You know, there are times in your life when you really feel that something you have just witnessed is positively jaw dropping. The west Highland Way Race was one such thing. It’s taken me a wee while to gather my thoughts on this, in fact as I start writing I’m still not sure if I have but I want to get something down to keep a record of the experience I had.
The week building up to the event had been totally manic for me so having discussed with Amanda I decided to get a full nights sleep on the Friday and pick them up on the Saturday morning. So my part in all this started as I turned up at Beinglas Farm and was greeted by a beaming Helen and my first of many hugs that day.
John was manning the checkpoint tent looking extremely important. He was surrounded with checkpointy type paraphernalia and a table that was almost invisible due to the covering of deceased midges that had clearly not toed the line and paid the ultimate price. Team Amanda members, Sarah and Clark were there too and all peering intently south waiting for the arrival of runners coming in.
As it turned out I didn’t have to wait too long for Amanda to arrive and suddenly there she was, bang on schedule plonking herself down in the chair and the team suddenly swinging into action. Nothing had really been discussed as to who was doing what to her but everybody seemed to naturally home in on various body parts on which to administer tlc. I found myself assuming responsibility for foot maintenance and duly massaged, cleared grit, replaced socks and refitted shoes. Then John came over to offer encouragement in the form of abuse as it seemed he didn’t want to be up late waiting around for lazy ultrarunners late into the night, so duly chastised Amanda scurried off up the track.
We had a bit of time to kill now so we toddled off to the Green Welly in search of refreshments and found not only that but a gathering of Dafties in the form of Dave Mooney, Julie, Aurel although I was sorry to have missed Peter who had just set off on his relay leg. So hugs a plenty and cake too (win, win).
Now, time and Ultrarunners wait for no man so we headed off for the next checkpoint at Auchtertyre. I rode down on my bike due to car number restrictions and spied a Gannet masquerading as an official who was pointing cars to go in various directions, great to see him as I hadn’t seen him in ages. Then once again we assumed our positions, gazing intently like meerkets into the distance for our runner to arrive. Worryingly our first support runner, Angela had still not arrived and we knew that Amanda’s arrival was imminent. This was a bit of an issue as I began to wonder if I might need to get my head into running mode earlier than planned. Not a problem but it just meant a change of mind set from me, luckily though she arrived just before Amanda did. This time Amanda was actually sobbing quite a lot which was alarming but I supposed it was more the toll the run was taking on her rather than her disappointment that she was still lumbered with such a rubbish support crew. Clark had got some hot food on for her and we duly got her fed, watered, pampered and sent on her merry way once again.
So off we went again to the Green Welly, Clark and Sarah in the car while I rode back on my bike. Once there our crew was swelled by the arrival of David Meldrum and we were able to cheer Amanda and Angela through as they trotted by. Our plan now was to temporarily split up. Clark and Sarah headed to the Bridge of Orchy checkpoint for some kip and David and me went to the hotel for coffee and a catch up. After that we sauntered along to the checkpoint to clap runners in as they arrived.
Looking at the competitors coming in though we started to see some that we knew were running near Amanda so we decided best wake the others up as it looked like Amanda was going to be early. Sure enough she was very early, at least half an hour I think. The customary floods of tears started as we set to work on her. Pork casserole was on the menu and we got some of that into her. I turned down a helping, a decision I was to come to regret. I wasn’t hungry at that point and figured I’d get food at Glencoe. Amanda was to have some input in disappointing me there.
Anyhow, back to the present, we pushed Amanda back out of the checkpoint, this time accompanied by David and off they went up the hill. A while later Sarah noticed David had gone off without his water so rather than have him go two or three hours without I set off running up the hill to give him it. It was good to see that even with 60 miles done she was still making a good pace and I ran pretty much to the top Mam Carraigh before I caught them. Trotting back down again I cursed not starting my Garmin and missing a Strava segment opportunity.
We had a wee logistical chat then and decided that Angela and me would take my car to Kinlochleven then we’d drive to Glencoe, that way my car would be available for me after my support run. It was as we were setting off back to Glencoe from KLL we received the text from Sarah “How far away are you, she’s well ahead of schedule?” PANIC! OMG! “AAAARG about 20 minutes” I replied. So Angela’s foot pressed a little harder on the gas. So much for my getting something to eat at Glencoe there was going to be no time for that. Never mind, Angela donated a sandwich to me and I could have that if I couldn’t get anything hot later on.
On arrival back at Glencoe the rest of the crew were already bustling about getting ready and I set about having a wardrobe crisis. Trying to decide what to wear as it had gone a lot colder and rain was threatening. So after several costume changes I was finally settled and ready to run just as Amanda arrived over an hour early.
She was clearly exhausted now as we set off and to be honest I had no idea how best I could help her. She wasn’t up for conversation by now and with more than 70 miles covered that was hardly surprising. What filled me with awe was that she was suffering and had been for many hours yet she still had many hours to go. Her courage and determination was astonishing. I gently coaxed her up Devils Staircase which was a huge battle won for her and one I think she’d been fearing all along. Then for the rough path down toward the forest track I acted as her eyes almost by trying to find the smoothest most easily run line on the track as possible. She was in some risk of stumbling during a lot of that and I supported her whenever she needed it. I had no idea that at the time her head was having thoughts about maybe not getting past KLL. If I’d known I would have had no idea how to get her through that. In the scheme of things she was so close to the end really but when you’re hurting so much then even a normally short distance can seem like an uncrossable gulf. So I wasn’t going to say anything like “once you leave KLL you only have 14 miles left or 4hrs more” as I worried that that might mentally freak her out.
Arrive at KLL we did though and with it came the beginning of the end. John was ready for her as was the rest of the crew. The usual maintenance and sobbing took place before under the steady hand of John’s guidance she set off once more to tackle the big and final serious climb to Lairigmor.
For me I finally got the chance to eat as wonderfully the pub was still serving food even close to 11 o’clock.
No need for a menu for me “Got any curry?” I asked “Indeed we do” came the reply. I’m very easily satisfied and was soon tucking in and refuelling. Having been joined by Sarah and David we relaxed in a nice midge free environment for a wee while.
Next it was off to Lundavra and so in the early hours of the morning we warmed ourselves by the bonfire there and cheered in the runners as they came by while eagerly scrutinising each approaching torch light trying to identify Amanda. Suddenly she was approaching. We knew it was her as Helen said John carries a torch as well as a headtorch and that’s what we were seeing coming in. A huge cheer went up and a blast of Chariots of Fire on the stereo belted out. Everyone was excited seeing her still battling along and Sarah rushed round looking for something carby to give her. I resisted the temptation to offer a cheese and onion pasty as biscuits were available so she had those.
I was so happy to see her go back out from there looking ok as there was nothing short of catastrophic break down was going to stop her reaching Fort William. So we had a leisurely drive along to the finish to await our runner. I managed to get a little bit of kip before Sarah was banging on the car window saying to wake up as she wouldn’t be long.
I joined the small crowd at the finish as we all waited with anticipation for her arrival. Suddenly there was a ripple of applause and cheering from Helen just along the road and then she was here, crossing the line. She’d done it and if the feeling was amazing for me I could only guess how that must have felt for her. What an achievement, to have run 93 miles on rough trail in 26 hours and 7 minutes, two hours ahead of her predicted time.
The final few hours of the weekend involved a fairly stressful check in at the hotel for a few hours sleep and the award ceremony. This was where I got to see Amanda and all the other fantastic ultrarunners pick up their hard earned goblets. A highly emotional time as had been the whole run and a time that will stay in my memory forever.
WELL DONE AMANDA!! X