ULTRA TRAIL RACE SITES THAT ARE WORTH BROWSING
Google: run100s This is Stan Jensen's web site which is a link site to the 100 milers in the states. Having done 'Wasatch Front' in Utah and 'Hard Rock' in Colorado twice, I can thoroughly recommend both these races. The difficulty now is getting into certain races, as many are over-subscribed, with some there is only a 5% chance of getting through the lottery.
Google: UTMB (5 races in series) a good chance to see the Alps. Also check out the UTMB series 'list of qualifying races' that allocate UTMB series points. This list identifies many ultra trail races throughout the world. This is another good site for finding out what ultra's are on in the UK and throughout the world. (see below for further information)
Google: GRAND RAID DES PYRENEES (5 races in series) a good chance to see the Pyrenees and pick the course that suits you.
In general nowadays you need a C.V. to even get into the Entry Lottery for most of the good races. Therefore, it is better to over apply and at least you should get into some of the races on your 'bucket list'.
RECOMMENDED RACES TO ENTER IN THE UK FOR SCENERY AND TO GAIN WHW TRAINING
The 'Haworth Hobble' or also known as 'Wuthering Hike' in Yorkshire usually held in March , approximately 6,000' ascent and 32 miles. Food & drinks provided during race and meal at the end. Excellent scenery and value for money at £13. This race provides an early opportunity in the year to gain hours on your feet.
The 'Allendale Challenge' usually held in early April, in Northern Pennines between Carlisle and Newcastle, 3,300 feet ascent, 26miles, in aid of Tyne & Wear Mountain Rescue. Food and drinks provided during race and meal at end. The route is a mixture of rough peaty ground and paths. Entry Fee £25.
The 'Fellsman' in the Pennines in Yorkshire usually held in the end of April and run by the Scouting Association, 61 miles and 11,000' ascent. This race has been held over 58 times and is one of the longest established ultra races held in the UK. It is a very well organised race with food and drink being provided during race and a meal & shower at the end. Race entry fee £40. Basically the route is over the mountains and moors from Ingleton to Grassington with a coach to take you to the start from Grassington.
Note: these 3 races are excellent training for gradually building the 'hours on your feet' needed for to complete the WHW Challenge Race, as the time between them give sufficient for recovery. Contact Jim Drummond on 01786 841715 for more information, as he has completed the three races many times.
WALKING 'ONLY' THE WHW RACE or THINKING OF 'RETIRING' DURING THE RACE
Most steady walkers manage at least 3.2 m.p.h., which over 95 miles equals 30hrs walking time, to complete the race. That leaves 5 hours, or 300 minutes for stopping time. This allows 40 minutes rest at each of the 7 Check Points and10 minutes at each of the two Water Points.
THIS INFORMATION SHOULD BE SERIOUSLY CONSIDERED BY A COMPETITOR, IF THINKING OF RETIRING, AS 99% OF COMPETITORS RETIRING ARE WELL WITHIN THE TIME TO WALK TO THE END.
Torch batteries in ultra's - In many of the ultra's you can be running for up to 10 hours each night in darkness. The last thing you want to be doing is changing batteries every 2 hours. To combat this, 'lithium' batteries are the better solution, as they last 4 times longer than alkaline and are nearly half the weight of alkaline batteries. Packs of 4, 'AA' or 'AAA' can be can be purchased from many main stores, or the internet. If the batteries are carried on the head element of the torch then the extra lightness makes the head torch more comfortable. There is nothing worse than stopping and changing batteries constantly especially if running in a group. Also, lithium batteries are not as susceptible to the cold like alkaline batteries.
HEAD TORCH TYPES
In many races it is helpful to have a head torch capable of having both a 'diffuse beam' for normal running and a 'long reach' beam for picking up route markers, or ground features, etc. Many competitors in races have only a diffuse beam, which is alright for running/walking, but they cannot pick up the next route marker, especially in open ground where the marker can be over 100metres away. A great deal of time is wasted by the competitor in trying to find the route and also many loose the route and waste even more time. There is nothing worse in failing to complete a race, or being timed out, due to poor lighting equipment.
In races especially over rough ground, which involving many hours of darkness, it is beneficial to carry a small light weight torch in the hand (of the 3 AAA battery type) to see just in front of the foot fall, as it saves having to move the head beam to see the footfall area. There is the extra advantages when changing the batteries in the head torch of having a light to do so, also if your head torch stops working, you have a back-up.
On one occasion I gave my spare hand torch to a fellow competitor who only a head torch, which broke when he managed to loose the battery housing cover, in a peat bog. By having a spare torch and giving it to him, he was able finish the race. It also helped the rest of us, as we were in a 'compulsory group' and with no torch the competitor would have slowed the group down. It is hard loosing out on finishing a race due to scrimping in not carrying a few extra grams of spare torch weight.
WHEN TO CARRY TORCHES
In the WHW Challenge Race the darkness period is approximately 5 hours, from 23:00hrs to 04:00hr (depending on cloud cover). The race now requires competitors to carry a torch during the whole race, as we have had so many competitors forgetting to pick up their torches from their 'drop bags', 3 to 5 hours before darkness, when it's broad daylight. Then 3 to 5 hours later, they realise their mistake, when it gets dark.
If there is no moon, there is cloud cover, and even tree cover, it will be 'pitch black', problems escalate especially if the trail twisting and is rocky with tree roots like Loch Lomond side, then out comes the mobile phone and with the light on, the battery goes quickly, then you will have to stop till dawn. If you continue there is a high chance if injury and you don't even then have a phone to call for help. One small error in not having a light can be fatal in an ultra race.
That is why we also require a spare torch in the 'EMERGENCY RUCKSACK' for the night phase. Also, ditch 'used' batteries into the 'drop bags' as there is no point in carrying them.
A triple AAA battery torch with lithium batteries weighs only 43gms
The WHW Challenge Race allows the use of walking poles in the race (although most races in Scotland do 'not' allow poles, due to a 'Scottish Athletics' rule). If you think you may require poles at a later stage in the race, then you can put a set of 3 or 4 section poles (for fitting 'in' the drop bag) in the drop bags for Bridge of Orchy and Rowardennan and they are there if you need them, and if not leave them in the bag.
The WHW Challenge Race has had many enquiries regarding whether lightweight down bags of 500 or 600 gram weight can be used, as these bags have the same thermal efficiency as an 800 gram hollow fibre bag. The vast majority of the times a sleeping bag has to be used in an emergency is when there is sleet, rain, or snow and the persons clothes are invariably soaking wet.
A hollow fibre bag is 85% efficient when wet and a down bag is 10% efficient when wet and is a waste of time. Even when a down bag is used in a tent over several nights the down bag gathers body moisture and the thermal rating of the bag falls dramatically. You don't want to learn this lesson the hard way, when your life depends on it.
Regarding the 800 gram sleeping bag 'rule' in the WHW Challenge Race. It is there for the Loch Lomond section at night, when it is difficult to get a quick extraction due to the lack of a road. Entrants should remember if they are immobilised, during the night at the side of Loch Lomond then the emergency bag and sleeping bag could be the difference between life and death for them. Anyone can twist an ankle, or knee, in that section especially in the dark, or it may even be someone else who you have to wait with, who has taken a bad turn. The two items weigh less than 2.5 lbs and are well worth taking on training runs, as they give the confidence that you can survive for several days if things go pear-shaped.
We allow runners reaching Beinglas to continue to Rowardennan without the Emergency Rucksack and its 3 contents, as they should reach Rowardennan before dark. If anyone has a problem with this, then they should get to Beinglas before 09:00pm.
ITEMS TO 'CONSIDER ONLY' CARRYING IN RACES
The items below are dependent on the race you are in to either carry, or put these in 'drop bags' in ultras)
Most important item is one or two packets of tissues in a plastic bag for Loo paper.
Strip of Paracetamol, NOT Ibuprofen, as latest medical advice advises against the use of this in races.
Fabric strip Elastoplast and small light weight scissors for dealing with bursting blisters, cuts, chaffing, etc and the scissors for cutting the elastoplast to the required lengths and for ragged nails.
Note: if using elastoplast then it is better to put it on 12 hours before the race, as it stays on longer especially when wet.
A small tin(20grams), or small tub of Vaseline for to prevent, or deal with chaffing.
Strip of Hay-fever, or Allergy tablets.
Sachet, or very small bottle of sun block (dependant on the weather for the race).
Fine meshed head net as a 'midge net,' or for dealing with 'flies', if applicable to the race.
Small bar if soap (hotel size, or part cut from a normal soap bar) for washing the salt from your eyes and the stickiness from your fingers if using gels.
15ml tube of toothpaste (dentist 'sample' size) for refreshing the mouth after all the sugary drinks, sweets biscuits, etc consumed in a race. Plus a toothbrush cut in half for space and weight. Also squirting some toothpaste into the bank £1 coin packet gives sufficient for 1 or 2 cleans and is very lightweight.
In some countries mosquito repellent is also a must for covering the exposed skin area's.
Salt - preferably crisps, or salt tablets, or a small container of salt. The salt initially combats the 'cramps' in the early stage of the ultra and then later on it helps retain the bodies salt level.
Note: Regarding the 'crisps' the bags can be cut in the top right corner (a 1 or 2 millimetre cut only) and the air can then be slowly squashed from the bag, without bursting it. Then shake the crisps to the bottom of the bag and fold the top of the bag over the bottom section, halving its size. Then put an elastic band round 4 to 6 bags to keep them together, as they then do not take up much room. Because the potato is fried in high energy cooking oil the crisps are also an excellent food for ultras, as they have the nutrients needed, in oil, potatoes and salt (460 kcal per 100g/4×25 gram packets). Pure salt tends to leave a strong taste in a persons mouth, so better taken it on a piece of fruit, etc.
Ethos/ Atmosphere / Aim of The West Highland Way Challenge Race
1. Get as many of the competitors to the finish or as far along the route as possible.
2. Make the race as competitor friendly, supportive, simple and hassle free as possible.
3. Provide value for money to the competitor.
1. GET AS MANY OF THE COMPETITORS TO THE FINISH.
To complete the 95 miles of the West Highland Way in 35 hours requires an average speed of 2.7 mph. The Check Point and the WHW Challenge Race cut-off times are calculated on this average speed.
Other endurance races apply challenging 'cut off' times in the early stages of the race, for example requiring the competitor to cover the 19 miles between Milngavie and Balmaha in 5 hours. This forces competitors that they must run at a minimum average speed of 3.8 mph including the hills. The competitor is under constant stress to meet the cut-off time, so as not be timed out and disqualified. Whereas, the West Highland Way Challenge Race's approach to the cut off times e.g. Milngavie to Balmaha (19 miles) is 7 hours (2 hours more). This is in line with the average speed required of 2.7mph for completing the race course in 35 hours.
However, we know (from the great feedback you share with us) most of you would like to run/jog/walk the challenging West Highland Way at a steady average pace. You might even start out slower and build your pace gradually along the course. Your ultimate aim is still to finish the entire race within 35 hours. With this in mind, the WHW Challenge Race generous 'cut off' times allow you to adopt this race strategy too. We wish to avoid slower runners/walkers being penalised and removed from the race in the early stages. We feel this would be very unfair, particularly if your average pace would see you complete the entire race route in the allotted 35 hour finish time. Also we fully understand and appreciate the time, energy and cost involved in making it to the start line of our event, we want you to succeed. Prepare yourself well for what is a very tough challenge and we (the race support team) give you the highest possible chance of finishing the race.
In summary, we wish to see as many competitors as possible cross the finish line in Milngavie within 35 hours. The feeling is simply amazing on so many levels when you achieve this. Our race structure and generous cut off times gives equal opportunity of a finish for fast runners, joggers and steady/slower walkers alike.
2. COMPETITOR FRIENDLY
The race has a friendly, fun and supportive atmosphere. Many competitors from past races say this is one of the biggest attractions of the race. This can be seen by the number of entrants from both the UK, Europe and further afield who return year after year. Thanks again for your continued support.
To assist in making it competitor friendly, the WHW Challenge Race supply food and drinks to the competitors at 9 Check Points along the 95 mile route. The competitors provide additionally clothing and their own food in their 2 race 'drop bags' that are moved by the race to the race Check Points at Bridge of Orchy (35 miles)and Rowardennan (68 miles) and a 'Finish Bag' for Milngavie 95 miles. The 2 'Drop Bags' can be used by the competitor for personal food requirements, drinks, clothing, shoes, etc. After the Check Point closes the competitors 'Drop Bags' will be transported to the finish at Milngavie.
In addition an 'Emergency Rucksack must be provided to the race at Registration by the competitor containing an 800 gram sleeping bag and an orange plastic 'survival bag' and spare torch. This 'Emergency Rucksack' will be transported to Beinglas, Check Point (CP5) and carried the 14 miles by the competitor to the Rowardennan Check Point (CP 6), incase of an incapacity during the race, or to keep the competitor warm, or if they pull out at a Check Point during the night.
IN THE EVENT OF A COMPETITOR WITHDRAWING FROM THE RACE, THEY WILL BE TRANSPORTED TO MILNGAVIE. Please be patient and understanding if this happens to you. We (the support team) will organise transport to the finish as quickly as possible. We normally achieve this relatively quickly. However you may be required to wait at a check point for a couple of hours (maybe more) before your lift to Milngavie is ready to depart. Don't worry in the main, dependent on the time of day there are hotels, or camp site facilities at most Check Points, also great banter and conversation are available at all Check Points. In long distance trail running events in case of emergences it is always advisable to carry plenty of cash as some places don't take cards. In summary, show us your patience and understanding and we will do all we can to support you and get you to Milngavie as soon as possible. Thanks in advance.
Important to note: A support car and at least 2 support crew per runner are not required for the WHW Challenge Race. This is because we (the race support team) provide the necessary support a competitors needs. This is a huge benefit to so many runners who take part in our race. How do we know this? Well, nearly all the competitors say so and many of you thank us for going above and beyond to meet your needs.
Also we wish to avoid at least hundreds of additional support vehicles and people travelling up and down the road network along and around the course. This would happen if we asked each competitor to provide their own support team. Remember if a competitor is taking 35 hours for the race, then a 'support driver' is awake for more than 35 hours, which is highly dangerous to themselves and other road users.
Even with the best planning and consideration taken, simply having 200+ extra vehicles on the roads, pulling in and out of check point areas will put additional and unnecessary pressure on the region. We, the race organisers of the West Highland Way Challenge Race wish to minimise the disruption caused by our event. We wish to avoid unnecessary traffic congestion, parking issues and potential vehicle stop/start issues and the dangers they can cause through sleep deprivation. We also wish to minimise any impact for local residents, at popular viewpoints and for local places of business.
The West Highland Way travels through many beautiful areas of Scottish countryside. We also wish to keep the environmental impact of support vehicles to a minimum.This is another reason the WHW Challenge Race organisers provide all the support you need. We take the logistical strain for you. This allows you to fully concentrate on your running/jogging/walking and enjoy your West Highland Way experience.
The West Highland Way Challenge Race Welcomes all Competitors including Novices, Steady Walkers and Seasoned Ultra Runners
Novices have taken part in the WHW Challenge Race and completed it. This is partly achieved by not making over stringent entry requirements and by not making the cut-off times unachievable to steady walkers and walk/joggers. Plus our walkers/joggers are very determined individuals and often dig very deep to complete the course. Our approach helps to ensure all disciplines have a good chance of finishing the race and of course enjoy the event and experience. That said, please remember the course is tough. It is 95 miles over challenging terrain. Please train well and research the route.
A steady walking pace is 3.2 mph. Therefore during 30 hours steady walking 96 miles is covered, leaving 5 hours rest time. This gives 43 minutes at each of the 7 Check Points, thus making the race achievable for 'pure steady walkers'. Feel free to study John Vernon's race results from the last few years. John has completed the race 17 times in the last 18 years, by steady walking. He uses the check points effectively and adopts a very successful race strategy. Please note John is fit and experienced. That said his recent results demonstrate you can walk the entire route and finish within 35 hours. John won't mind us mentioning that he completed our WHW & Ben Race in 2023, at the age of 72, so age is no limit.
Also in the spirit of encouraging success, even if a person is just over the 35 hour time we are not going to quibble (see results). If you are a pure walker then talk through your race approach with Jim Drummond months before race date (01786 841715). Jim will advise you accordingly.
Some of the UK's most 'seasoned ultra runners' have participated in the WHW Challenge Race. The simplicity and cost savings appeal. These people compete frequently in various races and just wish to turn up by themselves, run the event with drink and food provided and go home. Others are seeking an ultra race for their CV to gain entry to other races.
The race also welcomes those who just want 'A CHALLENGE' and to see how far they can go in an ultra event and if they decide to withdraw, then they have the reassurance of being transported to the finish at Milngavie, without any worries. Many a competitor achieves a new longest distance covered personal best.
Michael Mattison & John Vernon at Lundavra in the 2019 race. 88 miles completed only 8 to go! The weather conditions were very tough. Both competitors planned thoroughly and approached the race with smart heads. They hiked the entire route. Finish time: 34hrs 32minutes. Well done again to Mike and John!
Some just wish to enjoy the stunning Scottish scenery and the camaraderie provided by our event. Plus they also enjoy learning about ultra running from the Race Director and Race Support Team and of course the competitors taking part in the race. Don't worry we don't do cliques or snobbery. We won't look down on you if you haven't achieved an ultra, or fast 100 mile Ultra finish. We aim to be inclusive and supportive to all. Please just come and talk with us. You never know, you could teach us something too!
Contact Jim on 01786 841715 he's retired so has plenty of time to speak, also he has raced the WHW 22 times.
An additional concern to many competitors who in other races require a 'back up' crew, is the competitor may feel the extra pressure that if they withdraw, or go slow, then they are letting the support team down as well. It is often easier on the competitor when they have no 'back up' team, then they do not have the extra strain of letting the team down. For many, not having a personalised support team can make for a better race time, as the competitor can come into a Check Point get their food and drink and head straight out again. With personalised support teams at the Check Points, there can be a tendency to sit and converse with your friends/family members who make up your team, as they have put themselves out for the competitor.
Also if you are looking for help and advice before you commit and enter our Ultra event, please give Jim a call. He is very helpful and very experienced. He has run over 600 races! From 10km trail runs to some of the toughest Ultra Trail and Multi-Day events on the international calender like 'Hardrock' in Colorado, both directions and the UTMB.
Sometimes speaking directly with Jim is better than an email. He can discuss and understand your running goals and how you would like to approach the West Highland Way 'Challenge' Race. By having that conversation, hopefully this allows Jim and his team to advise and support you accordingly and it gives them a feedback.
We aim to answer email enquiries within a few days. Thanks for your patience and understanding.
Facebook posts and enquiries. Please feel free to post and share your positive and constructive feedback. It often helps to further build the profile of the race and celebrate what a great experience the event is for all involved. Please remember to LIKE and SHARE our Facebook page. Any race questions to the Race Director should be directed by e-mail or phone Jim on 01786 841715, as Jim never goes on facebook.