Monday, 3 June 2013

Back to Back West Highland Way runs

There isn’t a definitive plan for how you train for the 95 mile West Highland Way Race. A trawl of the internet will spew forth a plethora of so called specialists willing to write one for you if you cross their palms with silver, or more accurately $300 via your MasterCard.

I did eventually find a week by week plan for a 100 mile road race and by combining this with the plan that John Kynaston, very kindly shared on Facebook, I put together my own custom plan. The back bone being back to back trail runs at weekends, running the D33 and The Fling as training runs and a very long back to back weekend about 4 weeks before the big race itself.
I’d pencilled in last weekend’s bank holiday for this two day epic, Saturday would start at Balmaha and finish at Bridge of Orchy, around 41 miles with the last 35 miles to Fort William filling the Sunday slot, sensibly allowing Monday for recovery. I know it’s unusual for me to be sensible, but I balanced this out by running two hard trail runs the weekend before and driving 1000 miles the week before. Nothing new there!
I’d made a conscious decision to run solo as for two reasons

One - I’ll probably be running the race on my own, so I need to know how it feels

Two - I need to run at my pace, not some-one else’s
Balmaha to Rowardennan 8.2 miles 1 hour 28 minutes

A beautiful cloudless sky, cool but not cold, a bone dry trail and a picture postcard carpet of bluebells were the main feature of this first leg. I deliberately walked all the uphill’s and took it easy on the steeper downhill’s too, averaging 11 – 12 minute miles, aiming to conserve energy as much as possible. At mile 7 my right quad started aching, not an area I’ve had issues with before but not enough to worry me at that stage. The Way was pretty quiet and I only passed half a dozen people on this section. I stopped at Rowardennan for a strawberry rice pudding and a water bottle refill, but seeing heaps of charity walkers about to head out; I kept this stop to 2 minutes and was quickly off again.
Rowardennan to Inversnaid 7.2 miles, 15.4 miles in total 3 hours 4 minutes
Sticking to the “take it easy” plan (apart from one 8:30 mile) and with my the pain in my thigh growing with every mile, I was starting to get concerned, by mile 12 it was proper game stopping sore then quite bizarrely almost exactly as my watch beeped mile 13, the pain disappeared completely. It was like Harry Potter had waved his wand and made it disappear!

I like this section of the Way; I find the long uphill walk gives a nice breather. I decided I’d opt for a coffee from the hotel, I’ve never tried hot drinks on a run and wanted to make sure my tummy could cope. Buying a coffee at the hotel also made me feel less guilty about asking them to refill my water bottle. I’ve been caught out not hydrating on long runs in the past so was being really strict with myself. My Salomon XT 5 backpack holds two custom 500ml bottles (one water, one isotonic), and has room to carry a standard sports bottle too, so I transferred this to the custom bottle. The temperature was heating up and I’d been taking every opportunity to soak my buff to keep my head and neck cool and with the sun firmly on my back to avoid a painful sunburnt neck.
I stopped for just over 8 minutes including an application of Vaseline to a hot spot on my right big toe which has developed an annoying predisposition to blistering of late and a conversation with a French tourist, who’d misread his map and thought he could get his car to Glencoe from Inversnaid. He was slightly crestfallen when I explained he’d have to back track all the way to Aberfoyle.
Inversnaid to Beinglas Farm 6.8 miles, 22.2 miles in total 4 hours 42 minutes

I needn’t have feared about drinking coffee, as the caffeine kicked in I positively enjoyed the scrambly, technical 2 miles after Inversnaid, leaving the loch behind I stopped for a photo at Dario’s post and met WHW family member Brian Gary, who’d walked out from Beinglas Farm with his wife. I decided on another coffee and a Twix and two bottles of water from the shop. My long sleeved top was pretty much soaked through so I opted to change into my short sleeved top and also applied further copious quantities of Vaseline to my toe. This was the first long run I’ve done for ages where it wasn’t raining and the ground was dry, but my socks were still wet through with sweat, I should have carried a dry pair, but at least I’ve learned this lesson before the actual race. Total stop time was 8 minutes.
Beinglas Farm to Auchtertyre Farm 9.8 miles, 32 miles in total 7 hours 10 minutes

I stuck firmly to walking the hills, and on slopes I used my run 50 walk 50 tactic, energy conservation still being the key. Although I’d passed plenty of walkers the first runners I met were WHW Family members Peter and Heather MacDonald, just at Derrydarroch cottage. I was able to cadge a good squirt of sun cream before heading onto cow poo alley. Cow poo alley was bone dry (another first) and apart from one enormous F**k Off big bull, quite uneventful. I was getting tired by now and at mile 27 my thigh pain had returned as quickly as it had disappeared. I can’t say I like the magic forest above Crianlarich, but having now run it half a dozen times I hate it less than I used to, I’m also learning where to run the down hills and where to take it easy and preserve my quads and knees. I stopped for 12 minutes at Auchtertyre for a comfort break and a cup of tea, unfortunately I got button holed by the resident teenage loony “I don’t work here, but I hang out and help” who tried to tell me all about his poetry writing hobby. On the plus side I was still able to run away.

Auchtertyre Farm to Bridge of Orchy 9.4 miles, 41.3 miles in total 9 hours 23 minutes
This was to be the first time I’d run through Tyndrum so quite an important physiological line to cross for me, although I did balance it out with a 4 minute stop at Brodie’s Stores to buy a bottle of Isotonic. Enquiring if they sold sun cream the lady replied “we don’t get much call for that here!” This last stretch from Tyndrum was definitely the low point of my day, my thigh was hurting so much that I was forced to stop two or three times every mile to stretch it out and I was doing a lot of walking. I’d plugged in my earphones to listen to the latest WHW podcast but after 10 minutes they sadly went on the blink. My pace on this section was around 13 minute miles and I had pretty much given up on any prospect of running on the Sunday, not a happy place to be. After what felt like an age Bridge of Orchy Station hove into view and I picked up my pace for the last leg to the Bridge or Orchy Hotel where Ann and Sarah had already checked in.

Total for the day 41.3 miles in 9:23 including around 30 minutes of stops and an overall average of 13 minute 40 seconds per mile.
Our rooms were in one of the new blocks at the hotel, very posh but definitely at the pricey end of the range. I sat on the small deck area overlooking the bridge chatting to some mountain bikers who I’d met a couple of times during the day, they were lamenting their decision to try to cycle the WHW over 3 days. They seem to have spent as much time carrying their bikes as cycling them.

As I stood under the smoke detector in the room, smelly and hot, the fire alarm system went off, as I stepped away it stopped, stepping back under it, sure enough, off it went again. Now I know I was more than a bit ripe, but smelly enough to set off the fire alarm, surely not. The hotel manager was able to assure me later that it was entirely co-incidental, the alarm system going wonky due to a water leak in an adjacent room.
We enjoyed a very pleasant meal, but with my body screaming for sleep and my legs seizing up I hit the pillow by 9:30pm.

Day Two
I hobbled up to breakfast, in the near empty restaurant, by this time seriously doubting if I could run at all, never mind attempt the 35 miles to Fort William. I told Ann and Sarah not to be surprised if I phoned from Inveroran Hotel for a pick up.
With the grey overcast matching my mood I set off over the bridge and up the hill, surprising myself I was actually able to get a half decent run together on the downhill so decided I could make it at least to Glencoe and pushed onto Rannoch Moor, walking the steeper sections and run 50 walk 50 on the gentler gradients.

Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe 11 miles 2 hours 4 minutes
By now truly amazed that I was running after feeling so low the day before I’d made my mind up to run onto Kinlochleven, I felt that Fort William itself would be both too optimistic and mean a very late return home. Sitting on the tailgate of the car, I refilled Water and Isotonic, quaffed a bottle of fizzy Lucozade, a packet of salted peanuts and a couple of Rolo Biscuits. It was pretty chilly in comparison to the day before, and before I crossed the A82 I’d stopped to put on my waterproof. It’s a deceptive 4 mile run from the Ski Centre to the foot of the Devil’s Staircase but by the time I reached Altnafeadh I was happy that I’d make it to KL comfortably on what would be only my 3rd ascent of the Devil, it’s just a heads down and plough on job for me. The view from the top was spectacular, whether I can appreciate it next time I’m there will be a different story. It’s a 700 foot climb up the Devil, but the descent to KL is around 1700ft in total (so Mr Garmin tells me). I’m not a fan of this section, and I decided to christen it “The Devil’s Arse”. Probably runnable under normal circumstances but not today, lots of walking and picking my way gingerly along the rockier sections. About 1 mile out from KL, I found a brand new iPhone lying in the middle of the path, fortunate for the young lady I caught up with who hadn’t realised she’d dropped it. Good deed for the day done, I finished strongly into the Ice Factor car park.

Glencoe to Kinlochleven 10.5 miles, 21.5 miles in total 4 hours 24 minutes
Average pace for the day 12 minute 19 second miles, total for the two days 63 miles. A quick change and a bowl of Mac Cheese at the Ice Factor and it was time to head home, dropping Sarah in Glasgow en route. Ann did all the driving while I failed to grab 40 winks and we got home just before 8pm, confirming that my decision to call it a day after 21 miles was the sensible thing to do.

Overall I’m happy with the weekend, my longest solo runs, my longest back to back runs, useful to run a section of the way that I’m least familiar with and only one blister and one black toenail to show for it.

No regrets at all about dropping the 15 miles to Fort William, and loads of small lessons learned. So that’s pretty much it for the WHW training, I’m not going to get any fitter in the next 2/3 weeks it’s just about avoiding injury and sorting out the kit and logistics and support plan.
I’ve agreed to run the Mabie Trail Race on Sunday 9th June, but I’m going to take it easy on the downhill’s (last year I ran them like a man being chased by the hounds of hell) and whilst I’m sure I won’t just jog round I’ll be sensible about it. I’m planning a short 6 mile head torch run round Mabie Forest on Friday 7th June, thereafter it’s just about keeping things ticking over until D-day – 1am Saturday 22nd June.

Apologies for the lack of photos, although I did manage to take a couple, I'm trying to upload this post via Virgin Trains complimentary Wi-Fi, about as effective as semaphore in the dark!

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