Friday, 6 February 2015

West Highland Way Training Weekend

This annual feature in the Scottish Ultra calender, is centered round the Oak Tree Inn in picturesque Balmaha. At its core is a 30 mile out and back training run from Balmaha to Inversnaid Hotel following the West Highland Way, although being an out and back run there were groups planning to run anything from 12 miles to the full 30.
This would be the 4th year that the Dumfries Harriers had attended this excellent training  and social weekend, and the 4th year that Andy, Ian G, Ian A and myself had shared our 4 bedded room.
We all enjoyed the usual excellent Oak Tree food and far too much drink on the Friday evening, accompanied by the usual schoolboy giggles and hilarity inevitable when 4 blokes share a room.
Whilst the numbers staying over on the Friday seemed lower than in previous years, the large crowd that gathered on Saturday for the run would have put a third division football club to shame.
Photo courtesy of Sandra McDougall
Following a really good period of running for me over November and December, I've been struggling with a roving back - bum - leg injury through January, being a middle aged male I've religiously adopted a moan like buggery - whilst not seeking any medical assistance whatsoever strategy.
I'd added to this lack of common sense approach by drinking 4 pints of Guinness on the Friday evening and being persuaded that a malt whisky night cap was a great idea too, so my plan for the day was three pronged

  1. Try to go for the full 30 miles
  2. Try to beat last years time
  3. Try not to die in the process
After the initial climb over Craigie Fort I found myself running with Andy Johns, who I last saw when he completed the Lakeland 100 last July. He's dropping down to the Lakeland 50 "fun run" this year and is definitely a runner I would categorize as being at the pointy end of the field. We chatted for a mile or two, but I was struggling to match Andy's pace and as we left the beach at Sallochy I dropped off the back. Running solo through to Rowardennan it's fair to say I was not "feeling the love" for running and was beginning to have flashbacks to this run 2 years ago where I passed the day endlessly reciting Tam O' Shanter in my head on what proved to be a largely joyless solo run.
Leaving the car park at Rowardennan I saw long suffering training mate Andy Beattie up ahead and having caught up we then ran together for the rest of the day.
As Andy said "given that we train together at pretty much the same pace, it shouldn't be a surprise that we end up running together".

We reminisced about our first run on this route 4 years ago, when neither of us had run 30 miles before; we thought the 2 miles into the Inversnaid Hotel was outrageously technical (Oh how we laugh now); passing through 26.2 miles and (me) having to take a walk break and how we were all barely capable of walking, sitting or any form of motor activity afterwards.

As our watches beeped through 14 miles we started looking for the first of the returning runners and were pleasantly surprised that it was 14.5 miles before we saw the first of them. There we're probably only half a dozen people ahead of us, and whilst this day isn't a race, it's always nice to gauge yourself against your previous years performance.

We even got an ego boost as Andy Johns shouted out "you guys are flying" as we passed.

We paused only to refill our water bottles at Inversnaid and well ahead of last years time, we turned back South to Balmaha, thankful that the headwind we'd been running into, now became the runners friend...a tailwind.

On the long climbs before the drop back into Rowardennan I was inclined to drop into a walk, but Andy insisted on a run 100 paces, walk 50 paces strategy. Having by now lost the mental acuity to count to 100 in my head, I'm convinced some of Andy's 100's were very big 100's indeed, but it did the trick and we overtook a good number of people on these climbs. Speaking to them later in the bar, many people were kind enough to say we looked really strong as we ran uphill, I'm happy to confirm that looks can be deceiving.

In truth I think we actually make pretty well matched training partners, I tend to lead on the first half pushing the pace, and Andy kicks in on the back half when my natural inclination is to ease off.

The return from Rowardennan was largely uneventful, apart from a small walk break when I felt the approach of cramp, shoveling down a couple of pinches of salt to hold it at bay. With Andy taking the lead and with conversation becoming sparser with every mile covered, my confidence was growing that at minimum, I'd better last years 5:29:55 time.

Once you're past the strength sapping shingle beach you really are on the last leg and it was heads down with the knowledge that there was only the sharp climb up Craigie to come, where we met the lovely Rhona (who writes the fabulous Redwinerunner blog). Both she and Andy were descending with aplomb, while I clomped down with all the grace of an epileptic hippo.
The view from Craigie fort

We managed to put on a half decent sprint back to the Oak Tree Inn to complete the 30 miles in 5:10:11, nearly 20 minutes better than last year and only about 10 minutes behind the guys at the front of the field, yes I know its not a race...don't nag!

Straight into the village shop for my favored recovery drink of a cold pint of milk and then off for a quick shower before I got too cold followed by hitting the Oak Tree bar for three back to back pints of diet Coke and a bowl of warming soup.

All in all a great weekend away for the Dumfries crowd, Ian G and Neil had headed of for a 60 mile cycle, Caroline beat her time from last year, Lesley had enjoyed her first weekend in the Ultra company (and has now signed up for The Devil & Tiree Ultras) Choppy had logged his longest run for ages and Susan, Dawn and Marion were there usual sparkling selves, as well as being able to enjoy the company of all the "well kent faces" of the Scottish Ultra scene.

I'm happy to report that I hardly felt my roving injury during the run or even during this weeks 5 subsequent runs, okay it still kicks in when I'm trying to shift my butt of the couch but I'm happy it seems to be on the mend, whatever it was. 

Next on the schedule is the Devilla 15 Km trail race on Sunday 8th February, and two weeks after that it's the Malta Marathon bring it on.


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