James Stewart, ultrarunner

Race Report: WHW 2019


0100 on the longest day (or the nearest Saturday to it) is a very special place in the Scottish ultra running calendar. It is when Scotland’s classic long distance race, the West Highland Way  (WHW) ultra gets underway. 

Me and two legends. Pic, Adrian Stott

For most reading I imagine the WHW is well known. In short, it is a point-to-point trail from Milngavie near Glasgow all the way north to Fort William. From lowlands to highlands; lochside to military road; and glen to glen – moor to moor, the WHW is as beautiful as it is gruelling. 

2019 was only my second time running the race. I’ve thought a bit about what I would write here. A race that takes between 14-34 hours has so many subplots and twists that it could be one long post. 

Let’s keep it short. I went into the race faster, fitter, lighter and stronger than when I won in 2016. It was a fair aim to try and best that time. However, for a number of reasons I can begin to lean on, and some I will never be able to discern, the race got away from me. 

I was pretty much on my plan until Rowardennan (42k). In fact, I was 1 minute inside my intended pace. And I was feeling good. It was clammy but I was hydrating fine so wasn’t worried. I was eating well too. 

By 50k my energy had slumped. It was on the face of it quite dramatic. The best way to describe it is like when an iPhone loses charge in the ice-cold winter air. And I didn’t have a charging point on the lochside to use. 

From there it was really a battle to move with a purpose. But, whilst I ran a couple of hours longer than I would have liked to, it wasn’t exactly a disaster. I may have felt it was at the time. Then I reminded myself of the whole point of me doing this sport isn’t for podiums, medals and trinkets. Hell, I don’t even own the goblet from 2016, the buckle I won at Rocky Raccoon or trophies from other races. I’ve given most of the stuff I have won away. The thing that I own that I want to keep is in between my ears. 

And thus, Saturday became about that. 

Jelly Baby Hill. Pic: Clark Hamilton

The long story short is I came in 3rd place around 16:42. I knew my race was done across Rannoch Moor and just managed my effort from there. 4th was way back and 1st was way ahead. 

My crew played it canny with me. Never showing too much sympathy and always moving me forward. I didn’t sit down but I did walk at times. They worked miracles in finding me soup and coffee when my whims desired it. And they were there with kind words and ass-kicks. Skoosh and Andy have been over the course, literally, before. But having Louise there was special. Not a trinket. A memory. 

One of the key things that kept me going was knowing there was a whole bunch of folks out there that I knew and had some serious connection and interest in seeing how they’d get on. Many who’d be in the 30 hour+ range! 

When I had moments of selfishness, when I felt sorry for myself I thought of Scott, Erica, Lynsey and the likes. They were looking at two nights on the course. Pushing the limits of what should be possible. When I finished I checked in on them all. Excited to see them push on. Who am I to cry about an extra hour or two when folks are taking literally twice as long?

The 2019 WHW wasn’t to be the day I wanted, but it was a day I’ll cherish. It was a gorgeous day, on a gorgeous trail surrounded by some gorgeous people. For that I am grateful. 

Pic: Louise Stewart

Congrats to Rowan and Siobhan for cracking runs; both times were exceptional. Those names I mentioned above, all got their hands on a goblet. So happy about that. And, Martin had a storming race. Seeing big Barry take 4th was so pleasing too. 

But, no post about the race can be regarded as complete without mentioning the people on the course. There’s so much goodwill out there. To me it feels personal, but it’s just normal. The volunteers are so nice. Without them this doesn’t exist and is always appreciated. 

Of course, Ian Beattie (reluctantly, I am sure), gets a lot of the plaudits for being RD for 10 years now. I cannot thank him and his team enough for making this event happen. Adrian, Sean, Sandra, John (x3), Helen, Julie, Noanie, and the list goes on. Today I say thank you, again. To each and everyone of you. Perhaps more seductively for me, I say thanks in advance also, for this will not be my last time running the old trail. Not by a long way. 

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6 replies to “Race Report: WHW 2019

  1. Great blog James, really honest and authentic. I’m inspired by anyone who can run the West Highland Way; I walked it and took 4 days lol! It gives inspiration to us novice runners that everyone feels that energy slump sometimes but the key is not to give up. I remember you saying to me just before my first half marathon in Lisbon, ‘just keep moving and enjoy the experience’ that stuck with me. I had myself pulling out after the first mile the way I was feeling going into it but your words kept coming into my head. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience, kept moving and completed it with a time below my expectations. Thanks!

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