Thursday, 28 February 2013

West Highland Way Weekend

My West Highland Way race training plan includes at least one long run on the way itself every month, to get to know the route. So when the opportunity to stay at the By The Way hostel in Tyndrum for a weekends WHW/Highland Fling training arose we grabbed it with both hands.
More correctly Ian Gray grabbed a 6 bed bunk room on behalf of the Dumfries contingent and then sadly due to his torn calf was unable to join us for the festivities.
After an uneventful drive up from Dumfries where Andy and I spent most of the journey baiting Caroline, who'd never stayed in a hostel before, "will there be an en-suite toilet?", bringing particular mirth.
We met up with Dawn and Frank at the very busy Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum and enjoyed the usual excellent fare before getting settled in at the By The Way and meeting our fellow ultra runners.
Conversations centred on "What are you running tomorrow?" and "are you doing the Fling or The Way race?" and with 30 miles on the plan for the Saturday, we settled on an early night.

Before the off!
The weather on Saturday was ideal for running, cool but not too cold and with a few flakes of snow falling as we set off. We'd settled on an out and back run heading south beyond Beinglas Farm, everyone else was heading North, with a few going as far as Kingshouse and back.

No banana
Caroline, me and Frank with banana
We had no particular pacing plan and no targets for the day other than covering 30 miles! The first 3 miles flew past and we were soon crossing the A82 to tackle the roller coaster forest to Crianlarich. Bizarrely we passed two columns of people loosely dressed as soldiers, being shouted at by tough looking guys in full military kit, unless the British Army has seriously compromised its fitness standards, these couldn't be real army?
With a long day ahead we walked most uphills and reached the picnic table above the big gate in 55 minutes. Since we were in no particular hurry we stopped for a food and photo break, as I headed into the trees for a quick piddle, I was appalled to find the area littered with what at first I thought was small piles of snow, but turned out to be little mounds of poo and toilet paper. Now I know sometimes when you gotta go, you gotta go, but at least have the decency to go more than a short "stones throw" from the path and picnic bench, yuk!
Cow Poo alley was even more unpleasant than usual as you were running over frozen mud and mounds of frozen dung, and it was impossible to get into any sort of running rhythm.

Andy and I stretched ahead on the section to Beinglas Farm leaving Caroline to run with Frank, we thought it would be nice to give her a break from our usual running talk of bowel movements, blisters and chafing.

Reaching Beinglas in 2 hours 10 minutes, we stopped for a re-fuel and as Frank and Caroline hove into view, we couldn't resist the opportunity for a wind up as two hill walkers were heading up the path to climb Ben Glas and told Caroline that was the WHW route. Caroline demonstrated her knowledge of colourful agricultural metaphors as we eventually headed south on the correct route.
The view as we passed Dario's post was stunning, our first glimpse of Loch Lomond proper, unfortunatley the photo does not do it justice.

We reckoned Doune bothy would be our turning point and we turned back North just 5 minutes short of 3 hours running.
Having messed up my hydration on January's 30 mile WHW run, I was topping up my water bottles from fast flowing streams as we went by, but with hind sight my 2 gels a cliff bar and a rice pudding were insufficient for a 30 mile effort, food wise.

On the return leg we decided to spare Caroline from our sparkling running chat once again and quickly split up, again walking most of the uphills. Personally I find this section of the Fling route the toughest bit overall and running it twice was proving challenging, we were both suffering from sore legs and it was a lot tougher than January's Balmaha to Inversnaid (and back) 30 miler. Cow Poo alley was just as unpleasant the second time round and the roller coaster even tougher with tired legs. Although it felt like we were running OK from the A82 back to Tyndrum, the Garmin splits tell a different story 27 minutes outbound, 33 minutes return.
Total distance 30.01 miles average pace 11:57, although I think this is flattering as I'm sure I stopped my watch at a couple of our food breaks.

Our plan to run to Brodie's stores was substituted for a gentle walk, en route we bumped into one of Andy's MDS tent mates, who was running to Beinglas, "Oh you probably saw my brother earlier, he runs a British military fitness company". So we can sleep safe in our beds knowing the groups we passed earlier were just playing at soldiers.
A Magnum Ice cream and a pint of milk eased the thirst and hunger and we headed back to the By The Way for a hot shower.
Frank and Caroline had got back safely by the time we got back to the hostel and after a leisurely shower we headed up to the pub. In theory both Andy and I are off alcohol until after our big races, but knowing our limitations we'd awarded ourselves a weekend off, after 3 pints of Guinness it was back to the hostel for a superb evening meal of chilli con carne and the usual comradeship of fellow nutters. We met some old friends and we made lots of new friends
Unfortunately during the meal Ian Minty had a bit of a funny turn and an ambulance had to be called, I'm sure the paramedics thought it slightly bizarre that whilst one of our number was prostrate on the floor, the rest of the  company continued to eat and drink merrily and noisily. Ian we were all genuinely concerned for you health, and were all very happy to hear you're back on your feet again.
I'd posted the photo (above) of Caroline, Frank and me on Facebook and when Frank phoned home, he was greeted with the cry "Oh you're on Facebook with a banana", Heather Calderwood joined us at our table and we enjoyed a night of laughs although she must have been a bit fazed to discover she'd been cyberstalked on returning from the loo and being quized about her 10K and Fling PB's.

Once again it struck me as strange that a bunch of ultra endurance atheletes can consume so much booze and still run the crazy distances we do.

The plan for Sunday was for some form of run and we opted for 3 miles out and back towards Bridge of Orchy and although we walked the steeper uphills (and downhills due to the ice), we adopted a run 50 paces walk 50 paces strategy on the uphills and this worked well to keep us moving.
It wasn't a pretty run, it wasn't a pacey run, it wasn't a particulalry memorable run, lets just say it was a run! As usual Caroline chicked us by running a bit further than we did, however she didn't get her expected break from our lavatory related chat as her companion for the morning described how she coped with IBS and ultra running. That was probably her revenge for Caroline having taken a wrong turning on last year's Fling and her comapnion following her and logging a 57 mile Fling...Ouch
Showered and packed we headed back home, 36 miles of tough running over two days, legs shattered and bodies exhausted.

Inevitably you start to harbour thoughts of "christ if I'm like this after 30 miles, how will I run 53 or 95 miles?", happily normal service was resumed at our club run on Tuesday evening. We now regulalry squeeze in a 3 mile loop before the club meets at 6pm and then do our 9 or 10 mile club run, we cracked the 3 miles off at 7:37 pace and then followed this with nine more speedy miles having been suckered into running (OK chasing actually) young Andy Amos, our youngest club member and a regular running whippet.
Average for the 12 miles was 7:39, with mile 8 coming in at 6:39 pace, this inevitably being the point that young Andy announced "Oh, I'm only doing 6 tonight" as he cut off, leaving us and our tortured lungs gasping for oxygen.

I can't recomend these running weekends highly enough, every time we go, we re-afirm old friendships and make new ones, bring on the next away day.


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