West Highland Way 2013 – race report
There are loads of great blogs written already about this year’s race and hundreds more from earlier races so rather than cover most of the same I thought I’d be better just trying to answer the actual questions I’ve been asked most often since I made it to Fort William……..and…….won the WHW race (still feel slightly awkward saying that). The other bit is even more awkward!
Q. How did you manage to do that?
Let’s face it completing a 95 mile race is big under-taking and I have huge respect for those that take it on and make it to the end at Fort William. For those who didn’t make it there’s a very good chance that it was bad luck on the day and I’m sure you’ll get another chance if you want it badly enough. For one or two maybe the training wasn’t quite right or perhaps the commitment wasn’t fully there – you’ll know yourself, you don’t need anyone else to tell you. For me, I’ve been 100% committed for maybe 2 years. Some probably think it’s easy for the guys at the front. Yes, I’ve a decent build for ultra-running, I’m the right kind of age etc. but I can tell you that none of that race came easy to me. Maybe I’ve had genuinely tougher days, I certainly suffered considerably more on my winter record attempt. But that’s exactly it. It was less about the suffering on the day after the day-to-day slog and pain of training. The sore legs, the weekend back-to-backs, the scrimping on sleep to squeeze in some extra miles, the cold and wet early mornings, distinct lack of holidays and the non-existent social life. It was all about a total commitment to setting up the right conditions for racing hard. The 4 other races I’d done this year before the WHW were hugely valuable. I learned something different in every one and looking back, any disappointment was an important part of readying myself for the day.
I was only prepared to run hard and to suffer because I’d done it week after week in training. I wanted it.
Standing on the start-line I didn’t dread it in any way at all. It felt like the race ahead was a reward for everything that had gone before and this was my chance to let loose and run exactly how I wanted. Compared to the training runs this was my chance to forget about getting home, about finding water, carrying extra layers or charging a phone. It was 100% about racing. I wanted to feel every part of the journey, good and bad. I had prepared meticulously for it. My support did too. Between us we created the best possible conditions to allow me to run the way I love.
Q. Did you mean to do that?
In a word, Yes. Of course I did. I think I made my intentions clear from the very first step and anyone who knows me knew before the race that I had fire in my belly and a win was more than a real possibility. Clearly I wasn’t the favourite for most people but I knew I was going into it strong and I knew whatever happened I wasn’t going to finish the race thinking I hadn’t pushed myself hard enough. By the time I arrived in Milngavie it was like the rest of life was on-hold just for that time I’d spend racing on the WHW. Those special hours.
Q. Setting out like that. Weren’t you worried about blowing up?
It’s always a risk but it’s something I’ve practised I have deliberately tried different pacing strategies in races and training so I have a better idea of what I can do, the warning signs of something going wrong and when is the right time is to back off. I guess experience does actually count for something. It was worth the risk and the thought of the “he’s going to blow up – ignore him” chat behind me only added fuel to the burning inside.
Q. Can you go under 15 hours?
Was asked that within minutes of finishing. Always makes me laugh. 32 minutes off the course record (as well as beating the old course record) and it felt already like I’d somehow disappointed people. In the 2012 race I finished 27 seconds over a sub-17 and I was asked about why I couldn’t have done it any quicker. Just 27 seconds – surely! Why people took such amusement / interest in it I can’t understand. I wasn’t concerned as I knew the next time I did the race I wouldn’t be worried about a few seconds. But if you really want an answer….I do think it’s possible to do it under 15 hours – the empty CP at Beinglas certainly cost me 4 or 5 minutes as did the impromptu meet-up with the crew a few miles up the road as we tried to work out what I needed for drinks / fuel (the main checkpoint hadn’t opened in time for me). If the sun hadn’t come out and roasted me on Lairig Mor, maybe. On the other hand lots of things did go right on the day which might not ever happen again so I’m happy with what I did – 15:07 is a more-than-decent time.
Q. How do you feel about the race now?
That’s a really tricky one. I felt pretty warm inside for a few days although more than a little shell-shocked. I knew I could do it but hadn’t thought about how I might feel when it happened. The presentation on the Sunday was over-whelming although it felt like I was watching myself rather than actually being there in person. For runners and crews to stand and applaud was a real honour although I’m not sure it was entirely deserved. It was just running after all. For me it really wasn’t about beating every other runner. It was about me finally realising a dream. The WHW means more to me than any other race so the emotions at the end were because I’d finally managed to break through any fears and physical pain and overcome my own limitations. It was pure and raw and maybe it’ll never happen again. I can live with that if that’s the way it has to be, I will continue chasing it though. Always.
Q. Do you feel sorry for Marco (2nd place finisher)?
Absolutely not. No. Marco ran an incredible race. Of that there is no doubt. And, on paper in other years it would have been a win. Marco might go on to win it yet and like myself I’m sure he’d want that to be when there’s a great field and when those at the front really try their hardest to win it. That’s when it’s worth winning.
I’m not sure anyone felt sorry for me the previous year when I was well-beaten by Terry. I didn’t expect sympathy or want it. So no. I don’t. Marco is a fantastic runner and has beaten me plenty of times. This WHW race was mine.
Q. Are your support crew available for hire?
Absolutely not! I’m incredibly lucky to have them. They put just as much heart into the race as I do and I think that was evident to anyone who saw us at the finish. I have a real connection with them and that love and commitment only makes it all the more special. They know how much I put into things and what I’ve given up to do it, so it was an incredible and emotional moment for us when I turned into the carpark in Fort William. They’ve known for years I’ve wanted that moment. We had spoken about it 2011 and they’ve shown a huge amount of faith in me without ever making me feel pressured. I’m not sure they could do the same for anyone else.
So that’s it. Short and sharp….if you have a specific question feel free to post a comment and I’ll get back to you.
I’d like to thank everyone who sent me a message, said hello, posted a comment, tweeted me, gave me a smile, said well-done, clapped, shouted my name, told the story the following week……it’s all incredibly kind and overwhelming. It’s just running but it’s these small things that make it very special. The human things.
I’d also like to thank the WHW RD, Ian Beattie (and his team). You’ve given me more than you’ll ever understand. I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity and I’ll always be proud to be associated in some small way with the West Highland Way Race. You do an incredible job and we’re lucky that you do.
To the guys at Team Nathan UK and NinePointNine (Nathan, Clif, Feetures and Princeton Tec), Stevie Gildea in particular – thanks for taking a chance on me, your belief has helped me so much this year and I know it’s just the start of our journey. Thanks for your friendship. Time to start tearing it up now!!
Daniel, thanks for all your hard work, careful treatment and friendship.
Finally, the crew: Mum, Dad, Nic and Simon. We f*cking did it! I love you.