An ordinary woman's fascination with an extraordinary sport ... and the extraordinary people who take part

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

WHW Race 2011 - Sunday


I get about two hours sleep before waking at half ten.  Having missed most of the finish, I really want to see the prize-giving at midday.

I have more coffee and a long shower and feel a lot better than I think I should.  The fact that the sun is shining and it's a glorious day probably helps.  However I still take a can of red bull as a "just in case" back-up.

Only a few yards from the hotel, I spot a woman I recognise from the race.  Her name is Carolyn, and she was supporting her husband Neal who is walking slowly beside her.  I introduce myself and we walk to the Nevis centre together.  In previous years she has run the race with Neal but this year she has dropped out to allow him to run at his own, faster pace.

Walking through town, it's amazing how many groups there are heading in a similar direction ... and almost all containing at least one individual in very comfortable shoes and hobbling to a greater or lesser degree.

This is probably the best opportunity for runners and crews to meet up and there are lots of greetings, hugs and exchanges of race stories.  Before the race, everyone is so internally focussed and full of adrenaline, it didn't seem massively sociable, and during the race there is little opportunity.

Despite being a massive hall, it's very full and as more and more people come in, I end up helping to put out more chairs.  I feel quite guilty about sitting down but I'm reasonably sure that none of the people standing at the back are runners.

Regardless of position, every finisher is clapped and cheered by the whole audience.  Richie is clearly a popular winner, as well as being only the third man to win twice.  I'm stunned to hear that Kate has now won the women's race an incredible seven times.

Jan-Albert takes the microphone when he's awarded his second place prize and speaks of his Scottish mother who died only a few weeks ago.  He tells us how he asked her what he needed to do to win the race - she replied "be faster than Richie!".  Everyone laughs and there are tears running down my cheeks.

Some runners are not there to collect their goblets, having already left the town.  Bob Steel, a veteran runner, has as usual had to get "home to Stirling to milk the cows at 4am" and everyone laughs.  Those who are there have a variety of gaits to get them from their chairs to the front, some walk, some stagger, some hobble ... it's not always related to their finishing time.

A few groups leave immediately after collecting their goblets: shame on you, it wouldn't have hurt you to stay those few minutes longer.

In following a tradition started last year, the winners present the last goblets to the final finishers.  Today there are two final finishers (not including the sweepers who are technically the last people to cross the line); the boy and girl who left Kinlochleven at 5.00am, and there is a great round of applause as Richie and Kate give them their hard won trophies.  I am so pleased that George and Sandra got them to the end in time.

The presentation concludes with Ian confirming the date of next year's race.  I can almost hear a hundred brains thinking "I'm absolutely never doing this again ... but I'll just make a note of that date ...."

As the crowd breaks up, there is a final chance to catch up with friends and family.  Some of these friendships are kept up frequently through the year, others are annual events only but all equally heart-felt.

I finally meet the Pirate (who pulled out, having completed far more than should have been possible on his extremely minimalist training) and Lee, his fiancee who he actually met on the race.  It's a very fabulous ring sparkling on her finger.

I finally meet Sandra who now has bright red bruises on her ankles but is walking.

Karin greets me with another hug and tells me "never again".  Hmmm.....

I overhear a man trying to explain to his friend that he will have to come back again, as the number of goblets he has just doesn't look right on display.  I also hear a sentence that starts with the words "never again" and finishes with the runner being positive that he will be entering as soon as possible for 2012.

Ian asks if I have enjoyed the event and I tell him its been fabulous.  Do I want to do it again next year?  Yes if you'll have me!

I fetch my car from the hotel to give George and Karen a lift to their apartment.  Due to various logistical challenges, they don't have a vehicle here and their belongings are scattered through various cars.  Unlike almost everyone else, the boot of my car is almost empty so it makes sense.

A small group of us meet in the bar for a drink or two before heading off for a few hours rest.  Back at the hotel I fall asleep watching the sun dancing over the loch and hillside.

Sunday evening
In the evening, a larger group convenes in the Ben Nevis bar in town.  Some of us go upstairs to eat and I watch in awe as the two runners on our table devour a quantity of food totally incompatible with their physique.

Downstairs there are maybe 20-30 people from the race - some runners, some officials, some supporters.  Amongst them, I'm delighted to see, is Karen Robertson who was horribly ill during the race and withdrew at Glencoe.  Her crew were sufficiently concerned to have brought her to see the doctor.  Twenty-four hours later she looks like a different woman and is already talking of next year.

Sandra is there wearing a red dress that perfectly co-ordinates with her ankles.  She is under doctor's orders to elevate them as much as possible and sits with her feet on my lap, telling me how she started running for a 5k event in the Botanic Gardens.  I'm stunned that barely five years ago, she had to struggle to run that distance and has now completed 95 miles.  I'm also quite scared....

This is the time to relax and chat and catch up on each other's lives, to reconnect with old friends, to make new ones.

At closing time, a group of us head on to the Station Bar.  I suspect others followed and then decided not to - it's probably the only late opening bar in town and is full of drunk teenagers, snogging smoking and arguing in the street.  But we have fun, shouting and laughing over the music.  I can't believe that Keith can dance on those feet...


I thought I was going to enjoy this, but I don't think I realised how much.  I thought I might get tired and bored at some point during the night, but I never did. 

So to everyone who was a part of it, whether as runner, organiser, supporter, mountain rescue, etc I hope you realise what a special event you were part of.  Whether you won a goblet or not, whether you achieved your objective, I hope you enjoyed it (in hindsight at least) as much as I did.

I hope I see you again.

Milngavie Station Car Park, 1am, Saturday 23rd June 2012 ......?


  1. Another great write up ... well done and glad you've enjoyed being part of this crazy group but by the sound of things it looks like you fit right in!!

  2. see you there Julie, thanks for everything, without people like you this race couldnt run the way it does x

  3. Hi Julie! I remember you from KLL; I was one of Mike Raffan's crew. You can read my race report at which, you will be glad to hear, includes pictures of the penguins ;)
    I loved reading the perspective of events through the eyes of a marshall. You have a wonderful way with words and I found myself on the verge of tears whilst reading this - like I have with so many other race reports in the last 48hrs!
    I'm not an ultramarathoner - yet - but one day I will run this race, without a doubt :)

  4. Great report - lots of things were very similar to when I marshalled the full stint there last year! Unfortunately I didn't make it as far as Kinlochleven in the the race this year - next year! And maybe you will be there again! Caroline