Yesterday I ran my last really long run before this year's West Highland Way race and although it started off rather inauspiciously, it really couldn't have gone better.
I had hoped to meet up with Ian Beattie, Ellen McVey and a few other WHWers at Bridge of Orchy but as I planned to run further than BOO to Fort William I decided to start at Tyndrum and run the 43 miles from there. I've done very little training on the WHW this year and I've really missed the group runs so I was looking forward to running with old friends and acquaintances. I arrived at about 06:20 having driven through torrential rain (a rather big change in the weather from the day before which was scorching), the skies were still grey and it was drizzling steadily when I set off at 6:25.
I set off very gently, walking all the hills and took advantage of the portaloos that are by the side of the WHW about half a mile out of Tyndrum. I only mention them as I had a bit of a fright as I turned to lock on the door the whole portaloo wobbled alarmingly over towards the door! I had visions of being trapped inside the loo with the door at the bottom and getting covered in the unspeakable contents of the loo. I quickly shifted my weight to the back of the loo and fortunately it righted itself and I was able to complete my "business" without any further frights. Before I left I wedged a couple of rocks under the front so hopefully no one else will suffer the same fate. ;-)
As I carried on towards BOO the rain stopped but the skies stayed grey. To be honest, although I had been anticipating sun I was much happier with the prevailing conditions. As I approached BOO (about 7:40) I tried to contact Ian and Ellen on their mobiles with no luck. I checked in the hotel and then called out Ellen's name near a couple of the tents but again drew a blank. As I had originally expected to be leaving Tyndrum at 7:00 and arriving about 8:15 I wasn't sure what to do but in the end I decided to carry on alone in the hope that either I'd catch up with Ellen (who had aimed for an early start) of they'd catch up with me.
It turned out that Ian had sensibly decided to call it a day after one day's running when he got pretty dehydrated and the heavy rain and somewhat dampened Ellen's enthusiasm for an early start and her phone was off. I did manage to contact Ellen later on but I was well along the way by that point and decided that I'd just carry on alone rather than wait. As I said, a rather inauspicious start to my hoped for "group run".
As I carried on towards Victoria Bridge I was caught by Bob Steel and Lynn (I think) but they were clearly intent on going faster than I felt comfortable with so I bade them farewell and plodded on.
The run across the moor was pretty uneventful but I was enjoying running at my own pace with no pressures to run faster or slower than I wanted. As I approached Kingshouse I remembered something I'd long wanted to do but never quite got around to, namely wave to my wife via their web cam!
So there's me grinning like an idiot with my phone to my ear saying "Can you see me yet?" I think the chap at the picnic table behind me thought I was a right eejit. ;-)
I had been looking forward to a cup of coffee in the bar but had arrived too early and I felt too smelly to venture into the hotel so I carried on, but not before pausing to photograph a little slice of heaven.
I've tried lots of things over the years but yesterday the fourth bit of pork pie I had tasted every bit as delicious as the first (which was wonderful indeed) and as the day wore on my legs seemed to be filling up with energy rather than draining down.
The climb up the Devil's Staircase is always bit of a slog but once I got there I found myself running surefootedly down all the rocky hills, up many of the lesser hills and really stretching my legs out on the forest track all the way down into Kinlochleven. My quads were absolutely fine and apart for a niggle in one groin I had no real aches or pains.
Having run out of pork pies (I started with two snack sized ones each cut into two pieces) I decided to stop & buy some more but I was tempted by the coffee in the Ice Factory so I popped in there, dripping sweat all over the counter (at long last the sun had arrived during my descent) and ordered a pint of milk, a filter coffee and a plate of chips.
The milk and coffee went down really well and I nibbled at the chips until I couldn't eat any more. By now my craving for more pork pies had disappeared and I decided to carry on without. I'd got chatting to a group of mountain bikers who had ridden over from Fort William along the WHW and were setting off back shortly. As I left the Ice Factory they were sorting out their bike gear and I half expected them to pass me on the road before I started the climb out. As it happened I got there first and knowing how tough that climb was going to be for them, I decided to make it even harder for them to catch me by pushing on a bit harder.
I was now entering that wonderful "steady state" of distance running whereby one becomes a machine burning fuel and unconscious of fatigue. My legs felt better than they had done all day and I was really starting to motor across the moor. My niggles had all disappeared much to my surprise as I had been half expecting the wheels to fall off after my descent into Kinlochleven.
I've always found that surface on the Larig Mor tricky to run on but not yesterday. Again, like my descent into KLL, my feet were going exactly where I wanted them as I galloped down loose stony slopes, feeling like they had only run 3 miles, not 30.
Ultimately the bikers did catch me but it took them about an hour and a quarter and they commented on how hard they had had to work to catch me. It gave me a real buzz to have held them off for so long.
Even once they'd passed however I didn't lose impetus and I was even running uphill into the wind at times without being conscious of any fatigue. I really was on cloud 9!
The last section from Ludavra seemed to pass in no time at all. Before I knew it I was on the forest track and far from jogging down, I was stretching my legs out and flying past walkers with only the odd brief walking break. Even the road section into Fort William didn't feel too long or too bad!
I arrived in Fort William at 16:10, 9 hours & forty five minutes after starting. Not an earth shattering time by any means but if I can run half as well in 4 weeks time I'll be well pleased.
I love to say that I knew just why I ran so well yesterday and that I had found the "secret" to effortless distance running but I honestly believe that my strategy of eating a little something every hour to 90 minutes or so (especially pork pies) helped me enormously. I think because I was unsupported and not relying on drop bags etc., there wasn't the temptation to wait too long and then eat too much. It's probably no coincidence that my best Fling race (when I fluked my way into lifting the first male supervet prize) I was also unsupported and working without drop bags. To my mind this is pretty convincing evidence for the efficacy of the "little and often" approach.
I think starting slowly was also a big help and I'm convinced that the 25 minutes or so that I spent in Kinlochleven more than paid for itself in the energy that I had when running across the moor. I had also picked out a selection of my gear that was comfortable and was wearing my road shoes rather than my trail shoes and I can honestly say that at no point did I feel I was lacking any grip and my feet still felt good at the end.
After a night in my Skins tights my legs feel good today, certainly capable of another run and my feet are blister free. The only problem that I had all day was a failure of my hitch-hiking thumb to do its stuff and I ended up walking back through FW to catch the train back. Apart from the £15 I couldn't complain about that as I met up with Jamie Aarons in the station who was good company. I had to laugh at her nerves about doing the full WHW when she finished the Fling as 4th lady in 9:53. Of course I can understand her trepidation about the step into the unknown (this is her first attempt at this distance) with the full WHW race but somehow I think she'll do okay. ;-)
Between now and the race I'll do my usual panicking about taper strategies and probably do the Cairn table hill race next month for a bit of fun.