Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

It is coming up to 2 weeks since I completed the 95 mile West Highland Way Race and the body and energy levels are finally starting to feel more like they should. I don’t know what, exactly, I expected in terms of recovery after a 95 mile run but, other than the initial feet issues in the immediate aftermath of the event, I think I have fared pretty well. The cankles have thankfully subsided and the feet are, though distinctly unnatractive (nothing new!), at least starting to return to normal. The real test will be when I return to the Cairngorms this weekend and head out for my first post West Highland Way Race run. My main concern is that the ITB issues identified in the post WHW Race massage flare up yet again.

Someone tweeted about the apocalyptic weather conditions at the WHW Race and that phrase seems to have gathered favour amongst all of the runners and support crew. Completing the race in those conditions certainly added to the kudos of getting to the end but, already, the memories are starting to fade and I am turning my attentions to the next events – the 40 mile Clyde Stride, the 43 mile Devil O’ The Highlands, and the 37 mile Speyside Way Race.

I have certainly enjoyed reading the various blogs from runners, support crew and others involved in the race. Everyone has their own tale to tell, with a large number of them tales of woe and of facing adversity. I am not alone in having had a tough time at the WHW Race!

Throughout the race weekend, Mrs Mac took over tweeting duties, posting my progress to twitter at the various checkpoints. I spent some time looking back over my twitter feed and the #whwrace feed and it was great to see all the tweets of encouragement both to myself and the many other runners. Thanks for all of the tweets, they are appreciated.

I can only describe my appetite this past 2 weeks as voracious and I have found myself clearing cupboards, devouring everything from a stack of Pringles to entire Soreen loaves! I was shocked to weigh in at my usual weight this morning, despite my far from healthy appetite and I am taking this as some form of a ‘reprieve’ and as a sign that I should try to get back to my usual healthy diet as soon as possible. The last thing I want is to start pilling on the pounds, especially with the next race little more than a couple of weeks away.

I also felt a lot more tired than normal in the wake of the race and this was not been helped by the fact that I couldn’t seem to shake my normal sleep pattern. Despite my best efforts to continue sleeping past 6am I found myself wide awake and yet still tired! Sitting still for too long (even watching the football!) saw me dozing off.

So, on to the lessons learned, of which there were many.

1. I am nuts (it’s official!)

I know for a fact that a lot of people think I am nuts. Given how things went at the race, the list has undoubtedly grown! This ‘Lessons Learned’ post sees me try to take note of various things that I need to remember for future reference. At the same time, I also wear my heart on my sleeve in this post and hope that, in reading this, people will understand why I feel the need to continually challenge myself in this way.

2. Spend less time at checkpoints

Looking back at my times over the race, one potential future strategy jumped out at me – spend less time at checkpoints. I spent just over 2 hours at the checkpoints throughout the race, including 45 minutes alone at a single checkpoint. In my defence, this was at the 50 mile mark when I had issues with both diarrhea and projectile vomit! In retrospect, it is easy to say that this is excessive but, to me, the circumstances of my race explain the lengthy stops. One thing is for certain, under ideal conditions, with no stomach issues, I would like to stop for far shorter periods of time and this in itself would offer a considerable time saving.

3. Eat more (no excuses!)

Unpacking the carefully prepared food in the aftermath of the event, it dawned on me just how little food I had consumed. I did have the best of intentions, with a focus on eating real foods and a backup strategy of turning to gels. However, given that I couldn’t keep anything inside me, I gambled and chose to limit my intake. Looking back, this could have backfired spectacularly and I do think that my lack of energy by the end of the race was down to this. Lesson learned – regardless of how well (or otherwise) the day is going, you simply MUST eat.

4. Sports Beans are pure gold!

Sports Beans were the one thing that I could bring myself to eat in any volume, and especially from 50 miles onwards, when things started to really go against me. They will definitely factor into any future race plans. Mrs Mac was in town this week and came back with £20.00 worth of Sports Beans which certainly made me smile. Technically I made the classic mistake of trying them on the day as they were a late addition to my food supplies. However, this particular gamble worked and I am sure they kept me from running entirely on empty!

5. There will be weather!

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the race briefing was quite humorous, with the following gem in particular:

“Weather. There will be some. When the sun shines, it’ll be hot. When it’s raining, it’ll be cold and wet. If it’s windy, there’ll be less midges.”

Wise words! I had practically every bit of running kit that I owned in the motorhome and hardly used any of it. I went through 3 pairs of socks, 2 tops, 2 pairs of shorts and 2 waterproof jackets the whole weekend. There really was little point in changing too much, perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that my socks lasted all of 2 minutes after the first change before getting soaked through yet again! The lesson here is to expect the worst weather possible and then you can only be pleasantly surprised (or not, as the case turned out to be here lol!).

6. There will be chaffing!

Despite using BodyGlide and sudocreme I did get some chaffing. The worst region was an area I had not considered to be susceptible to chaffing, right at the top of the legs at the bottom of the buttocks. This totally new chaffing issue highlights what adverse weather conditions can do. The cause of the problem – 50 miles in soaking wet shorts, and yet, as discussed above, there really was little point in changing them given the conditions. The absolute worst way to ‘discover’ chaffing is to find out about it for the first time in the après event shower – definitely takes the shine off of a relaxing shower and introduces a whole new world of pain!

7. Your choice of support team is crucial

I think one of my biggest problems for the future is that there is surely no way I can improve on my support crew. I have no doubts that, without them, I would not have made it to the finish in Fort William. Despite everything that happened, they did not mention the dreaded DNF. My support runner Minty was without a doubt the man to keep me moving to the end and, unfortunately for me, Minty will likely be lining up on the start line of the WHW Race for himself next year. I wish him all the best and have no doubt that he will make it to Fort William.

Crew, I salute you!

8. I have a short memory

I think the most important lesson learned, and one that I think will be common to most runners, is that I have a very short memory where pain and suffering are concerned.

Last Sunday someone asked me what the best bits of the race were. At that point, I could only come up with the amazing send off that we all received at the start, and the race finish, basically missing out 94 miles of beautiful West Highland Way scenery! Fast forward a week and I was waxing lyrical about the events of the preceeding weekend – 3pm on Saturday to be precise. Last Saturday I was en route to visit relatives with Mrs Mac. 7 days previously, I was at rock bottom, covering the toilet of our motorhome with projectile vomit. ‘Reminiscing’ about overcoming this particular low I found that Mrs Mac was slightly less keen to cast her mind back and that she had obviously misplaced her rose tinted glasses!

Which takes me on to the next lesson learned – just how tough it was on all of our loved ones, friends, family and support crew.

9. It’s tough on your crew

In some respects, the job of the runner is easier. It is OUR goal to finish, OUR dream, OUR challenge to overcome. Meanwhile, our support crew endures pretty much the same levels of sleep deprivation without any of the benefits. Further, there is possibly even more stress on the support crews than on the runners. We run along to the best of our abilities. They, on the other hand, have to make the mad dash between checkpoints with no question at all over whether they arrive on time. Their runners race depends on it!

I don’t think I realised just how worrying it is for a loved one to watch you set out on something quite as arduous as the West Highland Way Race. I had briefed my crew beforehand about the possibility of seeing me at an all time low. Little did I realise at the time how true this would be. In all honesty, I thought I was merely going through the motions but, from speaking to all involved, I don’t think anyone would have placed money on me finishing after the events at the 50 mile mark.

The above realisation also makes the job of finding a support crew for the future that little bit more difficult. Do I really want to put everyone through this again next year and, more to the point, would they even contemplate it???

10. I am nuts (really, I am)

Despite all of my pain and suffering and despite the effect on my support crew, little more than 24 hours after the event itself I would not say no when asked if I would do it all over again. If anything, I had an instant goal for 2013 – Run the WHW Race again – only this time better and quicker and, with a bit of luck, without the problems that impacted so much on this years attempt.

11. I am selfish

I suppose the biggest lesson learned is the hardest one to take. In considering this event again, I am undoubtedly selfish, but I just cannot help myself. There is a passion, a fire burning inside me that needs to do this, that needs to constantly push myself, that needs to finish the event again with a quicker time. If only there was some way to make things easier for those who have to watch you put yourself through these things. As it stands, the only thing I can offer is that “it can’t be that bad again – surely” and “the first time is always the worst when tackling a new distance”.

The following quotation was, rather timely, posted on Facebook this week by ULTRAmarathonrunning.com

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to it’s old dimensions”, Oliver Holmes.

I think this is very apt as far as the past few weeks are concerned. Like adaptation in training, the mind itself adapts and expects, and it is with this consideration in mind that I now find myself looking forward to the next WHW Race, perhaps in 2013, perhaps later down the line.

The difference this time, is that I will step up to the line knowing that I can do the distance, that I have completed it previously, and with a little less self doubt than I had the other weekend. This in itself is an excellent adaptation and is possibly one of the best weapons that I could ever add to my psychological arsenal.


Cheers M1nty - With a bit of luck we can be a couple of successful nutters next year :o)



Yes you are nuts, but a successful nutter nevertheless.  Lots of first-timers don't make it to the finish line.  Anyway, you'll be fine next year - it'll be a piece of cake by comparison.  Maybe engage two support teams - and also a couple of runners - to reduce the burden on each crew member?

Maybe even someone from this blog site fancies the challenge of running support with you - I thoroughly recommend it to those seeking an eye-opener into this fabulous race but who are not ready to run it all, or even just someone who fancies running a couple of 10 mile stretches for a bit of fun :-)