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Photo credit: Fionna Rennie.

Runners’ Stories: First woman to cover 1000 miles on the West Highland Way

29-Jun-15

Last updated: 07-Mar-16

By Fiona Rennie

My name is Fiona Rennie. I’m a 52-year-old Scot, born and brought up, and still living in Dunfermline Fife. I’ve been married to Pete for 32 years and we have a 19-year-old, daughter, Erin. 

Pete and I started running in 1986, although Pete’s health prevents him from running now. I gradually built up from 10kms and half marathons. My first marathon was in 1992. Then, I started running ultras in 1999, staying with 50kms and The Two Bridges Road race, an old classic, which is sadly no more, for a few years.

My first West Highland Way Race was in 2003. It was a big jump from a 35-mile road race to 95 miles over varied trails and rough terrain with 14,000 ft of ascent! I had supported my twin sister, Pauline Walker, three times previously, so I knew what was ahead. I ran my first 24-hour race five years later in Perth. Originally I was just going to support Pauline but with it being so close to home I thought I’d run it. 

Representing Scotland

I had a fantastic run, aiming to run 100 miles. My secret goal was 104 miles - Pauline’s distance for her first 24-hour race. I covered 187km, (116 miles) and qualified to run for Scotland the following year in the Commonwealth Championship.

There, with Pauline and fellow club member, Lynne Kuz, we won third team in the 24-hour race. I represented Scotland again in 2010 for 24 hours in a Six Nations Championship. In 2012 I was First Female in the Glenmore 24 (an off road 24hour trail race on a 4 mile loop near Aviemore) with 109 miles.

I have now run the WHW race eleven times and I’ve done six 24hour races and one 48hour race, also some shorter ultras. Another favourite is The Highland Fling, a race on the first 53 miles of the West Highland Way.

The highlight and goal for this year was the West Highland Way Race on the 20th June. It is a very special race, and has a camaraderie found nowhere else in ultra. It really is a family and anyone involved in the race is part of it - not just the runners. The support of that WHW family has been instrumental in my recovery from a couple of health problems I’ve had. I couldn’t have done what I have without them.

I’ve entered the WHW race every year since 2003, but a brain haemorrhage in the April of 2005 prevented me from running that year. I was back again in 2006, and it was the last tick in the box of my recovery. 

Cancer

Then in February 2013, I was diagnosed with mouth cancer. I had to have major surgery to remove a tumour along with two thirds of my tongue. This was followed with six weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Having the goal of running my tenth WHW race a year later keep my head up throughout the treatment. Doing that in 2014 was so special! I wasn’t sure if I was recovered enough, but I did it with the support of the WHW family.

It was only last November where I started to feel I was on my way back to strength, and training for this year’s WHW. I started on January 1st, building up to around 50 miles a week. I run 5 or 6 days a week with two club sessions on a Tuesday and a Thursday with the Carnegie Harriers. I’ve been a member of the club since it was formed over twenty years ago. My long runs tend not to go over 20 miles with just a handful of 30 milers. The Highland Fling at the end of April is my longest run before the WHW.

Since the surgery, my mouth is very sensitive and all my food has to be soft and fairly bland. Even the fruit acid in tomatoes nips, and anything vaguely spicy is like having the hottest curry imaginable. So for the race, I just had porridge, custard, rice pudding, chicken soup, very soft mashed potato and cheesy pasta. I also use Ensure Plus milkshakes. They are meal replacement drinks I first had after surgery, and are excellent for running. I drank water, tea, hot chocolate, and at the Bridge of Orchy checkpoint, 60 miles into the race, I had my first cup of coffee in a month.

Over 1000 miles

Running this year’s WHW was very special. I felt strong all the way. It was such a pleasure to run, and there was an extra wee celebration at the Auchtertyre checkpoint. At that point, 50 miles into the race, I became the first woman in the history of the race to cover 1000 miles in the event! 

There have been only two women before me to do the race 10 times, my sister and Alyson MacPherson. The weather conditions were pretty good. It started to rain heavily on the second night and it was quite cold but I had plenty of clothes on. I finished in 29hrs 21mins 04secs, my 4th fastest time (my PB is 26.14.48 hours and my slowest is 32.17.11 hours). I wasn’t too bothered about the time. Just to run this race is such a pleasure and a privilege and hopefully I can continue to run it for many more years to come.

Don’t get stressed

I know a lot of folk get quite stressed and psyched out preparing for a big race but if it helps, don’t over think things. It’s running, not rocket science; we do it for the fun. Yes it’s going to hurt, but it’s a challenge of our own choosing. We have the privilege of health and fitness to attempt it. There are many fighting terminal illness that would gladly be in your place. Just enjoy!

Kit wise I don’t get sucked into the overpriced over hyped stuff, I use what suits me, my shoes are Saucony and I never pay over £60/70 a pair. Last year’s colours look the same as this year’s once they’re covered in mud. I do like compression tights; they stop my bum and thighs wobbling, and I’ve worn the same blue fleece over the Devil’s Staircase in Glencoe in the WHW race since my PB in 2007. My favourite waterproof trousers are over 20 years old. They were my husband’s and I’ve hacked them down to just below my knee. I’ve reproofed them several times and they are quick and easy to slip on without having to fight them over my shoes.

So, remember: It’s running, not rocket science, we do it for the fun. Good luck with your running.

Here’s the link to my blog if you’d like to check it out.

 


Photo credit: Fionna Rennie

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