Irvine Athletic Club

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Way Highland West
December 22nd - 23rd , 2006
by David McLelland

This is my account of the run my good friend Tim Downie and myself did on the 22nd -
23rd December. As you may guess from the title we did the 95 mile West Highland Way
with a difference.

Some Background

The West Highland Way Race is run from Milngavie to Fort William close to the longest
day of the year with a 35hr time limit. This year I entered the race and got to know Tim.
We did some training runs together on the West Highland Way. On one of the runs, Tim
fractured a bone in his foot. That put an end to his West Highland Way Race. I continued
to train and carried on and completed the race in 21hrs 24mins 9secs.

How it all began

Tim was disappointed in not being able to run the West Highland Way Race so The Way
Highland West was born. Tim came up with the idea of running the West Highland Way
on the shortest day of the year and since the race was on the longest day and run from
Milngavie to Fort William, why not run it from Fort William to Milngavie? Hence the
run name
Way Highland West .
Tim asked around if any one was up for the run and me enjoying a challenge said I was
up for it. No one else seemed to be up for the run (I wonder why ?).


Training for the run was never going to be a problem for myself as I regularly run 80 -
120 miles a week with long runs from Ardrossan to Ayr and back being quite a regular
occurrence. The distance of the race did not bother me and as I had already run it earlier
in the year and mentally I knew what I was letting myself in for. The only thing that
could have really caused us some problems was the weather and the fact that we would
be spending 16.5 hrs in the dark. The time of year the run was planned for and location
of the run meant that we would have to be prepared for any type of weather. So some
investment in some good technical gear that was warm, wind & waterproof and had good
wicking was called for. Then the fact that 16.5 hrs was in the dark some good quality
head torches were called for as well.

Then the training runs began. We knew that a lot of time would be spent in the dark and
we would have to do some long runs in the dark in preparation.
We started off with some long runs along the river Ayr testing out equipment and head
torches. Then, once happy with our choice of head torches etc., it was time for a couple
of long runs on the West Highland Way in the dark. These went well giving our
equipment a good test .
Training was going well and we then had to get our sponsorship campaigns under way
Tim was going to raise funds for ALZHEIMER SCOTLAND.
Myself, I decided to raise funds for West Sound Radios CASH FOR KIDS.
Training sorted and well under way. Sponsorship underway, equipment sorted.
Just left our support crews to sort out. We decided that we would need 2 support crews
to keep us supplied and carry all our changes of gear. We opted for Timís support crew
which consisted of Timís sister and daughter (Sue and Emma) to do the first section from
Fort William to Tyndrum and my crew which consisted of my parents (Hugh and Alison)
who would see us through the night time section of the run from Tyndrum to Milngavie.

So everything sorted, no excuses, we were set to go!

The Run itself

After some tense moments with car trouble on the Thursday morning we traveled up to
Fort William on the Thursday evening where we spent the night.
After some photos at the official sign post marking the end of the West Highland Way
(remember we were running north to south) it was 8.00am and were off into the darkness.
As we ran up the forest roads into Glen Nevis the sight of a large Christmas tree with
lights twinkling away was a very pleasant sight. The dense forest parts in the beginning
meant we needed head torches for the first Ĺ hr or so of the run. Conditions underfoot
were better than expected after the rain the week before. We still had low cloud and
drizzle that stayed with us for the first 60 or so miles.
Most of the run was spent wet from the rain or damp from sweat. A change of clothes
was a welcome feeling but didnít last long.

We met our support crew at Lundavra, just 6 mile into run. This had two purposes, to
keep the crew from getting bored and just to check our equipment was ok.

Off we went again heading for Kinlochleven. On the way we were joined by a fellow
runner Peter who stayed with us to Kingshouse.

At Kinlochleven we had a short coffee break before heading up over the Devilís
Staircase and down to Altnafeadh. The journey out of Kinlochleven to Altnafeadh was
wet and when we arrived at Altnafeadh cold so a quick coffee break was in order. After
that, we set off heading for Kingshouse and onto Blackrock Cottage. The rain kept up to
about just before Kingshouse. At Kingshouse Peter turned around to head back to
Kinlochleven and we were on our own again up to Blackrock Cottage.

At Blackrock Cottage we stopped for a feed and a change of clothes before heading up
over Rannoch Moor. We were on schedule and hoping to get over the moor before we
lost daylight. The rain had eased and we were only getting a slight drizzle here and there
so the run up over the moor was not too bad. We got over the moor in daylight and met
our crew at Victoria Bridge for some more warm drinks and more changes of clothes.
Off we set again heading for Bridge of Orchy hoping to make it before dark.

We got into Bride of Orchy just as it started to get dark around 4pm. Here more warm
drinks and time to say goodbye to the first support crew and hello to our head torches
that will supply our light for the next 16hrs. Once again, off we set into the dark.

Tyndrum, 17:50: We met up with our second support crew and time for another feed.
The local fish & chip shop called. Time for a large plate of chips, not that a large plate of
chips was a good idea as it sat heavy for a long time. Anyway, off we set once again into
the dark. The next section was relatively flat but the chips didnít help and we saw the
support crew at the A82 cross over before heading up and over heading for the A82
tunnel .

A82 tunnel 20:30: This was a painful stop as I swung my leg over the crash barrier my
right hamstring went into cramp and felt as if it was ready to burst out my leg . A few
moments stretching helped and then some more warm drinks as the support crew told us
of how they had had a visit from the local police wanting to know what they were up to.
When they explained that they were support crew for two runners running the West
Highland Way on the shortest day in the dark, the words mad were murmured. Whether
they were talking about them or Tim and myself you decide. Anyway, off we set heading
for Beinglass farm and our last checkpoint before a long hard stretch down the loch.

Beinglass Farm 21:45: Another chance for some warm drinks and food. This next
section is a long slow section and it was 4 Ĺ hrs before we met our crew again so before
setting off a thermos was packed into my backpack for a stop at Inversnaid. The section
between Beinglass and Inversnaid was slow as the path is very rough and at some points
the path was under water because of recent rain. At other points the path was washed
away so this section turned into an assault course rather than a path and we were glad of
two good head torches to find the path at times. We were both glad to reach the
Inversnaid hotel at around 1 am. We had our coffee in the hotel bar then went on our
merry way heading for Rowardennan. Conditions under foot were a little better in this
section although a little hillier.

Rowardennan 02:30: Time for another stop. Some bacon rolls and soup were in order
and another complete change of clothes. Conditions were now starting to get a little
colder and we had to be aware of hypothermia. Conditions were not extreme but with
being damp with sweaty or wet clothes we had to keep an eye on each other. Off we set
heading for Balmaha. This section was much easier under foot than the last two sections
although sections of the path were washed away and the odd little hill to go over.

Balmaha 05:20: Another stop, more coffee and refuel our supplies before heading up
over Conic Hill and down into Drymen. By this time, the water and sports drink in my
backpack was cold and I started to feel it chilling my chest. I found myself changing my
fluid bottles for warm ones from the crew vehicle, taking on more fluids than usual and
only using my bottles to just stay hydrated enough between check points then taking on
plenty of fluids at check points. At this point in the run this did not bother me as I had
done some training only taking in fluids every 2-3 hrs .

So off we set up over and round the Conic Hill heading for Drymen. It was a cold
section and as we climbed it got colder and with every breath misting up in front of you
trying breathe out the side of your mouth became a must so that we could see where we
were going. Once at the top the downhill section was not much quicker as by this time
we had covered 80 miles and the legs knew it. This section going down is quite rough
and care had to be taken as it was dark and tired legs were screaming about the downhill
sections. As we headed for Drymen we were becoming aware that we were feeling very
cold so a phone call ahead to the support crew to heat up vehicle for us coming in was in

Drymen 08:00: We arrived cold but dawn was breaking and after a warm-up, more hot
drinks, we discarded our head torches. Off we went with only 12miles to go. We had
arranged to meet our crew Ĺ a mile on just after the field section at Drymen. There we
changed into fresh socks and shoes (hopefully our last change of the run, and it was).
Off we set again heading for The Beech Tree Inn . This section has a lot of road and
paths which after 83 miles can be sore on the feet and legs so the fresh shoes were a
godsend .

Beechtree Inn 09:45: Only about 7 miles to go. Just as well the pub was closed! We
deserved a drink so we settled for more coffee and some chocolate. Off we set and along
the way, we met some other fellow West Highland Way runners who were on a training
run heading north. After a quick chat and them telling us how good we looked we were
off again (they probably lied just to make us feel better).

27 hrs 52 mins and 95 mile after starting we arrived at Milngavie railway station to the
cheers from family and friends .

We Did It!

The run I enjoyed mostly. The cramp at the A82 tunnel and the chill in my chest was
about the only problems I had during the run and maybe too many chips at Tyndrum.
All of these things to be learnt from for future events.

To our knowledge, we are the only two people to have run the West Highland Way from
Fort William to Milngavie on the shortest day of the year.

For Alzheimers Scotland Tim raised £850
For my charity CASH for KIDS I raised £800

Future Events

I seem to remember Tim saying something at the finish that if I come up with other
similar ideas not to phone him (I donít think he really meant it )

Well there is always the Southern Upland Way to think about.

What the future holds for me.

I would really like to give Landís End to John OíGroats a try in around 14 days. But
that's another matter. The shear logistics of it all will take more planning than running it.
The organization of back up vehicles and crew for 14 days will be the hardest part
without even thinking about the cost involved.
So at the moment I will have to settle with This years Highland Fling / The Devil OíThe
Highlands and the West Highland Way Race with the odd marathon here and there for
good measure.

I would like to thank
Tim for coming up with the idea.
The back up crew Sue / Emma / Hugh and Alison without whom it would not have been


To everyone who sponsored both Tim and myself.


David McLelland