Photo credit: Thomas Loehndorf - Taken at 89 miles on the WHW, near Lundavra
Scottish and GB Ultra Runner from Croy, Scotland. James started running many years ago but always at a purely recreational level. In 2014 James ran his first ultra and was hooked and decided to explore just what he could achieve.
His aim was to be competitive as a Veteran by the time he reached 40. In the last 12 months he has completed the following races:
James is also Race director for the Antonine Trail Races, two tough but friendly trail races in Croy (near Glasgow).
Race Report - West Highland Way Race - June 2016
The West Highland Way Race is long, 95 miles of ups and downs. There are fast sections and slow sections. It is imperative that in order to compete you are on top of your nutrition. My diet up until even December-15 was pretty awful, lots of unhealthy and sugary snacks, and garbage calories. I've made a lot of changes and have some more to make.
In the Anglo Celtic Plate I suffered really badly from a dodgy stomach, especially in the second half of the race. My food choices were poor in the race, and at that intensity I paid the price.
Lots of reading, pointers from friends and experimenting after the ACP meant I was able to find a formula that would work for me. Essentially that involved taking in about 50% of my calories via drink and the rest via homemade foods where possible. Then I'd have some go to foods to support when I felt the need. I practiced my nutrition on various training runs, including 2 days on the WHW taking in over 60 miles. The Glen Lyon race in May was my way of testing out my kit and food/drink strategy in race conditions.
The West Highland Way Race:
The WHW is an iconic race. My coach Paul Giblin has broken the CR and won in the last three editions. Robbie Britton is the 2nd fastest man ever and didn't even win that year. The past winners include Terry Conway, Jez Bragg and the legendary Don Ritchie.
It is a trail where giants of UK ultra running have trod and this year a worldwide giant in Hal Koerner was over for an assault on the race. In addition, Kris Brown, Stuart Mills and Adam Zahoran arrived with significant pedigrees. There was a fair smattering of local talent on the start line too. I had a solid plan pre-race that I felt would get me in position to compete at the sharp end of the race.
As soon as the race started a group of four shot off and opened up gap. I was happy to let them go and stick to my own plan. You can't win an ultra of this length in the first 30 miles but you can lose it. The 1am start offers a unique perspective as instead of running from light to dark you do the opposite and by Conic Hill at 16 miles I could see head torches four minutes ahead. At the top of the hill I moved into 2nd place where I would sit for the next 40 miles.
The first 52-53 miles of the WHW is also The Highland Fling route. The closing 42-43 miles is the Devil of the Highlands route. I much prefer the top half. My aim was to get through The Fling in a decent time but on a pace plan, after that it was all about racing. I was 9 mins down on Kris at the checkpoint at 51 miles, and resolved to get that gap closed by Glencoe (70 miles).
It was pace plan to for The Filng, and then race plan for The Devil.
I took the lead at around 58 miles and ran home from there. I almost made the fatal mistake of easing off too much across Rannoch Moor and The Devil's Staircase as Adam in 2nd closed to 4 mins at the last checkpoint, but I regrouped and used the energy I had reserved to cover the last 14 miles in a time which was 16 mins quicker than my pace plan allowed for, and to win by almost 17 minutes in the end. A classic example of using the pace plan as a framework but when you need to race, you race.
I crossed the line in 15:15:59, the third fastest person ever with only Paul (3 times!) and Robbie faster. To win this race is incredible and beyond what I thought myself capable of even this time last year.
Race day nutrition:
In really simple terms, I had a plan to get 250-300 calories down my gullet every hour. I would get around half of this from Tailwind, the other half from home-baking in the main. I like Tailwind. It agrees with me but I don't see it working for me as the only source of calories. Augmenting with nice baking gives me a good mix of decent foods and energy from the drink. Slow and quick release carbs. It took around 7 or 8 long runs and races before I got the balance right.
The home-baking I had was a mix of vegetable soup, banana bread, sweet potato brownies and cocao balls. In addition, I had a couple of Muller Rice pots later in the race and a Trek bar (coconut). I would take a quick gulp of Coke and water at each checkpoint too for a different taste as well. For completeness, whilst I had gels to hand, and in fact carried one with me the whole way, I never took one the entire race. I see them as break glass options and prefer not to use if possible.
Importantly, I had not a jot of GI distress at all and was able to run pretty free on that front. I always felt that little and often boost from the Tailwind with a bigger bite every 90 mins on average was keeping on the right side of fuelled.