Last year when I was out running with my new found Daftie friends Bob and Amanda, the subject of the West Highland Way Race came up. Wow, it seemed almost unimaginable to me but Amanda had it in her sights the following year, Bob spoke of it as a possibility, and I got quite carried away with the ‘we could support run for each other over the next few years’ chat and wondering if maybe I could do it a year or two after them and that way I’d be time served in supporting by the time I came to asking for help. Anyhoo, I blocked the weekend out in my calendar this year just in case Amanda should need me.
Well Amanda did get into this year’s race and I’m not too sure she even remembered that conversation but I did end up with the distinct honour of being her first support runner of the day, doing the section from Auchteryre to Bridge of Orchy with her. I had some serious stress getting up the road between roadworks, tractors, coaches and caravans – I arrived in Bridge of Orchy to drop off my car feeling stressed out and so bursting for the loo that the welcome hugs from David Ross and Lois Simpson almost went seriously wrong. David Meldrum then got me to Auchteryre in time for a Running Gannet hug and good chat with Bob, Clark and Cori the dog. I was awfully relieved to have got there in time, as Amanda was doing incredibly well and hitting checkpoints ahead of schedule. I popped over to the weigh-in area as I suddenly realised Sarah wouldn’t know I had arrived and would be fretting. And there was Amanda, being weighed in. Boy, was I glad to have made it in time – the thought of letting Amanda down on the big day just didn’t bear thinking about!
It was impressive to see the support crew spring into action to look after Amanda’s every need. Clark was in chef mode while Sarah and Bob got on top of kit changes like buffs and socks. I felt a bit of a spare part until Amanda was ready to head off and Sarah pressed some salted peanuts into my hands – my job to keep the chat going and get some salt into Amanda during my section with her. Challenge accepted!! In a mere three miles or so we’d see the crew again when Amanda could let Sarah know if she wanted a fresh t-shirt or not.
I’ve run the section between Auchteryre and Tyndrum a couple of times before so knew exactly what to expect. Amanda was apologetic about breaking to walk, her concern for her support crew was lovely but I do wish she hadn’t given herself a hard time about it. We were there for her and to do this her way, in the hope that whatever small contribution we made would help her have the race she wanted. Amanda has been out training on the WHW loads (a sensible strategy) so I quipped that we were arriving at her home from home as we passed By The Way – that got a laugh, good!
As we went through Tyndrum we met the support crew again – Cori was as pleased to see his mum as if it had been days rather than 40 odd minutes. Amanda accepted some milkshake (reluctantly, her pasta hadn’t really settled yet) and declined a t-shirt change – I knew I’d have to wait a bit to get some peanuts into her as she definitely wasn’t absorbing what was already in her stomach just yet.
We headed off for the next seven miles to Bridge of Orchy and in all fairness to Amanda, the conversation continued to be properly two-way; and now Amanda knows how I met Tom and I know how she wedding-napped Clark, amongst other things. I may give her a pop quiz later to see whether she retained any of that scintillating exchange 😉
I was really chuffed to be doing this section from Tyndrum to BoO, it filled a gap in my running of WHW to date – now I just have everything north of Kingshouse to do. I have been doing this over the course of this year though, unlike Amanda tackling it in one go – I am still in a state of complete and utter awe of her achievement!
Amanda was doing a great job but not giving herself anything like the credit she deserved. She really was moving well, running all the downhills, flats and (she didn’t think she did but she definitely did) run some of the undulations and when walking on the steep bits, and less steep but definite inclines, she was managing a very active walk. Having been a bit low on miles recently following a nasty cold, Amanda was quite frankly keeping me on my toes despite having about 50 more miles in her legs! At an awkward downhill Amanda felt cramp setting in so requested the peanuts – job done and I didn’t even have to get forceful about it! Thankfully she managed a couple of handfuls. Over the section she did also take on a gel, flat coke and some sweeties.
At one point we were behind a couple, one a competitor and the other a support runner – it made us smile when they held hands for a while. We definitely passed a fair few folk, including that couple and I understand Amanda climbed the rankings at every stage. Some runners I saw looked really sore, whereas Amanda’s movement looked quite loose and comfortable, although we did chat about how much harder she had found covering the first half than when she had done the Fling – the main supposition was that it had to do with the 1am start and how it screws with your body clock. Amanda gave me a pretty good summary of her race up to the point where I joined her, did I mention my awe at all?
Towards the end of our section, Amanda was getting a bit quiet when a car with a bike on the roof tooted (it was Bob and David) – I waved, saying don’t worry I can do the waving, no need for you to lift your arms – it’s my job to do that stuff for you today (other small things included jogging on to open gates, being more forceful with ‘excuse me’s’ to the walkers that seemed intent on ignoring Amanda’s polite requests to pass, checking she was OK for fluids and generally telling her how well she was doing – shame she didn’t believe me about that, but I bet she does now! Oh yeah and making sure she got safely over the road at BoO)
As we neared the checkpoint, Amanda texted her food orders ahead and as it came into view, she definitely picked up her pace – making me slightly wary at the road crossing. I was glad to deliver Amanda safely to the checkpoint, and I reported in some of the details to Clark and Sarah such as that cramp did occur but peanuts did the trick (I noticed Amanda was really not providing the info herself and I was slightly dismayed to see her burst into tears upon sitting down at the checkpoint – she was doing so well and everyone could see that except her). Amanda was about half an hour ahead of schedule. Amazing!
It really wasn’t that long before she headed off with her next support runner, David Meldrum. Clark kindly gave me some stew he’d just heated up for Amanda – it was delicious! Thanks also to Sarah for seeing me right with water too. It was lovely to be looked after like that when I really felt it wasn’t deserved for doing a mere 10% of the route! I was also really taken aback to receive a giftbag Amanda had put together for me – so kind and thoughtful! Team t-shirt, race buff, prosecco and goodies. Completely unexpected but very welcome indeed.
I was pleased to make myself useful by heading up to Kinlochleven with Bob and bringing him back to Glencoe from where he would run the next section with Amanda. On our way back to Glencoe, we got news from Sarah that Amanda was again well ahead of schedule so I drove like a bat out of hell – I hope Bob wasn’t too scared! At any rate we got there in plenty of time but as Amanda was expected soon, I thought I’d wait to see her again and check if David wanted dropped back at his car. Amanda was emotional again and feeling the cold when she sat down for some food. I really emphasised to Bob how scary I considered the roadcrossing just out of Glencoe and to please look after our tired runner – I’m sure he did not need my instruction at all but he’s ever so good natured that he acted liked I’d imparted great wisdom.
David decided not to worry about his car at this point so I headed home, promising that I would see Amanda at the finish. I got a quick chat with Audrey McIntosh on my way back to the car – she was support running for Sarah Booth, who also seemed to be going well, nice and steady. As I drove out of the junction, I saw that Bob was taking very good care of Amanda as they crossed the road – I knew he would.
Home, shower, quick dog walk, grab sleeping bag, bring the dog with me, jump in the car, pop through drive through (I know!) and head up to Fort Bill. Amanda had been consistently ahead of schedule so I decided not to have a nap at home as I didn’t want to miss her – just as well!! I got there just before 1am and had a bit of a walk with the dog and saw some folk finish before getting into the backseat of my car for a snooze about 2am. I got a text about 2.45am from Sarah concerned that I’d be aiming to get up for 4ish but luckily I was just around the corner in the car and was able to go straight to the finish. It was lovely to see Emma Hamilton and Helen Munro there too – I think we all felt pretty shattered at this point, which must be just a fraction of how the runners must feel. I saw Mike Adams finish, which was lovely after tagging onto his slipstream for a wee bit of the section I ran. Top bloke.
We got a heads up that Amanda was nearby and suddenly we saw her heading into the finish line – running and looking decidedly good for someone with 95 miles in her legs. Of course there were tears and hugs, and that poor, exhausted, heroic lady that had just run 95 miles automatically put her hand out to pat my dog – that’s how you tell a true doglover!! 26 hours and 7 minutes, almost two hours faster than estimated!!
I am not quite sure how I held it together when Amanda came over that finish line, it’s amazing how invested you become in ‘your runner’. There were loads of amazing performances at this year’s race but I realised after that I was entirely focussed on Amanda’s race and seeing her get safely over the finish line. I can definitely say it was an inspirational experience and I feel extremely honoured to have shared some of Amanda’s race with her.
I got home at 6.30am on Sunday and slept until 2pm, not waking until after the prizegiving had already happened – one day I’d like to actually see that…maybe one day claim a goblet? I chatted about that possibility with Amanda and Bob last year. I doubt you can know how truly hard it is unless you actually do it though. I am getting to know the route rather well and yes, I would like to think it’s something I can aspire to – 2017 or later though. It’s not just the distance you have to respect but also the terrain, not to mention building up the mental, as well as, the physical strength for it.
Thank you Amanda for both the experience and the inspiration to travel in your footsteps one day.