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DAVID SHAW
ULTRARUNNER

Stories of Ultra running

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West Highland Way Race 2016

I think I was about 18 years old when I first heard about the west highland way race. I'd just finished running a marathon when I heard that people ran the full West highland way. I don't think at the time I could process the thought of this. I swore to myself that I'd run it one day.

Fast forward 13 years...






June 18th 2016. 5 minutes to 1 am. Race briefing done and I'm standing on the start line at Milngavie train station. The start line which I'd imagined myself on for the previous 13 years. I go through my training in my mind. 1500 miles for the year. 100,000 feet elevation gain. I'm ready. I am surrounded by familiar faces, some I've never met, some I recognise from social media, all illuminated by the glow of the head torches on every runner. It's time to go. Another run through of my race plan goes through my head, this time interupted by the sound of the horn and the cheers from the waiting crowd. The race begins and I take the first step of many.


The first few mies pass quickly. I settle into an early rhythmn of just over 8 minutes per mile average. I'm joined by a few others and natter away to each other. I manage to get out on my own soon and enjoy the company of only my headtorch, continuingly chasing the bouncing glow along the easy flat miles. The miles pass uneventfully and before I know it I've reached drymen. I've ran the next section many times. I have fun remembering the miles in the harsh weather that I have put in on this sectionto prepare for today. My mind drifts and I find myself at the bottom of the conic. I run the hill at an easy pace, exactly on plan. I turn at the top to look around. Seeing the worm of headtorches dancing behind me on the trail up the hill is an amazing sight. When I look forward again I am greeted with the almost full moon illuminating the glass like water of Loch Lomond. I think at this point it is worth doing the race for these two views alone.

Its is starting brighten and I no longer need my head torch. Which is handy, on the decent from conic hill my battery runs out. It should have lasted hours longer. Hopefully not a sign of things giving up before they should be. I reach Balmaha car park within 3 seconds of my target time. Im met by my lone supporter Theresa who fills up my water bottles and sends me on my way quickly. She shouts to me that the battery on my go pro had already ran out, yet another sign that things weren't lasting as long as they should! I shout back that we forgot to pack beer for after the race. Priorities!


Balmaha - 2 hours 45 minutes


Within a mile of leaving Balmaha I force down an energy bar and immediately bring it back up. Not really ideal but I sometimes struggle with the solid food and I was managing enough tailwind for the early part of the race so I wasn't too bothered. The remaining miles to Rowerdennan passed uneventfully. I don't remember passin anyone or being passed at all, however I may be wrong. I ran into Rowerdennan to see Davie Gow just in front, and immediately thought I must be going too fast. I arrived just a few minutes in front of my target time. 


Rowerdennan - 4 hour 5 mins


Another attempt at an energy bar is met by the same result at the first. I don't hang about long as I am being attacked by a horde of midges. I grab a banana and force this down as I trundle along the lochside. I ease along and spot Davie Gow in front. I take the lead from him - he is far more experienced than me so I walk the sections he is walking and run again when he does. The race is following the low route this year which I love. The rugged section passes underfoot and Im having a great time, my legs feel fresh. Davie stopped for a comfort break and i stretched not far in front of him. I run through Inveruglas stopping briefly to drink an irn bru. The army of midge is stronger here than at the last stop. I soldier on, aware Im being followed closely but I'm not bohered by position, certainly not at this stage anyway. A few miles up the road the the lead lady tears past me. There is no way I could keep her pace she is setting scrambling over the rocks. Time passes and I know Im closing in on seeing Theresa and my dad which gives me an immense boost. The dreaded midge attacks continue until Im almost at Beinglas. I spot a familiar vest in front and catch up. I see its Hal Koerner! We exchange pleasantries as I pass. He is struggling with a knee injury. I doubt he has understood anything I said. Before I know it I am climbing the style and Ive arrived at Beinglas. My dad and Theresa set about me, feeding me and filling my bottles. Id love to hang about but the midges are too harsh. I make a joke about overtaking famous Hal and run on.






Beinglas farm - 6 hours 59 mins


This next section is a bit of a baw breaker. I get my head down and trudge on. Truth be told I don't remember much of this section. Im met by a walker near Crainlarich who fills my water bottles. Im beginning to fade and Im doing garmin maths to see if I'll make the next check point in time. The sun is rising further, and it seems with each further rise, my legs respond with lost energy. Im now struggling to take on the tailwind and I know I need to eat. 




Auchtertyre - 8 hours 51 mins


A struggle. I sludge into the checkpoint. On the scales and run on towards the car. I see my dad behind and he soons catches up and tells me I've lost more than 4% of my body weight. I need to eat. I lean against my car and rest my almost weary legs. More bananas go down a treat for some reason. For those who don't know - I HATE bananas. But today they serve me well. My body knows it needs them. I refuse the offer of swapping into my vest. Im determined to cross the line in Dumbarton colours and keep my black t shirt on for the time being, in favour or ruining the vest for the end. Away I go, through Tyndrum and Im offered a choc ice. Id love one however my vegan stubbornness doesnt allow this. Had it been a calippo I would have faceplanted it right there.






 A mile further nd I hear a tooooot from the road. My Dumbarton team mates who are running the relay  shortly pass me on the main road. This gives me a massive lift. I manage to bounce along nicely. The day is warming up, the trail is busy and I enjoy seeing the walkers and cyclists on the route again. A drone flies overhead and I try and maintain good running form incase it records me. I begin the small descent in to Bridge of Orchy and Im starting to feel the days efforts. The sight of my dad perks me up again, and I run a short distance to the car park, happy I'll see Theresa soon and get more Bananas! 


Bridge of Orchy 10 hours 40 mins


Im well down on my target time now. At the aid station my mum and daughter are there. The lift I get from seeing my wee girl is well needed. A man recording for the adverture show asks me some questions, I have no idea then or now what was said, but I know I need to move. Stocked up again and Im off. I have a wee bet on with thhe Dumbarton crew that I will get to the finish before them Im under pressure and Ill need to run well to conme close. This urges me on. I push on and on and on. The miles now pass slowly. I check my garmin moreoften. It doesnt speed up. Im running upwards of 11 minute miles on the good bits. The descents begin to hurt. Energy comes and goes from my legs like the ebb and flow of the tide. The power drains from them gradually, each step getting harder and more sluggish as the garmin shows me slowing, only for the power and freedom they once had to come crashing back in, when I manage to force some food down. Garmin tells me Ive already lost my bet. Ill be doing well to reach Glencoe without being passed. I make this a micro goal. The heat is getting to me and I finally give in and take my t shirt off. TAPS AFF for a while.


Glencoe 12 hours 57 mins


A happy sight to see. I run a few hundred metres with my dad. This is always a proud moment for me. Into the aid station and Theresa and the rest of the team do a great job of perking me up. I feel sick and can't keep much down and feel a little dizzy. I get into my team colours and the other team mates ask how Im doing. Its good to see familiar faces.The relay team catch up and pass me in the aid station. A short lived bet, however Ill be back another year to avenge it!! Banana fuelled again and Im off. Im feeling it now. The devil comes and goes, with a few high 5s at the bottom which were well needed. The descent is hard. I walk a lot of it and im basically counting the steps to Kinlochloeven which can't come quick enough.





Kinlochleven 15 hours 36 mins


This aid station is a blur. I get weighed which shows Ive put weight back on, but this will be down to getting weighed with full water bottles. Im told I spoke to team mates

but looked right through them, unaware of who they were at this time. Im dizzy, I don't know who is talking to me, I dont know what Im eating, I know I must push on. I reluctantly leave Theresa and my daughter, my mum and the Dumbarton team mates, and Im led from the station by my dad. I run slow. There is now another runner and I try keep in front of him on this final climb. I focus only on the finish. There is no where else to go but forward. No point looking back, Im not going that way. I beat the other runner to the top of the climb, Im immediately left in his wake on the flat. I know now I will not feel the energy and power surge back to my legs, I have eaten too little. I death march on, milee by mile slowly passing underfoot. My mind wanders again, I know my wee girl is running the last 100 metres with me and this keeps me going. Lundavra approaches, Im greeted with a cheeky wee rest on a chair and somne irn bru - love it. I death march on, the down hills are agony and Im overwhelmed by the amount of relay runners passing me to shake my hand and offer a cuddle. The must know I need it.






Braveheart car park!!!! I know Im almost there, Richie passes me in the van, shouts I have half a mile to go. Im aware there is a runner close behind, unaware relay or not. This injects life into my sorry legs. I spot my dad, shake off my race vest ready to hand to him. Its just around the corner. I shake off my tired running form, my short stride, lift my head up and go. Running faster than I have the entire race, I see me wee girl, in team colours too. I take her hand and we run into the car park together. I look at her as I cross the line, a moment 13 years in the making. Its hard to describe how much I enjoy sharing this moment with her. 


Fort William 19 hours 26 mins and 6 seconds.


I couldn't have managed the day without those who helped me. Theresa, daddy cool, my mum, my daughter, and all the Dumbarton team mates. Particularly those who I had the bet against who urged me on when they knew how I was feeling, and perhaps more importantly, put my tent up for me. Thanks, I owe you. 


A lot slower than my target. Im happy enough. Never satisfied. Sometimes I set myself goals, and making them or not the feeling can be bitter sweet. Its strange, something Ive wanted to achieve for so long, and putting a goal in 2 months before of a time which Ive not achieved, Im not overjoyed. Happy yes, estatic no. So the goblet has remained in its box so far. I wouldnt enjoy drinking from it when I dont feel like Ive lived up to my potential on the day. Bitter sweet as I say. Until next time...

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