Rowan Boswood triumphed in this year’s West Highland Way Race in a time of 15:09:49. He crossed the finish line of the 96-mile race an hour ahead of runner up Robbie Dunlop. Rowan’s time was also five minutes faster than his 2019 victory.
He said: “It feels amazing to have won the West Highland Way Race again. It feels more normal that 2019, when it came as more of a surprise.”
The women’s race was much more closely fought with Lynne Allen finishing first and ninth overall in 18:46:26 and Saki Nakamura in second place and 11th overall in 18:59:42. Lynne was two minutes faster than her last WHW Race in 2017.
Lynne said: “I had a brilliant race. Four strong female athletes fought it out for 60 miles, then three amazing ladies fought it out for 70 miles and then the competition was on from 80 miles with myself and the amazing Saki for 16 long miles from Kinlochleven to the finish.
“I was feeling strong and had an amazing crew – Helena, Derek and Baz – so I was able to push to the win, shortly before Saki came in. I am elated.”
What is the West Highland Way Race?
The race, from Milngavie, near Glasgow, to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands follows the route of the long-distance trail, the West Highland Way. It is 96 miles (155km) with a total ascent of 14,176ft (4321m).
The race has a history dating back to the 1980s and it is so popular there is a ballot for entries.
The record times are Rob Sinclair’s 13:41:08 set in 2017 and Lucy Colquhoun’s 17:16:20 from 2007.
This years’s race took place in challenging conditions with high winds and a lot of rain. At the Glencoe checkpoint, the decision was made to make waterproof jacket and trousers mandatory due to the weather.
Second WHW Race win for Rowan
Rowan, of Aberdeen, describes the feeling as he reached the final checkpoint Lundavra. He said: “By this point I had a comfortable lead and I was able to cruise down the hill into Fort William, smiling ear to ear, knowing I was going to win and that I would be able to stop running soon.”
However, the Carnethy Hill Runner had started the race unconfident that he would finish, let alone win.
He said: “I knew there were a few people on the start line who would be quick and whenever you run these sorts of distances, there is a risk your body might not react as expected.
“I was a bit disappointed with the time, in my mind I was only racing one person – and that was 2019 me. I had a couple of moments in the race where I was behind my previous schedule, specifically at Balmaha, in the dark where I had a really strong urge to just stop. Running another 70 miles seemed a bit pointless, which really isn’t the mentality you need to dig deep and suffer to the finish.
“Luckily, the beauty of Loch Lomand at 4am cheered me up and the technical section around Inversnaid kept my mind occupied.
“I had another low at Auchtertyre, where I arrived 11 minutes behind my 2019 time. After Auchtertyre, I got my head down and felt really strong and I enjoyed the race from that point onwards as I was running well.
“The ultimate high point for me was climbing out of Kinlochleven. When I ran this section in 2019, I really struggled. This year, I felt strong and relatively composed.
“I’m 35 now, so I think I must be losing a little bit of top-end pace, but this year has shown me that the additional miles of a few extra years does give you more strength and stamina, which enabled me to run a more consistently paced and ultimately slightly faster race.”
Lynne’s joy at WHW Race victory
Lynne, of Cumbernauld, reveals she had enjoyed a solid eight weeks of training in the run up to the race and she felt ready.
She said: “It was a tough race with 40mph headwinds, 1°C and driving rain. That’s when you find out most about yourself and where you find the grit to battle on.
“But I had an amazing weekend. Afterwards, I have cried due to how overwhelmed I feel but these are happy tears. I’m proud to be part of the West Highland Way Race family.
“I am also grateful to my coach Donnie Campbell, the race organisers, my support crew, my dogs Scamper and Shadow, plus great nutrition from Tail Wind, Voom and Pot Noodle, as well as gear by Scott and OMM.
“I am now looking forward to a rest and recovery.”
Supporting a friend in WHW Race 2022
I agreed to be part of the support crew for my friend Nic Dawson, who had a much-coveted place to run the West Highland Way Race 2022. Nic, from Milngavie, is an experienced ultra runner and run leader.
She needed a support crew to enter the race and she welcomed help from David and Alicia in their campervan for the full race, Suzy and Victoria at CPs in the earlier stages, then running support from Lynsey from Auchtertyre to Bridge of Orchy, followed by Beardy from Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven. This is my experience of supporting her on the final stage of the run, from Kinlochleven to Fort William.
What if she has to stop here?
My part in Nic’s dream to complete the West Highland Way Race 2022 was to support her on the final stretch. As she arrived at the CP at Kinlochleven, she wasn’t in good shape.
Beardy had already reported to the rest of the support crew via Whatsapp that Nic was slurring her words, falling asleep on her feet, stumbling, cold and not able to eat anything.
A CP volunteer, John Munro, immediately suggested Nic needed a 20-minute sleep. He made a mat available at the CP hall and after trying to get Nic to eat and drink tiny amounts, she crashed out.
At this point, I was anxious about heading out into the night – it was around 10.15pm at this point – in bad weather and with an ailing runner.
The nap seemed to do the trick, however, and after exactly 20 minutes we roused Nic, made her change many of her wet clothes, piled more layers on her and force-fed her.
She was too nauseous to eat much but we found a few slithers of food that she could tolerate. She was talking coherently again and I thought: “Let’s just go. If it doesn’t look good after a few miles, we’ll turn back.”
Of course, I didn’t say this to Nic. I remained positive and up-beat and bundled her off into the night to rejoin the West Highland Way trail.
As if my magic, we saw a red deer grazing by the side of the road, which perked us up, and we chatted with some other weary runners. While some runners were faster on the downhills, others were quicker on the uphills and we played cat and mouse with several for a while.
I had envisaged we might be trotting along slowly for the final stage of the race, but it was obvious we would be walking almost all the way. Still, Nic seemed capable of a fast walk and although the climb out of Kinlochleven is brutal, especially after some 80 miles of racing, she kept up a good pace.
Every few minutes – I was probably annoying to her – I asked her if she was ok, whether she was too cold and if she might possibly be able to stomach any food. She did try to eat but it was impossible for her to swallow anything more than a tiny slither of nothing much. She stopped occasionally to wretch and she said she was starting to feel sleepy and cold again.
By now, we had progressed to the highest point of many, many high points, before heading downhill again. We walked by head torch and faced bouts of strong wind and rain. I kept the chat going and because I’d not seen Nic for most of the last year we had plenty to talk about.
Nic is also very talkative and it was when she was quietest that I worried the most.
When she said again that she was a bit chilly and sleepy, I linked arms with her and we continued companionably like this, enjoying our shared body warmth and the closeness of being good pals out for a ridiculous adventure.
Nic’s determination to continue was truly admirable.
She told me that the first 60 miles had felt so much better than she had hoped for and she had been able to eat fairly well. It was the stretch through extremely tough conditions in Glencoe that had most challenged her – and she knew then that it would be a case of trying to finish, rather than worrying about what time she achieved.
Would Lundavra ever arrive?
By Nic’s reckoning, the final stage to Fort William should be 14 miles. In the end I think it was closer to 16 miles. She also thought that halfway would be Lundavra – and after seven miles.
Those seven miles turned out to be much longer both in real-time and mentally. The dark gave us much less of a sense of where we were, plus we could always see other people’s head torches a long way in the distance.
So many times those head torches seemed to be at a great height – and we worried about what was to come.
We knew there would be plenty of ups and downs but, oh, poor Nic had to endure so much on tired legs and with a sleepy brain.
Eventually, we could see a bright light not too far along the trail. It turned out to be a bonfire created by the CP volunteers. Plus there was an amazing display of balloons and fairy lights.
It was well past midnight and the bright and cheerful final CP was so amazing. David and Alicia were there with a box of all the things that Nic might need. She sat for a short while in her dryrobe and even managed to eat a few bits and pieces along with a much-wanted cup of tea.
Suddenly Nic seemed just a little more lively – and we set off again into the night.
The final, final miles to the finish line
After Lundavra there was another climb and then some undulating miles, before we could see the lights of Fort William in the distance. I confess I was shocked to see just how far away those lights were, but, again, I kept any negativity out of my chat and told Nic we were nearly there.
We found more topics to chat about and eventually, when we reached the mostly downhill final miles to the finish, Nic broke into a run. I was surprised by her ability to trot at a good pace, although she explained it was driven by gravity rather than any energy or strength.
All flats and uphills were walked, while we jogged the downhills. But it did seem to take far, far too long to get to Fort William.
As the sun started to come up around 2.30am, our spirits lifted a bit. But then when Nic reached the official end of the West Highland Way and realised we still had to get to the Nevis Centre in the middle of Fort William, they sank again.
In retrospect, it was the final unexpected two miles that were the hardest for Nic. It was mentally and physically such a huge struggle.
To Nic: I’m sorry that I lied about the final distance. I kept telling you it was just like walking another circuit of a 400m track. I knew it wasn’t but I didn’t think you needed to know it was another 1km at least… You are one amazing human being and I have such respect for what you have achieved. This sort of race is not for me, but it was a huge privilege to be part of the journey.
Nic, who was coached by Edwina Sutton, wrote after the event: “What can I say? The WHW Race has been amazing. I saw two sunrises and one sunset, mountain goats, a deer stag, waterfalls, stunning scenery, campfires.
“The weather was as Scottish as you could get with sun, wind and rain.
“My emotions were all over the place. I laughed, cried, went to dark places and came out the other side.
“My crew were amazing and kept me going with fresh clothing, stuffing food into me, checking I was ok, keeping me warm and moving.
“The feeling of crossing the finish line and getting my goblet was fantastic.”