It is Tuesday 18 June. I have two more days to work this week and then it will be time for the West Highland Way Race.
I am for the most part packed. I have made my choices and piled a mountain of gear ready to be crammed into the van on Friday. My support crew, to whom I am eternally grateful, are primed and ready to do whatever is necessary to get me from Milngavie to Fort William.
I could write about all of the niggles I have – my dodgy hip, my sore right foot, the wee bit plantar fasciatis I am experiencing in my left foot, or the weight I haven’t managed to lose or the training I have missed, but in truth none of that matters.
I will be on the start line in Milngavie.
For the last six months I have been surrounded by people for whom the prospect of running 95 miles is normal. That in itself provides a reassuring coccoon in which to train and accept that running such a distance is not only possible, but is in fact an eminently sensible thing to do. In such company your perception of normal shifts, and you just accept that the seemingly impossible is in fact entirely possible.
The people who do the West Highland Way Race are quite unusual, in that they are all “normal”, well balanced, ordinary people who just happen to have a passion for running stupidly long distances through spectacular landscape. For people who do such extraordinary things, they also have a complete lack of ego. Maybe it is because of the enormity of the task, the knowledge that you will succeed only if you recognise and accept your limitations, or the recognition that in such vast landscape you are a tiny insignificant dot, but it is remarkable that even amongst the very fastest runners there is no arrogance.
I am 49 years old. I have seen most of the traumas that life generally throws at people and dealt with them. I have a busy job with enough responsibility to keep me on my toes and deal with the dramas both real and imagined of holding a reasonably senior position in a large organisation. I am one those lucky people who have managed to be successful in a number of different areas through a wee bit talent and a propensity for hard work.
But I Haven’t Run 95 miles.
and that for me is the real beauty of the West Highland Way. I get to do something for the first time and I get to do something that can’t be bluffed, blagged or dressed up in management bullshit. I get to stand on a start line not knowing if I can make it to the finish. The furthest I have ever run is 53 miles and I am now attempting to run 95. That is crazy.
Am I nervous? Oh yes! Am I afraid? Not at all. I have confidence in the race organisers and my support crew to look after me. I am resolved that barring accident I shall make it to Fort William, if only because I have never considered the possibility of not making it to Fort William.
At some point in this race my legs will stop working, it will hurt a great deal and I will have to look inwards and decide if I have what it takes. The anticipation of pain is not the same as experiencing pain and in some ways I am looking forward to the pain because that means the race has really started and while it is still in the relatively safe environment of a race, you are transported back to more primal times and it is just about your ability to keep moving in wild places.
It has to be possible to make it to Fort William because other people have made it there year after year. I also know that people I respect have not made it there some years. I cannot contemplate that. The prospect of living with the failure is something which will keep me moving forward. I have always been someone who has been driven by fear of failure rather than desire for success in my sporting endeavours, despite actually being pretty successful at sport over the years. I am probably the modern sports psychologists nightmare. Maybe it is down to my good Scottish upbringing where if you were 2nd, rather than a pat on the back you get asked why you weren’t first, or if you won at rugby you get asked did you score? Anyway, enough of my demons, there are whole generations of Scotsmen with the same baggage and generally speaking it made us more successful as a nation than the current trend of making everyone a winner whether they succeeded or not.
So to Milngavie it is. A massive step into the unknown. Let the weather and the midges do their worst and here’s hoping I earn the right to hobble up to receive my Crystal Goblet on Sunday lunchtime.