Saturday, 11 July 2009

Dario and the West Highland Way

A few minutes ago when I was about to publish a much longer post, I learned of the sudden death of Dario Melaragni, race director of the West Highland Way Race, while out running in the Cairngorms. Sometimes life just isn't fair on the good guys. On quick reflection, I've stuck with the first few paragraphs of what I was going to say anyway. I first wrote the words a couple of days after my second WHW completion in 2008, and they capture for me what the race - Dario's Race, for to me it will always be that - is all about.

"If you have run the West Highland Way you will already know this story. You will have one of your own. The details will differ but the story will be the same. If you have not, or maybe not yet, thrown your hat into this particular ring, then be very, very careful. The event has a siren effect on all who come near, and will not let go easily.

You may be entranced by the perfect unfurling of the scene along your journey, from quiet beginnings in the gentle farmlands north of Glasgow to the first suggestion over Conic Hill of sterner things to come, along the bonny but tortuous banks of Loch Lomond to the wastes of Rannoch Moor, the stark beauty of Glencoe and the final crescendo as Ben Nevis breaks into view to beckon you to the finish in Fort William.

You may be stirred by the certainty that this is still a wild trail, for along its 95 miles you will find no flower-decked chalets or welcoming buvettes, no rustic hamlets ransacked for holiday homes; a couple of villages, a few lonely farms and a handful of hotels, built in the time when travelling the highlands by any means was an adventure, will be your only brushes with civilisation.

But I think, no I'm sure, that it will be the people who create, run, and make the history of this race who will draw you in with their achievements, their stories, and their welcome. Alan and "Mad Jim" with 13 completions each; "WHW Runner" Ian who could double that number if his current enthusiasm holds; "Drama Queen" Mark who broke an ankle 5 miles from the start but decided to carry on and finish anyway; "Backwards Tim" who, depressed that injury kept him from the start line for two years out of three, ran the course from Fort William to Glasgow on the shortest day of the year in a time that many summer finishers would be proud of; "JK" who's unstoppable enthusiasm is only matched by his detailed blogging of training for the race; "Mad Aussie" Keith completing each year in fine style while pretending he doesn't really take it too seriously, and the athletes like Ritchie and Murdo up at the front, turning in performances every year that most runners would be pleased with once in a lifetime, but who will offer you their advice so readily and unassumingly.

Above all, race director Dario, who after a year's work organising the whole show, diligently ensuring that each accepted participant has a fighting chance of making the finish, and getting all the right people and equipment to the start line in the middle of a midsummer's night, knows for certain that he will spend the next 35 sleepless hours dealing with lost, damaged, often incoherent and occasionally hospitalised competitors, keeping the peace between over-zealous support crews and local residents, and being constantly aware of not only where everyone is, but of the changing Scottish weather in case the race needs to be modified or competitors rescued. Immediately after this he will MC the prizegiving ceremony for a further 2 hours with the skill and charm of a seasoned TV presenter."

Dario was more than a superb race director, he was a friend and confidant to every participant throughout the year, a guy who made our lives richer just by being who he was and doing what he did.

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