Guinness World Record attempt
Our plan: 5 of us would run up and down each mountain together and then run the 500 miles between them in relay.
Planning for this challenge was not plain sailing. We hit a snag early on with two of our runners having to pull out due to injury. It was a tough decision for them, but when the body won’t respond there is little you are left to do but accept it’s not your time. After some searching we were fortunate to find another couple of runners who would not only be strong enough to meet the challenge but who also would fit really well in with the team. Bearing in mind we were all going to be holed up in a small mini van for the entirety of the challenge, some 65 plus hours, it was important that we could gel as a team.
Once they were on board we were able to start to really put things into place and move forward. Sadly, we were then rocked by another quite significant possible derailment when two of our support crew pulled out with 3 weeks to go. We quickly set about cajoling, incentivising and bribing friends in order to find replacements. The supporting role comes with little glory but it is a vital role and it’s not easy to find the right people. However, thankfully the Gods looked favourably on us and we found two lovely people who were willing to give up their time to support us in our endeavour. We were back on track. We paid deposits, booked accommodation, bought flights, and worked hard to get all the details in place.
The day for us to head up to Glasgow loomed and I found my nerves at the enormity of what we were going to try to do turned to excitement. I was really buzzing about doing a challenge, something exciting and physically demanding and very much an unknown.
The runners and crew from the West side of the country flew up to Glasgow and those from the East drove in the van. The journey took them a lot longer than expected, so we spent the day in Glasgow sampling just about every coffee shop in a 2-mile radius! We had a good laugh and bonded well as we idled away the hours. Once the minibus did arrive we pushed on up north to Fort William. Growling stomachs made us stop for dinner at a wonderful pub on the shores of Loch Lomond. This place was quirky to say the least, but they served a large hearty meal which was welcomed by all, the last good feed for a while!
We bedded down that night in a bunk house, after our early start of 4.30am we were keen to hit the sack. I slept like a baby and was a little reluctant to get up when the shrill alarm awoke me from my happy place! Challenge day had dawned and over a full Scottish breakfast we went over final preparations and ironed out last minute queries. We were set….
As part of this challenge we had decided we would all summit each of the mountains together. We were very aware that this would take its toll on us, no more so than on those runners among us who didn’t have much chance to train and prepare on hills due to the flat nature of their surroundings at home! Ben Nevis is a hulking lump of rock, the path up there well trodden and easy to follow. We were not taking it on lightly as we had been warmed the top was snow covered and the winds hammering the peak at 60miles and hour. We each had packs carrying water, full waterproofs, emergency bags, first aid etc two thirds of the way up we came across the first of the snow, it was surprisingly slippery. Hitting the snow covered peak was truly beautiful, it had a blue/green hue to it, the vista from up there quite gorgeous. Not that we could linger. Time was ticking and it was perishing, my fingers, covered by two pairs of gloves, began to go numb! The wind was indeed blowing fiercely but every now and again a gust would hammer you from the side and quite literally knock you off your feet. Not the time to be standing anywhere near an edge! We paused momentarily for a team photo to prove to Guinness we had indeed made it all the way to the top and then headed down with sleet hammering our faces.
Taking care not to slip we ran down and hit the car park in 3. 10 hrs. The first runner headed straight off on the first of many of his individual legs. We decided the optimum time to run each leg would be 60 mins. Most of the route was along paved road, but these first three legs were going to have to be off road. These sections on the West Highland Way would be broken into sections dependant on where the van could pick the runner up from. This meant they varied from 75 to 90 min in length. I was on one of these first sections and ran along the beautiful WHW. I was faced with another section of ‘up’ as I scaled half the height of Ben Nevis once more. The weather was again challenging in that I was met with snow, winds, sleet and a very boggy tack. The descent was down the well known Devils staircase. I was met on the road by the waiting crew. It was a fun section to run, remote and wild, but bitterly cold and wet and took it’s toll on my legs. I was aware I’d have to eat and rest well before my next run.
The way we organised the van was such that each of us runners commandeered two seats which became ‘our’ spot. You have a strange sense of ownership of your area when you are in a cramped space for a long time. You need the reassurance of knowing where your things are. I got into my routine pretty quickly and believe, as with all endurance events, self management is the key to success. It went like this; once back in the van after a run I would remove my wet/sweaty clothes, down a recovery shake, and then lay down as best I could on the seats to raise my legs and doze/sleep as much a possible before I was next required to run.
I asked the crew to give me 30mins notice before I was next out so that I could change and prepare for the next stint. This routine rolled around, 4 hours off and 1 on. Four hours sounds like a lot of off time, but I can promise it goes very quickly! After around 19hours of this and whilst attempting to negotiate the one-way systems of Glasgow it became apparent we would need to reduce the running segments to 30mins. This we accepted would reduce rest times but it was necessary as the runners were finding the fatigue of Ben Nevis and subsequent climbs in our quads was making 60mins to long.
It was at this point I began to notice that runners were mentioning niggles and one was beginning to run/walk his sections. Comments were being made that showed the team were finding it tough and that fatigue had set in far earlier that I would have expected. This is not me pointing the finger at the other runners, I too was feeling more fatigued than I would have liked. Readjustments were being made to accommodate this but in my mind doubts started to creep in.
I began to look at the stats and readjust the figures bearing in mind what we know knew some 24 hrs in to the run. It became apparent to me that we were not going to make our goal of competing the challenge in 70 hours or before Monday evening which was our cut off point. As I saw it we were therefore presented with a very difficult decision. Do we push on regardless and see how far we can get but in the knowledge that we are risking further damage to already ailing bodies, to not even achieve our goal. Or do we look defeat in the eye and say ‘you know what this challenge was bigger than me this time’. Whilst the feeling of disappointment was going to be huge which ever way we chose, my belief was that it was the better of the two options to cut our losses now. Put our hands up and admit defeat, this time, and go home with our heads high knowing that we had both given it a go and also that we are so much wiser for next time. No one relishes the thought of going home to face sponsors and everyone who had invested in us and admit defeat. The feeling that we had let people down was huge, the disappointment for ourselves was very real, and if I am honest took me a good week to process. No one likes to fail but sometimes it’s from that place that growth happens. That is what I feel will come from this difficult time. I have turned it over and over in my mind countless times and looked at it from many angles, with and without emotion. I honestly believe we took possibly the harder of the two decisions but ultimately it was the right one. It does help to reconcile the pain of not hitting your target.
As they say, it’s a wise man who looks defeat in the eye and learns from it. If we do that we can come back stronger not only for this challenge but for others going forward. We each had personal takeaways from this which if we use them wisely will make us stronger racers and athletes in the months and years to come.
So I was hugely disappointed but will rise again and meet more adventures head on. I was pleased I had the courage to make what I see was the wise decision and not let emotion cloud my judgement.