Thursday, June 23, 2016

Race Report: Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May

As of the writing of this report, I'm a few months into my 26th year in this world, but I still act with the maturity of someone half my age.  Whether it's my complete lack of ability to budget and just jet off into the world collecting experiences, or the fact that I’m not one to usually try at things, setting A-goals and B-goals at a ridiculously low bar, or misplacing the fucks I have to give about life in general--there is a large part of me that ardently refuses commit to accept the potential consequences of my actions and run away from anything that gives me the potential of feeling regret.  

But once in a while, the world aligns its stars, tells you to grow a pair and to not fuck the moment up.  

The 2016 Ronhill West Highland Way Race was one of those times.  Bear with me.

this is actually Scotland, believe it or not.  LOOK AT ALL THAT GREEN

The West Highland Way (WHW) was commissioned in 1974 as hiking trail spanning from Scotland’s largest city (Glasgow) to the foot of Scotland’s tallest mountain (Ben Nevis) comprised of ancient military, coaching and drovers' roads.  Stretching 96mi, it runs south to north and shows an absolute cornucopia of Scottish landscapes.   It opened in 1980, but in 1986 an ultramarathon dubbed the West Highland Way Race (WHWr) was commissioned to run it from south to north, and it has gone on ever since in various iterations. 

The reason I got into this race was because my running sage at my workplace, Carl, had run this a few times and spoke very highly of it--he used it a lot as a ‘classic’ race that served as a benchmark for North American races, and strongly encouraged me to give it a go.  Unfortunately, this race took place on one of the world’s most busiest running weekends—the 3rd weekend of June, closest to solstice—and the two of us were usually occupied with running a few legs of the K-100 relay race in Kananaskis instead.  Fortunately, 2016 proved to have both these races on successive weekends instead, leaving me able to finally run this legendary race and then immediately fly home to pick up a leg the following Saturday. 

Back in August of 2015, I had jokingly suggested to Julia, my Fat Dog crew chief, that I’d bring her along to Scotland because of how many hours I was able to shave off my goal time with her presence, but only if the aforementioned schedule were to fall into place, and if I were to get past the lottery into the race.  To be quite honest, I had never expected the K-100 and WHWr to deviate schedules at that point, so I really wasn't expecting her to come out and back me up again.  In September, she befriended Braden, a Canadian who was soon moving to Edinburgh, and he as well offered his services in backing me up.   At that point the timing of WHWr was announced to be the weekend before K-100, but I had no hope of making it through the lottery and once again did not expect that I would be in Scotland in June of the following year.  Unluckily enough, I made it through the reverse-lottery on my first try later that year, and suddenly shit got real.   I also noticed Hal Koerner had made it in, so my attitude completely changed as I knew I was definitely going to witness something truly amazing.

One of the WHWr’s unique features is that unlike conventional ultramarathons, food and water is not provided at most of the timing checkpoints where splits are recorded, and thus it is absolutely imperative and a part of the rules that you must bring a crew so you can replenish foodstock as needed.   Henceforth a lot of your performance in the race is dependent on the presence of your crew and to keep you going.  Luckily again—Julia did some time in the UK and has an ability to drive stick on the wrong side of the road, and combined with how she did at Fat Dog—I thought she was an absolutely apt crew choice for this race. 

I had been very nervous leading up to this race, mostly because of all the money I had invested in this opportunity; besides airfare for both Julia and I, I also had to contend with ludicrously high UK gas prices, ridiculous FX rates spurred by the impending Brexit referendum, and needing to buy all of my aid station fare.  As such, I had an irrational fear of injuring myself for the silliest reason prior to the race and causing me to DNS (e.g. slipping while fording rivers, stubbing a toe on office furniture), and suddenly was running slower and less prior to the race. 

I had even planned to run the Canmore Quad the Sunday prior to the race (given I was able to run Rockwall the Friday prior to Fat Dog during 2015), but I uncharacteristically pulled out of that less than 24h before I was supposed to start so I could let my body recover instead, and opting to join a few slower-paced friends for an easy trail marathon (HA!) to calm my nerves.   All throughout that run, I kept wrestling with thoughts about regretting what I had just done, but my mind just steered to one quote from Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith, a book written by an average runner like myself documenting his quest to complete the Bob Graham Round.  During his successful attempt he had a moment of hesitation to finish the round off, and one of his pacers had said to him, “it would be a great pity not to make the most out of this opportunity,” which was essentially a nice way of saying “harden the fuck up”.   Sure, that was more of a short-term encouragement statement, but I thought it was especially apt for what I was about to go through.  I had already been blessed with solid race advice from Carl , Julia was able to get away from her family for a weekend to crew me, the K-100 was one week after WHWr, and a Saturday forecast for Crianlarich (around the midpoint of WHW) showing an unnatural amount of sun and low 20s.  And I had seriously contemplated running the Quad less than six days prior to the race, which would have surely cancelled that spot of luck out.  I had also come to the conclusion that maybe if I hadn't run Rockwall right before Fat Dog last year, I could have easily found the 17 minutes I need to have received a colored medal I had so wanted--so I was quite motivated not to fuck this moment up.  

As a means of rationalizing that statement, I started reevaluating my A-goal, which was to better my Sinister 7 time of just under 28h (given both WHWr and Sinister have similar gain and distance)—this was demoted to a B-goal and suddenly I was shooting for 25h, which I thought was plausible given my regular exposure to altitude back in Canada, relative to the highlands' sea level troughs.  

Julia and I both landed in Edinburgh on Thursday night to pick up Braden, and then we planned to depart for Glasgow the following afternoon to make the 1AM Saturday start.  Our original intention was to rent a midsize sedan for this race, but as luck would have it the rental car company upgraded us to a diesel Volkswagen Caddy Max van for no additional charge—it was the perfect crewing vehicle as it had plenty of height and was a seven-seater to be split by only the three of us.  Christening her as ‘Glenda’, we took her out Friday in a mild rain but by the time we got to Stirling to make a pit stop at the Castle for Julia, the clouds were already clearing.  We made a few more opportune stops at Brewdog and the west side of Loch Lomond for giggles (since I’d be running on the east side) prior to heading to Glasgow at sunset—a very late 10:30pm given its proximity to solstice.  After I picked up my swag and timing equipment shortly after 11pm (true story: to carry on the good luck from Fat Dog, I requested that my bib number be the same number as that race, 69), I went back outside to change into my race gear, where I found out we had literally parked across the street from Hal, who was now doing the same thing.  Not wanting to mess with his flow, I went back inside Glenda and tried to grab a few minutes of shut-eye (to no avail) while Julia and Braden hit the Tesco for some last minute snacks. 


To Balmaha (30k)

Julia and I, nervous AF at the start line.  (Thanks Braden!)
The start was pretty unceremonious—a simple air horn denoted the stroke of 1 AM and soon we were off from the Milngavie rail station into the dark countryside.  I knew I was running north, but the sky was still lit up by the sun, and I couldn’t tell if I was chasing the sun or vice versa.  In any case, the 30k up to Balmaha was rather runnable, mostly going across farmers’ fields and villages with nary a hill, so it was definitely easy to wander into a suicide-pace on this stretch.  Carl had warned me not to do this though as I would need my quads later in the day, and I tried to follow his advice, but unfortunately it was difficult to pick out the small waymarkers in the dark.  Further complicating this was minor sections of the WHW that were combined with roads, such as the B821 and the approach to Drymen, and for a tourist like me who had never been on the WHW, this required me to illuminate every shiny object along the road to check if it was a waymarker, or to find a Scottish looking/sounding? runner ahead of me who looked like they knew where they were going, and try to stay within visible range for as long as I could, regardless of whether they were at suicide-pace or not.  Naturally I picked the latter as it was the faster option.  I was also aided by the noise of closing fence gates—thankfully we didn’t gently close these so I was able to hear which direction we were supposed to be running to, and able to hear how close the next runner was behind me.
this is what a waymarker looks like. 
Drymen was around 20k out and allowed for crew access but I told Julia and Braden to drive on to Balmaha instead so they could catch some shuteye (my ETA to Balmaha was a smidge over 3h) and because there was a noise restriction in place at Drymen, which I didn’t want to risk disqualification over.  As a result I had packed 1.5L of fluid, which in retrospect was a little too much as I could see my breath that morning and hadn’t gone through even half of that at the 20k mark.  This particularly made the grind up to Conic Hill a little more difficult than it should have been, but my spirits were lifted by the sun rising back up so I could take my headlamp off, as well as a BBC2 crew at the top of the hill interviewing us on our grind for The Adventure Show. 
“Good morning!”    
‘Good morning!’  
“How are you doing?”
‘I’m alright.” 
 “You enjoying yourself?” 
‘I think so.’
And that's how I represent us Canadian trail douchecanoes.

To Rowardennan (43k, 50th place at Balmaha)

I got to Balmaha when I wanted to—3 hours and 13 mins—and took about three minutes to swap out into smaller fluid flasks and get some solids in me as I hadn’t stopped moving since Milngavie and wasn’t eating consistently, and to get a swig of my trademark pickle juice.   I ran into Helen from the Miwok 100k here and gave her a hug before heading out to Craigie Fort, where it was a little more undulation that kept it runnable but unfortunately my mind wasn’t engaged enough for me to stay awake, so I was having trouble with keeping my eyes open by the time I got to Sallochy and was losing position quickly.   I had brought 200mg caffeine pills to counteract the effect of jet lag on the 1AM start; unfortunately I had not ingested any back at Balmaha and had none on me.  I even jumped into Loch Lomond just outside of Anchorage Cottage so that the cold water would wake me up, but the effect of that only worked for about half an hour.  I decided that once I got to Rowardennan that I’d pass out for four minutes while Julia and Braden would refill my pack, but unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans.

For those of you who have never been to the west side of Scotland, highland midges are tiny-ass mosquitos that attack in swarms.  They are usually unkillable because they are just so small; however they can be deterred by keeping moving constantly, wearing netting or insect repellant.  You can usually find them on a sunless and windless day next to moist ground, such as the one beside Loch Lomond spanning Balmaha up to Beinglas Farm, where they will swarm your eyes and respiratory system.  Naturally, as soon as I got past Rubha Fhuar a’Chois my calf panties were hit with this massive burning sensation.  I looked down and couldn’t see any blood, and wondered what it was, until I breathed in an entire swarm and realized what I had just ran into.  That gave me the adrenaline rush I needed as I instantly woke up and found my groove again, proceeding to hightail it to the next crewed checkpoint. 

To Beinglas Farm (65k, 63rd place at Rowardennan)

I stayed a little longer at Rowardennan to grab some warm soup and a caffeine pill, as well as to roll out my calves which was now suffering from midge bites and some cramping.  I heard from others here that the midges were the worst they had ever seen here (or in seven years, depending on how many WHWr finishes they had), and this was especially evidenced by the coating of midges now drowning themselves in my soup and Julia and Braden’s coffees.  Julia told me to take my net with me, so I ran with it under my trucker hat and shades, Invisible Man-style.  It didn’t take long for me to get accustomed to breathing through it, and my shades weren’t fogging up at all, so after a while I started overtaking poor souls who didn’t have a net on them.

The WHWr used a newly constructed lower route at Ptarmigan Lodge this year, which took us lochside on fjord-like rocky banks instead of a higher route; I suspected this was a detour for us agile runners since walkers and their heavy rucksacks would likely not be scrambling all those rocks, and we'd end up staying out of each other's ways.  I passed a few more runners here; I’m not sure if it was because I had scored some last minute knife-ridge running two weeks prior to the race, or because the caffeine pill was kicking in, or because of the midges, or a bit of everything—but in any case it felt good for me to undo the carnage between Balmaha and Rowardennan.   Somewhere after 50k I got to a runner who was keeled over and rubbing his eyes out; I asked if he was OK and he explained that he was having trouble seeing because of the midges. 

“It would be a great pity not to make the most out of this opportunity” was actually the first thought that came to my mind.  You’d think that the resulting response in a race was to just blow past him and chuckle, but instead I offered Graham my shades as I had enough eye protection from my midge net already.  I kept pace with him to make sure he wasn’t having any more trouble, which was OK as I probably couldn’t run too much faster than his pace at that point, but the pace we were moving at was around 6:2x/k and enough to keep reining in a parade of runners as we made our way down to Inversnaid while slow enough not to aggravate the caffeine pill I ingested.  Inversnaid was a stocked aid station because of restricted crew access, so neither Julia and Braden were here but I foolishly took a bump of Coke here—forgetting I had already taken 200mg of caffeine less than two hours before.  The Trossachs SAR team manned this station, and were in full midge netting from head to toe.  Graham had to return my shades because he had a drop bag here to tend to while I was able to get in and out in 30 seconds, but he said he was ok with muscling on the next section without them.  As for making the most out of that opportunity—I now have a new friend looking to also do the Ramsay Round together.

The technicality got increasingly higher on the next section as the lochsides got increasingly steeper; however as we got closer and closer to the north it gave me more motivation because the sun was shining over the hills of the east side directly to the west, and I knew that once we got to the Ardleish and up Cnap Mor, near the end of the loch's eastern hills, I would be exposed to the sun, and the midges would be gone.  I met Steven from LA here; like meeting John and Helen at Miwok 100K, I found out I’d be seeing Steven for the Avalon 50mi in January, and he’d try to help me get my Angeles Crest 100mi post-race transportation sorted out—I sometimes wonder how small this ultrarunning community is.  We traded stories about our respective running cultures and histories, and adventures across the sea in Stavanger.  Unfortunately I had to drop him around Blarstainge as I had a faster downhill pace, but warned him that I would see him again after Beinglas Farm as he seemed to have the appropriate goat skills for going uphill. 
I wore the net under my trucker hat, effectively giving myself a mitznefet when the midges were gone on the north side of Lomond.

To Auchtertyre (80k, 55th place at Beinglas Farm)

The midges were back at Beinglas Farm as it was windless, but by that time I had gotten pretty used to them and knew that I couldn’t feel their bites unless I wasn’t moving, so I knew I had to haul ass out of there as soon as possible to avoid adding on to my silly collection of bites.  I also had to change out my socks and shoes here as I had gone through 65k+ on my first pair of both.  Unfortunately, as I was slipping into my Rapa Nui 2’s I somehow managed to pull my right calf and gave myself a shin splint right above my right ankle.  I’m not sure how it happened—maybe it was a combination of foot swelling and improper shoe size, or because I was sitting on the ground to do this, but in any case I still had almost 2/3 of the race to run, so I needed to fight through the pain. 
just like Bragg Creek, but with zero trees!
Beinglas Farm was where I started to see a lot of hikers—they were a very courteous and gladly stepped out of the way while giving us encouragement; I even found a Canadian couple somewhere after the Falls of Falloch.  Unfortunately, the A82 ran very close to this section which gave the fantastic views an odd and cacophonic soundtrack.  Further complicating this section was the gradually increasing heat giving my shin splint hell, and soon I found myself jumping into the River Falloch and other creeks to keep cool and moving.   Steven caught up to me after Carmyle Cottage, and I really couldn’t get it together until I came downhill off Keilator where the lack of trees amped up the evapotranspiration effect of my thoroughly-soaked shorts and calf panties on my cramping muscles with the aid of a small headwind.  Things started clicking into place as we resumed an undulating landscape past Kirkton, and I found that as long as kept dosing my lower half and trucker hat in water every 30-40 minutes I was able to keep moving at a solid pace.  Of course, this means that I have so much work to do for Angeles Crest, but that’s for the next race report.

To the Bridge of Orchy (95k, 49th place at Auchtertyre)

a rare shot of Glenda.  (Thanks Braden!)
I got weighed at Auchtertyre, where apparently I had dropped to 68kg from 71kg at the start of the race.  This was likely from a combination of not eating back at Loch Lomond (because midges) and the speed at which I was moving at.  The official told Julia that I needed to get my weight back up by Kinlochleven, some 40ish k away, or be faced with being potentially held there until I got my weight up to something a little more sensible.  As a result, I spent 10 minutes inside Glenda forcing solids down the hatchet while Julia rolled my legs out and Braden changed my flasks out.  I didn’t have any issues with my loitering time anymore though, as I had made up the damage I did between Balmaha and Rowardennan, and I knew very well that as it was just before 1:30PM, had just under 25mi to go, I was finishing before 25h, and potentially within the same day.  I also found out later that day that this was where Hal pulled out of knee issues.

awkward dodge right before Tyndrum.  (picture stolen from Mark Wheeler)
After deliberately bloating myself I trudged along the River Falloch and along the undulation towards Tyndrum.  It was difficult trying to run and not get a stomach stitch but luckily there was a big-ass uphill across the A82 to the bottom of Beinn Odhar to settle things down, and it didn’t take long for me to pass Steven again.  Once there it was mild undulation across to Beinn Dorain, with plenty of streams to jump into given Scotland’s lack of trees on their hills.  I started to wonder if jumping into water this far downstream would aggravate my tick bites, or give my hair some sexually-transmitted sheep disease, but my mind always retorted with “it would be a great pity not to make the most out of this opportunity”.

To the Glencoe Mountain Ski Resort (112k, 39th place at BoO)

rolling into the Bridge of Orchy.  (thanks Julia!)
I reached the Bridge of Orchy still in high spirits, but by now the sun was sky high and uncharacteristically hot as balls.   Despite the next checkpoint only being 11 miles away, Braden packed me 1.5L of water just in case—it was definitely the case once I found out there was barely any tree cover as the trail seemed to skirt the borders of forested areas after the Mam Carraigh, which took a toll on slowing down a few other runners.  It certainly reminded me of running in the desert at Big Bend back in January—not a single tree but spectacular views—however, there were plenty of streams to jump in this time around, especially at the foot of Meall a Bhuiridh, which was garnished by the presence of cottage ruins from centuries past.  Continuing the theme of ‘Not Scotland’, a couple paragliders appeared into view towards Beinn Chaorach, chasing thermals in a country I would not have expected to have thermals at any time of the year.  Naturally, Braden was right—I finished most of both my flasks by the time I got back to Glenda. 
just past jelly baby hill.
baking in the desert

To Kinlochleven (129k, 37th place at Glen Coe)

Julia told me she had bad news at Glen Coe—which turned out to be that I only needed to average 4mph to finish prior to sunset, and 3mph to finish within the same day.  I thus spent a little more time inside Glenda getting my weight up, and she also advised that perhaps picking up a rock right before getting reweighed and putting it down my pants would be a good idea.  I had to change out my Rapa Nui 2’s to my SpeedGoats now as they were thoroughly soaked, but I could also definitely feel the foot swelling and shin splint being exacerbated.  In any case—it was just after 4:45pm and I had just under 6 hours to go until sunset—which was around 30km, and I felt like I could definitely hike-run that sucker with my messed up gait.  I pounded down another caffeine pill and ate some pasta salad before heading out towards the sploosh-tastic landscapes marked by the majestic Beinn a Chrulaiste and Stob Dearg. 

hills for days

The Devil’s Staircase was the steepest section of the course, composed of seven-ish switchbacks up to a pass between Beinn Bheag and Stob Mhic Martuin.  I had been looking forward to this section of the course all day long as I predominantly don’t train on undulation and do steeper mountains a lot more.   It was surprisingly busy for that time of day, with a mixture of some daring mountain bikers trying to make the most out of the scree, as well as hikers doing a WHW charity walk having started from Fort William on the same day.   I maintained my pace and bombed it downhill on the other side, reeling in a few more runners on the way.  I remembered what Julia had told me about ‘shitting a brick’ and picked out a solid rock that I could easily fit between my briefs and shorts.  Unfortunately a BBC2 drone caught me sprinting downhill with it in my right hand, so I don’t know what that’ll mean, but I got to the Kinlochleven checkpoint just fine and wedged the large rock into my ass crack as soon as I saw a race official.
top of the stairs.  it's hard not to stop here.

To Fort William (152k, 35th place at KLL)

While I was being weighed, Julia saw that I actually followed through with her advice so she distracted the officials behind me with random questions about driving to Fort William.  The scale read out 71.8kg so now I was above my start weight, but the rock in my pants was probably just a bit over .5kg and was likely to have been unnecessary. 

At this point the sun was starting to set and had changed into a yellower color, so I knew I was cutting it close if I wanted to finish before sunset.  I trudged up the final steep hill of the day, a pass between Meall na h-Oinsich and Stob Coire na h- Eirghe, which soon revealed a long valley tracking the Allt Narthrach creek stretching for more than 10k.  A strong headwind had now picked up, resulting in me putting my arm warmers and gloves back on, but I found that it also cooled my quads and calves a little more effectively once I splashed water on them.  Despite losing my place on the uphill grind earlier, I was able to recover my position by the time I got to Lundavra with seven miles to go, but I realized that my watch was indicating that this was a 98mi race, contrary to the race course being 95mi long.  In any case, I had been told the bonfire here usually fucks with your head if you're hallucinating bad, but I had been running so fast they hadn't even lit the fire out yet, and they were blasting Queen's 'Don't Stop Me Now' as soon as I saw the group assembled there, so I was still in good spirits regarding running a longer race.  

Still on pace to finish before sunset, but now with my fuel intake constrained by the fact that I desperately wanted to drop a deuce (after not having done so for an entire day), I managed to meet up with Julia and Braden about a mile in from the Braveheart car park, and after inquiring about the actual distance remaining on the course, I elected to just run it in at a sub-6min/k pace, get my timing chips off, and then keep running all the way to the toilet.  They took my vest off me to expedite it, and soon it was just me running all by myself—no phone to call for help or take selfies with, no light to use in case the sun fell off its axis, no Oreos to receive calories from—it was turned into a simple, basic run, just focusing on the fundamentals of putting one foot in front of the other.

After what seemed like an eternity of running on the sidewalk beside the A82, I finally reached Lochaber Leisure Centre and chipped in to receive a finish time of 21:27:22, with my shades still on; sunset that night would have been an equivalent of around 21:30 or 21:31 so I was quite pleased with how it turned out.  I got reweighed at the finish and was the exact same weight I was at Kinlochleven, so I definitely didn't need that rock in my pants earlier.  

sprint to the finish (thanks Julia!)

I’m not going to lie—this was the first 100ish miler where I felt good about my finish, ever, despite not being able to walk properly for 24h due to my shin splint.   I blew my legs out early at Sinister 7 last year and didn’t set any timed goals for it as it was my first one.  Fat Dog 120 was a multi-day sufferfest marked by just missing a higher-tier medal; then I was plenty-fatigued at Lost Soul; I wasn’t thinking for the duration of Javelina, and my 24h run down in Kansas was just a write-off in race conditions.   But this year’s WHWr gave me two big things, one of which is proof that I can run 100mi in well less than 24h (and faster than I did at my much flatter 24h run!).  

More importantly, it gave me proof that I’ve grown up since Sinister 7.  We usually tell our younger generations that they can do whatever they want when they grow up, but when you're an adult and do whatever the fuck you want, you're told to grow up.  I think that happened right prior to this race--the whole acceptance of the brevity of life requires an acceptance of realizing that you don't have time for all of this, so suddenly you're making every minute count for only the important things.  Not in a YOLO-you-can-sleep-when-you're-dead kind of way, but in understanding that in the grander scheme of things, the opportunities afforded to support what truly defines you are a privilege and does not grow on trees.  

We are all pretty fucking lucky to do the races we do, and sometimes we don’t realize how much of the opportunities that come our way we take for granted, as well as the privilege of good health and the time to train.  This was the first race in a long time where I committed to a preconceived plan of attack with intra-race objectives, and not doing everything by feel or exclaiming that  'yeah i'm just here to look at the scenery'.  (Not that I actually followed said plan at the WHWr--things just got out of hand after Rowardennan when I ended up sustaining a faster pace, and then I just went with it.  But I digress.)  I’m actually tapering well, and not going all cockstrong with trying to slot everything in one year by spacing out races across years at a time.  The stars completely aligned for me at the WHWr, and I realized just in time that I couldn’t just throw that perfect opportunity to high-grade my 100mi skills out by doing extremely stupid things.  

It may take a shorter amount of time for some people, and longer for others, but at the end of the day, once you realize what's important in your life and can finally define what 'savoring life' truly means to you, I promise you too will be a happier person.  

By the numbers
  • Time: 21:27:22
  • Official distance: 152km
  • Official elevation gain: 4569m
  • Placement: 32/198
  • DNF%: 20%
Tips for prospective WHWr runners coming from outside the UK
  • Midge spray and nets!  As of writing this report I am nursing a giant singlet 'burn' of midge bites that looks hilarious, despite having used both, so if you don't have any of these essential items it's going to hurt for days afterwards.  
  • Your crew does not need to worry about having to deal with too many cash-only transactions along the WHW.
  • Gas!
    • Hire a diesel if you can!  Despite DieselGate, TDi's are the way to go here.  
  • Logistically speaking this race is very demanding and requires a lot of pre-planning, so pick your crews carefully and ensure they can drive stick on the correct side of the road.  
    • If you can’t handle that, then an alternative race exists which is fully supported, but it’s just not as fun (unless you're going to do the Challenge iteration and tack on Ben Nevis) because of its size and the time of year it takes place at. 
    • But seriously, there are lots of eager runners looking to crew for the race at this Facebook group here.  As long as you treat them well you should have no issue with finding an entourage.  
  • If you are seriously contemplating running either race, I’ll be happy to lend you my waterproof XT40 map.  Still hasn't been used as toilet paper yet.  
  • Kissing gates.  Embrace them because stiles after 40 miles will be hilarious.  
  • If you need late night food at Fort William, the Esso on the A82 by Inverochy Castle is open 24h.  
Other stray observations:
  •  Despite my photos above, this race report does no justice to the magnificent scenery we saw that day, or what it took for my crew to deal with me being a total trail diva, so I told Julia to put together a crew report/photo album for public enjoyment when she gets back from the UK.  It may take a long time to upload.  
    • It may also be significantly darker than the prose of this report, but at least it'll be funny-dark.  
    in the meantime, I'll let Pam describe how Julia, Braden and I all felt about the scenery north of Auchtertyre.
  • Does everyone in the UK just use ‘well done’ as a cheer?  Asking for a friend.
    •  Julia tells me that everyone else was amused by her heckling of me because that's something nobody does in Scotland.  huh.  
  • Things not Scottish about this race:
    • I got sunburnt.  IN SCOTLAND.  
    • I was racing paragliders at one point.
    • Ice was in high demand for filling buffs.
  • Pro tip: Want to mess with the heads of all the runners behind you who are hunting for a certain place?  Run with more than five pacers at a time!
    • This seriously happened to both Carl and I.  I know there's nothing illegal about it since the WHW is a public right-of-way--but I don't think you need an entourage for this race.
  • This lady.  The 'elderly people' sign is about 0.1mi from the finish. 
Shoutouts and such:
  • Dearest Julia: you are my lucky star!  thank you for coming to the party once again, and showing me that I am the worst at guesstimating how much time I will actually take at my races.  thank you for forcing me to slow down and eat despite my insistence on storming the castle, and relentlessly heckling me as I had requested, much to the chagrin of the locals. thank you for chasing me off Glenda's rear end when I found it a little too cozy, and for massaging my gross sweaty midge-eaten legs.  I've said it once, and I'll say it again--anyone who is blessed enough to have you as crew straight up owes their life to you. And the fact you're now 2-for-2 in shaving off at least 3 hours off my goal times is proof that your presence is invaluable.  Thanks again for sharing this adventure of a lifetime, and being a part of this amazing run.  Stay awesome!  xoxoxoxoxo
    • Brayden: I know you've already said you're the luckiest guy in the world, but seriously bro--YOU HAVE NO FKING IDEA.
  • Braden: thanks for opening up this part of the world to us and hosting this clueless Canadian tourist!  this Scottish adventure could not have happened without your local knowledge, your hilarious friends and street smarts, and I know it was hard to crew me without feeling any FOMO at all.  I'm already looking forward to coming back to do the Ramsay Round with you, but in the meantime--I hope everything falls into place and you get yourself that Glenda II.  Best of luck, and #SPRINGBREAK!  
  • John/Helen: sorry I had to jet before prizegiving and the afterparty, but congrats to you John on your PB!  I appreciate all the advice you both have given me since that Trails in Motion event, and--don't take this the wrong way--you both are true epitomes of the elders of this sport.  Keep it classy, and I look forward to returning soon.  
  • Carl:  Sorry, I really had no intention of coming within 45mins of your PB.  It just happened!  It's all your fault though, for giving me all that solid advice on the course.  Thanks for planting the seed in my head three years ago--it was just as epic as you described it.  
  • Ian and the gang: Kudos on another successful race.  I know you suffer as much as us with the 1AM start--and then some, because a point-to-point like this takes serious logistical planning.  You all have my gratitude.  All of it.

Up next:
  • If you’re running the Powderface42 back home, I will be captaining the espresso station/dance club at the intersection of Ford Creek and Powderface Road, about midway through the race.  (Don't worry, we'll actually have real foodstock.)
    • Spectators/hecklers are welcome to come by and hang out, as long as they only prove to be a distraction to the runners.  I’ll make the drinks. 
  • If you’re running at Sinister 7, I will be at the CP5b/6c aid station (Pipeline S) during the ENTIRE RACE (that’s 3pm to 11am!).  Come say hi!
    • If you are looking for double-stuffed Oreos, the password is 'fidelio'.  
      • This is not a sexual entendre. 
  • The next race I'll run at will be an actual 100miler at Angeles Crest, but in the no-crew no-pacer Solo division.  
Nothing is beneath you if it is in the direction of your life.  
--Emerson or Fitzgerald, depending on who you ask

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