West Highland Way Relay 2016 – Danny’s race report

“What a ******* shambles!’ shouted Maz as she crossed the Fort William finish line. She had taken a wrong turn which meant she ran 16.5 miles instead of 14.

Julia, who was way up the field, had a nasty fall running back down the Devil’s Staircase. She now has three stitches in her arm. It meant Kenny didn’t get to run his final leg. Their eleven month old son Harry, who made up part of the support team, was unperturbed.

Mandy missed the Kinlochleven turn off and ran on, I never saw her or her search party again. On the positive side, it meant she missed watching me trail in late, puke outside Kinlochleven leisure centre and get taken to the doctors’ tent.

This was a tough course. A three stage relay over 42 miles from Tyndrum to Fort William, 17 miles, 10.5 miles and 14 miles, part of the West Highland Way Midsummers Race. It’s not just the distances. You are running on hard exposed trails. As Mandy put it ‘you are all cursed it is worse than the Inverness marathon’

The full race starts in Milngavie at 1am on Saturday. Ultras run, jog and walk the full West Highland Way to Fort William, finishing no later than noon on the Sunday. 95 miles, including 14,760ft of ascent. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I swing from full respect to downright nuts.

The relay teams start in Tyndrum about half way. They set off at midday. Runners get themselves to changeover points at Glencoe Ski Centre and Kinlochleven. Teams run well into the midsummer’s evening.

As ultras arrive at checkpoints back up teams who drive the route swarm around them with food and fluids. They cook chicken soup and give massages out the back of camper vans.

As we drive home at 11pm ultras, with head torches and midge net hats, can still be seen feeding on custard, as they jog back into the Scottish wilderness hoping to make Fort William by the 35 hour cut off.

You run through the landscapes of one of the worlds greatest walks: Rannoch Moor, Glencoe, Bridge of Orchy, Devils Staircase, into Kinlochleven. Looking down onto stunning lochs, across sweeping moors and mountain ranges with Buachaille and Ben Nevis in the distance. It is simply stunning, especially on the longest hottest day of the year.

Bellas entered 6 relay teams, 18 runners, the biggest in the field. Not all ended up in the medical room or lost. Jane Galt ran an amazing first leg for my team. She came into Glencoe with 17 miles of exhaustion behind her shouting “I thought it was flat, it was not flat!”.

Roz and Elizabeth came into Glencoe shortly after. They ran the 17 miles together across tough terrain getting badly sunburnt on Rannoch Moor. They kept their pace and came in well up the field. Even stopping for a selfie.

Mirsia came into Glencoe ahead of them all, an inspiration. ‘Trail running you love it or hate it. I love it. You could see for miles”. If allowed, Mirsia would have accompanied her team mate Pauline for a good few miles more.

On my leg, Leanne passed me on the devils staircase. She moved her team up the field, pushing her hands against her legs to get her up that mile long climb. Anne passed me at the top, her cross training paying off. Both kept that strong pace right to the end.

I finished the 10.5 miles second leg. I felt great for 4.5 miles up to Kinghouse keeping my team in contention pulling in a few runners as I passed through the glen. But then I hit the Devils Staircase and the terrain changed. The clue is in the name. From here on it was rocks and mountains. I pushed but could not start running again. Even the down hills had too high a gradient for me to actually run. I struggled with the uneven ground and gradients. I expected more paths. Jane’s good work to put me ahead of the field, was lost. Runners I passed now passed me.

I never got my pre-devils staircase speed back. It was not just the terrain. I was sick at the end and taken to the medical centre. What a fantastic service they were. They checked my blood, made me drink 5 litres of water and would not let me leave until my pulse rate returned to normal. I even had to text them an update the following day.

Bella’s full complement was, Elaine, Jim, Al; Gerry, Julia, Kenny; Jane, Danny, Maz;. Mirsia, Pauline, Terry; Roz, Leanne, Lynn; Elizabeth, Anne, Mandy. And what a team we were.

Elaine and Gerry were the first to get Bellas screaming at the Bridge of Orchy. They were one of the first runners through the check point.

At Glencoe Jim looked so strong running downhill, water bottle strapped on, as he took over from Elaine who was first in. I’m eternally grateful to Gerry forceful advice to take my water. It seems nuts now but I considered leaving it behind. God knows the consequences had I ignored him. Gerry came in just behind Elaine.

Pauline’s sprint out of Glencoe after Mirsia passed on her advantage looked so good. We could see her purple vest as she continued along the 4 mile glen-side track.

I didn’t witness the final runners come into Fort William. Helen (see below) wouldn’t allow it. But by all accounts Al, Terry, Mandy and Lynn came in smiling after hard final legs. All the more impressive being they started a 14 miler after a long day’s support work. There was a Bella team to welcome them home.

Times and race positions seem irrelevant at events like this. The joy is in the camaraderie. Bellas in beautiful landscapes, blazing sunshine, searching for purple vests on a long clear horizon. Bellas bellowing at Bellas ‘walk the hills, keep your pace, fight the pain, keep going, just round the corner. Danny get yourself ready she’s coming in!’

I would have just given up if it had not been for my crew. I was so pleased to hear Roz spot me in the woods, “Danny! C’mon! I will run you in! Maz, get sorted he’s here…”

And support teams who drove from point to point deserve special thanks.

A great day to be experienced at least once. Although, and I can’t believe I am saying this but, I might maybe consider experiencing it again…

Helen, the young doctor who looked after me at the medical centre works at Fort William Hospital and she runs for Locharber. We got talking during my incarceration and two things to note:

First, 1:24 that’s her half marathon PB. Bella respect.

Second she said, “I always see your purple vests at different races, theres always such a big team of you. And you always look happy, having so much fun together”. She then stuck a needle in my arm. True story.

By Danny