2017 Race Planning

With a new year looming just around the corner, it’s time to make a start planning which races I want to take part in. Actually, given the lead time to enter some of the big races, the reality is I’m putting into action the plan I’ve been building over the last few months.

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The start of the 2016 Highland Fling Race

First on the list was the Highland Fling in April. I ran this as my first ultra in 2015 and then volunteered to help out with the race in 2016. It is a superbly well run event and importantly for my plans, is the perfect distance to test myself in preparation for bigger things to come later in the year. historically the race has been on a first come, first served basis for entry, but this year the guys behind it ran a lottery system and I was lucky enough to snag myself a place in the draw. This will be my first ultra for the year and at 53 miles, it isn’t to be sniffed at.

I was then hoping to get a place in the Western States Endurance Run (WSER). This is a legendary 100-mile trail race in California and is right up there in the big race calendar. The trouble with big races though is that they attract a lot of attention, and I think something like 3000 people applied for a place in the race. When there are only 143 places up for grabs, it was no surprise that I didn’t get my lonely single ticket pulled in the lottery. The good news is missing out this year gives me two tickets in the ballot next year assuming I qualify again. And on that note, let’s talk about the West Highland Way race.

 

WHW over Rannoch Moor

WHW over Rannoch Moor

I was chuffed to bits with my WHW race in June. It was the biggest race I’d ever done and was as much a mental challenge as well as a physical one. I think I prepared as best as I could, but my

 

physical endurance didn’t stand up to the test as much as I’d hoped and I came in just under 23hrs. I rolled it over in my mind so many times, where could I improve, how would I speed up and in which sections of the race, how would I adjust my fuel and check-point strategies? That niggling voice in my head constantly wanting to improve. That’s what I love about running. I know I will struggle to get much closer to the pointy end of the race, but I know I can do better. So I applied again.

I heard last week that I had a place and was instantly overjoyed. I hadn’t realised how much the race meant to me until I read that I was in, and now I feel incredibly motivated to start training. Sadly, my running buddy Scott didn’t get a place and I feel terrible for him. Such is the nature of these races, though. We are both hopeful of turning our attention this year to UTMB though.

After WHW next on my target list is another shot at UTMB. This year I did TDS which was a gruelling test. A miserable, tough, hot, dusty, exhausting joy ride through the alps. Despite the misery, I still want to go back and do it again. I now also have enough accumulated ITRA points to qualify to apply for a space in the big UTMB race itself. I am now in a quandary; UTMB is massively over-subscribed and so the risk of no entry is high. TDS, on the other hand, is typically less subscribed, due to its gruelling nature I assume, and so is almost guaranteed a place. I would be miserable if I didn’t get a chance to race in Chamonix again this year, so I need to decide quickly.

[Post edit note] I went for UTMB!

UTMB here I come....hopefully

UTMB here I come….hopefully

Finally, one thing I’ve learned this year is that having nothing to look forward to or motivate me after UTMB, the remaining 3-4 months are a real challenge. Consequently, I am going to take a shot at one of the Salomon Skyline races around Glencoe. They are adding a 100km ultra which runs from Loch Lomond to Kinlochleven and takes in Ben Nevis en route. Alternatively, the VK race is also a good, hard workout which I’d like to take a chance on. One way or another I will race there I think.

So that’s it, hopefully, my final line up for 2017 will be:

  • Highland Fling
  • West Highland Way
  • UTMB
  • Glencoe Skyline

I’ve already started to train as the motivation to do well in the Highland Fling and WHW races is real. I have 4 months to get my fitness back on track for the Fling, and hopefully aim to get a sub 10hr finish time. My time is limited right now for training, due to work and my desire to spend as much time at home with William and Nichola as possible. My training runs have had to take place at times that most other people are climbing into bed or snoring gently away as they wait for the alarm clock to go off. I think this out of hours training will help me overall as it is pushing me to excercise when tired and from experience, that serves me well and helps me improve. I have also just read a book called Beyond Training, which has given me some inspiration for a different approach to training this year. I’m giving it a try at the moment and will try to write about it in another post.

For now, though, I’ve just been enjoying my running in some pretty spectacular Scottish scenery, exotic work locations and night time trails. Here’s some photo’s to give you an idea of what I’ve been up to over the past few months:

Goodbye 2016, it’s been fun…

Wow, what a year. Despite getting nowhere near as many opportunities I would have liked to run, looking back on this year and recognising what I’ve managed to fit in, I have to say it’s been a heck of a year.

Thinking back to the start of the year, our son William was born last December so training dropped off a cliff at that point. I’d naively signed up to some big races assuming life would continue as normal, but as I’ve described in most of my posts this year, it’s been tough to find the time to train. Despite that, my year started with what I think is becoming my favourite hill race which is Carnethy 5. The 2016 vintage was a snow blizzard of a race, literally, yet I felt amazing during it. I suspect this was due to my reduced training leading up to it, but who knows.

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After Carnethy, it was a fairly long period of minimal activity. I helped out at the Highland Fling and in the process became incredibly jealous of those taking part.6tag_300416-151523 I loved helping out at such an iconic race in the Scottish ultra racing calendar though and I can highly recommend it for improving your “Contribution to society” levels.

 

The two main events this year though for me, was the West Highland Way (WHW) and UTMB TDS races. The WHW was up first in June and was a daunting prospect given the minimal training. I had imagined putting in a few months of 100 mile training weeks to give it the best shot I could. I was way off that velocity by the time I got to it though. Despite that, I felt well prepared and what training I could do was pretty bloody awesome.

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The race itself went amazingly well looking back. I had hoped for a sub 20hr performance, but the sub 24hr I achieved was fantastic all things considered.

Before the climb up the Devils Staircase

Before the climb up the Devils Staircase

My support team did an amazing job to get me through and the weather made it a mid-summer experience to remember. I heard last week that I have a place in next year’s race. Determined to do better, I’m already dreaming about what it will take to get to the 20hr mark. More on that in another post, though.

 

After the WHW, next up was TDS; the big one. I’d been in awe of the UTMB series since I discovered running and TDS was as close as I could get to the namesake race of UTMB that my points accumulation would allow me. Oh boy, what a race it is too! We combined a family holiday with the race and spent three weeks in Chamonix to give me some time to prepare and get into the zone so to speak. It worked as well as I could have hoped and the whole experience of the race and the surrounding running festival was amazing. But oh what a race. I still wake up making strange noises thinking of ‘that’ climb our of Bourg St Maurice.

Chamonix - What's not to love?

Chamonix – What’s not to love?

I can’t wait to sign up again for this year, though, entries open in a couple of days and I now have enough points to do the UTMB. The dilemma is, do I risk the lottery and attempt to get a UTMB place, or do I go for TDS with an almost certified entry probability in comparison and look to banish some demons of my race?

 

After UTMB it has been social running only. Only, I haven’t been all that social. My opportunities to attend club nights have been reduced due to family and work commitments, but I’m starting to find more and more ways to fit running back into my life. For now, though, looking back on the year, I’m over the moon with what I achieved and I can’t wait to see how 2017 turns out.

Col Chavannes and smiles because it was over

Col Chavannes and smiles because it was over

Highland Fling 2016

My race plan for this year meant that I would be racing Transvulcania the week after this years Hoka Highland Fling. I hadn’t worked this out when I booked my place on Transvulcania, so I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to go back and run this wonderful race again this year. I remember sitting at home on the evening that the entries were opened, watching social media explode as hundreds of people booked their place.

I didn’t want to miss out on the day because it is such a memorable event, so I contacted Johnny Fling to volunteer. A race of this magnitude takes a few hundred people to make it happen, most of them volunteers. I’ve helped out at my local club races on a few occasions, but this was the first big event I’ve helped on. I think everyone who takes part in these races should volunteer to help out once in a while. We all reap the benefits of the hours of time people give up for free, so it only feels fair to pay back or forward to the ultra running community.

I contacted Johnny months ago and had actually forgotten about it until a couple of weeks before. I spotted my name on the volunteer list against the Inversnaid checkpoint and because I’d noted that I had a car I was willing to use, I was to be at the start line to collect the drop bags for that checkpoint. Consequently, at 4am on Saturday morning I was in the car park at Milngavie train station a lot more relaxed than I was this time a year ago!

It was fun to see the runners preparing for the race and the mix of emotions written all over their faces. It reminded me of how much of a nervous wreck I was a year ago before the start but also how much calmer I feel now thinking about these races. Over the next couple of hours the boot of my car slowly filled up with almost 500 drop bags. If you ever wondered what a million calories look like in the boot of a BMW, this is it:

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After a race brief by Johnny from the roof of his Ding Ding transit van, the runners made their way over to the tunnel that marks the start of the West Highland Way. I admit that I was sad not to be lining up with everyone, but equally I was nervous for when I stand at the end of that underpass waiting for the start of the WHW race in 6 weeks time. 6 weeks! how the hell has that race come around so fast? More on the preparations for that in the next post.

I managed to make it to the other end of the underpass before the first wave of runners were set off. This years race attracted an impressive bunch of runners who were all in with a chance of winning this race, so it was good to see these fast guys racing off up the steps at the start.

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Once these guys were on their way, the rest of the field were released and I headed to my car for the trip up to Inversnaid. The route there from Milngavie follows the A81 for a while and I recognised a section where the WHW crosses the road, so I pulled over to catch the race leaders as they came through. It was probably about 6 to 8 miles into the race, and when they came past, they all looked fresh and fast.

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After I’d seen a number of the front runners pass through this section, I was back in the car on off up the road to Inversnaid. The road to get to this place feels remote and weaves its way between some spectacular scenery. The weather was also amazing on Saturday, which was great for us spectators, but I did wonder how the sunshine would impact the runners if it were to hang around.

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I arrived at Inversnaid and wondered if I’d discovered the wrong place. I was the only person there except for a coach load of Lochs and Glens tourists. then I realised that it was still only 7:30am and people were due at 9am. Slowly other marshals for the day started to arrive as well as the other car with the rest of the drop bags and we all set to work sorting out 800 or more assorted zip lock, carrier, lunchbox, envelopes and other various forms of drop bag. It happened surprisingly quickly, neatly laid out in rows of 50.

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We then had a while to wait for the first runners to come through. While we were waiting a long haired, bearded guy appeared out of nowhere asking if he could expect to run into people racing if he was to run south on the WHW. We explained what was happening and in return he explained what he was up to. He had run Ben Nevis on Friday and his plan was the run the three peaks challenge, by running the whole route. He planned on reaching Scafell on Wednesday and completing the whole thing within two weeks. He then dropped into the conversation that he’d just run from Canada to Argentina before waving and setting off on his way. Ultra runners come in all sorts of shapes and sizes! Best of luck Jamie.

Inversnaid

Inversnaid Fling Team Pic:Davy Broni

 

Just after 10am the first runners appeared on the trail. That was 4hrs and a few minutes during which they have covered 34 miles and probably at least 1000m of elevation. That would be a great marathon time over that terrain, let alone for 34 miles. All of the leaders came into the checkpoint looking like they had only just started running and those who actually stopped to refuel, were in and out within a minute. The following twenty or so runners took a similar approach, in and out within seconds. Either simply picking up gels from a bag or a quick fill of a water bottle before dashing off again. It was a real insight into how the top guys deal with CP’s in these races.

The subsequent wave of runners that came through were in a varying array of states. There were some who had paced themselves well and looked as if they were starting to climb the field, some who had set off too fast and were now starting to suffer and those who were just working hard to stay steady.

The weather kept its promise to stay fine, the runners were all incredibly friendly, thankful, graceful and smiling. It was an incredible day and I’m so glad I volunteered to help. I have a renewed respect for everyone who runs in these races. From the fast guys at the front with their clinical focus on performance, through the next tier of amateurs who work incredibly hard to fill the 10-30% of the results table. Then the rest of the field who run these things to enjoy it, to meet new people, to experience things many people never experience and do so with a smile on their face.

I hope next year I get a place in the race. I am keen to go back and see how much I’ve improved since my 11h 45m results last year. I suspect a lot, but it will be nice to see exactly how much a lot is. In the meantime, I will leap at the opportunity to help out again in this and other races. It is a wonderful experience and is just as good as taking part in the race as a competitor.

Up next for me is the WHW race. I was scheduled to run Transvulcania, but now my work has produced something which means I can’t make it there for the race. IT’s a real shame as it looks like yet another amazing ultra race, but I’m looking forward to the WHW race now and that has my sole attention.

Sunday on the WHW

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Officially, it was the first day of British Summer time. That meant that we’d had one hour less sleep due to the clocks changing, but it also makes you hope that you might get some clear, sunny weather. But this is Scotland, in March, on the West Highland Way. We had wind, rain, sleet, hail, snow and some sunshine. But nevertheless, it was still epic.

My mate, Scott, and I are both signed up to run in the West Highland Way race in June. This is some test of endurance as it is 95 miles over some of the most remote trails in the British Isles. We have both spent some time on the trail, either from the Hoka Higland Fling race or from various reasons to walk in this part of the world. But running it. The whole length. Well, that’s something entirely different.

In preparation, we’ve both been increasing our mileage but we know we need to spend some time on the trail itself to train effectively. Knowing where you are and what comes next in a long race like that can make all the difference. So with that in mind, we planned a long run on Easter Sunday, starting at Bridge of Orchy and running north to the top of the Devils Staircase before turning around and running back again. The whole route was expected to be just over 30 miles with about 1000m of elevation.

We met up at 5am after losing that hour of sleep I mentioned and drove over to park at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel. After a quick hot drink in the hotel and a bowl of porridge, we set off. The first section is what’s affectionately known as Jelly Baby hill. It’s not much of a hill at all in comparison with some of the Munros around the area, but in the race itself it comes about 60 miles in and will be the last thing tired legs will want to climb. With that out of the way, the path meanders up on to Rannoch moor which is a bleak, open landscape.

Rannoch Moor

Rannoch Moor

The WHW rises up over the moor for about 10 miles. It is one of the many old military roads built through the highlands centuries ago and they were built to stand the test of time. The surface is like a cobbled stone and whilst it looks smooth enough, after running on it for an hour or so you are happy to reach the tarmac at the road to the Glencoe ski centre.

WHW over Rannoch Moor

WHW over Rannoch Moor

We stopped by the A82 to take in the views down Glencoe. It is probably one of the most photographed places in Scotland and with good reason. For the next couple of hours, we were spoiled with the huge scenery, which thankfully distracted from the achy legs. We reached Kingshouse in about 2h 30mins and after a quick pit stop to refill our water bottles, we headed back out for the Devils Staircase.

A bit like Jelly Baby hill, the staircase isn’t actually all that much of a hill when you compare it to some of the nearby monsters which look down on it. However, after running for miles, it commands a level of respect and swiftly reminds you if you don’t show it sufficient levels. By this point the weather was starting to allow some sunshine to poke through the clouds and we were treated with some of the best views the planet has to offer for all our hard work.

Scott making the climb to the top of the staircase look easy

Scott making the climb to the top of the staircase look easy

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Hard not to fall in love with this place – Glencoe

With the hard work done, we celebrated at the top of the staircase with a cereal bar before turning around. With 15 miles in the bag already, we were both feeling surprisingly ok, especially Scott who had already run the best part of 100 miles that week.

Heading back down we had the enjoyment of passing all the people we’d ran past earlier, all of whom described us collectively as mad, insane and other similar badges of honour for any runner. We stopped at Kingshouse Hotel for a quick coffee and cake before crossing back over the road towards the ski center and the path back down Rannoch moor. Thankfully mostly downhill from here, we enjoyed the views some more until a freak hail storm blew in.

Anyone who has experienced a hailstorm will know they can hurt. When you are wearing next to nothing and running in temperatures which are hovering just above zero, and the hail in question is desgined to be the pointiest, sharpest bits of hail you can imagine, they hurt even more. Combine that with about 25 miles of running by two grumpy old men, then the result is a lot of muttering and swearing. I put every piece of clothing I had with me on and I could still feel the hail biting through the thick mountain hat and waterproof jacket. Thankfully it stopped just before we reached Inveroran and we could enjoy the final climb back up Jelly Baby hill and back down into Bridge of Orchy.

By the end, we’d done 32 miles in just over 6 hours. We both felt worried about what the WHW race has in store for us, but equally, we are more content now we’ve run some decent mileage on the route. We are planning another run or two on other sections before the race in June, so look out for more updates. All told though, this was a fantastic run with great company, thanks Scott! It gave me more confidence for the races ahead as my longest run otherwise had been about 20 miles. I’ve managed to get up to running about 100km a week now with a couple of longer runs mixed in so my training is going well.

I hadn’t mentioned this before but I’m being interviewed in the run up to the West Highland Way race in the podcasts series expertly run by John Kynaston. Head over to the race website to hear the first two instalments.

Carnethy 5

It’s been a week or so now since I ran in the Carnethy 5 hill race just south of Edinburgh. I would have liked to have writen this up sooner, however life is hectic at the moment and baby William comes before everything else. He’s doing well by the way, and is making me realise how much fun life can be with just simple things like a smile, but a few more hours in the day would be really helpful.

For those of you who don’t know it, Carnethy 5 is a race which has been going for a few decades now in the Pentland hills to the south of Edinburgh and attracts hill and fell runners from all over the UK to kick off the season. As its name suggests, it takes in the summit of 5 hills, all of which are around the 500m mark. It does this in a shade over 9km, so it isn’t a long race, but it’s certainly a tough one.

It was my first ever hill race a year ago, so I was incredibly keen to go back again this year and see how I have improved. It turns out quite a bit, just over 3 minutes in fact, which for a race of this distance and elevation I was ecstatic with. My first PB, although it happens to also be the only race I’ve ever run twice, so it is also my only PB, but let’s not spoil things by getting into the details.

As well as a PB though, it was a PB on a day when most people were adding minutes to their time due to the conditions. Now, Scottish hills are notorious for poor weather and even these relatively low lying instances in the Pentlands can see some reasonable amounts of snow. As it turns out, whoever had ordered the weather for race day managed to get a good deal on snow making it a totally different race to the damp and grey conditions I’d experienced the year before.

Thankfully, I like running in snow. I have great shoes (inov-8 Mudclaws 235’s) and some warm tops (Ashmei carbon shirt…more about Ashmei later!) and I suspect that, due to continuing my training throughout the winter, I’ve become accustomed to running in most conditions and take things as I find them.

WP_20160213_12_52_24_Pro_LI.jpgThe race registration happens in a school hall in Penicuick which is about 3 miles away from the field where the start\finish line is. Consequently everyone gets a coach out to the field from the school. As we approached we could see horizontal snow coming down and even though the start was only 100m back from the road, it was pretty difficult to spot it through the snow, so you knew what it was going to be like. After huddling in a tent for a few minutes, everyone shuffled outside and before long we were off.

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Start\Finish Line

The start line is one one side of a boggy field with the first climb and last descent on the other side. Once over the bog you reach the first hill, Scald Law, by which time the field is well spread forming a long line of the 600 or so runners stretching up the hill. I remember this sight from last year and it was impressive, but this year, in the snow, it looked amazing and Matthew Curry captured this perfectly with the image below.

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PC: Matthew Curry

 

My climbing is probably the thing which has improved the most in the year and I felt great on the climb up Scald Law. I felt like I had a steady pace and that I wasn’t going to exhaust myself on this first climb like I remember doing last year. The subsequent four, and in particular the last, Carnethy, are all significant hills too. After the big climb up Scald Law, it is a ridge run of sorts across the next three hills, East Kip, West Kip and Black hill. After the last one, there is a long descent down the other side of the ridge to The Howe (no relation), before the final, leg sapping, mind numbing, suicide inducing climb up Carnethy. Once over this, the descent back down towards the boggy field crosses heather covered hills with a few patches of scree. If you like your downhills, you are certain to love this. I did.

Heading up Scald Law I found myself behind one of the other runners from the Lomies. He’s usually minutes ahead of me so I assumed he would pull away by the top of the hill. When I passed him on the first descent I was surprised, but he came past me again on the next climb and we did this throughout the race. I found myself pushing harder telling myself to try and keep up with him. Even if he was having a bad day, I would still get a great time as his bad days are typically better than my good days.

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Final Descent through the heather; that’s me at the back. pc: Mathew Curry

 

We summited the last hill pretty much together so i went for it on the downhill. In the snow, it felt easy to go for it, big long stretches of virgin snow making it easy to pick a line and open the legs out. My shoes were gripping well and I felt strong. Sadly, I felt too strong and I was going so fast I found myself feeling like I was losing control and my brain kicked in. Anyone who has ever raced downhill knows that when this happens, the brakes go on and it takes time to persuade yourself to take them off again. Sure enough the guy came tootling past me about three quarters of the way down and we finished about a second apart.

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Racing to the finish. pc: Tim Allan

 

I was delighted regardless. I had a great run and loved the conditions. It was one of those races where, even when you are busting yourself to get up a hill, you are grinning like a lunatic because you know this is going to be so memorable once it’s over. My time was 1h 14min 25sec and 182 place. Compared to last years 1h 17min 38sec 274 place, I’ll take that!

Before I close something has to be said about the race organisers and volunteers. This is an excellent event and very well organised. Given the conditions, the army of volunteers that make it possible went above and beyond what anybody could hope for and were cheering us all on the whole race, despite being blown sideways in a blizzard. Thank you.

Now back to Ashmei. I learned this weekend that I’ve been shortlisted to be an Ashmei Ambassador. Ashmei, in case you haven’t heard of them, make exceptionally stylish Merino wool running and cycling gear. I love their stuff and applied to be an ambassador for them about a month ago via an ad I saw. I’m on the shortlist and now have to work with them to see if I am to become a fully fledged ambassador. Here’s hoping! #ashmeiambassador. With races like Carnethy 5 on the calendar, runners need great kit so I’m hoping I can work with the guys at Ashmei to help promote their clothing in our community.

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West Highland Way Race

I heard on Monday night that I have a place in the 2016 WHW race. For me, this is one of the ultimate challenges in UK Ultra running and is a considerable stretch beyond what I’ve entered so far. It covers 95 miles of some pretty rugged Scottish countryside from just outside Glasgow all the way up to Fort William.

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I’m nervously excited to have a place, but that really does feel like the easy bit is now over. Training for this is going to take a completely different effort from what I’ve done so far, but I’m determined to train hard and put in the best performance I can. I’ve been watching and listening to the various videos and podcasts that exist about this legendary race and they are all helping. For now, I’m going to enjoy a few weeks rest leading up to Christmas, then begin to build the distances up in the New Year. Exciting stuff!

 

Kicking Back

The past few weeks have been fairly laid back after the Jedburgh race and we managed to arrange a weeks holiday up in the Highlands last week to really get a chance to unwind. It was a perfect short break in an exceptional place I found on the internet. It’s one of those place that, when you find it, you don’t really want to share it in case everyone starts to go. However, it’s so bloody good that I won’t be able to not talk about it, so here it is: Eagle Brae. More about that in a moment. Staying there gave me the chance to get in a few longish runs in some epic locations and most of all, broke my training regime from a rigorous focused approach (I’m laughing to myself writing that), to simply getting out and enjoying my running again; and it worked.

Now a bit about Eagle Brae. It is a place which as soon as you start to learn about it, it makes you wish that it was you who’d come up with the idea. It achieves that nirvana of situations, combining a lifestyle with a business. The owners, Mike and Pawana (pronounced Pubna), are a really nice couple who deserve the success their business is achieving through the hard work they have put into it. It has apparently taken them 8 years to convert a plot of land on a bracken covered steep highland glenside into a luxurious, eco-friendly range of log-cabins, the likes of which this country has never seen. This is no Center Parcs folks, think 5 star hotel made out of giant Canadian logs with cashmere tartan blankets.

I love the place for so many reasons, the location, how they’ve designed the site so nobody overlooks anyone else, the furnishings inside the cabins and that they recognise the type of folk who are likely to go there want fast internet access and help at the end of a telephone when they need an extra bottle of wine of an evening. From a business perspective, I imagine they are probably one of the few enterprises in the area that are drawing some spectacular incomes. It must be hard making a living in remote places like that, but I suspect the effort and investments they have made are paying off handsomely. To say I’m envious would be an understatement, but they are also inspiring for me in terms of what can be achieved with dedication, hard work and, most importantly I think, a great vision.

The area itself is a part of Scotland I’ve never visited, only passed through on the way to other parts. I now wish I’d paid more attention and found my way there sooner. Being on the north side of the Great Glen, it is remote and wild terrain in abundance. The particular area where we stayed was Strathglass, which is a long meandering river valley, off of which turn handsome glens. I explored two during a couple of runs: Glen Strathfarrar which has some increasingly spectacular hills the deeper you go and Glen Affric which I now feel is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to.

Glen Strathfarrar

After studying Walk Highlands for a number of hours on our first day, I eventually worked out that Glen Strathfarrar was about a mile away from where we were. The MWIS forecast for the area was grim so I opted for a 16km horseshoe route which took in a couple of Corbetts rather than the more remote and exposed Munros in the area. These Corbetts still looked to provide a challenge, but without the high exposure which would attract the fierce winds and snow that was predicted above 800m for the day. Or so I thought.

Having only been running for just over a year, I had a winter season last year, but didn’t really get to adventure into areas with too much exposure. during the summer I’ve had a chance to get out and about up high, but winter gives the mountains a different experience altogether and this run was just what I needed to remind me.

The route started off up a secluded track before breaking out across open moorland and grouse butts. We had seen some significant rainfall during the previous week and consequently the open ground was saturated and any stalkers path was like a river. Within minutes my feet were sodden and I gave up trying to keep them dry. As I climbed above 600m the wind blew and it started to snow. The summit of the first hill, Beinn Bha’ach Ard, was exposed and as I reached it the wind was pushing me sideways. I dressed in everything I had and kept going past the trig point to get in the lee side and away from the wind and on to the next hill, Sgurr a’ Phollain. From here it was a game of find a path, any path, in a long loop back to where I parked the car. It was beautiful country to run in.

Loch Affric Circuit

Later in the week the weather up high was again threatening to blow your skin off, so another venture to Walk Highlands turned up an 18km loop around a loch I’d never heard of before. Whilst I might not have heard about it before, I will certainly never forget it again. Loch Affric and the glen from which it is named, is simply the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to.

The route started and finished in a forestry carpark which, on this wintery, wet and blustery day was deserted when I arrived. Great! I have the place to myself. The route seemed simple enough, set off along the northern shore of the loch along a well laid path, cross a burn about half way along, loop around the far end of the loch and enjoy the run back to the car.

There were two problems with that route. The first, and a nice problem to have, was that the place was so scenic, I kept feeling the need to stop every few minutes to take another picture. The second, and not so nice problem, was that burn I mentioned. In the guide it suggested there would be stepping stones to make it easier to cross. Indeed there were, I could see how they were creating turbulence in the torrent that was raging over them! The burn crossing turned into more of a river fording. Despite having to wade waist deep through freezing cold fast flowing water, I was still smiling at the end of the loop.

At the far end of the loch the path meets another, the Affric-Kintail way, which heads off into the remote glen you can see further along. This apparently leads to the most remote youth hostel in the country and it looked a foreboding place. I looked up the Affric-Kintail way when I got back. It looks like it would make a great route for an ultra marathon! Anyone fancy joining me in creating a race there? There is also a bothy at the end of the loch which I found being refurbished by a couple of guys. I took some time to have a chat with them and I still don’t know if they have the best or worst job in the world given the landscape they worked in. Given how cold it was though, I suspect the view wears off after a while. Maybe.

We are back from the short break now and we have snow finally covering the Lomond hills by where we live. Tonight’s run reminded me why I love running here in winter. I’ll leave you with some wonderful pictures from my run tonight.