Wednesday 23 January 2013


Although I’ve spent my whole adult life involved in sport, I still have big reservations about large parts of it. I’ve read a lot of work on the history and philosophy of sport, and to be perfectly honest, a good chunk of it makes for depressing reading. I wish more of it could be more like the way it’s supposed to be.

The fact that climbing on mountains and cliffs is hard to pin down, hard to reduce to numbers and results and competition was quite an important aspect of what drew me into it. It’s hard to say ‘I had a better adventure than you’. Even as a climbing coach, I’ve sometimes been uneasy seeing young climbers come up against some of these negatives. Sometimes I wonder if I should say ‘skip the comp this time’. Go and explore somewhere new with some friends and come back for the next comp. As well as providing the essential ability to see outside the bubble of the scene, the perspective might well make a better competitor in the long run.

Kev pointed to this picture on Facebook, of a Basque athlete helping a Kenyan who’d stopped running a few metres short of the finish line in a cross country event, thinking he’d already passed it. The Basque runner could have run right past and won the race. But he stopped to direct the Kenyan over the line, staying behind and keeping the place he would have got if the Kenyan hadn’t made a simple human error. The surprising thing for me was that the attention this story got was as a ‘rare’ piece of sportsmanship. Why shouldn’t it be the norm?

After getting my ankle surgery in November, I decided to enter a running race for the first time, and see how it went. I thought it would be good as a goal to help get me back on my feet and moving fast in the mountains again. I entered the West Highland Way Race for next June. Although I have done quite a lot of hill running at different times over the past year or two, like anyone getting involved in a new scene I was a bit nervous about how welcoming it would be to someone who is known as ‘a climber’. Yesterday a friend told me about this thread started about my entry, which was a bit of a downer. When I experienced this sort of thing as a teenager doing sport at school, I hated it, avoided it and eventually found it’s antidote in going climbing. This time round I don’t need to react like that. But if I am able to recover from my injury enough to do it, it will be weird to stand on the start line knowing I’m standing with others who feel I don’t deserve to be there. My slowly healing ankle joint is the only thing that would stop me earning a place. As I said on the thread, if anyone feels I really don’t deserve the chance as much as them, drop me a line and I’ll offer to withdraw and donate my place.


  1. I'm sad that you had such a bad first experience with ultrarunners, but honestly I think it's just the one lone whinger--I think anyone else who recognizes you at the race will be thrilled to have you there. It's usually a great bunch of people.

    And for sure before you give up on ultrarunners, come try a race in the US. The runners I've met at races here are some of the best groups of people ever--things like that photo of the Basque and Kenyan runners ARE the norm here.

  2. I think that it's possible to be highly focused on winning and still show sportsmanship. In the case of that photo, perhaps the Basque athelete was of the mindset that if he overtook the Kenyan in that situation he'd only be cheating himself of knowing if he could win in a fair competition or not.

  3. Ignore the anonymous UKC critic. He's one loud voice but not representative of the hundreds of others who'll be supporting you, not just at the event but through your recovery. Best of luck with it all! Co:

  4. Hi Dave
    I think it's pretty depressing that anyone has bothered to even post about your entry, it just seems pointless and petty and your sensible response further puts it into perspective.
    Everyone has to do a first Ultra somewhere, so if you think you can cpmplete it then just go for it- good luck with it.
    Maybe see you at Trowbarrow.

  5. Don't even think about 'donating' your place, Dave, because...
    1. You deserve to be there (your entry wouldn't have been accepted if you didn't).
    2. Nobody's going to benefit with entries now closed and no reserve list!
    Might add that it was my first 'official' ultra too, but don't think I've done too badly with three finishes and three PBs from three starts. So just stick in there, and ask if you need any help! :-)


  6. Hi Dave

    Just wanted to say how impressed I was with your response to the UKC thread. You managed to sound friendly and non-defensive (though you have nothing to defend!)and I am sure you gave some of the commentators food for thought. I personally think it is the same in all sport, as long as you don't get sucked into the "scene" it is just a bunch of like minded people having fun. That elitist attitude of some (and I think it is only some)is just a way to put people down whilst feeling better about themselves and smacks of insecurity. In my opinion sport at it's very best is inclusive and fun. Good look with the race!


  7. Running such distance requires from each participant to be not just physically but mentally prepared with great amount of commitment, so if anyone feels threatened by someone else in such a race, then perhaps they themselves not belong there. I wish you strength in your healing process, so that you can complete this race well and continue to be such a positive model for all of us!

  8. Is there actually a suggestion anywhere that the complainer was an ultrarunner? Generally, I've found them to be a good bunch who don't get bitchy like that.

    That said, there's a real clamour to enter the WHW race each year and a friend of mine, who had an easily-sub24 completion last year has had a rejection letter. I think, in those circumstances, a question as to whether the entry guidelines and rules had been followed would be understandable.

    As for the race, someone mentioned that it's as much about the mental as the physical so clearly you'll have that bit in the bag from your level of climbing. Can you get the level of training in necessary? Will it impinge upon your climbing? You're looking at long, long days out, back to back long runs etc. Enjoy it!

    Still, not sure why you fancy the WHW, take on a "real" challenge ;-) What about a Ramsay? Or take a look at the Old County Tops that is a grand day out.

    Good luck with the ankle recovery.

  9. Though others have said it, I'd just like to say thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Your maturity in dealing with this sad pettiness on UKC is an inspiration. As is your braveness in tackling a big challenge outside your own arena.

    It upsets me to think that this cr*p might goad you into completing against your better judgement of what's best for your ankle; but thankfully (unlike me) you're just way too mature an athlete for that to come into it!

    Have lots of fun big days out on the hill :-)

  10. Hi Dave, I am the Race Director of the West Highland Way Race. This is the first time I have come across your blog. I am delighted that you want to do the race this year, and look forward to meeting you in June or before. For the benefit of those reading, I thought it would be useful to explain in a bit more detail the way we assess who is suitable to part in the race, as this may help answer a few of the comments that have been made.

    As oulined on the race website, the main criterion we use is whether an entrant has 'adequate relavant experience' to take part in an event of this nature. This is very much driven by our obligation to put on a safe event every year: we do not want people taking part who have no experience of endurance sport, nor experience of coping if things get a bit difficult on a remote part of the course. One way people can demonstrate this is by their running experience, but that is by no means the only way: I have often given the example of someone with a strong military background with a bit of running experience being much more suited to the race than someone who has done a few road marathons and little else.

    All of our entries are reviewed in great detail by one of my team; that includes verifying all the experience given on the application form such as previous race finishes. Once this (long) process has been completed, recommendations are put forward for eah applicant. Three of us then review all of the recommendations in detail and decide whether each applicant has sufficient experience or not. Those who do are moved forward to the next stage; those who do not are advised of this and given guidance as to who they might gain more experience for the future.

    We were all completely in agreement that you had adequate relevant experience to take part in this race. The fact that you had a very strong outdoor background was a major plus, as was the fact that you knew the race and environment well - particularly as you had supported another runner in the previous year. These are factors that would be taken into account as positive factors for all applicants.

    It is unfortunate that we had such a demand this year that we had to ballot out 15 people. That however is completely irrelevant to the issue of whether you (or anyone else) were qualified to take part or not. We considered the qualification of each entrant on its own merits without any account being taken of the number of places we could offer.

    In summary, I am delighted you are taking part in the 2013 race and wish you the very best of luck with your training. It is disappointing that a small number of people have been questioning the entry criteria used for the race, but I guess that is inevitable when races become so popular and some people are disappointed with the outcome.

    I look forward to meeting you in June, and hopefully presenting you with your finisher's goblet at the prizegiving on 23rd June.

    Ian Beattie
    West Highland Way Race Director

  11. It is sad that people are negative. Don't let anyone tell you what you can or can't do. I am not a runner nor will I ever feel like one but it has never stopped me running. I have entered a few races and injured myself through an ultra and pulled out half way because I couldn't lift my leg and had knee pain. Everyone on the race was lovely and even though I didn't complete my ultra, it hasn't stopped me from running nor am I put off by the other competitors. You won't meet a lovlier bunch of folk and they will encourage you all the way through. I wish you luck in your competition, that your ankle heals and I hope you have a great time running.

    All the best

    S Johnstone