…and I’ll take the Low Road

On a rainy Saturday morning we took a wee trip to Rowardennan. The West Highland passes through Rowardennan before heading off into the relative wilderness of the East side of Loch Lomond.

After many years the “Low Road” has been cleared, the path upgraded and it is now open to walkers and runners once more. I was last on the low road nearly 20 years ago when I walked the West Highland Way carrying heavy rucksacks with my son Hamish who at the time was only 8 years old or so.

This time the point of the trip was to run to Inversnaid and back, carrying out a recce of the Low Road as I expect to be “racing” on it in June. I put the word racing in quotes because I always find that I am pretty wrecked by the time I get to Rowardennan about 26 miles in to the route regardless of which race I am doing. Fortunately I usually recover later on, but the prospect of actually racing at this point is unlikely!

The total distance from Rowardennan to Inversnaid is around 7.5 miles. It is described on the official WHW web site here

The first section is along a good road which works its way past the Youth Hostel until it bears right and starts to climb uphill through a gate just after Ptarmigan Lodge.

The first section can be seen in the following short video clip

About 300m after the gate the new low road drops sharply to the left at a big bend in the road. It is likely that this route will be used by the West Highland Way Race this June (2016). The Highland Fling race will continue to use the “High Road” so Fling runners will not turn on to the low road but will continue up hill for another 2.5 miles. The Fling route is easier running but not nearly as interesting as the Low Road.

The Low Road can be seen here, slightly speeded up. Apologies also for the slightly jaunty angle of the video at times. Either my camera was squint or my head was, not sure which.

 

The Low Road joins the High Road once more and descends to the lochside for a nice 2.5 mile run through some nice forested trail with the odd waterfall to skip through for good measure before finally arriving at Inversnaid Hotel and the spectacular waterfalls there.

Inversnaid is a pretty god forsaken place on race day. Most people arrive there feeling horrible, there are very few supporters because it is too far to get there by road. It is only 7ish miles by foot and more than 30 miles by road. When you arrive in Inversnaid on race day you usually find the midges have already eaten the contents of your drop bag, and you have only the slowest most technical part of the course still to come in the next 6 miles to Beinglas farm.

Despite the rain, I thoroughly enjoyed my wee jaunt on the new improved Low Road and I didn’t even mind the run back to Rowardennan up the hills of the high road. And anyway, all roads lead to Milngavie in June.

I have posted other videos of the route from Derrydarroch to Tyndrum on this page

and more videos of the Rollercoaster here

The Highland Fling – Tyndrum to Crianlarich

On a sunny day I took myself for a run on the section of the West Highland Way heading south from Tyndrum.

This is the reverse of the way the route is normally travelled.

On the way I tried out my new camera with some mixed results.  The following clips are unedited, apart from the Auchtertyre demon sheep.

The first mile was sunny with spectacular views. This is the last mile of the Highland Fling race. The only things disturbing the peace are my heavy footsteps

The next section is a pleasant run past the farm at Auchtertyre, on by the ruins of the church at St Fillans and down to the A82 road crossing. This video contains some high speed sheep

Across the road and into the forest is the undulating section to Bogle Glen known as the Rollercoaster.  18 minutes of heavy breathing as I tried to run all the way over some pretty steep hills. Confession – didn’t make it had to walk a few steps on the very last up! The scenery is nice and hopefully the soundtrack is reminiscent of the extended version of Donna Summer’s Love to Love You Baby 😉

 

 

The Highland Fling

On a sunny day I took myself for a run on the section of the West Highland Way from Tyndrum to Beinglas Farm.

This is the reverse of the way the route is normally travelled.

On the way I tried out my new camera

The infamous Cow Poo Alley was quite dry for a change

Down to the road crossing

Under the road and through the Cattle Creep

Running along Glen Falloch

This clip shows the approach to Derrydarroch Cottage from the North

Every Day is a School Day

Black Mount
Hopefully the road to Glencoe will be easier for runners in June

I have just spent a couple of days at the Highland Fling training weekend in Tyndrum. Although I am not running either the Fling or the WHW this year it was good to spend time with like minded souls, enjoy some wine and some hard training.

I spent some time running with Amanda Hamilton who is building up to her first West Highland Way Race this year and we had a chat about what worked for me as well as what went wrong as I ran my first WHW race last year.  I am sure that Amanda will have a strong race as she has her head screwed on the right way and is putting in the hard miles.

So what would I do differently next time?

1. I would practice running during the night.  When I left Milngavie I had no problem running in the dark, but I did have a big problem with my body clock not wanting to start running at 1 am and I really struggled to maintain what would normally have been an easy pace at the start of the race.

2. I would do more long slow runs. I struggle for patience in long runs and tend to rush them to get them over and done with as soon as possible, so while I had the distance in my legs, I didn’t necessarily have the time in my head.

3. Getting carried away and charging over to Glencoe like a demented warthog may have felt great at the time, but I probably suffered for it later.  Resist the temptation to rush.

4. Spend less time at checkpoints. Despite having a strict plan for my checkpoint times, time seemed to slip away, especially later in the day.

5. Don’t worry about the weigh-in. I was getting a bit light when I left Auchtertyre, even though I felt absolutely fine and it worried both me and my crew in case I would have a problem in Kinlochleven. This resulted in me spending time at our van trying to feed up before I went in to the Leisure Centre. Daft when you look back on it sitting outside in the cold and dark when I could have been inside in the warm.  Kinlochleven checkpoint is a great place. If you are well, no-one will pull you from the race. Get inside and feel the tough love being dished out.

6. The haggis and beer at the ski centre probably wasn’t a great idea either even though I enjoyed them at the time.  I think I would probably try to eat more real food earlier in the race and stick to softer food in the second half.

As for the things I got right there are probably a few

1. Do the training miles but don’t do them too early and try not to  get mileage envy of the nutters who are knocking out 40 mile runs at christmas.

2. Know the route inside out

3. Have a training plan and trust it. Don’t chop and change just because you hear someone else threw in an extra long run and don’t get sucked into going on every social training run just to be part of the gang.

4. Get a support crew you trust absolutely. Your needs become very childlike in the race and your crew needs to know when you need and cuddle and when you need a spank.

My final tip is that there are many ways to skin a cat and what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. You need to experiment early in the year with gear, mileage and nutrition so that when it gets to the business end you are settled on the logistics and all you need to worry about is running.

And finally no matter what you get right or wrong, at times it will get horrible and dark, but if you keep going, no matter how slowly, it won’t get any worse and might even get better, but either way, you will make it to Fort William.

WHW Race – Just 2 days in June?

The WHW Race is so much more than just 2 days in June.

It is now half way through November which means that is it is half way through the entry period for the West Highland Way Race 2014. Lots of people will be waiting anxiously for the end of November to discover whether or not they have a place in next year’s race.

I haven’t entered this time around. Despite it being the best thing I have ever done, I shall be trying different races, though I do hope to be involved supporting the race in one way or another.

The West Highland Way Race is all consuming, especially for a first-timer.  5 months on from the race and it still influences me.  Apart from my ongoing achilles injury which I picked up as a result of not resting sufficiently after the race there are other little reminders,  like the favourites list on the BBC Weather website which popped up this afternoon and which made me smile at the pervasive nature of the race.

weather

West Highland Way Race – time for reflection

The dust has settled, the West Highland Way Race report has been written and the 2013 WHW Race consigned to history.

Living inside the intense race bubble was an incredible experience and I found it difficult to give up the adrenaline and support network which existed in that bubble and return to real life.

Physically I am pretty well healed. I have run a few times since the race and while I am still a little tired I don’t have any race related niggles. I have picked up a bit of an achilles injury which didn’t come from the race itself but may be an indicator of trying to do a wee bit too much too soon. Or it could just be bad luck.

Some random thoughts on my race

Feet – My feet were great,  I had no issues at all. The taping I used over potential hot spots worked well and despite being on my feet for 27 hours I had only one small blister and a bashed toe but nothing which affected my ability to run.

Toilet –  unlike some others, I had no bother with toilet issues. In fact I didnt need to poo all the time I was running.

Sleep – doing without sleep wasn’t a huge problem. It was a bit of a struggle the first night, especially the half light in the early hours when I would fall asleep while running through the woods. Once the sun came up I seemed to get past being sleepy and although I had an unplanned sleep of an hour at Kinlochleven, I wasn’t unduly tired on the second night.

Shoes –  my shoes worked well for me. I ran the first section in Brooks Pure Grits. I changed into Inov-8 Roclite 365’s to take me from Balmaha to Bein Glas and ran the remainder of the Way in Brooks Cascadias. The Cascadias in particular did a good job over the stoney trails of the second half of the Way.

Gear –  I had posted about all the gear I had prepared for the race. In the end I used quite a bit of it.  The only gear surprise was that I wore compression shorts and calf guards over the first half of the race and discarded them for the second half which is the opposite of what I was expecting to happen. I had a bit of a wardrobe failure when my 2XU shorts and X-bionic pants got soaked and the seams caused some nasty chaffing.

My headtorches worked well. The Tikkina torch gave plenty light and the battery life meant no issues with batteries. Wearing a second torch on my wrist was genius as the ability to target light made a massive difference.

My OMM Kamleika smock was awesome. Despite some horrendous rain, it kept me dry and the ability to vent using the large zip helped keep me cool as well.

Food –  on the whole my food worked reasonably well. I probably didn’t eat enough in the middle section of the race which may have contributed to my big slump and subsequent vomitting on the Devil’s Staircase.  My breakfast of yoghurt and muesli at Balmaha worked well and I should perhaps have eaten some more of this at later checkpoints. Cheese rolls were tasty.  Soup was quite good,  but I struggled with the texture of real chicken. I had asked for baked potato and haggis at Glencoe but it didn’t really work – it was too difficult to eat at that stage which meant I probably had less of it than I should have.  Despite having trained with trail mix as my snack of choice for eating on the go, on the day I couldn’t face it which was doubly unfortunate because Helen had spent ages preparing lots of little bags of it for me!

Overall I was pretty happy with my first West Highland Way Race. I was disappointed that I got delayed at Kinlochleven and lost lots of time there, but equally I was pleased that I managed to get going again and finish well. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the actual running parts of the race went.  Lots of lessons were learned.  With a wee bit more experience I think I could shave a few hours off my time and I can’t wait to have another go at it.

Even if I am not running next year, I will definitely be somewhere between Milngavie and Fort William on West Highland Way weekend.

Nearly there

It is Tuesday 18 June. I have two more days to work this week and then it will be time for the West Highland Way Race.

I am for the most part packed. I have made my choices and piled a mountain of gear ready to be crammed into the van on Friday. My support crew, to whom I am eternally grateful, are primed and ready to do whatever is necessary to get me from Milngavie to Fort William.

I could write about all of the niggles I have –  my dodgy hip, my sore right foot, the wee bit plantar fasciatis I am experiencing in my left foot, or the weight I haven’t managed to lose or the training I have missed, but in truth none of that matters.

I will be on the start line in Milngavie.

For the last six months I have been surrounded by people for whom the prospect of running 95 miles is normal. That in itself provides a reassuring coccoon in which to train and accept that running such a distance is not only possible, but is in fact an eminently sensible thing to do. In such company your perception of normal shifts, and you just accept that the seemingly impossible is in fact entirely possible.

The people who do the West Highland Way Race are quite unusual, in that they are all “normal”, well balanced, ordinary people who just happen to have a passion for running stupidly long distances through spectacular landscape. For people who do such extraordinary things, they also have a complete lack of ego. Maybe it is because of the enormity of the task, the knowledge that you will succeed only if you recognise and accept your limitations, or the recognition that in such vast landscape you are a tiny insignificant dot, but it is remarkable that even amongst the very fastest runners there is no arrogance.

I am 49 years old. I have seen most of the traumas that life generally throws at people and dealt with them. I have a busy job with enough responsibility to keep me on my toes and deal with the dramas both real and imagined of holding a reasonably senior position in a large organisation. I am one those lucky people who have managed to be successful in a number of different areas through a wee bit talent and a propensity for hard work.

But I Haven’t Run 95 miles.

and that for me is the real beauty of the West Highland Way.  I get to do something for the first time and I get to do something that can’t be bluffed, blagged or dressed up in management bullshit.  I get to stand on a start line not knowing if I can make it to the finish. The furthest I have ever run is 53 miles and I am now attempting to run 95. That is crazy.

Am I nervous? Oh yes! Am I afraid? Not at all. I have confidence in the race organisers and my support crew to look after me. I am resolved that barring accident I shall make it to Fort William, if only because I have never considered the possibility of not making it to Fort William.

At some point in this race my legs will stop working, it will hurt a great deal and I will have to look inwards and decide if I have what it takes.  The anticipation of pain is not the same as experiencing pain and in some ways I am looking forward to the pain because that means the race has really started and while it is still in the relatively safe environment of a race, you are transported back to more primal times and it is just about your ability to keep moving in wild places.

It has to be possible to make it to Fort William because other people have made it there year after year. I also know that people I respect have not made it there some years. I cannot contemplate that. The prospect of living with the failure is something which will keep me moving forward. I have always been someone who has been driven by fear of failure rather than desire for success in my sporting endeavours, despite actually being pretty successful at sport over the years. I am probably the modern sports psychologists nightmare. Maybe it is down to my good Scottish upbringing where if you were 2nd, rather than a pat on the back you get asked why you weren’t first, or if you won at rugby you get asked did you score?  Anyway, enough of my demons, there are whole generations of Scotsmen with the same baggage and generally speaking it made us more successful as a nation than the current trend of making everyone a winner whether they succeeded or not.

So to Milngavie it is. A massive step into the unknown.  Let the weather and the midges do their worst and here’s hoping I earn the right to hobble up to receive my Crystal Goblet on Sunday lunchtime.

WHW Race Kit List

It is getting to that time when I have to make some decisions about what kit I will wear on the West Highland Way Race. After much trial and error, I am just about settled on my kit list. So barring exceptional weather I shall be wearing some combination of the following:

OMM Kamleika Smock  I love my OMM jacket. It keeps me dry in all sorts of weather, pulls down over my hands and has a good hood. Nice and light so can be carried “just in case”. Hope I don’t need it.

OMM Kamleika trousers Hopefully I wont need to wear these but they are a fantastic over trouser. Easy to slip on and off, keep the wind and rain out, and are articulated so you can actually run comfortably in them.

Swiss Alpine Marathon Race Jacket – this is a lightweight rip-stop nylon zip jacket, keeps the wind off and weighs nothing at all so really handy for keeping the chill off on a dry day. This was a freebie at the 25th Anniversary race.

Buff Everyone needs a buff. Multipurpose, keeps you warm, keeps the sun off, stops the sweat dripping into your eyes.

OMM Vector Tee   Long sleeved shirt, this is a really great base layer which really keeps you warm, but at the same time works well in the warm. Expecting this to be my night time wear and potentially my all day wear too if the weather is iffy.

Ronhill Trail zipped shirt A good compromise for a warm day. I really like the long zip which is a great way to cool down. This shirt comes with a zip pocket on the back as well as two elasticated hip pockets. To be honest I have never used these as I don’t like things bouncing around on my back, and if I have stuff to carry then I prefer my belt or rucksack.

X Bionic boxer shorts I did think Helen was being a wee bit cheeky when I received these as a gift but they actually are very good. They stay dry and provide a wee bit of support.  They also help avoid nasty chaffing in the upper thigh/groin

Hoko 3/4 compression tights Discovered these in Spain at the Barcelona marathon. Heavy duty compression, but comfortable with it. Expecting to pull these on at some point after Rannoch moor to try to keep my legs moving in something approaching the right direction.

2XU compression shorts I don’t really like wearing these but they do help. Expecting to wear them over the first half

Ronhill Cargo Trail shorts these are comfortable very lightweight shorts with a huge array of pockets and gel holders. None of which I use except for the secure zipped pocket on the waist. These will get an outing if it is a warm day if I decide that I don’t want to wear my 2XU compression shorts.

CEP Calf Sleeves I am a recent convert to Calf Sleeves. Having suffered some calf troubles earlier in the year I now wear these regularly when racing. These give great support, and help keep you warm. Funky colours as well.

Injinji Trail socks The latest fad. I have to admit I was very sceptical about these as socks with toes are just downright unnatural, verging on pervy. However I am a convert. Since wearing these I have had very few blisters and they are extremely comfortable. They are however a pig to get on and off especially if like me you have funny shaped toes. Fortunately on race day I fully expect someone else to do any foot care which is required (thanks support crew) as my chance of having either the flexibility to reach my feet or the coordination to remove socks successfully is slim to none.

Drymax Trail socks Again another item which is becoming increasingly popular with the ultra community. I have yet to learn to love these, but think I will wear them as a second pair on top of my injinjis just to give additional cushioning.

Inov-8 Gaiters handy for keeping the debris out of your shoes and socks

Brooks Pure Grit shoes Love my Grits, they give great flexibility and contact with the ground. Hoping to wear them through the first half of the race. Unfortunately as luck (or bad planning) would  have it, I wore them today and came to the conclusion that my current pair really have reached the end of their life. Eek! only 10 days to find and break in another pair. Fortunately they don’t need any breaking in, they are comfortable straight from the box.

Brooks Cascadia shoes these are a new addition to my shoe cupboard, but I expect to wear these over the second half of the race which is much more stoney under foot and where the stability and support will be more use to me than my speedy Grits.

Salomon XA 20 backpack does the job nicely. maybe a little large but  it carries all my stuff and is comfortable with handy pockets on the waist belt.

Inov-8 Race Elite belt expect to alternate this with my backpack, just to give me a change of posture. Will use this on the shorter sections. Has great roomy pockets without being too big.

Petzl Tikkina Headtorch. Probably frowned on by those who have big expensive head torches, but I have run plenty miles with this one in the winter so expect that it will be adequate. However bought a second bigger torch just in case. Will probably wear this one on my wrist to help give additional light where I need it.

Jazooli Q5 160 Lumens Cree headtorch Cheap and cheerful. Only cost £12 and has a massive beam. If it only does me the WHW Race then it will be worth the money.

On top of all of these I have various items as options for extreme weather, including woolly hats, goretex gloves, goretex shell, etc, etc etc

Having organised all of these variations and options you just know that I am going to wear the same few things from start to finish! And they say that running is a simple sport because all you need are some shoes……..  🙂

The postman always rings twice

Two new pairs of shoes arrived today, a pair of Brooks Cascadia and a pair of Brooks Racer T7. Opposite ends of the shoe spectrum. So obviously I had to go for two runs. Here are my first impressions:

936008_10151712997129131_443658975_nCascadia

I am still in search of the perfect trail shoe. I love my Brooks Pure Grit, but on long treks over sharp stones you soon start to feel the pressure on your foot. I have been on the lookout for something more substantial which would fit the bill between my Grits and my Inov-8’s which are great for technical stuff, but not so great for really long runs.

These are the Cascadia 7 which is last season’s model which is also why I was able to buy them half price from sportsshoes.com. My first thought upon putting them on was that these were a solid pair of shoes. They look and feel substantial. They also feel comfortable straight off. The upper is soft and stretchy and on these shoes the asymmetric lacing seems to work for me. The toe box feels wide and roomy.

I took them out for a quick run through the woods. Mixed trail, some stones, mud, grass, gravel and a little tarmac.  Overall impression is yes, this is a good shoe.  The grip was good on all terrains. I was keen to find out how they felt running on sharp stones and they passed the test well. The sole gives good protection. They are a little more shoe than the Pure Grit so they are not quite as responsive, but they offset this by being very stable and well protected. These are the sort of shoes you could wear for an ultra over hard terrain. Having only worn them once, I am already thinking that I might wear them for the second half of the West Highland Way Race which is over stony ground and which has been hurting the soles of my feet when running in my Pure Grits.

In summary these feel like a comfortable, stable, well protected shoe which I expect to be well suited to long steady miles.

T7 Racer

These were a little bit of an indulgence. As they were only £35 or so in a sale, I thought I would give them a try. I had previously tried on a pair of these a few years ago and at that time immediately felt they were way too lightweight for my larger frame. Over time I have become a wee bit lighter and have also transitioned to lower drop shoes so I was pleasantly surprised when I laced these up just how comfortable they felt.

They are little more than some soft fabric attached to a sole, but that makes them very comfortable to wear. The fit is snug and really nice and the asymmetric lacing again works and holds the foot in place nicely.  They are incredibly light, but the sole is more robust that I expected. I already have both Green Silence and Pure Connect shoes.  This feels like a more structured shoe than the Green Silence and also has a much more comfortable upper and lacing system. I think that the Pure Connect has a more cushioning and the T7 doesn’t roll you on to your forefoot in the way that the Connect does. It feels like a slightly wider fitting shoe than the Connect as well. For me the T7 felt immediately more comfortable and better suited to my foot than either the Green Silence or the Pure Connect.

I wore these for a quick treadmill 5K at lunchtime and was very happy with them.  I don’t know how long they will last, but I look forward to trying them out in some 5K and 10K races.