“Here comes James…”
16:15 – Saturday June 18th 2016, Fort William
…Des shouts from the entrance of the car park of Lochaber Leisure Centre. What the…he shouldn’t be here for at least another 10 minutes or so. I’m unprepared, walking away from the finish line to the car to kill time, and my camera-phone isn’t even on to capture the finish. Turning back, simultaneously pulling my phone from my pocket, James Stewart, our runner, comes into view, clutching a saltire and a hearty smile as he jogs, no, runs the last 20 metres across the car park and through the finish. I manoeuvre behind the tv camera and take a couple of photos, including several of James and Andy, his dad and one of my crew mates, hugging. It is a beautiful moment, and probably the greatest of many privileges I have on this very privileged day. Privilege; a recurring theme on this most iconic of Scottish ultra trail races.
19:45 – Thursday June 16th 2016, Bankhead Primary School Car Park
I am sitting in the car awaiting my son’s primary school disco finishing. Here goes; looking down I press the walkie talkie “Call” button. There is a short, but too long, pause…. then my wife’s voice, clear and clean as a clear and clean thing, cuts through:
“Hi, I can hear you great. Can you hear me?”
“Cool, see you soon.”
Final preparation worry over. A distance of 0.9km, full of suburban clutter and interference and the radios work fine – 400 metres of open fields and mountainside on race day should prove no issue. At our first crew meeting, James had suggested that walkie talkies would be really useful for the crew to keep in touch about any fuelling and kit changes he required at each meet. Since my wife Julie was a facilities manager with responsibility for security, getting hold of a couple of walkie talkie radios for a weekend wasn’t a problem, and so I committed to the task of providing them. Obviously I hadn’t foreseen Julie’s impending redundancy at that point (well, why would I?), and by the week before the race, it was clear that a contingency was required. Some desktop research, and after identifying a reasonable pair at a reasonable price, the wonders of Amazon prime did their thing, and here I was on test duty, feeling like some kind of early 80s Convoy/Dukes of Hazard/Smokey and the Bandit throwback. Now, to get these across to Andy before he collects James and his crew partner Des on Friday evening to head to Milngavie, registration and the start…
05:00 – Saturday June 18th 2016, my kip, Rutherglen
I awake with the alarm, however I have not had a good sleep. A combination of the heavy cold I developed on Wednesday and Andy’s dog playing havoc with my asthma when I drop the radios off on Friday evening mean I struggle to sleep at all that night, through heavy coughing and spluttering etc. Oh, plus as the 1am race start approaches, I have a kid at Christmas Eve experience, desperate to sleep for the morning to come, but just way too excited to actually fall over. Eventually I sleep. It’s midsummer, so when I wake it’s fully light already and my first task is check the early checkpoints to see where James is positioned. We have a race strategy; rather, James has a race strategy agreed with his coach Paul Giblin. This involves a pace plan for the race and is to be adhered to to Auchtertyre, at which point we survey the positions of the other runners, then race. If James can stick to the plan, he’ll post a good time, and if people post better times then absolutely fair play to them. They will utterly deserve whatever place reward they get. We have previously identified the obvious threats – Hal Koerner, Adam Zahoran (whom we knew from beating Rob Soutar at the Zeiler marathon in Germany in late 2014), Davie Gow, Lee Kemp (who withdraws a week or so prior) and one or two others – however I am surprised to see that the person leading James in 2nd through Rowardennan is Kris Brown. Still in bed, 5 minutes phone google research establishes that he won Cuyamaca 100k ultra trail in October 2015 in 9:34:43, and that he had ‘warmed-up’ for WHW by winning the 30 mile Los Olivos Born To Run Ultra marathon a mere 5 weeks ago in an impressive sub 3:20. No record of running 100 miles, or even anything more than 100k; but there is no doubt, Kris is an unforeseen threat. Given his recent record, how did we miss him? A quick WhatsApp message to the crew on what I found, then time to get ready for Skoosh picking me up at 6:30. The day, and our debuts as both support crew and the WHW race, was about to begin.
08:30 Auchtertyre Checkpoint
We meet a very tired Des and Andy at Crianlarich around 8am, and catch up on the night shift news. Midge nets are handed around, with news that the lochside was bad. Where we are at Crianlarich seems pretty midge friendly, however we later discover it was indeed relatively pleasant compared with Rowardennan, Inversnaid and along the lochside. More importantly, we now have all of the food and kit for any changes James may require, plus the all critical master plan tracker. For making our own notes and familiarising ourselves with it, we each have a copy of the final race pace and time plan, finessed and redrafted by James (with Paul’s input) after each training run on the Way. The plan was finalised only 2-3 weeks prior to the race and we, the crew, all are aware of how much effort has gone into it. The master tracker however is the important plan document that tracks the crew with James the whole race and keeps a record of his progress on both time and, crucially, his calorie intake. We learn James is through Beinglas Farm in 2nd, 8 minutes behind Kris. He ran the early part of the race with Hal, then dropped him at Conic Hill, and Hal has now pulled out with an injury. We’re all unsure of the gap to 3rd, and we are now beginning to experience the frustration of the lack of mobile data coverage in the West Highlands which means we are unable to check the live CP feed. We send Des and Andy off to Glencoe to bagsy a parking space at the foot of the Devil where we have a scheduled shoe change, and being a Saturday in June, the car park and lay-by will be extremely busy with climbers and walkers. Hopefully they’ll get some sleep also.
Driving up earlier, Skoosh and I have been discussing the day ahead: I am nervous; James has an aggressive plan that if executed correctly will see him definitely finish top 5, and all things being equal should see him podium. An incredible feat for his first attempt at the race. I don’t want to be the one to have the balls up that costs him. Skoosh, on the surface at least, is far more sanguine. His view, correctly of course, is that James is doing all the hard work; we turn up every 10 miles or so, hand him some food and water, and a clean top if he wishes, tell him his race position and that he looks brilliant, then send him on his way after a minute or two, jump in the car, repeat. I however am overanalysing everything. The fact that neither of us has ever crewed before doesn’t help. Nor does the fact this is our first experience of the WHW race. In fact other than me walking it 19 years ago, and several section walks since, our sum collective experience has been some recce drives between checkpoints and crew support sections in the month prior. What is calming my nerves is the Skoosh compilation CD he has playing through the car stereo. It turns out we had similar dodgy music tastes in our respective plooky youths (we already knew we shared a love for James (the band, not our runner)), and when Northsides’s Shall We Take A Trip comes on, I can’t help but laugh at this cheesiest of baggy tunes.
And so we drive into the Auchtertyre checkpoint, park opposite the marshall tent, and get to work. In the 5 minute drive from Crianlarich, the sun has started to burn through the clouds, and the day is already starting to look like a being a good one. (For support crew anyway, perhaps not so much for runners.) Even better there are no midges, which is a relief as I have realised my newly bought Smidge is sitting on it’s lonesome on the kitchen table at home.
First thing is to check the walkie talkie range. By default, Skoosh, the better runner and not encumbered (at this point anyway…) with a heavy cold and a lot of OTC drugs to minimise it’s impact, heads down the track for 3-400 metres with a radio. We have set the channel symbolically to James’ race number. I hear call bleeps all around, not just from my radio. I ask Skoosh if he is calling me. His questioning reply, swear words and all, of who else would he be calling since no-one else has radios booms around me. Turns out the marshalls not only have radios, they have them on the same channel as us, and they have their speakers turned up full volume. I relay this to Skoosh, however he either doesn’t hear or doesn’t understand as he keeps chatting away for everyone at the CP to hear. Skoosh returns, we change the channel, and he heads back down the trail with some drinks, and awaits Kris/James. I introduce myself to Kris’s support crew, Tyler (I think), who, originally from Seattle, has been living in Dublin the past year. We discuss how it is likely we will be meeting at the various crew/runner meet points from here to the race end. The check point is not overly busy at present and I note an MPV with 3 team members, all in matching red team “Floth” tops. They’re speaking German and I, correctly (as I’m quite clever at times..), assume they are Adam Zahoran’s support crew.
Skoosh radios in to say a runner is approaching however that they look female from distance. I already have the weigh in card, the change of top and shoes ready, but anticipation levels go up. Tyler is beside me and mentions, with a chuckle, Kris’s running style can be quite effeminate! Skoosh radios in and confirms it is definitely a female, and we stand down. A minute or two later, and we can see another runner. Even from distance, the colours match those that Tyler says Kris is wearing. Skoosh confirms it is Kris, and Tyler gets ready to welcome him. Then, an incredible moment: As Kris runs into the CP and to the weigh-in, looking strong (in my view) after what I know James states is a tough section, he shouts very loudly “I think I’ve just blown the race! I feel awful and that section was terrible!”. I’m no crew support expert, but even this crewing virgin knows a gift horse when presented. The first rule of racing is don’t let your opponent see any weakness; to actually broadcast it is incredible. I turn and walk away, relaying this full incident to Skoosh. We agree that James needs to know this info as soon as he arrives at Skoosh, 400 metres from the CP. Kris, now seated, refuels, and leaves the CP, heading to Tyndrum and the next CP at Bridge of Orchy. Within minutes, James appears, slightly quicker than plan. We time it between 8-9 minutes after Kris, so he has not lost much, if any, time since Beinglas Farm. We know James dislikes the section and his ‘good’ sections are coming up. We also now know Kris is struggling.
Skoosh meets James, hands him a drink, relays the Kris news and radios in James’s requirements to me. No top change, but wants coke, home baking and a muller rice. As I dig out the food, James arrives with Skoosh shortly behind, dibs in and stands on the scales to weigh in. He is exactly 96% of starting weight, which is the cut-off point for the race medics to consider your well being. James mentions that he was weighed at the start originally with hoody etc on, and a note of this is made on his weigh card. A learning point for future races. James refuels and, after the weigh ‘scare’, I am especially keen to ensure he eats all the food. We briefly discuss Kris’s outburst, and his condition, hand James some Tailwind and send him out. We reckon the whole stop has been considerably less than 3 minutes and that he has perhaps made a minute up on Kris here. We pack up, update the master tracker, and head down the one way track to head to the next CP at Bridge of Orchy. Going through Tyndrum, we pass Kris just at the point he is crossing the road. We both opine he looks strong again and must have recovered…..
10:00 Bridge of Orchy
We quickly arrive at Bridge of Orchy after marvelling at the magnificent grass slope of Beinn Doran. The sky is increasingly blue and it’s looking like a warm day ahead. Great for us, not so great for running 95 miles. We turn onto the track just beyond the hotel, cross the bridge itself and find…nothing. No marquee, no other support vehicles, no obvious (nor even vague) signs of a checkpoint. Retracing back over the bridge, we cross the A82 and head up the few hundred metres to the station car park. As expected, there is no checkpoint here either. We head back down and, parking in the large car park to the side of the hotel, I attempt to get a data connection (2G it appears is as good as it gets…although even that is intermittent) to double check the exact check point locations on the WHW race website. Whilst waiting on the pages loading at dial up like speed, and confirming that we were in the correct place initially, it slowly dawns on us that not only are we at the front of the race, we are in front of the race; we’re basically ahead of the race team setting up. Several vehicles have arrived across the river, including Adam’s crew whose team outfit I now recognise, and a cameraman, no doubt from The Adventure Show. We again make our way across the bridge and take one of the few parking spaces in the small checkpoint area. Shortly after, the checkpoint van turns up and marquee construction commences.
We have already defined our unspoken roles; Skoosh takes his radio and some tailwind and heads up the station road to both check the channel, and to see if the lead runners are in view, and I take control of kit and fuel; I have the top and shoe change at the ready, and do a quick recce of the food box so that I know where everything is when the order is radioed in. I have a quick word with the cameraman, check if he’s ok for a midge net (yeah, cos I have a spare – not!), then get talking to a family standing on the bridge. We are making polite chat when I notice Sarah Self arrive and look for a place to park. I introduce myself to the daughter of the family, Nicola, who in turn introduces me to her parents, Josephine and her dad whose name, I’m afraid to admit, utterly escapes me. She asks if we are crewing for James, to which I reply we are. Obviously they know a bit about the race…. It is several minutes later that Nicola mentions an issue she had last year crewing for Paul. I’m already having a slow day but another realisation comes over me – Paul, Josephine…now where have I seen those two names together? Giblin, of course. I laugh, chiding Josephine as the noted Josephine of Facebook fame, and ask if she’s missing her son who is training in the US in preparation for Western States (where he achieves an incredible 5th place only a week later). Nicola is obviously proud of her brother’s achievements but equally she has a healthy disrespect for him in the way only loving siblings do. Standing on the bridge, Sarah has joined us and updated on the marshalling nightshift, prior to heading up to Kinlochleven to start another stint later that evening.
The Beeb cameraman, stationed 20 yards or so away, and pointing his lens up the path towards Skoosh where the runners will enter, walks towards us on his mobile. Cutting the call as he reaches me, he asks if the leader’s crew are around. I had acknowledged Tyler again a few minutes earlier, and as I turn to look for him, the purpose of the call is made clear:
“The leader has taken a wrong turn.”
Immediately it’s action time again. As I walk to the marquee to Tyler to relay this, my more pressing thought is to get this news to Skoosh – the first runner he sees may be James, not Kris. At this very moment, my radio beeps. It’s Skoosh:
“Mate, James is in the lead, he’s on his way. He wants rice and banana bread.”
I immediately scoot down the 20 yards from the bridge to the car to dig out the order. By the time I have it out, James is crossing the bridge. He dibs in, and 5 yards later he’s at the car. In the lead. Of the West Highland Way race. I’m excited; who knows how James is feeling? James confirms no kit change. The cameraman has now caught up and as James is eating some of his sister-in-law Alison’s home baked banana bread (“the best in the world”), an impromptu interview takes place. James is feeling good, but is more concerned with the sublime quality of the home baking. He asks for his soup. Soup? Skoosh never mentioned soup. I locate the soup flask and pour a lid full. Through gulps, James confirms that he realised Kris had taken a wrong turn as he suddenly wasn’t in front anymore after coming round a bend. Sarah is providing words of encouragement and is keen we get James out quickly. However, foremost in my mind is his weight at Auchtertyre being bang on the limit, and so I am more concerned we hold him back another 30 seconds or so and get more calories in. Skoosh meanwhile is ensuring James has both full Tailwind bottles; this has become his staple fuel and hydration . And then, James’ only curveball of the day (ok, first of two if you count finishing the final section almost 15 minutes ahead of plan).
“Guys, I’ll get you at Victoria Bridge for a liquid top up. You know where that is, yeah?”
He’s looking at me. Victoria Bridge? Where the hell did that come from?! Several race plan iterations, numerous emails and crew group messages, a couple of crew meetings, and not once has Victoria Bridge been mentioned. The second rule of crewing (ok, so I may be making these rules up…) is that you are always in control and your runner never sees otherwise; you may stress constantly, but for those 2-3 minutes of every 90 minutes or so they are with you, the perception is that all is well. I am racking my brain, and think I know where it is, however my first response is “Eh…yeah..?”. The pause is enough doubt for James to start explaining. Sarah and Nicola immediately intervene, both stating they know exactly where it is. As we send James out less than 3 minutes after he arrives, there is still no sign of Kris, now, we presume, in second. Nicola, saying Paul likes to re stock there also, explains where Victoria Bridge is; end of the track at the start of Rannoch Moor, just by Inveroran. It may have been nearly 20 years since I was last on this section of the Way, however it now comes flooding back. We pack up, as the Giblins head to Glen Coe Ski Centre and the next checkpoint, and Sarah to KLL, her B&B and her next marshalling session, and follow the track round to Victoria Bridge. As Skoosh drives the few short miles, I first update the master calorie tracker then communicate to Des and Andy and the #teamsub4 group with the news James has taken the lead just after half way. There is palpable joy and excitement. Barry Mowat in particular, having joined the guys at the start and through the night at Drymen, has hardly slept, and admits to refreshing his phone every 2 or 3 seconds for most of the day. George Houston is pacing the floor like the stereotypical expectant father. It has become evident there is a fair bit of support out there for James.
10:45 Victoria Bridge
We park at a small area just short of the bridge; by now it is a beautiful summer day and I realise it’s a good call from James to get extra liquids prior to the long haul across Rannoch Moor. The Way here is on tarmac with relatively open views and Skoosh heads back along the road a few hundred metres. Our team yellow/lime fluorescent JGS tees from Gerry Craig were to help visibility during the darker night hours, or for overcast weather through the forest sections lochside; in this bright sunshine, Skoosh is beaming like a beacon in the distance. James will see him from miles away. At the car I ready the change of top, though without much expectation; this meet is more about hydration so I ensure the coke, water and Tailwind are all at hand. James shortly appears thereafter, still looking strong. Skoosh confirms that James won’t be stopping, just have the water and Tailwind ready. As James runs past and I hand him the Tailwind, he asks me his plan pace for this section. I’m the numbers guy, it’s what I do, and James , not unreasonably, wants to know from the numbers guy in his crew what his plan pace is. I don’t know it off the top of my head. “Hold on!”. My own race plan is on top of the kit box so I’m only a few seconds getting the section pace number from the open boot. I quickly chase after James and give him the number and off he heads to Rannoch Moor. Being honest, I suspect James knows the pace, and merely wanted confirmation. And, if at all, my lapse caused only a 2-3 seconds delay. However, I’m furious with myself. I resolve that this will not happen again, and between all checkpoints to the finish, as Skoosh drives, I now diligently study the plan ensuring I memorise the pace for whatever stage we are on and the upcoming section.
11:30 Glencoe Ski Centre
After a beautiful drive across the moor, it’s famed desolation less obvious bathed in glorious sunshine, we arrive at Glencoe, guarded by the magnificent Buachaille Etive Mor. A left onto the ski centre road and we are on the lookout for the checkpoint. We cross the Way where it in turn crosses the road, and head to the car park at the ski centre. Again, we are one of the first cars there, although with our Victoria Bridge excursion, we suspect we won’t be the first of the support crews. Skoosh heads to the main building to powder his nose, and I check the WHW race webpage again. My fear is that we are 400-500 metres from the point the Way actually crosses the road at Black Rock Cottage, however the website confirms the checkpoint is on the higher ground at the ski centre car park. Looking around I can see only a large red fire/mountain rescue vehicle, several camper vans, one or two tourists and a stunning view of the Buachaille. Back down the road I can see what I think is Adam’s crew’s Zafira, though it is hard to tell from this distance, stopped at the lower crossing point. Skoosh is walking back from the centre and I spot the Giblins over at the red truck. They confirm the red mountain rescue truck is the checkpoint, and we move the car 50 yards or so closer to it. I can now see the many ‘Checkpoint’ signs on the mountain rescue vehicle windows, and the ‘dib in’ table at the far side, hidden from our original parking point. We chat with Nicola again, and she mentions how badly injured she has been and how a 2k run will be a huge achievement at present. It does make me realise that my own achilles issue is relatively minor – it’s now a mere niggle and I can train again; missing a couple of races earlier in the year means nothing in the bigger scheme.
We get talking to another couple who are waiting around. They introduce themselves as Gayle and Alan Tait and that they will be manning the Lundavra crew point; they are waiting to see the first runner through so they know at what time they have to be at the isolated crewpoint to start their fire and their long overnight shift. I recall Gayle’s Facebook call to arms from a week or two back asking for each runner to nominate the song they want to run in to. We discuss the relative merits of James’ choice of Pearl Jam’s Rearview Mirror (“Best running song in the world. Fact!”) and agree that it is indeed an unexpectedly great running song. We have some great banter with all, and the Taits appear pleased that we will be at Lundavra later, as not all support crews make it there. Again, what shines through is this real desire from all for James to do well. He is not only well respected within the Scottish ultra community (to which I am a complete novice (and more of that later…)) but also he is genuinely well liked. Sarah has stopped by too, evidently lost on her way to KLL 🙂
In the meantime, Barry has sent a screenshot of the BoO CP timings. Not only has James taken the lead from Kris over that section, Adam has also moved ahead of Kris into second place. James has an almost 14 minute lead over Adam, and nearly 25 minutes over Kris. Kris has obviously taken a bad wrong turn, and, I presume, taken a huge morale hit to fall so far back so quickly. Unless he gets his composure back quickly, it appears this is now between Adam and James.
As we approach the planned section time, Skoosh heads down and around the shoulder to where the high path will emerge. For the first time at a checkpoint he’s out of sight, so a quick check of the radios confirms we’re good to go. This is scheduled as a probable kit change, and a definite shoe change in preparation for the climb up the Devil, and so I have the correct shoes at the ready, along with a choice of tops and skip caps. We are becoming pretty efficient now and the Tailwind is already prepared as is the water bottle, and I have a Muller rice, various home bakings and the soup at the ready. For what seems an interminable wait….we wait.
Then the radio beeps. Skoosh confirms James is still in the lead, no change required, repeat no change required, and that he wants soup, rice and a lot of water. I grab the food and walk towards a point as close to the path as to where James will be before dibbing in his time. Immediately there is applause, and James is almost upon me, Skoosh just behind. He does however, appear to be in the midst of being manhandled by a tall skinny guy, full of energy, talking ten a penny and trying to force a can of Pepsi down James’ throat. The guy looks remarkably like photos I’ve seen of Davie Gow, but he’s racing so it can’t be him. James dibs in and we start the usual routine. He’s feeling good but walked up a bit of the last section off the moor in order to conserve energy. As he’s downing his rice, I pour the last of the soup into the cup, and we update him on the most recent BoO placings. He confirms no kit nor shoe change, but is quite specific about the cap he wants to wear, which I retrieve. All this time, the Davie Gow lookalike is telling him how strong he looks, and to hang in there. Whilst force feeding him Pepsi. I’m all for the Pepsi, however I am aware the next checkpoint at Kinlochleven is a weigh in, and I really don’t want James pulled because we didn’t feed him enough! Again, we have turned him around, and in and out of the checkpoint in under 3 minutes. He jogs slowly down the road towards the A82 and Kingshouse, and we tidy the kit and food boxes as best we can. I introduce myself to Davie Gow (for it is he), and he explains he had to pull out just after Loch Lomond with an injury. He kindly offers (insists we take) his last two cans of Pepsi, which are added to the collection. I let Des and Andy know James is on his way to Altnafeadh at the foot of the Devil. Gayle and Alan leave for Lundavra, and Skoosh and I wait on Adam to check the time gap. 14 minutes at BoO is a decent lead we conjecture. Barely 5-6 minutes after James leaves, Adam arrives at the checkpoint. He is looking tired, yet in good shape, and mentally he appears fine; no obvious signs of petulance or the like. This reduced time gap is not what we expected, and it is evident this is a real race between two very talented runners. As we all cheer him out, we determine James’ lead is down to 8-9 minutes or so. I can’t get decent data connection to get the actual CP times so I message #teamsub4 to update them on our unofficial Glencoe splits, and to have them send the actuals over as soon as possible. To say they’re now nervous is mild understatement. We head off to Altnafeadh to catch up with the night crew (“it’s been a long day”), and to cheer on our runner.
12:30 Altnafeadh, A82 car park/lay by – Foot of the Devil’s Staircase
At the lay-by, Des and Andy leave exactly enough room, less 6 inches, for Skoosh’s car. He squeezes in anyway. It’s good to see them, however I suspect they could probably do with a proper sleep, rather than what they have managed to grab in the 4 or so hours since we left them – in a car, in an open space, beside the main road north, in blazing sunshine. 4 hours only? Jeez, it feels much longer. We are introduced to Dominic, another of the Beeb cameraman. He is quite obviously a fell runner of some sort going by his attire, and a quick conversation elicits that he is planning running up the Devil with the lead runners, capturing their pain, their determination, their swear words… I feel the weight of the camera – “it’s only 7 or 8 pounds” – and I am happy it’s not me running up 1500ft of prime mountain trail carrying it.
We are all obviously very happy James is leading, but there is no denying there is a nagging fear; James admits he relaxed into Glencoe, however Adam has taken 5 or 6 minutes out of him on the stage. We know James is strong and will have something left in the tank, but the unknown is how strong is Adam?
The five of us, 4 support crew plus Dominic, stand by the cars, chewing the fat, and passing the time well. Des has his binoculars and is scanning back, looking along the left side of the A82 where the Way runs parallel for several miles. I have James’ change of shoes ready – the only definite kit or shoe change in the plan – plus a top, just in case. Skoosh and I go to make up some 500ml bottles of Tailwind. The Glencoe to Kinlochleven stage is the longest time wise between checkpoints of the whole race, and this is the last chance we have to supplement James’ fuel and hydration before the tough Devil climb, and the long, arduous drag down into KLL. We have a smaller 350 odd ml emergency Tailwind bottle always at the ready – a grab bag if you like. As I sift through the food box I am finding only empty Tailwind wrappers….minor panic rises. I sift again, methodically this time. Correct first time – the only Tailwind is the 350ml bottle plus a small amount left in the mixing bottle. I explain the situation to the others, and ask Skoosh to help me decant one soft bottle of Tailwind into the larger 500ml soft bottle. Bizarrely, Dominic starts filming this delicate operation from 6 inches away, almost as if it were of immense importance. Not exactly great tv, and scraping the barrel if that makes the final cut, but whatever floats your boat. Anyway, I digress. The Tailwind issue is serious; it has completely underpinned the whole fuelling and hydration strategy for the 75 miles of the race and we have only 20 odd miles to go. To run out on the last stage….well, need I say more…
I try to think where we could source Tailwind quickly and locally. It is only available online for home delivery, so there will be no retailers holding any. That leaves users in the vicinity. I try to think of names whose Facebook posts I can connect it with. None spring to mind. Rob Soutar uses it but I have no idea where he is. (As it transpires he’s getting pissed on Bud, ‘supporting’ Stephen Schofield.) I then remember Davie Gow. I know the Team Pyllon guys frequently train together, and although they rib each other big time about their relative gear choices, it does strike me that there is a high likelihood they’ll use similar hydration/carbs products. If Davie is out of the race early, and he uses Tailwind, and he’s within 10 miles, then that’s our best option. I ask if anyone has his contact details. Skoosh and Andy reply no, and Des, my best bet, also lucks out. I remember that I follow him on Twitter: DM it will have to be. I type the request – do you have any Tailwind sachets, and if yes, can we meet you and get it? – and send. To nothing. For future information, there is absolutely no Vodafone data coverage at Altnafeadh. All we can do now is, see James through to the Devil, and hope my message gets to Davie once we are on the move again. The lack of data connection means we also don’t yet know the Glencoe official splits.
James comes into view, metronomic as ever, and smiling away. I leave the shoes and top at the Way side of the road with the team, and Skoosh heads up the Way with the last Tailwind and some water. I stay with the car so that I can quickly grab whatever is required and only have one road crossing to negotiate. James takes some water as he has enough Tailwind for the remainder of the stage, and Skoosh radios to me that James wants neither a kit change nor the shoes. I ask him to repeat, and the message is confirmed. James is now upon us, and the guys are whooping and cheering him through. Dominic is filming and is getting ready to follow James on to the Devil. As he passes, he shouts across to me:
“Scott, what’s my pace plan for this section?”
With no hesitation, I immediately reply the exact plan pace for Glencoe to KLL.
I am utterly delighted. And I mean, genuinely, utterly delighted. Make a mistake, learn from it, and don’t repeat.
We cheer them out, and James is looking remarkably fresh as he turns in and away from the road, and starts the slow descent to the actual foot of the climb.
Skoosh has now returned and confirms that James has been told that Adam is now less than 10 minutes behind at Glencoe. He also passes on that James wants a Calyppo and a can of Irn Bru at Kinlochleven.
We now await Adam’s arrival. Yes, we want to time the gap, but we also want to encourage and cheer him on. James’ plan is aggressive (few have ever run the race this fast), and James is running approximately to it. And yet Adam, with no local knowledge, is less than 10 minutes behind. A champion indeed as James describes him in his own blog.
Des almost immediately spies a runner. We assume (hope?) it is merely one of the many running social stages of the Way. Upon Des describing the gear they are wearing, we know it is Adam. We cheer him towards us, stealing glances at our watches. On offering him sustenance he is happy to take some water, and then he pushes on with little delay. As we applaud him out, the general consensus is the gap is only 6-7 minutes. This is becoming an impressive race. Catching up later on social media, that also is the consensus of most trying to follow from afar.
Both cars head out together, the support crews now a team. Kinlochleven here we come.
13:30 Tailrace Inn, Kinlochleven
In the short drive round to KLL, I gain some data connection and can see that my DM to Davie Gow has been sent; hopefully he picks it up quickly. Barry has also sent through the Glencoe official splits. Kris in third is now over 75 minutes behind and is now out of it. Adam however, at 11:03:45 is confirmed as only 8:43 behind James on 10:55:02. We park at the Tailrace and jump in for a quick drink. We have all been snacking through the day/night, and grabbing some drinks, but without any structure. Andy buys, and the iced fresh orange and lemonade I have goes down a treat in the cool pub. It is at it’s warmest outside now and I am in absolute awe of the runners out there enduring that heat. I briefly engage with a couple of locals regarding the race, whilst the other three have a quick game of pool. Andy and Skoosh head to the Coop to buy the Calyppo and the Irn Bru. Des is racking up the table when my phone pings: Twitter DM from Davie Gow! I’m already heading outside as I read it. Yes, he has some Tailwind, yes we can use it, and here’s my number, call me. I call immediately and Davie answers quickly. He’s more than happy to help, however he is at Glencoe still as his wife is enjoying the views. I tell him we will be at Fort William by 2:30; can we meet him at the car park on the left at the first roundabout at Fort Bill town centre? It’s a date. I am suddenly very relieved. I jump back in to tell Des the good news before meeting Andy and Skoosh at the shop. He is happy but I can tell that what he really, really wants is a game of pool.
We all meet up again and walk the 60 yards to the Checkpoint/Weigh-in at the Primary School. Adam’s crew are already there and we exchange nods of acknowledgement. There is another, larger Beeb crew here, proper camera set up and a separate interviewer, sound person and camera operative. Must be the sharp end of the race now. I go into the school to introduce myself to the marshall and familiarise myself with the setup; where are the weigh scales, where does James dib in, etc. Adam is closing the gap such that seconds and minutes saved (or lost!) could now count to the overall result. The guys are chatting with the tv crew and they request if we could stay after James goes out again for a brief interview. We are more than happy to comply (and we know James was interviewed briefly at registration the previous evening, so the narrative stays unbroken); Skoosh and I are each happy to be interviewed however we both think that morally Des or Andy, who have knocked themselves out since the previous day doing the whole journey should have the honour. Des is genuinely struggling with tiredness by now, so it seems fitting that Andy gets to talk about his boy.
Even with the pub stop, and the trip to the shop, this is a long section and it does feel we are hanging around for some time. I have a brief word with Adam’s crew – their English is certainly better than my German – and they seem genuinely excited by his effort. I waste another few minutes walking up to the corner and chatting with the tv guys. I can’t say I remember what the others were doing, although Skoosh left in plenty time to head up the trail. With several houses and forest between us, there was a noticeable drop off in radio quality, however my fears were unfounded as he stopped in an area close enough to make him out clearly. I hear one of Adam’s crew, Kathrin Hess I find out later, take a call. 30 seconds later, she’s finished so I straight out ask if it was Adam and is everything ok. She replies Yes, and that he was phoning to say he will arrive very shortly. I walk up to the corner for better reception, radio Skoosh with this information, and to expect both any moment. I also give the heads up to the camera crew to prepare their filming as runners 1 and 2 are coming in…
Skoosh calls in: James wants his Glenmore vest, a specific skip cap, and he’ll decide on food when he arrives. The weigh card already in my pocket, the vest is quickly to hand, as is the cap. I move to the middle of the car park as James runs in to applause from all. I direct him through the door, he dibs in and stands on the scales. I am asking how he is, as much to gauge reactions as anything, but I am worried about this weigh in after Auchtertyre. It turns out we’ve done our job though, as he is still bang on the weight; he has lost no more kgs over the last 40 miles. I take back the weigh card for the finish. Walking back out to the shade of the building where there is also some cooling breeze, James takes the can of irn bru, and I can honestly say I have never seen anyone derive as much pleasure from opening, sipping then glugging on a can as much as he did. A banana (I think), a quick change of top and skip cap, all whilst answering some tv questions, he grabs the (unbeknown to him, last) Tailwind and shoots out of the CP. It felt good, James looked good, confident even, plus we know this is a strong section for him.
Within a minute, Adam walks round the bend to the checkpoint, and is loudly applauded. He surely must have seen James leaving where the in and out roads join? Did James see him and know that gap is closed further? That we do not know. It does appear Adam is clearly struggling for the first time and he goes straight to his support car, where he takes a seat and starts refuelling. By my reckoning, he has entered the CP only 4 minutes after James entered. More time gained, but clearly at some physical price. After a couple of minutes he walks into the CP to dib in, and have his weight taken. The official CP times show James as 6:45 ahead at this point; the reality is the gap was only 4 minutes, the 2:45 difference down to the point after their arrival they dibbed in; James on arrival, Adam prior to departure. Yet, when Adam walked out of the last CP to head up the hill to Lairig Mor, we all agreed that at that point we suspected James was going to win. He just looked so much stronger both coming in and leaving. I’ll be honest, we all four smiled.
It is nearly 2pm and I am aware of the 2:30 meet at Fort William with Davie, the Tailwind dealer…. but first, time for Andy’s interview. I stand in the background, generally out of camera shot, and try not to earwig and put him off. The one question I do hear makes me smile:
“At what point did you realise you had a running phenomenon for a son?”
Andy’s response is along the lines of “we are only now realising”. And it’s true. Two years ago, at 38, James was a decent runner, but not even what would be considered good. His marathon PB was 3:11 or thereabouts and he’d run only a couple of ultras, never finishing particularly highly placed. As he states himself, he decided then to give it a real go, and, while he still could, see just how competitive he could be. That’s when he started working with Paul Giblin. I see James’ training runs. I see how dedicated he is, the amount of early starts, speed work, hill work, stretching, long runs, the dietary change (‘Salad? What’s that?’), weekly miles, the mental side he works on. Believe me, the guy has natural talent, but his work ethic once he commits to something is truly inspirational. It is a privilege to know him. And it is a privilege to be here right now.
Andy finishes off with the prophetic words “James knows what he’s doing, he will have plenty left in the tank.”, and we agree he has done a grand job of our media commitments.
14:37 Fort William Car park beside Lundavra Road roundabout
After leaving KLL just after 2pm, it is quickly evident that this drive will be far slower than my 7am recce on the Sunday morning several weeks ago. Andy and Des leave just before us but are long gone as we get stuck behind what can only be described as a weekend driver, out for a pleasant, no rush potter. I text Davie at 2:20 to let him know we will arrive approximately 2:35. Davie replies at 14:29 that they are probably 15 minutes away. Given the traffic into Fort William, I’m sceptical. Arriving in the car park, we position the car highly visible in the middle and I stand outside so that Davie can’t miss us. We expect James to hit Lundavra at 15:10; however with Adam closing the gap, we know the race is definitely on and that James may push the pace over Lairig Mor so he could be a minute or so earlier. Andy and Des have gone straight to Lundavra, and although they have some water, they don’t have much else. We have all of the fuel. Skoosh and I discuss how long we can wait before leaving. Davie texts again at 14:41 – they’ll be there soon. We call Andy, knowing mobile reception at Lundavra is poor. They have just arrived, and Andy reckons it took about 15 minutes from Fort William, but he’s unsure of the exact time. Again, I’m sceptical it was this long, however if we have to err, it simply has to be on the side of caution.
We agree we have to leave the car park by 15:50….At 15:50, there is no sign of Davie and I text, asking if he’ll arrive within 2 minutes. His answer of “Hopefully” doesn’t fill me with much hope. His message goes on to state they have just passed the Fort Bill sign, doing 20 mph. That sign is a mile away, so at least 3-4 minutes. We can’t risk waiting and make the call to go. James with some energy replenishment, even if it isn’t his staple Tailwind, is far better then James with no energy replenishment, especially over the last 7 miles with Adam chasing hard. As we’re pulling up Lundavra Road, I call Davie to let him know we had to go, just as he’s arriving at the car park. It’s too late to turn back…
At this point I can say only that I am thankful to be here to write this blog. Skoosh suddenly turns into some kind of Colin McRae wannabe. Not content with initially trying to overtake a learner driver on a 30 (just before they turn left in to the housing estate before the cattle gate at the start of the single track road), he flings the Mondeo around like a rally car, accelerating hard, braking harder, not quite getting air on the hills, but not far off. I decide to laugh the whole way, as crying seems rather unmanly. 9 minutes later we screech into Lundavra, fling the doors open and perform a Starsky & Hutch type roll over the bonnet. Or something like that. The key thing is, we are there before James, and we have food and drinks. Des and Andy (obviously) are there, taking turns to stand on the high ground above the information board with the binoculars to spot James as early as possible. Alan and Gayle Tait are there, eagerly awaiting their first runner at the start of what will be a long shift, and with them is Silkie (hopefully spelled correctly), one of the race doctors, and whom Andy and Des are going to take back to Fort William. How and why Silkie is actually at Lundavra is something I never asked…
We are waiting for what seems an age, however is only 7-8 minutes, when Des announces he can see a runner in the distance. Skoosh heads down the trail and out of sight over the small hill only a couple of hundred metres away. At this point I have our secret weapon at the ready: I read a blog a week or so prior to the race (and apologies as I simply cannot remember whose to give you credit), and a hint for support crew was to use frozen plastic water bottles to help keep their own food cool in a coolbox. I had placed 6 x 750ml water bottles in the freezer on Friday, placed them in our coolbox first thing Saturday, and Skoosh and I were finding they worked splendidly at keeping both our food cool and James’ Calyppo semi-frozen. By this stage of the day, the bottles were now in various degrees of melting, and could now be utilised as a highly chilled drink. I was certain James would take advantage.
Rearview Mirror is now pumping out across the whole area, and there’s a fair degree of whooping going on from the other 5 as James runs in with Skoosh beside him, taking his order. Standing to the side at the car, I am looking simultaneously at Skoosh/James and my radio, awaiting the call bleep over the noise of Eddie Vedder. As they get closer I am now quickly looking back and forward between them and the radio, to continued radio silence. They are now only 30 metres away, Skoosh peels off and James runs the last 15 paces up to the information board, and to the table where the Taits, Silkie, Des and Andy welcome him with huge smiles. Skoosh bleeps the radio, laughing:
“He says he’ll decide when he gets there. Sorry mate, totally forgot.”
We are both smiling as we both now head over to James. He is looking great, says that is how he is feeling, and loved running in to the music. He is unsure of what he wants, and is happy with the semi-frozen water which is highly refreshing. I suspect he is as much enjoying drinking from the different bottle type with it’s free flow, rather than the valved soft bottles he has suffered for 88 miles. Via Skoosh, he is aware Adam was only 4 -5 minutes behind at KLL, but feels he has run a very strong 7 miles since. It is 2-3 minutes inside the plan time for the section.
“If he beats me after this, he totally deserves the win.”
James picks at a couple of items from the Tait party table (though I’m unsure if he takes any). I get him some home baking and (if he didn’t have one at KLL – it was a long day and I can’t fully remember now, sorry!) a banana. He takes a small note from Andy, who also gives him a quick hug. I find out a week or two later that the note is from Euan and Caelan, his two loving boys, and the absolute apples of his eye. Contents unknown although I’m sure we can all guess at the motivating effect derived. Grabbing the Calyppo and some water he heads out of the non check point to huge cheers and a chorus of good lucks, and runs up the hill that leads, now only 7 miles away, to Fort William and the finish. Another quick crew point. And for the first ever meet point, James didn’t ask for Tailwind. Result.
I am feeling quite emotional now. The next time we see James will be the finish. We have now done our job as support crew. For virgins, I think we made a decent fist. A couple of mistakes yes, and certainly one or two things we could improve on. But our runner is now 7 miles from the finish, and he’s running strong; we’ve kept him hydrated, ensured his calorie intake was sufficient throughout, updated him on his race position relative to the competition, stayed calm, and he has now left the last crew point strongly running up a hill.
In the lead. Position A.
As ever, we have taken note of James arrival and departure times, and now we await Adam. His support crew have not come to Lundavra, and in fairness many don’t. I suspect their lack of locality knowledge may be the reason, although perhaps they simply made a team decision that the 14 miles from KLL to the finish did not require a mid stage meet. The Tait Party table has a fair selection on it already (and I suspect it will be heaving with discarded runner treats and snacks over the next 6 hours), and that and us will now be Adam’s pseudo crew.
Des has the binoculars scanning again and after a few minutes he spies Adam in the distance. He is definitely run/walking. Due to undulations, Adam comes in and out of sight. He runs down the last part of track then walks the last 30 odd metres and up to the board where Alan and Gayle have the table under shade. 6 minutes after James, he has lost 2 minutes from KLL. We applaud him in, and he is looking good but tired. He takes two snack items from the table and a banana, and is grateful for one of my iced water bottles. His mental state is good, still positive and he is keen to know how James is going. The first questions he asks are how far ahead is James and whether he ran up the hill out of the checkpoint. We reply yes he did. He asks how far ahead is he of 3rd place. When he discovers he has more than an hour in hand, he tells us that he thinks it is better to consolidate 2nd, rather than potentially injure himself trying to chase James. He tells us he is unsure how his last 7 miles will go as this is the first time he has run beyond 100km. I am stunned and, equally, in absolute awe. It is an incredible feat to be running this fast over this distance; to do so over terrain he has never seen before, and 30 miles further than he has ever run…well, that is a special runner. A champion indeed.
I notice though that Adam is in no real rush to leave. James was in and out in 2 minutes. Adam knows he has lost two minutes on James since KLL, and we are now at 3 minutes and counting. He has now settled for 2nd; he has all but said it, and his actions are not those of someone about to chase down the guy in front. 4 minutes after arriving, he thanks us all, and strides out of the meet point. Unlike James he is not running up the hill.
We loudly cheer Adam out, and watch him break into a light run up the hill. James’ 4 minute lead leaving KLL, is now 10 minutes with 7 miles to go. And, in case I haven’t already mentioned, James loves this final section. Barring injury, James will win the West Highland Way Race and we all know it. To say we are happy as we wish the Taits well on their Lundavra shift and jump in the cars is mild understatement. I message the #teamsub4 crew – James has a 10 minute lead through Lundavra, and looking strong. It is well received.
15:45 Fort William, Lochaber Leisure Centre
It takes us no time at all to get back to Fort William from Lundavra (although about twice as long as it did to go the other way an hour previously!), and after negotiating the light Saturday afternoon traffic, we arrive at the car park, both cars together. If not exactly heaving, there is activity at the finish line and around the car park. The Adventure show fixed camera is set up directly behind the finish, filming the runners as they run towards and over the finish. I see several faces I recognise, some I know and some I don’t. Adam’s crew car is here, and I see Noanie Sam Heffron at the entrance although she is away before I can say Hi. We take the opportunity to decant all of James’ kit and fuelling boxes from our car back to Andy’s, as Skoosh is keen to make an early exit once James has finished. As I collect the 2nd box from our car I notice that Hal Koerner is sitting in the passenger seat of the small van beside our car. He’s playing with his phone and, I am sure, undoubtedly extremely disappointed that he has traveled so far for this race and had to pull out through injury before halfway. It crosses my mind to ask him to sign my copy of his book (yes, in true groupie fashion I had brought it with me *just in case*). I drop the box into Andy’s boot and as I walk the 15 metres back to the Mondeo, I decide against it. Given his disappointment, I surmise it is the last thing he would like to do at this point in time, and so I decide discretion is the better part of valour. It does get me thinking though of something else, heroes, a subject I discover Des has also been thinking about independent of me, and which I shall come back to shortly. A minute or so later, I see Noanie, who is supporting Hal, jump into the van and they head off. No chance for the signature now even if I have second thoughts.
Sean (second name unknown to me) turns up in the now familiar race team van and he and a few others, Des included, begin to set up the finish marquee and associated paraphernalia. RD Ian Beattie arrives and, crossing the car park, I congratulate him on a well run race (no pun intended).
By now we are killing time, waiting on James’ likely arrival. I speak with Adam’s crew, and explain we have met Adam at Lundavra and how the gap was now 10 minutes again. They are philosophical and are more concerned with how Adam was mentally; I think I convince them he was in a good place. They thank us for hanging on to help Adam at Lundavra. I notice Des is missing and Andy informs that he has gone to find a saltire and some champagne. I raise an eyebrow at this however I should never have doubted Des’s resourcefulness when it comes to buying saltires in tourism driven Highland towns at short notice, as he soon arrives with the goods. I am more concerned however at his choice of champagne; bucks fizz and a bottle of luxury perry. You can take the boy out of West Lothian….
Meantime, Sarah has turned up and left (still looking for KLL evidently…..), and I stroll over to Skoosh who is talking to a fit looking chap on a mountain bike who we’ve seen once or twice on the course. As we talk it transpires that it is he who has tweeted a couple of cracking pictures of James at jelly bean hill on the BoO to Glencoe section. Now, remember earlier when I said that my ignorance of all things about this wonderful race caught me out on occasion? Well, what happens next is probably the coup de grace. I ask the cyclist his name, and he introduces himself as Richie. I then, I kid you not, ask him if he has ever run the race. Modestly he replies that he has, on many occasions, however his knees aren’t what they were and so he now cycles more. I’m impressed. Anyone who can do this race once has my full and complete admiration and respect. Fast forward to Sunday morning – I have a wee nagging doubt, so I decide to look up @richie_runs….hmm, Richie Runningham, sounds like Cunningham. I may not know much about the race previously, but I know for a fact I’ve seen that name before…quick WHW roll call, and there it is: just the 2 wins and numerous top 10 finishes. I burst out laughing to hide my own cringe as our conversation replays in my mind:
“So, have you run the race before?”
Well don’t I feel the total div? Yet, that’s what makes this race and those who compete so special. Richie could easily have made me look a fool and embarrass my ignorance; instead he chose to massively understate his own legendary status within it. Total kudos.
16:10 and Skoosh asks me when James should be in. I take the race plan from my pocket and reply that it should be 16:29 however he was a minute or two ahead at Lundavra for the section. Ian Beattie, standing beside us, looks at the plan, focuses on the final stage split and quickly categorically states:
“He’ll be in well before then.”
By now, Des has left the car park to take some go-pro footage of James finishing. I stroll away from the finish across the car park, pacing, expectant father style. Which takes us back to the top of the blog, Des shouting, James coming into the car park, Glenmore vest and saltire draped, running strong as if finishing a 10k. To huge applause from all assembled he crosses the finish line, and dibs in for the last time. I make it 16:16. Bloody hell, that was a fast final section. He hugs us all, Andy especially, and there are, I don’t mind admitting, tears. Of pure joy, emotion, privilege…(except from Andy – “I’m from Croy, I don’t cry.” Wonder what those shades are hiding then Andy Bhoy ;-)?).
James weighs in, and conducts a remarkably assured interview for TV. He takes another of the iced water bottles (they are an unexpected Godsend) and looks like a man who is proud of his achievement. And yet, a man who can’t quite believe he has won the West Highland Way race. Well believe it mate, because you have and it is thoroughly deserved. And with a time now confirmed at 15:15:59, you are the 3rd fastest person in history to complete the race.
By now, the #teamsub4 gang are aware and are absolutely delirious. I PM James’ wife Louise with the news. Her reply is brilliant and beautiful, and funny: She is delighted and so so proud, but she asks if I can let James know she’ll call him shortly as she is in the cinema with the boys and it’s a good bit! Andy decides now is the time for the Formula 1 podium moment and shakes the Bucks Fizz before spraying James with it. An unimpressed James responds drily:
“That stings you know…”
We are now awaiting Adam in second place. James knows now he was 10 minutes ahead at Lundavra; he also suspects that he has run one of the fastest final sections ever (he has as it transpires) and so he reckons Adam will be doing well to keep the gap at 10 minutes. He is proven correct as Adam comes in 16 minutes later in 15:32:27, a phenomenal time for his first run over 100km, and the 5th fastest person ever.
These two guys have provided the race at the front that the race deserves. They have pushed and dragged each other on to great times, posting the 2nd and 3rd fastest debuts ever (only Robbie Britton has debuted faster and he didn’t even win due to Paul Giblin’s brilliance). It doesn’t get much better than that. A privilege to both witness and to be a (very small) part of.
And here’s the rub. Heroes. They say never meet your heroes, you’ll only be disappointed etc. and although it would be pushing it so say Hal Koerner is a hero of mine (I’m 44 for goodness sake, not 14), he’s undoubtedly a legend of the discipline, and someone highly (and correctly) respected. And so is Sage Canaday. And yet, 7 days after James beat Hal, Paul Giblin finished ahead of Sage when finishing 5th at Western States, in effect the 100 mile trail world championships. As every overseas runners’ blogs of this year’s race have stated, the winner of WHW is “local hero” James Stewart. After both races, Des makes the connection between the two – James from Croy, and Paul from Paisley – and how we should view them. These local heroes are the heroes we should look to; they may not come from exotic California or Oregon (with respectful apologies to both Croy and Paisley) or the like; however these people are tangible, they are close by, they are real to us. Let’s be mindful of runners around the world – there’re always things to learn from others – but, wherever you are in the world, let’s celebrate those around us that we can learn from, look up to, and, yes, aspire to that are close by. Des is now a real proponent of local heroes and I agree. As ever, James, forever modest, considers his heroes to be Euan and Caelan. That’s where he gets his motivation and inspiration. Some guy.
And so, Skoosh calls time to leave and so with warm goodbyes to James, Andy and Des, and to Adam and his crew, we jump in the car just before 5 and start the journey home. At this point I do feel one or two pangs of regret. We have barely scratched the surface of the race; nearly every competitor and their crew are still out there, battling through great pains and mental demons, and with many hours and miles ahead of them before they cross the finish line. (And at this point, may I give absolute kudos to Kris Brown for sticking at it? In the lead at half way, one bad section completely lost him a good finish in the race, and yet he dug in and finished in 37th place in 21:48:35. Many, and probably most, others would have given in once they knew the race was gone, so absolute respect to him for seeing it through to the finish line.) I almost feel a fraud; first WHW race, turn up, give the best runner some food and positive chat, help him to glory then bugger off home, with my feet up and a glass of wine by 7:15pm with Euro 2016 on in the background. Some crews will have hours to wait at each checkpoint for their runner; we had 10s of minutes. Some crews will have to convince their runner not to give up, and to spend half an hour with them at a checkpoint, trying to keep them awake and simultaneously trying to convince them this is a great idea whilst wiping the sick from them. Other crews may even have to support run their runner through night 2, themselves having not slept for over 24 hours. Driving back towards Tyndrum we see many runners, many now walking – how many more hours do they still have before Fort William? These guys and gals are the heartbeat of this race and what makes it so special. But then I come back to reality; although I would love to crew one of the ‘normal’ runners, how many people get the chance to crew the winner? Not many in case you’re wondering. I, we in fact, Skoosh, Des and Andy are privileged. We know it. What a day.
By the Sunday morning, approaching midday and I do have genuine regret. Sarah had asked me at BoO if I would be at the award ceremony to see the goblets being handed out. When I told her that a combination of Father’s day and Skoosh needing to be home on Saturday evening meant I would miss it, her reply was that I would be missing something special and, at times, very emotional. All morning I continue to follow the race updates and the stragglers coming in after 30 or so hours, and I am in awe of these people. Des, James and Andy are up early and back at the finish to show respect for these finishers who have run through a whole day and two nights. Their mental strength is a lesson to us all. I am now sooo wishing I am at Fort William to see James not only receive his prize, but to see him complete the circle by presenting the last finisher their goblet. I read later of the applause for Norman Bone, a woman I have never met, for the amazing Fiona Rennie and others, and I realise that this is a huge part of the race, of the event. If, when, I crew again I will not miss this.
20:33 Saturday evening, my living room, Rutherglen
I send James a text, to again congratulate him but in the main to thank him for allowing me to be part of this epic day. I won’t give out all the detail, but it contains the words pride, happiness, joy, privilege, and awesome. The one word it doesn’t contain, but should, is the word that best sums up this whole race, and what the WHW family is about. Love.
I finally get this race.