Tuesday, 26 June 2012

West Highland Way Race 2012...almost

Most of the ultrarunners I know have some sort of mantra, something that they will repeat to themselves to encourage them to carry on running when energy levels are low and everything hurts.  Some of the mantras are straight to the point, like Karin McKendrick’s “K.F.G.”, which I refuse to believe stands for “Karin feels good”.

Mine is a quote from Alice in Wonderland that the fantastic David Donaghue (of ultra running collie fame) shared with me when I was worrying about my first ultra, the High Peak 40 in September 2008.

“Begin at the beginning...and go on till you come to the end: then stop”

If you have ever wondered where the title of this blog comes from, now you know. 

Last Saturday was my second attempt at the West Highland Way Race.  In my previous 7 ultras I have always managed to keep moving forward, maybe stopping for a few minutes at checkpoints to sort things out but between checkpoints always moving.  Not on Saturday.  On the climb up the Devil’s Staircase I had to stop several times to sit down and let a bit of energy build up.  Even on the downhill to Kinlochleven I needed to stop just to get myself back together.  On my final section, from KLL to Lundavra, I think I sat on every suitable rock that lies next to the path before finally deciding enough was enough and pulling out. 

I had no energy and was very dehydrated.  As soon as I started to slow down in the wind and rain I got very cold and the sore knee that I had had since 20 miles stiffened up and every step became more difficult than the last.  I think an unfortunate chain of events, starting with stubbing my toe six days previously, led to where I was, and maybe with hindsight I could have done things slightly differently on Saturday and continued to the finish but that is easy to say now. 

I stubbed my big left toe the previous Sunday while out for my final run before the race.  It’s the one with arthritis, there is no cartilage in the joint to absorb the impact so it’s bone hitting bone.  It hurts a lot for most of the following week.  I set off running on Saturday morning and although the pain has pretty much gone I just don’t feel comfortable in my running stride.  At about 20 miles the outside of my left knee starts to hurt – it gets worse and by 30 miles I’m taking painkillers and wearing a knee support.  I stub my toe again in Bogle Glen and this time it is agony.  I almost pull out at Auchtertyre but take some more painkillers and keep on going.  My stomach is starting to struggle now and I’m feeling low on energy.  Between Glencoe and Kinlochleven I grind to a halt as my body empties itself of everything I’ve eaten in the last few hours.  I struggle up the hill after KLL and just can’t get going through the Lairig.  I get very cold, my vision starts to go blurry and I know it’s time to stop.

This all sounds very negative but I’m feeling positive about the experience and I know what my limits are and that there is a point where it’s just not sensible to keep pushing.  I am very glad that I took part on Saturday – the West Highland Way Race is an amazing experience and it was a pleasure to run with so many nice people and witness some inspirational performances.  The support during the day was wonderful – it’s difficult to describe just how much some loon ringing a bell at you and shouting your name can raise your spirits (thanks Lucy).  I look back on the day I spent running up the WHW with fond memories despite the eventual outcome (and the weather), and it will be great to read about other peoples’ experiences in the coming weeks – I’ve already set a day aside to read Colin Knox’s magnificent blog post once he has perfected it.

Ian and the organisational team do an amazing job, as does everyone involved in putting this race on, so I’d like to say a big thanks to them and I have to say a special thanks to Sean and Andrew for taking care of me at Fort William.


  1. Could be worse, Ali... you could have sat on all the unsuitable rocks as well!

    Great effort, and better luck next time. :-)

  2. was gutted to see you'd pulled out Ali but listening to you in Leisure centre it seemed right decision for you, takes guts (excuse the pun)to pull out that far into race. Hope you're recovering well

  3. You are still my hero Ali, awesome effort xxx

  4. Must be tough to have got so close Ali but you'll know you made the right decision on the day so you won't feel too bad about it. And we sometimes learn more when things don't go to plan than when they do. See you next time.

  5. Smashing effort and a really tough decision to make, but you will know it was the correct one even though it was so close to the finish. Recover well.

  6. Sorry to read about your withdrawal, it must have been a tough decision to make.

  7. Damn man, I was watching out for you and you were storming it. I totally agree though, this ain't negative at all. It's these things that spur us on in future. And about that, I'm giving the HP40 a go this year. It'll be only my second (pay to enter) ultra. Do you fancy a meet? I dare say you'll have plenty in the tank for a good show that day ;-)

  8. Ali, sorry you had to pull out. And in particular so close to the finish.
    As you may know I have had my own dnfs (and it almost feels like showing off when I mention that again ;-)). Yes it was hard and frustrating not to get that goblet. But I personally have never regretted to pull out. To DNF. But despite not finishing I never actually "gave up" as such or resigned. I still believed in myself and I knew I could do better and I would be back to give it another try. I am sure the same applies for yourself. You will be back and back stronger :-)