…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.