|Friday on the M74|
This post is actually about the West Highland Way Race training weekend at Balmaha, but as the apocalyptic forecast and actual bad weather contrived to poke a stick in the spokes of the Ainslie wheel, I couldn't let it pass without comment.
Snow induced gridlock in Dumfries saw what should have been a 25 minute nip home turn into a near 2 hour frustration inducing crawl. A fortuitous call to Ian Gray and a diversion via Lockerbie allowed us to dodge a stranded lorry on the Moffat road and eventually reach the M74. Relief was however short lived as the same blizzard that caused the closure of the M6 threatened to engulf us too, crawling along the single open lane was a slightly "hairy" experience. But the weather Gods demonstrated their fickle nature and just south of Glasgow, no snow and clear roads.
|Oak Tree Inn|
We made it to The Oak Tree at Balmaha just after 8pm and in the words of Burns settled "fast by an ingle bleezing finely, wi reemin swats that drank divinely" or more prosaically we enjoyed a fabulous meal and a couple of pints next to the log fire. Our party consisted of Frank and Dawn from Dumfries Running Club, Choppy, Ian, Caroline, Sean and myself from Dumfries Harriers and Ann as a non running replacement for Andy. Andy had inexplicably opted for a 76 mile run through the Great Glen plus a night in a tent, rather than our more sedate 30 miler plus 2 nights in a lovely warm hotel, proper hard core!
|Photo courtesy of John Kynaston|
The weather Gods took pity on us, after the tough drive up and last years appalling weather, 10am Saturday was bright, dry and not too cold. Around 40 runners gathered for Ian Beattie's briefing and just a shade after 10, we were off. For probably the first and last time, Ian and I were leading a pack of ultra runners on the West Highland Way, well we were leading until the steps up past Craigie Fort, then the more Gazelle like types shot ahead.
The out and back run to Inversnaid is 30 miles, but in keeping with the laid back nature of the day, people were running anything from 10 miles to the full 30. Within the first couple of miles it was obvious this wasn't a day we'd be keeping our feet dry, snow, mud and puddles combined with a poor jump over the stream at Milarrochy, meant this could be a long day at the office. I was running variously with Choppy, Ian Minty, Iain Wallace and Peter McDonald
and we managed to avoid both last year's unintended route deviation round the point at Ross Wood (Anderson's Folly) and stayed upright at Beattie's Bridge, where Andy hit the dirt last year.
|Rowardennan, courtesy of John Kynaston|
The run to Rowardennan was pretty uneventful, with most runners taking a stop here, I opted to keep going and after a brief solo spell found myself running with, or more accurately behind Iain Wallace and Peter McDonald, both WHW race veterans. I'd never net Iain before, but recognised him as having overtaken Caroline on the home straight of The Devil race last August. Peter and Heather had stayed in the same hotel as Ann and I before last years D33, so it was good to catch up.
Last years training weekend was the first time I'd run on the WHW and I remembered the last 2 miles into Inversnaid as difficult and technical, having now got a lot of trail miles under my belt, I really enjoyed this section. I'd dropped behind the guys, but found I was running strongly and easily. I'd recited Tam O' Shanter at a Burn's Supper recently and found that by reciting this in my head on this section, it flew past.
I quaffed down a tub of rice pudding (yummy) and my first ever Clif bar (unattractive but strangely tasty), my Garmin tells me I stopped for around 7 minutes before heading back south. Our group spread out pretty quickly with the "gazelles" soon disappearing, so it was good to see the runners still on the outward leg, I said hello to Caroline, Ian, John K, Frank Skachil and lastly Norma Bone, a fellow WHW race first timer.
I wasn't savouring the prospect of a 15 mile solo return to Balmaha so I was very pleased to catch up with Iain and Peter again, with about 10 miles to run Peter dropped back with an niggling problem exacerbated by properly soaked and cold feet, and I ran all the way back with Iain, who most impressively had run up from Balmaha on Friday and was planning to run back on Sunday too.
Unlike last year's training weekend when 30 miles was the longest I'd run, and I was properly broken afterwards, the run back felt good. Although my overall time was only slightly faster than last year my pacing was much more even and I felt good when I got back to the Oak Tree.
Choppy and Sean were waiting in the bar to greet the returning runners, Choppy sensibly opting to turn at Rowardennan on what would be his longest run since the Berlin Marathon, Sean logged a 22 miler, pretty impressive for some-one who's longest previous run was 13 miles. Choppy was less than impressed with my demand for a pint of milk, rather than the proffered Guinness.
With everyone back safely, showered, changed and rested it was time for more of the excellent Oak Tree Inn cuisine (and no I'm not on commission when I say that) and the opportunity to break my self imposed alcohol "holiday". The only bad news of the day was that Ian Beattie had been taken into hospital by ambulance, so Sandra was understandably upset, get well soon Ian.
Pretty much the whole bar was filled with fellow runners, emphasising the "family" feel the WHW race has developed. I had a really enjoyable evening with friends old and new. Choppy had tears rolling down my face, with his tale of trying to swallow a green Jelly Baby whilst running, and promptly regurgitating same via his left nostril, hence the photo above.
Our plan for a Sunday morning walk up Conic hall was kicked into touch by the weather and a trouble free run south, saw us back home just after 12 noon, where I promptly demonstrated my improved fitness by falling asleep on the couch.