The WHWR has consumed me for the last 12 months, ever since I watched in amazement the 2011 race. It was an event I had never given any serious consideration of participating in until last year in Fort William as I cheered on the leading participants over the last section from Lundavra to the Sports Centre. Up until this event the longest distance I had run was 56 miles, so to take it up a notch to 95 seemed like lunacy. I enjoy a challenge, but I began to wonder if I had maybe bitten off more than I could chew this time. But I had set my mind on it and was determined to see it through to whatever end awaited me. The preparation for the WHWR was unlike anything I had previously experienced. It started months before I even knew if I would get a coveted place in the starting list. A few days after the 2011 race I made plans. So in Mid-August last year I looked at my race calendar for this year. I knew that from then up until June this year everything would have to be moulded and carefully structured around preparing and building towards the WHWR. I had a lot to learn and a very short time in which to do so. I'm no Ultra-novice, having run 15 previous Ultramarathons and numerous long distance training runs, but improvements had to be made. Changes to things like pacing, nutrition and mental toughness and attitude had to be implemented. The prospect of running 95 miles back in August last year scared the sh*t out of me and I suppose that feeling stayed with me until 1am on race day. I suppose having this fear was a good thing as it made me respect this event more and take the preparation all the more seriously. The preparation, for the most part, went according to plan. I picked out what events I wanted to use as extended training runs and resisted the temptation of running lots of shorter events inbetween. Less is more. I Identified where I needed to improve by seeking advice from more 'seasoned' runners and set about tackling my issues. The weeks and months flew by and a feeling of panic crept in as I began worrying that I wasn't giving myself enough time to improve. But things began to fall into place and with every long run and event I was improving in fitness, knowledge and confidence.
Fast forward a few months.........
So, food and drinks had been bought, my nutrition plan was drawn up, tapering was in full flow and decisions on kit had been made. With two weeks to go I was all set. Still sh*ting myself though.
I had the Thursday and Friday before off and had planned on sleeping, resting and eating. But in truth I was just too nervous and figidity to sleep. On the Thursday I had taken all my food and kit down to my parents to load into their car. They were my race 'support crew'. I ran through where everything was and gave them a list of what I would be asking for at the various checkpoints along the way. On the Friday night they picked me up at around 10pm and we made our way to Milngavie. The car park was a throng of activity. I headed up to get registered, get my goody bag and race merchandise. I said a few hello's and you could have cut the tension and excitment in the air with a knife. I really just wanted to run now. But with around 2 hours to wait, I would just have to be patient. I walked up to the shopping precinct to show my parents a good place to stand to watch the race get under way. I met a few others including Ada, who commented 'I'm bricking it!', a feeling I'm sure most us felt. A few more hello's before I spotted a large campervan with a large picture of a purple thong on it and 'Team Jonathong' written on the side. This was Jonathan's support wagon. Had a quick chat with him and then with Paul Giblin and his team before going back to the car to check my pack for the umpteenth time.
The best part of the whole race came at the underpass before the start. There are several reasons for this.
* I was warm
* I was dry
* I was wide awake and fully alert
* I was totally oblivious to what 'horrors' lay in wait further up the route
* I was in good company
* The underpass was brightly lit
* I was in total control of my bodily functions
* I was clean
* I was excited
In a previous blog posting I had posed the question 'why am I doing this?'. Peering out from under the brim of my 2XU cap, at my impending doom, I asked myself that very question again. I remembering muttering 'F**k it, just do it' (a catch phrase I must copywrite in case Nike use it). Of the 230 that had entered back in November last year 172 brave souls now stood shoulder to shoulder, probably asking themselves the same very question I had, having seen the weather forecast. The start was adrenaline filled, with a pinch of fear. The 'Klaxon' sounded and 172 headtorches began to bob up and down on their journey. As I climbed the steps up out of the underpass I was struck by the number of people who had turned out at this ungodly hour on what was a fairly minging night. The support was fantastic, which continued throughout the weekend. Running through the precinct to the WHW Obelisk it suddenly hit me 'I'm running to Fort William, holy sh*t, thats 95 miles!'. We turned off the street, over the river, down a short incline and onto a short lit path. Soon, we were in the dark and the adventure had began........
Between Milngavie and Drymen I had passed both Bill and Ada, with whom I would meet and run with throughout the day and it was good to chat to both. I met a few others I knew on the first 20 miles and I'm sure we were all rueing the day we entered considering the weather, with 7 withdrawing by Balmaha. I can't remember when I turned off my headtorch, I think it was just after Drymen. It was crap through Garadhban Forest and it was crap going up Conic. Coming down Conic was lethal and I zig zagged to try and find a bit that I could get a little bit of traction. I had hoped to get a dramatic and beautiful photo of the sunrise from Conic. But two thing prevented that.
* There was no sun to rise
* My camera battery (fully charged the day before) had discharged (Olympus expect a letter). This
will explain why most of the 'scenic' photos on this blog look suspiciously sunny! (taken from
training runs, The Fling this year and last years DOTH).
I was determined to finish. I could have woosed oot and chucked it at Lundavra, but after putting myself through hell I was damn sure going to put the head down and push on. I wasn't ill or had a serious debilating injury, it was more of a painful inconvience, so keep going. I would probably never have forgiven myself if I had bailed within spittin distance. When I got to the next Wilderness Rescue post I was getting pretty gubbed and it was getting tougher with the sore groin as I couldn't lift my foot that high off the ground which made getting over the rocks on this section very hard work. I was asked if I was ok and I remember muttering something and asking how far to Lundavra. I was told 2.5 miles, which felt like 25. By the time I got to Lundavra it was now light and a few supporters were here, although they were all very quite! They too must have been knackered. The once blazing bonfire was burning itself out.
I was 'hank marvin', so after failing to find anywhere in the town centre, opted for a bacon roll and tea in Mcdonalds. After that it was back to the car to wait for the presentations and a sleep while I waited. I was totally drained. After meeting the Giblin family again we headed into the Nevis Centre for the presentations. It then suddenly hit me that I had done it. A years worth of training and prep had paid off. I had earned my Goblet. Earned it the hard way. Bloody hell!
Up until the presentations I hadn't known who had made it and who hadn't, so as the names were read out one by one it was fantastic to see so many that I knew had achieved their goal. As the parade of funny walks continued I couldn't help but get a lump in my throat at the enormity of our achievement. It doesn't matter if you were 1st in a record time or you were 119th across the line. Many of those who had had to withdraw were to which was fantastic. I know they were disappointed, gutted and upset, but how many people have the courage and balls to even step over the start line. So I think they have also earned the right to be very proud of themselves.
It was a special day for Pauline Walker as well, being inducted into the '10' Club (10 WHWR finishes), of which she is only the 6th member and the first female to do so. Her sister Fiona will join her next year.
So as Ian read out the names and their finishing times I felt my palms getting clamy and it all felt unreal.
'And in 100th place in 30 hours and 50 minutes, Colin Knox', 'Wow thats me!, Oh crap getting out of this seat will be sore'
Luckily I wasn't too far away from the front so it didn't take too long to stagger to the stage to get my 'precious' Goblet from Sean. It was mine, at last. WoooooooooHooooooo!
(The photo immediately above was taken by Victoria Shanks)And then it occured to me, 'Now what do I do?' I spent so long being consumed by this race, thinking about it, preparing for it, and now i had done it. It was all over...........for now.
I watched the remaining finishers get their reward and despite many limping, shuffling or being wheeled to collect their Goblet, I'm sure many will be looking to repeat it again next year. It's a fantastic gesture that the winning runner presents the final runner their goblet and I suppose that re-inforces the family bond that this event has. We're all in it together.
With the presentations now over it was time for this family to go their separate ways for now. I managed to talk to few people on my way out and exchange our stories of pain and suffering.
What an Adventure we had.
There are so many people I want to thank. Top of the list are my parents for being my support crew all weekend. They thought I was off my Heid when I announced my intention of doing this. But didn't hesitate when I asked them to crew for me. I know it was tough on them, probably tougher than me running, having to worry about my welfare in that weather didn't help. They did a fantastic job looking after me and encouraging me. So I wanted to make sure I finished it for them. I can only hope I wasn't too grumpy. So a massive thank you to them. Infact, well done to all the support crews that took part.
Well done and thanks to Ian, Sean, John and Chris (Dr. Ellis) for such a fantastic weekend. The logistics in running such a major event must have been enormous and to pull it all together is an amazing achievement. So between bomb scares and the weather must have made for a stressful weekend behind the scenes. Thanks guys.
To the marshalls, volunteers and other supporters, I salute you. Giving up a full weekend and more to stand out in those conditions takes a lot of dedication. I was stunned by the encouragement you gave all us runners and by the help at the checkpoints along the route. Heroes all. It helped that most of them were runners themselves and knew exactly what to do and especially what to say to spur us on our way.
Thank you to the Wilderness Rescue guys camped out on the Lairig Mor and the team at Inversnaid. The guys on the Lairig have a special kind of toughness to be out there in the dark all night.
Thanks to the Sponors for again backing the WHWR which would be a difficult event to run without them. Long may they continue to provide their assistance.
Two people I owe thanks to are John Kynaston, for his advice and encouragement through the podcasts we did over the last few months. And to Karen Donoghue for putting me on the right nutritional path by advising and suggesting. Thanks guys.
And a thank you to Ross from Quaker Oats for the HUGE box of Porridge sachets he sent me out a few weeks prior to the race.
The weather played it's part. A big part. The lack of sleep affected me in strange and unusual ways! I probably spent too long at some checkpoints but it was worth it to be dry for a wee while. I did a fair amount of swearing at myself during the weekend as I don't have a mantra.
Now I'm in no man's land, what now? Oh yes, the Devil O' The Highlands Race. Where once again I'll be hauling myself up the staircase and up on Lairig Mor, but i'll be doing so with a certain amount of smugness this time.