2012, I wonder if this was what happened to me -- acute stress led to eventual tear. "No no no no," I mumbled. "This can't be happening again."
This section is also the longest distance between checkpoints, and the slow going meant for an even longer timeframe. I was nervous about my calf and anxious to get to the checkpoint to take a rest.
The course finally passed the northern tip of Loch Lomond and popped over a little hill to checkpoint #2. I rushed in, changed my shirt, and grabbed the tiger tail to roll out my left calf for a few minutes -- then the right calf. I grabbed something to eat and chugged some gatorade while Annie kept at my left calf with her hands.
Satisfied that we loosened my calves, I kissed Annie goodbye and headed back up the trail.
Overall time - 7:43:46
Overall position - 20th
|It was a foggy morning on Loch Lomond.|
|Misty Loch Lomond.|
|Along Loch Lomond.|
|A taste of the rocks along Loch Lomond.|
|More slow going.|
|All smiles around mile 35|
even with midges covering my neck.
|Along Loch Lomond.|
Beinglas Farm to Auchtertyre
Checkpoint #2 - #3
I don't remember this section be so difficult. I didn't think I could have studied the course any more than I did, but for some reason I just wasn't prepared for the upcoming 6-mile climb. It wasn't a big climb by any stretch (~1,100 ft over six miles), but the constant uphill grade really challenged me mentally. I was 40+ miles into the race and certainly feeling some race fatigue, but now this was the first time I felt like I was struggling mentally. On a good note, my left calf didn't seem to be an issue anymore.
The miles went by slowly.
During the first two sections, I recollected nearly every mile from my 2012 race. But I remembered almost nothing of the first five miles or so of this section. It was a little weird, to be honest.
The miles went by slowly.
This was also the first section where the course really started opening up to the amazing Scottish landscape. I found myself doing a lot of slow 360-degree turns to soak in the views. The wide-open vistas helped with my mood, for sure.
There was a steep descent going into checkpoint #3, and for the first time all day I started walking part of the downhills.
"Finishing is the only goal," I kept reminding myself. "No sense killing my quads with almost fifty miles still to go."
The rain had picked up enough to put my jacket on, but my shirt was already soaked and I started to get cold. I came into the checkpoint with a chill and changed my shirt quickly. Still cold, I was sitting in the back of the rental car shaking. Annie wrapped me in a small fleece blanket for a few minutes to warm me up.
"I'm at my first low point," I mumbled.
Feeling low on energy (lower than I'd like to feel), I needed something to eat. I was hungry, but none of the food we had sounded good. Chips, bread, nuts, fruit...yuck. I'd been eating a GU every 30 minutes up to this point, but now I needed something warm. I knew that a couple miles up the road I'd have the chance to see my crew again at one of the official meeting points (other than the mandatory checkpoints, there were four other authorized meeting points that I was able to see my crew along the course). Annie said she'd try to find something hot to eat for me at the upcoming meeting point.
I bundled up and walked with Annie through to the end of the checkpoint.
Overall time - 9:47:48
Overall position - 19th
|Wet Scottish hills.|
|Sometimes it's worth looking back from where you've come.|
|Around mile 47,|
starting to feel a bit tired.
|I love this race.|
|Always happy to see my crew!|
Auchtertyre to Bridge of Orchy
Checkpoint #3 - #4
I struggled for the next couple of miles before finally getting to Annie and Aaron waiting at a road crossing. They had a big cup of hot vegetable soup waiting for me. I sat in the front of the car and worked my way toward the bottom of the cup. It tasted so good!
"You got to get going," Annie said after a few minutes.
"Just a couple more minutes," I pleaded.
"You should get going," she reiterated. "I can have another cup waiting for you at the next checkpoint if you want."
Most crew members will tell you of that fine line between keeping your runner moving forward and giving them the rest that they need. Annie knew that sitting in the car for ten+ minutes wasn't what I needed to be doing right then. The longer you sit in a comfortable seat, the easier it is to convince yourself that sitting sure beats running.
"Let's get going," she nudged again.
Okay, okay -- I'll get up. With warm food in my stomach, I was feeling better and pushed on.
The section toward Bridge of Orchy is arguably the most scenic of the course, and a perfect example of why I carry a camera with me.
I hit the checkpoint
with some momentum with a little bit of momentum with a smile on my face very tired. I plopped down on the bridge and ate some more vegetable soup.
Overall time - 12:00:39
Overall position - 23rd
|Hot cup of soup and a coke.|
|This might be my favorite single|
stretch of the West Highland Way.
Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe Ski Area
Checkpoint #4 - #5
There's a nice little climb directly after Bridge of Orchy.
About a half-mile up the climb I started throwing up. Everything came out, and then some. And then I kept dry-heaving.
Not good. Not good!
With nearly forty miles still ahead of me, I needed to keep food and liquids down. There is no way I finish if I can't eat and drink.
I saw Annie and Aaron at another road crossing a couple miles later.
"My stomach's turning on me," I told Aaron. "I've been throwing up and dry-heaving. I haven't been able to keep anything down."
I don't remember if Aaron said anything, but the worried look on his face was telling enough. Annie was running from the car with the body glide that I forgot to put on at the last checkpoint. I told her about my stomach.
"Oh no," she whispered.
The next nine miles are brutal and I needed to keep food down. I pushed on.
This was the section where my calf slowed me to a crawl in 2012. My calf was fine this year, but now it was my stomach that was slowing me down.
And there is a three mile stretch on this section that hit me with body blow after body blow. It was a tame section compared to much of the rest of the course, but the gradual climb and cobblestone-like surface plus my quickly depleting energy reserves simply made for a big struggle.
It took ten minutes to eat a GU and even then I was struggling to keep it down. I nibbled on a granola bar, but the smell of it was revolting my stomach. Sips of water felt like gallons. But, for a brief couple of hours, I was keeping down the little bit of food and drink I could force down.
The approach to the Glencoe ski area brought me through a moody landscape with miles of lonely views. The terrain dares you to continue.
My calorie intake was hours behind where it should have been, but I simply couldn't force anything down as fast as I needed to.
I was able to run most of the mile long descent to the checkpoint where Aaron met me and walked me a few meters up to Annie and the check-in station.
Needing fuel badly, I plopped down on the ground near Annie and tried to force down some calories.
"I don't feel great," I said.
"Your stomach?" Annie asked.
And then I start throwing up again. Then again. A lot. I didn't think I had that much in my stomach. After I emptied everything, I kept dry-heaving. Not good.
I'm at mile 71 and I can't keep anything down. 24 miles from the finish line and I can't keep anything down. In 2012, this is where I knew was injured, but we all decided that I was far enough under the cutoff time that I could still walk the final 24 miles to the finish line. (We ended up being wrong, of course.)
If I couldn't keep any food down, then I was less confident that I could make it to the finish line than I was three years before with a torn calf.
"I have to keep going," I told Annie and Aaron. No sense sitting there throwing up if I could do that while I'm walking, I thought.
Overall time - 14:57:14
Overall position - 28th
|At a low point.|
Can't keep food down.
|I'm at a low point, but the views are still amazing.|
|Near the top of the short climb|
out of Bridge of Orchy.
|This is when I saw Annie and Aaron|
shortly after my stomach turned on me.
(photo by Aaron Whiteman)
|The 'cobblestone' road to Glencoe.|
|Looking back as I get closer to the Glencoe ski area.|
Another one of my favorite course views.
|Walking up to the checkpoint with Aaron.|
Spent my time at this checkpoint throwing up.
Glencoe Ski Area to Kinlochleven
Checkpoint #5 - #6
About four miles up the road is Devil's Staircase, the race's big climb to the highpoint. There's a parking area there that's authorized for crew. Annie and Aaron were waiting for me at the bottom of Devil's Staircase with refueling supplies. I trudged toward them.
"Where's the car?" I ask. They point across the street. "I need to sit down and regroup."
I was at my low-point. I hadn't been able to keep anything down since Glencoe. My energy was at 0.05%. I felt like I could barely move.
I threw myself into the front seat and lowered the seat-back a bit.
"I can't go on like this without any food," I said. "I need to keep something down."
I don't remember if I said it out loud or not, "In 2012 it was a torn calf. This year it's going to be my stomach." I was 20 miles from the finish line, and I didn't have the energy to move.
I grabbed a banana and slowly worked on it. It took at least thirty minutes to eat. I sipped on some juice. I ate a small shortbread cookie. My feet were swelling so I loosened my laces. I put on a fresh shirt. I closed my eyes and let Annie and Aaron talk to me. I tried to make some jokes.
Neither of them said anything about the race, but I knew they were just as worried about my ability to continue on as I was. We were all in this exact same spot three years earlier, down and almost out with a mountain to yet climb.
"Should you get going?" Annie asked.
"Just a bit more," I said. This was a rest I needed.
Then, after nearly fifty minutes of sitting in the car, I popped up ready for Devil's Staircase. Aaron walked with me over Devil's Staircase and into Kinlockleven in 2012 -- a 6.5-mile section that took me nearly eight hours on one leg.
This time, I was heading over the Staircase alone. Annie and Aaron had to make a detour all the way to Fort William during this next section so they could check us into our hotel. Our hotel hadn't given us permission for a late check-in, so Annie and Aaron had to find some time to squeeze that in mid-race!
"It might be as long as three hours," I warned them on my expected arrival to Kinlochleven.
"Good," they said jokingly. "That will give us plenty of time to get to the hotel and back."
I headed up Devil's Staircase. I didn't feel so bad anymore. Wait, do I feel...good? Was that a magic banana?!
I fell in behind a couple guys who started up the climb ahead of me. I stayed with them for a couple minutes, but then I was actually feeling good enough to push on past them. I sipped on some water and some Gatorade, and my stomach was feeling fine.
I surged to the top of Devil's Staircase, paused to soak in the view from all directions, then started down the big, rocky descent to Kinlochleven. For a couple of miles I felt as though I were bounding.
I had new life.
The descent is quite technical is spots, with big rocks slowing me to a walk several times. Even after the rocks fields, there were still rocks pounding at my feet and quads.
I was making good time and now started to worry that I was going to beat Annie and Aaron to the checkpoint. I was going to be closer to 1.5 hours than the 3 that I thought it might take. This checkpoint was a medical stop too, so I needed to be weighed before they'd let me continue -- and Annie had my weight card. I pull out my cell phone (mandatory emergency gear) and turn it on to text Aaron that I'd arrive to the checkpoint much sooner than expected. No service, of course!
I had to stop for a couple minutes just above Kinlochleven because I didn't know which way to go. There was an unclear intersection and no course markings, so I stood there and waited for another racer to catch up with me who was familiar with the course and he pointed me in the right direction.
As I hit the pavement in Kinlochleven, I had a rush of emotion come over me. This was the spot in 2012 where Annie had rushed out to meet me after I was many hours overdue, and this was where I had to withdrawal in the middle of the night. To be running through town and feeling so much better this time was an incredible feeling.
Still, I was unsure if Annie and Aaron had made it to the checkpoint yet. I was running along the street and turned a corner to the checkpoint when a car pulled up beside me and I heard "Woooo!!!! Go Scott!!!!!!" It was Annie, and they were just arriving. Perfect timing!
"This is what a second wind looks like," I said to Annie and Aaron. We were all smiles.
I was fourteen miles from the finish line, and I knew that I was going to finish.
Overall time - 18:29:03
Overall place - 36th
|Just before Devil's Staircase.|
|Annie waiting for me at Devil's Staircase.|
This is the look of a concerned crew chief.
And this is where I sat in the car for
nearly an hour to eat a banana.
(photo by Aaron Whiteman)
|My second wind!|
Feeling better near the top of Devil's Staircase.
|Looking back down Devil's Staircase.|
|Top of the descent on the other side of Devil's Staircase.|
|A mile or so down the descent into Kinlochleven.|
Two runners up ahead.
Kinlochleven to Fort William
Checkpoint #6 - finish
I left Kinlochleven with a burst of adrenaline. This was all new territory for me; I'd never stepped a single foot on this part of the course. There's a nice climb leaving town, and then the course meets up with an old, rocky road through a breathtaking valley. The sun was getting low, and dark clouds were forming to make for some dramatic skies. I must have stopped twenty times to take a photo and look around. Sheep, rocks, rain.
I was feeling quite blessed to be able to do what I do and to be able to be where I was at that exact moment in time. I don't think I took anything for granted, and I certainly hope that I never will.
Annie and Aaron were meeting me around mile 88. This would be the last place that they could see me before the finish.
Since Devil's Staircase, I had been doing fine with stomaching GUs and fluids. But my twelve-mile high was starting to wear off. I was laboring more. GUs weren't going down as easy. The rocky road was doing a number on my feet. (Curse the rocks!)
I remember reading somewhere that the mile 88 meeting point was in a forest. There wasn't a tree in sight.
"Are you kidding me? I must be getting close!" I said out loud to the tree-less expanse.
Finally, after what must be the longest seven miles ever recorded, I turned a corner near the bottom of the valley and saw the trees and some cars parked in the distance.
"My second wind is gone," I smiled to Annie and Aaron as I shuffled up to them.
I huddled up to the bonfire for several minutes to keep warm. We had debating on whether or not Annie would pace me for the final section to the finish line but ultimately decided that I'd push alone. The sun was just about to set and I put on my headlamp and headed up a little climb that felt like it was headed to the moon.
My feet weren't in great shape from the last few hours of rock pounding. I was hoping that the section through the forest to Fort William would be smooth and soft. And maybe it was, but after 90 miles every nighttime root and rock was starting to feel like mini-explosions underneath my feet.
It's was getting close to midnight when the course finally left the forest and opened up to a valley below with the lights of Fort William in the distance. Across the valley stood Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain, its shape silhouetted in the sky by faint moon and starlight. Dotted across the face of the mountain was a line of headlamps zigzagging toward the summit, climbers making their way in the dark. It was such a cool thing to see.
Below and not-so-far away, the lights of Fort William taunted me. It was a long descent downward, the path now a gravel (rocky!) service road. I ran the first mile or so, energized by runnable downhill so close to the finish. But that didn't last; my feet were shot and my quads had called it a day a few hours before. I walked the final section of the descent as several runners passed me obviously more energized than I was to be so close to the finish.
My stomach had turned again, and I hadn't been able to keep anything down in at least two hours, it seemed. So my energy was getting very low again. But I wasn't too concerned anymore because I knew I could crawl in from here. Sure would have been nice to have a little more finishing strength, though.
I had made finishing before midnight a short-term goal back at mile 88, but I was still a little over a mile out when that goal came and went. I had reached the pavement of Fort William, and someone from a dark car yelled out that I was less than a mile from the finish.
About then I came upon a runner in a bit of distress. He was walking and wrapped in an emergency blanket. His pacer had her arms around him in a big bear hug to help keep him warm. I asked if everything was okay and she said he had just gotten really cold in his wet clothes. I offered my emergency blanket (required gear) and they gladly accepted. I dug it from the bottom of my pack and had a surprisingly difficult time getting it open. I guess my fingers were colder than I thought. I helped wrap the second blanket around him and asked if they needed any additional assistance. They thanked me and said they'd be just fine making it in the last little bit. I wished them well, then set off in a slow jog.
I was getting deeper into Fort William and now there were people scattered here and there yelling well-wishes and congrats to me as I passed.
"400 meters to go!" someone yelled.
My pace quickened. And it must have been a dusty part of town because my eyes starting watering.
Left turn and there's the end of my journey: the Lochabor Leisure Centre and Annie's joyful scream. I swiped my timing card and handed it to the race official. "Congratulations," he said.
Overall time - 23:10:12
Overall position - 45th of 187 starters
|Looking back down into Kinlochleven.|
|Rocky climb out of Kinlochleven.|
|Moody sky and rain.|
|Miles of this was no fun with tired feet.|
I wish I had worn my Cascadias for the last 20 miles.
This wasn't possible without my amazing crew, Annie and Aaron. (And Joe and Megan who were with us in 2012!) I think they know how much I appreciate them being there for me. It's a sacrifice, of course. They didn't have to do this for me, but they did anyway. I'll be forever grateful.
And a special thanks to my beautiful wife Annie. As hard as it is to deal with me and my adventures, she's as supportive as they come. None of my running would be possible without her.
The West Highland Way family truly feels like a family. Even from thousands of miles away, I feel like I'll always be a part of the family. They are a welcoming and supportive bunch.
At the end of my 2012 report I wasn't sure I'd ever have the opportunity to go back to Scotland and attempt the race again. I feel incredibly lucky that I did get another shot at it. This race has followed me since the very beginnings of my running career in 2007. It's been quite the journey, and I'm so proud that we were able to finish it this time.
I finally got my goblet.
|I'm all smiles after receiving my goblet at the prize-giving ceremony Sunday afternoon.|
(photo by That One Moment)