Norma runs into WHW Race record books
It takes most people a week to walk the West Highland Way – yet Edinburgh super gran Norma Bone ran the 95 miles non-stop in just over a day. Norma, 64, also ran into the record books when she became the oldest woman to finish the notoriously tough West Highland Way Race last month from Milngavie, near Glasgow, to Fort William in the Highlands.
Norma, a nurse, says: “I always like to prove that age is no barrier to running – and this shows what women of my age, or any age, can do.
“This race has been my ultimate running dream and it feels incredible that I have done it.”
But Norma, who has two grown-up children and four grandkids, remains modest about her achievements. She says: “I did complete the West Highland Way Race although you can’t say that I ran it all. I just kept going, walking, jogging and running, for hour after hour and eventually I reached the finish line.
“I want women to see what they can do if they put their minds to it.”
A late-comer to running
Norma only took up running at the age of 50 as a way to “keep off the middle aged spread”. She says: “I had an early menopause and the weight had crept on after that. I needed a form of exercise to lose weight but something I could fit around full-time work as a nurse and my family. Running was the perfect solution.”
Norma began with a mix of walking and running and progressed to 5k and 10k races. The running bug bit and over the following decade she completed an impressive 15 marathons.
Then, in 2011 a chance chat with an ultra-distance runner planted the seed for her West Highland Way Race dream. Norma says: “Ian Beattie, who is the race director of the West Highland Way Race, told me he thought I could do the full 95 miles. I didn’t really believe him but I decided to give trail running and longer distances a try.”
Norma immediately loved the new challenges of off-road ultra running. An ultra is defined as an event that is longer than a marathon and, more specifically, at least 30 miles.
In Scotland, the sport has been fast growing over the last decade and there is a large community of keen ultra distance runners. There is also a full calendar of events and Norma found herself entering race after race.
She says: “Stupidly, looking back, I just went for it. I threw myself into the sports and I did seven ultra distance running races in 2012.”
Norma ran almost 250 miles taking part in the Deeside Way Ultra, River Ayr Way Challenge, Devil o’ the Highlands, Jedburgh Three Peaks Race, Speyside Way Ultra and the Highland Fling.
She said: “I found I really enjoyed the longer events and the training suited me because I could fit the runs around my long shifts as a nurse. The ultra running community is very inclusive and friendly and I liked meeting new people and running with them in new places.”
But the long miles came at a cost and by the end of 2012 the Harmeny Athletic Club runner was beginning to suffer.
She said: “I didn’t listen to the advice of others and I built up too fast and did too many races. I ended up doing the 53-mile Highland Fling again in the April of 2013 and that’s when I really started to have issues with my knees.”
Too much, too soon
The next 18 moths was a worrying time as Norma tried to find a solution – “any remedy I could think of” – to heal her damaged knees. At this point Norma thought that there was no hope of ever completing the West Highland Way Race.
Eventually she came across personal trainer, Donnie Campbell, who, Norma says, taught her to run again.
She said: “I have learned how to run in a different way. I run on my mid-foot and not my back foot now and I take shorter strides.
“I have discovered that everything else, the acupuncture, the orthotics, the physiotherapy sessions were not needed. I simply had to run more efficiently and economically.”
And so began the slow process of rebuilding her fitness with the aim of doing the Ronhill West Highland Way Race in 2016.
The day of the WHW Race
At 1am on June 18, Norma lined up with almost 200 other runners at the start line in Milngavie town centre. She had the support of friend and four times WHW Race finisher Donald Sandeman, Elaine Sandeman and her son-in-law Trstan Jareckyj.
The race plan was to take it steady, walking up the hills and running the flats and the downhills.
Norma’s biggest worries were a lack of sleep and a loss of appetite. She says: “I knew I’d be on my feet for a long time and that meant staying awake through to nights. The race starts at 1am so that’s a night’s sleep lost at the start and then I’d be running through another night.
“People said I might hallucinate through lack of sleep and although I didn’t I was actually interested to see what that might be like.”
Her support crew made sure she ate at each food stop, even when she said she wasn’t hungry. Norma says: “The body plays tricks on you and it can seem like you can’t eat anything but if you don’t you become very weary. At one point Donald forced me to eat because he said I looked like I was going to stop and lie down.
“I am lucky because I can run after eating but really, after so long without sleep and when you have run so far, you don’t want to eat a thing.”
Norma also had to endure painful knees again, especially during the descents. But incredibly, 33 hours and 26 minutes after setting out to run 95 miles and almost 15,000ft (4,572m) of ascent and descent, the determined grandmother crossed the finish line of her dream race.
She says: “It has been something I have wanted to do for so long and I knew I had to just try it. It was painful but I am determined. While my body might have wanted to give up my brain kept telling me to keep going.
“I wanted to do this race for me but also to inspire other people who are not so young to get up and run, too. Now I have that West Highland Way Race goblet I feel so happy and proud of myself.”
More about the WHW Race 2016
The Ronhill West Highland Way race was founded in 1985 and is the second oldest ultramarathon in the world. Of the 199 runners who started this year’s race, 159 completed it.
Rob Reid, 70, of Tarbert, Argyll, also made the record books in by becoming the oldest man to complete the race in 29 hours and 58 minutes.
Race director Ian Beattie, who is also chairman of Scottish Athletics, said more people had conquered Everest than had completed the West Highland Way in one go.
He added: “It was fantastic to stand at the finish line in Fort William and watch Norma finish the race as the oldest female ever to do so.
“I know how much effort she had put in to achieve her goal. It was a truly inspirational performance.”
* Also see Norma’s fundraising page www.justgiving.com/fundraising/NormaBone64