Ultra Marathon

West Highland Way Race – 22nd – 23rd June 2019

A bit of a mix-up, and my first support run

Jagoda went through the checkpoint over 30 minutes ahead of Chris, and we had an ETA of 14:17 for her. With the parking limitations, we thought we should leave the Green Welly at 1:35pm as it’s just a few miles to the checkpoint at Auchtertyre. Alan and Ian went to buy soup around 1:10pm, but the queue was much longer than they’d expected, and they dashed back just after 1:35pm saying “Jagoda’s at the checkpoint, we have to go.” Alan being Alan, I thought he was winding us up, but Ian confirmed they’d had a phone call from Mary. We said a hurried goodbye to Gary and the twins, and drove off to Auchtertyre farm.

Jagoda was walking down the path to meet us, and Alan pulled in partly off the road, with hazard lights on, so we could give her soup there rather than making her head back to the car park. Thankfully they’d weighed her without the weight card after she explained the situation.

I had been worried that Jagoda would be (justifiably) annoyed at us for not being there on time and that it would have an impact on her mood during the next section, but she was really nice and understanding about it. No mean feat when you’ve been running for 51 miles and 12 ½ hours. The ETA was clearly something we should have ignored once we saw she was no longer running with Chris, and we should have gone by her original instructions instead and tried to talk our way into the car park at Auchtertyre by 1:00pm.

Eating an ice lolly on the way out of Tyndrum

We headed off again by 1:49pm according to my Garmin, so she’d had a 16 minute stop rather than a 5 minute one. Not horrendous for a race of this distance, and it might have done her good if it hadn’t been so stressful with her crew nowhere to be seen, but I thought it might come back to haunt us if she went just over an hour rather than just under in terms of finish time. Thankfully that wasn’t an issue.

We jogged towards Tyndrum and popped into a shop to get an orange-covered ice lolly which Jagoda ate walking up a hill. Anna and Christie joined us for a quick chat whilst she was doing this. I really enjoyed this section between Auchtertyre and Bridge of Orchy. Jagoda was in good spirits and seemed really fresh. It’s one of the more straightforward sections with some undulations but no hard climbs: the elevation gain is just over 200 metres over 9 ½ miles but it seems fairly evenly spread out. And of course the scenery is stunning. The weather was pretty good too. It was a little bit muggy, but there was a slight breeze. It spat a bit and threatened a shower, but it didn’t amount to anything. She showed me where the Fling ends and the Devil begins. We passed some well-wishers and marshals, and so many of them seemed to know Jagoda. Maybe it’s the racing kilt she wears for ultras, or the big hair, or the big smile that gets bigger the longer she’s running and the more tired she gets. Probably it’s a combination of the three.

Who wouldn’t want to run this race with views like this?

We mostly walked briskly up the hills, and ran at a comfortable pace on the flats and slightly faster on the downhills. I didn’t push it as she was comfortably ahead of her target time and still had nearly two marathons to go: leave it to Alan to push her at the end if she still had anything in the tank. There was even a short section where I briefly held her up: a steep downhill on slippy stones through very shallow running water.

She got about 50 metres ahead of me and stopped when I got to the bottom, waving on me to come on. I sprinted to catch her up and told her if there were any more sections like that she shouldn’t stop as I could easily sprint to catch her afterwards as my legs were still fresh. She was really chatty and cheerful, comparing it favourably to last year. She said she felt much better than she had at this point last year, even though she was faster. She thought sticking with Chris for the first 34 miles had been great for her. She mentioned that he had started getting slower and a bit down before she left him though. He had met Linsey, so she hoped that would cheer him up.

He’d actually phoned Alan at Tyndrum and said he was going to pull out. He then said he was joking, but I thought he might already be considering it. He’s had injury problems and struggled towards the end of the Fling earlier this summer. Jagoda also had two missed calls from him. I didn’t want Jagoda worrying about Chris so said it was definitely a joke. And as long as he made it to Tyndrum the guys would keep him motivated.

Jagoda looking happy somewhere in the earlier stages of the race

Around 3 miles before Bridge of Orchy Jagoda started searching for a rock or bush to hide behind for a pee. Apparently this had happened around the same point last year, but there was nowhere to hide. The landscape is very open at this point. There was a thicket of trees ahead and she planned to wait until we got there. The path was deceiving though, and went past the thicket rather than through it, and it was fenced off. She said the urge had passed, and didn’t even use the facilities in Bridge of Orchy when we arrived. Maybe she sweated it out due to the humidity.

I really enjoyed this section of the race, and we managed a quick downhill run to the checkpoint, noticing that our support crew was there on time and were filming us. Jagoda scanned in shortly after 16:00. She had some soup, cleaned her feet, changed shoes and socks, then headed off in the capable hands of Anna to head over Rannoch Moor.

Bridge of Orchy and Glencoe Checkpoints

As Chris and Jagoda were now quite far apart (Chris wasn’t expected at Bridge of Orchy until between 17:30 – 18:30), we had to do some rejigging of what was in each car. Gary was running with Chris, and Christie was next up to support Jagoda, so Alan drove to Glencoe with Christie whilst Ian and I waited at Bridge of Orchy. He read his book for a bit then dozed off. I made a few notes then bumped into Brian and Darren, so caught up with how Linsey was getting on.

Ian woke up, and we wandered up to the garden benches outside the hotel to watch for Chris, who arrived earlier than predicted. Gary had done a good job of motivating him. His last split from Beinglas Farm to Auchtertyre (after he’d lost Jagoda and then Linsey) had been really slow and he was 215th for that section, but his split position for Auchtertyre to Bridge of Orchy was 155th thanks to Gary motivating him. He was looking rather tired, and refused pizza. He said he had stomach issues, and didn’t manage as much of the soup as Jagoda had taken on. He did eat a yoghurt though. And he kept talking about a slush, but there was nowhere to get one and he’d already had a couple of ice lollies earlier on. Ian headed off with Chris, and Gary and I headed to Glencoe.

Chris arriving at Bridge of Orchy – 60 miles in

There was lots of time waiting around at Glencoe. We saw Linsey’s support crew, including Tina and Christine who had now arrived for their support legs. Someone mentioned that Chris had tried to phone Jagoda twice before he arrived at Auchtertyre, because he was thinking of dropping out. If she’d had a signal and answered, he might well have quit. But he’d bucked up a bit with Gary for company, so hopefully he would be feeling positive on arrival at Glencoe.

Jagoda and Anna arrived shortly after 7:00pm, with Jagoda taking on some soup and watermelon. She spent several minutes meticulously cleaning her feet. They looked remarkably good for having covered 70 miles. She was still looking pretty alert and was chatty enough, but a few signs of tiredness were starting to creep in. She sat for a little longer than at other checkpoints before heading off to tackle the Devil’s staircase with Christie. They had a fair chance of getting most of the way over it in daylight, and I was a little envious of that fact, as Chris’ ETA wasn’t until nearly 10:00pm. There was some more rejigging of car supplies, then Alan and Anna headed for Kinlochleven whilst Gary and I stayed to wait for Chris.

Alan, Tina, Christine, Christie and Gary. A meeting of support crews. Christine is the one hidden behind the midge net

Linsey arrived at Glencoe just after 8:30pm. Her support crew was like an F1 pitstop with multiple people attending to her every need: food – check; back rub – check, shoe change – check, midge spray – check. When she spotted me she said loudly “Hi Pauline. Never do this race.” She looked fine, but she’d gone through several pairs of socks and trainers, and had hurt one of her feet. Someone got her chips and cheese from the Ski Centre and we shared the ones she left: they were fabulous.

I realised that though I’d recharged both Chris and Jagoda’s chest torches, they were both still in Alan’s car, which was now in Kinlochleven. We had enough head torches, but Chris had complained about not having enough light from his head torch last year, so I borrowed the massively powerful spare headtorch that Tina had, so that Chris could have that plus my chest torch, and I’d use the lighter head torch. It still gave me a headache.

Jagoda arriving at Glencoe checkpoint. Only 25 miles to go.

The app said Chris wasn’t expected to arrive until around 10:00pm. With a lot of the earlier times being quite inaccurate, I should have realised to be prepared much earlier than that, just in case. But I never learn. Alan phoned me to fill me in on logistics. Ian was going to drive to Fort William and check in to the hotel, and both Anna and Christie were going to do the final 15 miles with Chris. This made me happy, as I had said to Jagoda that we would make sure Chris had two support runners for the final 15 miles if it looked like he needed that. I’d have done the final 25 with him if needed but didn’t really fancy what could end up as a 10 hour slog. Yes, the runners themselves are on their feet for two or three times that, but I didn’t fancy that if I could at all help it. Anna and Christie would be a great team to motivate Chris over those final tough miles. Alan also said he was going to push Jagoda as hard as he could get away with on that final stretch, as she was strong and he thought she could take it.

I was startled when Gary chapped the car window at 9:15pm to say Chris was at the checkpoint: a full 45 minutes ahead of his ETA. I quickly scrambled for gear and ran off to use the bathrooms whilst Gary tried to feed him soup. I was a bit worried when I returned, as Chris was not looking in a good way. He refused to eat any pizza, and he threw up the soup. I decided not to photograph that! Ian said that Chris had been slowing and was having stomach issues. He had also had a fall. None of this sounded promising. Ian told me Chris would be okay, and he needed a stick more than a carrot. We gave him a long stop at the checkpoint to recover, and he seemed a bit brighter when we set off at about 9:40pm. It was there that I morphed into my true form – the Devil of the Devil.

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  1. Frank Benham says:

    excellent well done to all the runners I ran this race in 1988 and 1989 and again in 1993 and was eaten alive every time by the midges even with protection they still manage to get mr

    1. Pauline Belford says:

      Thanks Frank, and well done on completing this race three times. Yes, the midges certainly added something to the experience!

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