UTMB 2018 – Time to train!

After the disappointment of missing out on a place through the lottery last year for a place in UTMB, I was over the moon last week when I learned that I’ve been successful this year. Chamonix here we come!

I’ve struggled to get moving over the past six months since the West Highland Way race. Family, work and everyday life have all take priority and my running has been slow and infrequent. I won’t lie, it’s impossibly difficult coming to terms with not running frequently. It has such a positive effect on my physical and mental health and it’s only when it goes away that you realise how strong an influence it is.

With a place in the UTMB I now have the motivation I need to get out exploring again. Family life will still have to come first so I think the volume of running this year will be low, but I’m hoping for high quality to make completion of UTMB the simple goal. No time pressure, no push to get within a certain percentage of the field, just an experience to remember and enjoy. Aye, right.

The other good news is that a bunch of my running buddies have got places in other UTMB races (CCC and TDS mainly). That means a bunch of us will be in Chamonix again in August flying the flag. Sadly my mate Scott didn’t get in which I’m gutted about. We’ve run so much together, it would have been amazing to run it together (in preparation for PTL next year?). What? Did I really just write that?

So here we are; mid-January and already pushing 70km a week with 2000-3000m of elevation. I’m hoping to ramp that up through to a consistent 100km a week by end of February with a mix of hills and speed work to build a decent foundation. If that goes to plan, then Spring will be about increasing the amount of elevation to get some mountain legs built.

I’m also trying to get in yoga a couple of times a week again. I always feel better for the flexibility it delivers and by adding in a couple of strength sessions a week as well as squats and lunges after every run, I’m hoping I’ve got the basics covered. Watch this space for updates and adventures as we go through the year.

West Highland Way Race 2017

It’s been too long since I last posted an update on here. Home, family, work have all had to take priority for most of this year and that statement sums up the foundation I took into my main race for the year. Then, as if poor training and lack of race experience weren’t enough, Scotland decided to throw some weather at us on the day too. And so goes the story of the 2017 West Highland Way race.

If you are not familiar with the WHW race, take a look at my blog from last year or at the race website. In summary, it is a 95 mile race along Scotland’s most famous long distance trail. It has a unique status in the running community due to the awesomeness of the achievement, but also due to the family nature which the race enthuses in everyone who takes part. You can’t appreciate the sense of community until you take part, but once you do, it’s easy to see why so many people keep coming back for more.

This year, I was one of those who came back for more. After finishing in 22 hours and 49mins in 2016 and learning so much about how to run the race, I wanted to go back and see if I could apply the lessons I’ve learned and improve on that time. My two main areas of improvement were going to be about the time I spent in checkpoints and pacing the earlier sections of the race better. In 2016 I spent a couple of hours in total stopped, so I hoped that limiting any stop to 10 mins would help shave some time off. I was supported this year by two friends from Falkland Trail Runners, Carole and Susan, who were just amazing.  We spent some time before the race going through the details of how I wanted to approach it and, feeling prepared, we arrived in Milngavie at 9:30pm on Friday night.

My fabulous support crew before the race

After registration, I curled up on the back seat of Carole’s car and had a couple of hours sleep before the race. The 1am start time is the first challenge the race throws at you. Like most runners, life has to keep going and I’d been up since 6am with William, then a few hours work until lunchtime followed by some last minute preparations. By the time Friday evening arrived, I’d already had a full day under my belt so a 95 mile race was going to be tough. And it was.

I caught up with a bunch of running friends at the start line before the gun went off, then it was away into the darkness ahead of us. The early sections are straightforward enough and allow you to settle into the race. I was happy with my pace as we neared the Glengoyne distillery, but then a twinge in my right calf was a familiar feeling and, as I feared, before long the twinge turned into the sharp pain of a calf tear. I stopped at the side of the trail easing it out with some stretches and hoped it wasn’t as bad as I feared. It didn’t ease up so I started to walk it off, knowing I had to move forwards anyway. As I moved, I found that I could manage a hobbled walk, then a light jog, but my calf wasn’t happy. Meeting my crew at Drymen, I explained what had happened and they showed me exactly why I’d chosen them. They patted me on the back and said ok, see you at Balmaha, let’s see how you are feeling there.

Last year the weather was a crystal clear day right from the start, meaning the night-time section was run against a backdrop of clear night skies full of stars and the mid-summer sun rising early, meaning head torches were off long before Conic hill. This year was much different with grey skies overhead, that early sunshine was obscured meaning the torch stayed on until Balmaha. I tried turning it off on the way down Conic hill but immediately stumbled on a rock and rolled an ankle on the same leg as my calf. Now I felt completely justified in feeling sorry for my self. I kept moving forwards knowing food and a few minutes rest was waiting for me at the bottom of the hill. My crew were amazing again. Porridge was waiting for me, fresh water bottles and gels, then a push in the back and told to get going.

Loch Lomond from Conic Hill

By the time I reached Rowardennan I was in a poor state. My leg was still hurting and to exacerbate things, I’d become slack in my food intake thinking the CP was closer than it was. As I reached the girls, I was doing my best junkie impression looking as white as a ghost and shivery. More food, some paracetamol and some strapping, then the now familiar push in the back and a hug and I was off again.

The loch side section from Rowardennan to beyond Inversnaid has been my nemesis in every one of the three races I’ve run on the WHW so far. It is a gnarly, root and rock laden trail which feels impossible to me to maintain speed over. For whatever reason, I found it enjoyable this year. I felt like I managed to keep some momentum and the food I’d had at Rowardennan and the tablets had put paid to my aches. A quick pit stop at Inversnaid for some water and before I knew it I was running into Beinglas and my anxious crew. My smiles as I arrived put us all at rest and it was time to get moving up to Auchtertyre.

Anaethetists

My Anaesthetists for the race – Carole and Susan

 

As I passed Crianlarich, the weather started to turn. It had been grey and cool with a little wind so far, which made it a) perfect running weather and b) the perfect antidote to midges who had pestered us here last year. As I came into the checkpoint at Auchtertyre, the rain and wind started and the mood of the race was changed. I reached Auchtertyre in 11h 21m, which was almost 30 minutes slower than last year. The injuries earlier in the race had put a big dent in my hopes of a faster time, but things were going ok now, so I settled into my run. The section from here to Bridge of Orchy is generally quite fast so I knew that it would be a confidence boost if I can make it through that without any more problems.

Arriving into Bridge of Orchy

By the time I reached my team at Bridge of Orchy I felt like I was on cloud nine. I’d had a great run, taking 2h 23m, which given the driving rain and headwind we were all running into, I was happy despite being a further 10 mins slower than last year. My running was settled, I felt good about drink and calorie intake. These long races mean that you have to ride the lows to get to the highs.

Next up was Rannoch Moor. This long, desolate stretch of path was miserable last year because of the dehydrating high temperatures and lack of places to hide from the sun. This year, I was begging for that sunshine to come back as a biting northerly wind took hold of the heavy rain and turned it into a weapon against everyone one of us crossing that barren landscape. Determined to get through it, I was faster over this section this year by 15 mins. Sheltering in the car in the car park at Glencoe was like a haven from the horrible conditions. After some more food and a change of clothing into full on cold weather gear, I was kicked out of the car and sent on my way.

GimpSuit

From the 2017 wild weather collection on the Devils Staircase

 

My crew met me at the bottom of the devil’s staircase. The run from the ski center to this point had been horrible. The wind and rain had increased and Glencoe is a bleak place when weather like that is blowing through. There was nobody ahead or behind me in sight so it felt continually more and more isolating. Carole and Susan came up the staircase with me encouraging me on which I was hugely grateful for. I left them about half way up so they could get around to Kinlochleven in time for me. As I went over the top of the hill, I rolled my right ankle again for the second time. This time it wasn’t something I could run off. I’d slipped on some wet rock and was struggling to keep upright in the high wind. I kept moving and eventually limped down to Kinlochleven in just over 3 hours, 20 minutes slower than last year.

Soup-er food for runners

With warm soup waiting for me and the knowledge that there was ‘only’ Lairig Mor left to do, I wasn’t going to give up here. Some strapping for my ankle helped, as did a change into dry clothes, some clean socks and a different pair of trainers with more grip. The by now familiar kick up the arse and sent on my way was administered and I promised to see the girls in Fort William.

The climb out of Kinlochleven is always longer and steeper than I remember it being. It was tough and then, just as you reach the top, you step into the driving rain that you’d been protected from as you climbed up through the trees. From this point onwards, there was only one story and it involved the weather. I was tired, cold, wet, hurting and long out into the distance was that lonely track. Half way across it was Jeff Smith and his Wilderness emergency team, looking out for people like me stupid enough to be crossing that lonely place in exactly these kinds of conditions. He took this photo which gives you a sense of what we were dealing with:

Lairig Mor. Pic courtesy of Jeff Smith

There was so much rain, the rocky track was inches deep in water and it was like running through a river. Lundavra eventually appeared on the horizon and I was so happy to know that the worst was over. The trail from Lundavra through to Glen Nevis used to be a pleasant experience but recent forestry work with some heavy machinery has put paid to that. In the darkness, one section of trail appeared to end as it went head first into knee deep tracks left behind by a digger of some sort. The familiar trees were gone which made for a disorientating experience for those of us who knew that area. Finally, the last small climb to the fire road which winds down through Glen Nevis was in front of me and I could see the head torches of other people ahead of me for the first time in hours.

It turned out that some of those torches were from my crew who had come out to meet me as they were so worried after seeing my ankle at KLL. I was over the moon to see a friendly face after the experience of Lairig Mor. I explained that it was downhill all the way and that I had something like 48 minutes to get in under 24 hours and, providing my ankle would let me, I was planning on going fast down the track all the way to the finish. I’m not sure they quite expected it, but running 5min\km downhill at the tail end of a 95 mile ultra wasn’t quite what they were expecting.

Sadly, it wasn’t enough and I crossed the line in 24hrs and 2 mins. It didn’t matter one bit though, I was so happy to have finished given how tough things had been throughout the day. I know that if it hadn’t been for my crew, I would have given up on the race early in the day and missed the opportunity to finish. They were amazing and I will be forever grateful to them. Races of this length require more than just physical fitness. You can plan for things going well, but you have to accept when things don’t go well and disrupt that plan. The experience of doing this kind of race is incredible and as someone reminded me at Bridge of Orchy, there is a world full of people who can’t imagine what it is like to complete something like this and we are all doing this on their behalf. I feel proud of finishing this tough race twice in respectable times. All the people involved in making it happen contribute to those of us lucky enough to run in it and I say a huge thank you to all of you.

Proud to receive my 2nd race goblet

The award ceremony on Sunday morning was another emotional experience. The winner, Rob Sinclair, set a new astounding course record of 13h 41m. An incredible performance which is really difficult to comprehend how it is achieved. The final finisher finished 20 minutes before the ceremony and was handed her goblet by the winner, as is the tradition of this race, and was given a standing ovation by everyone in the hall as a mark of respect.

Now, it’s time to recover. I put my body through some serious conditions on Saturday and I suspect it is going to take a lot of time to recover. That’s ok though. I’m happy to relax, take the time to recover and be satisfied with what I’ve achieved.

My fabulous crew who deserve the goblet as much as I do

 

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.

WP_20160430_05_59_57_Pro_LI

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.

24548870884_6f86e1bdf9_o

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.

WP_20160327_10_16_59_Pro_LI_edited

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

UTMB TDS preparation

We are in Chamonix at the moment as I prepare to take on the TDS race, part of the UTMB race event. I’m here with Nichola and William for a long overdue two week holiday and we are loving it. The race is just under a week away now and I’ve been getting a few practice runs in this week before it’s time to put my feet up and relax for a few days before the start.

All smiles in Chamonix

All smiles in Chamonix

As anyone who has spent any time in Chamonix will tell you, it is a trail running paradise here. The options for running seem endless, but I’ve tried to focus my runs this week on segments of the course and some climbing to get my legs into work mode. The route is 116km long with almost 8000m of vertical to deal with up and down.

TDS Race Profile

TDS Race Profile

Over the last week, I’ve been able to get out and run almost everything in the race from Col Est de la Gitte onwards. To say my training leading up to this hasn’t gone well would be an understatement. Since the WHW race, a combination of prioritising family and work have meant I’ve barely run more than 30km per week since June. Thankfully, my legs seem to have done well despite that and I dare say my WHW race was great preparation and that I’ve just been ticking over ever since.

With 5 days left before the start, I’m starting to feel more confident. I’ve seen and felt what a lot of those hard climbs are like now and I’ve got into a mental state that I need to in order to get through the race. I’m disappointed that I haven’t trained more, but things are how they are and I’m here and ready to race, so I just have to give it my best shot.

I’m hoping for a sub-24hr finish, but with all those sharp, pointy hills to get over, who knows. I like uphill running and I seem to cope with long, persistent climbs in this kind of environment well, so I should do ok. I’ve got a dogged feel about me now that means I might just do ok in this race.

Until then though, we are enjoying the warmth of the alpine sunshine. We are taking in the sights of these spectacular mountains and we are enjoying time together. Who cares how the race goes when you have all that?

Bionnassay

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:

6tag_300416-055020

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.

WP_20160430_05_59_57_Pro_LI.jpg

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.

6tag_300416-065557

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.

6tag_300416-075113.jpg

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.

6tag_300416-151523

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

6tag_270316-204539

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

WP_20160327_10_16_59_Pro_LI_edited

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.