Up until August 2014, my one and only encounter with The Burma Road had been a cycle trip with a friend, all the way back in 1999! I don’t know why it has taken me quite so long to return to the route as it’s an excellent route, from a location that I visit so often. It is a fair commitment, especially if you plan to do the complete route.
However, I think the main stumbling block has to be the fairly awkward start, involving a short distance on the busy, main road out of Aviemore, before then having to cross the main A9 Perth road. But, once this is out of the way, it’s a venture into mostly remote countryside, with some ‘seriously, serious’ ascent to start with!
I’ll be back to The Burma Road soon, with a view to running the 25 miles of the route, hopefully accompanied by Ian Minty, and will likely start with the mental ascent up into the mountains.
It took the best part of 10 minutes to descend from the top on my bike if memory serves correctly, involving considerable use of the break to keep the speed manageable and safe. That should give an indication just how steep it is, with the description ‘brutal’ often appearing alongside any online reviews of the route.
I’ve seen reference to a 17% gradient online, and I don’t doubt that for a second, such was the angle that I found myself as I attempted to pedal up that hill! According to my own watch stats, there was 1,952 feet of elevation.
More than worth it for the stunning views of The Cairngorm mountains however and, once over the hill, you encounter a variety of scenery, from open farmland to forested areas. You even pass close to The Slochd:
“The Slochd Summit is a mountain pass on the A9 road and the Highland Main Line Railway in the Scottish Highlands between Inverness and Aviemore. An old military road also goes through the pass. National Cycle Network route 7 also goes over the summit, largely following the old A9. Both the road and the railway have signs marking the spot – the A9 is at a height of 1,328 feet (405 m), while the railway reaches 1,315 feet (401 m). The Slochd Summit is the second highest place on the route from Inverness to Perth – the Pass of Drumochter at 1,500 feet (460 m) is higher and bleaker.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slochd_Summit)
Be prepared before you venture onto The Burma Road. It’s definitely a route to do with full body waterproofs and a good supply of food and fluids.
I disappeared to explore the route on two separate occasions, making the most of time afforded by Harris’s afternoon nap. On the first day, I headed out of Aviemore on the B9152, crossing the A9 and heading up the steep ascent, before then returning by the same route. On the second day, I headed out the back of Aviemore, exploring Kinveachy Forest for the first time, before getting picked up in Carrbridge which, incidentally, also has numerous forest paths to explore.
95 miles in under 35 hours with 14,760ft of ascent. It’s that time again, the weekend of the West Highland Way Race. Registration will just be starting in Milngavie in preparation for the 1.00 am start on Saturday morning.
Thinking back to my own West Highland Way Race, in 2012, I wasn’t too nervous at this point. I was all too aware that I was about to step (run) into the unknown, covering some 40 approx. more miles than I had in any race up to that point. Up until June 2012, my longest race had been The Cateran, at 55 miles.
I think, more than anything, there was a sense of relief, firstly, that I had shaken off the Achilles injury picked up only 6 miles into The Cateran less than a month before the WHW Race (I still finished – not finishing my final ‘warm up’ race before WHW Race would have been too big a psychological blow) , and, secondly, that things were, after so much anticipation and build up, finally about to start.
My West Highland Way Race journey started many many months before, from the day I entered the ballot back in November 2011, through to the email just before Christmas telling me I had a place, through the many months of training and racing that led me to the start line of the race in June 2012.
Little did I know just how much of a battle I would face to finish the race. That’s all well documented (links below) though I will caution that it makes for fairly gruesome reading.
Suffice to say, that weekend was one that I will never forget, the weekend when I not only joined the West Highland Way Race ‘Family’, but did so in the face of such adversity – Most definitely a defining weekend in my life.
Hopefully, everyone running the race this weekend will have a considerably smoother journey. The weather conditions appear to be more favourable than those encountered in 2012 but then the weather is just one element of the overall experience.
All the very best to everyone running and, especially, to my good friend Ian Minty, who supported me on my own journey in 2012.
Had it not been for the presence and support of Ian, I very much doubt that I would have continued past the 50 mile point of my journey, when, beset with projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhoea, I hit an all time low.
I did aim to return for a second goblet in 2013 but parenthood got in the way and continues to prevent me from training at the level required. However, I wouldn’t change that for the world and, hopefully, I will be back for goblet number 2 in the not too distant future, hopefully with my young son Harris playing some part in my support team :o)
I may not be competing in this year’s West Highland Way Race anymore, having withdrawn from the race following the birth of my son, but, reading back over my blog posts from last year, it’s clear that this was one of the most exciting times of my running life.
In the weeks leading up to the race, I was filled with mixed emotions, feelings of anticipation, excitement, fear, dread, self doubt and, mostly, a sense that I was about to embark on something totally new and challenging, stepping (or should that be running!) into the unknown.
Make the most of these last few weeks. For many, they rank among the most difficult. Most of you will be starting to taper and it is often in this period that you will find yourself focussed on aches, pains and niggles that go unnoticed in the course of normal training.
Savour the last few weeks of the build up and, of course, the amazing weekend of the race. It can best be compared to Christmas – a long build up to the event and then, BAM!, it’s over for yet another year before you even realise. Of course, for most of us mere mortals, The West Highland Way Race will last the best part of 2 days so, in that respect, there’s more to enjoy! With a lot of effort and a bit of luck, you will hopefully all receive your Crystal Goblet, welcoming you to The West Highland Way Race family.
I will be following the race over the weekend, no doubt wishing I was there at times. However, I am in no doubt that I did make the correct decision to withdraw from this years race, so that I could focus on the family and savour the time with our new addition.
Runners, be sure to appreciate your support crew. Anyone who is prepared to give up an entire weekend to follow and support you on your exploits is truly special.
It might also be worth discussing the dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish) beforehand. Given how my weekend went, had I not discussed DNF with my crew in the weeks leading up to the race, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t have made it to the finish line in Fort William. Thankfully, we had ruled out any mention of a DNF for all but the most extreme circumstances and, with this discussion out of the way, there was no mention of quitting on race weekend.
My support crew were exceptional and, without a doubt, were the only reason that I did finally make it to Fort William. I will never forget the part that they played in my success.
Good luck to you all and, especially, to Ian Minty, who is running his first West Highland Way Race having acted as my support runner last year, accompanying me from Auchentyre Farm to the end in Fort William.
Here’s my account of the 2012 West Highland Way Race:
I would definitely recommend that you commit your race experience to a blog or journal of some sorts. It’s a great reminder of the experience and something you can look back on for years to come. Of all the blog posts that I have written, these are the ones that I return to most, reminding me just what I am capable of achieving with some training, some support, and a lot of determination and stubbornness!
The latest West Highland Way Race podcast is out now and includes an interview with Ian Minty who was my support runner at the 2012 West Highland Way Race. Ian will be tackling the West Highland Way Race for the first time this coming June and the podcasts will be following his training and progress. Looking forward to following this over the coming months.
Clyde Stride, July, 40m, 08:54:08,
Still suffering from the WHW Race (only non PB)
Devil O’ The Highlands, August, 43m, 09.50.55,
Unexpected return of running mojo (PB 12 mins)
Speyside Way Race, August, 36.5m, 07:16:33,
A very wet end to the season (PB 7 mins)
August seems like such a long time ago, and the running mojo has come and gone numerous times in the months leading up to Christmas. Time to get training back on track with a view to achieving some new PBs come 2013, especially in my second West Highland Way Race.
Entry for the 2013 West Highland Way Race was open for the month of November. 279 people applied for the 200 places and, last night, 250 were notified that they have been allocated a place. As previous years have shown, come the 22nd June 2013, this will likely leave the required 200 people on the start line as others drop out in the months leading up to the race through injury or for personal reasons.
I wasn’t even aware of the excitement unfolding on Twitter and Facebook. Ill with a viral infection, I had long gone to bed, waking at 3am to find the following email in my account:
“This email is to confirm that you are now confirmed on the start list for the West Highland Way Race.”
The wait is finally over and, thankfully, I have a place for 2013. The aim, completion of West Highland Way Race number 2, hopefully without the apocalyptic weather, stomach ‘issues’ and projectile vomiting experienced the first time around. And, if I can bag a new PB time, all the better! I calculated that I ‘wasted’ at least 3 hours last year, dealing with my various issues, resulting in a time of 31:01:51. So, something to aim for in 2013.
I was delighted to see that Minty, my support runner for West Highland Way Race 2012, was allocated a place and will be joining me on the start line come June. Unfortunately, others were not so fortunate.
The countdown has begun – 196 days until the race. Best of luck to everyone with their training. See you in June.
For anyone unfamiliar with the race, this excellent trailer from Grant Cairns is worth a watch.
The second Glenmore 24 race took place on the weekend of 1st September. Ian Minty, my support runner from this years West Highland Way Race had an excellent day, hitting his target of 100 miles and getting the preparation for his own attempt at the West Highland Way off to a flying start. Read how Ian’s race went online at his new blog ‘This tortoise wants to become a hare’.
It may well be UTMB weekend but there’s still plenty going on back in Scotland. The Glenmore 24 is back after the success of last years event and there are more than a few familiar faces from the S.U.M.S. regulars, including Ian Minty, who supported me so well in this year’s West Highland Way Race.
The weekend consists of a 12 hour and a 24 hour race, with approx 30 starters and 40 starters respectively. The event takes place in the Glenmore forest, not far from Aviemore and just beneath the Cairngorm mountains, on a 4 mile loop, the majority of which is on wide forest trails and landrover tracks. It’s an excellent location, and, as anyone who reads this blog knows, I have a particular fondness for Cairngorm trails.
All the best to everyone running the Glenmore 24 this weekend. Definitely an event that I plan to do at some point in the future. I will be thinking of you all as I head off to (hopefully) sunnier climes!
It is coming up to 2 weeks since I completed the 95 mile West Highland Way Race and the body and energy levels are finally starting to feel more like they should. I don’t know what, exactly, I expected in terms of recovery after a 95 mile run but, other than the initial feet issues in the immediate aftermath of the event, I think I have fared pretty well. The cankles have thankfully subsided and the feet are, though distinctly unnatractive (nothing new!), at least starting to return to normal. The real test will be when I return to the Cairngorms this weekend and head out for my first post West Highland Way Race run. My main concern is that the ITB issues identified in the post WHW Race massage flare up yet again.
Someone tweeted about the apocalyptic weather conditions at the WHW Race and that phrase seems to have gathered favour amongst all of the runners and support crew. Completing the race in those conditions certainly added to the kudos of getting to the end but, already, the memories are starting to fade and I am turning my attentions to the next events – the 40 mile Clyde Stride, the 43 mile Devil O’ The Highlands, and the 37 mile Speyside Way Race.
I have certainly enjoyed reading the various blogs from runners, support crew and others involved in the race. Everyone has their own tale to tell, with a large number of them tales of woe and of facing adversity. I am not alone in having had a tough time at the WHW Race!
Throughout the race weekend, Mrs Mac took over tweeting duties, posting my progress to twitter at the various checkpoints. I spent some time looking back over my twitter feed and the #whwrace feed and it was great to see all the tweets of encouragement both to myself and the many other runners. Thanks for all of the tweets, they are appreciated.
I can only describe my appetite this past 2 weeks as voracious and I have found myself clearing cupboards, devouring everything from a stack of Pringles to entire Soreen loaves! I was shocked to weigh in at my usual weight this morning, despite my far from healthy appetite and I am taking this as some form of a ‘reprieve’ and as a sign that I should try to get back to my usual healthy diet as soon as possible. The last thing I want is to start pilling on the pounds, especially with the next race little more than a couple of weeks away.
I also felt a lot more tired than normal in the wake of the race and this was not been helped by the fact that I couldn’t seem to shake my normal sleep pattern. Despite my best efforts to continue sleeping past 6am I found myself wide awake and yet still tired! Sitting still for too long (even watching the football!) saw me dozing off.
So, on to the lessons learned, of which there were many.
1. I am nuts (it’s official!)
I know for a fact that a lot of people think I am nuts. Given how things went at the race, the list has undoubtedly grown! This ‘Lessons Learned’ post sees me try to take note of various things that I need to remember for future reference. At the same time, I also wear my heart on my sleeve in this post and hope that, in reading this, people will understand why I feel the need to continually challenge myself in this way.
2. Spend less time at checkpoints
Looking back at my times over the race, one potential future strategy jumped out at me – spend less time at checkpoints. I spent just over 2 hours at the checkpoints throughout the race, including 45 minutes alone at a single checkpoint. In my defence, this was at the 50 mile mark when I had issues with both diarrhea and projectile vomit! In retrospect, it is easy to say that this is excessive but, to me, the circumstances of my race explain the lengthy stops. One thing is for certain, under ideal conditions, with no stomach issues, I would like to stop for far shorter periods of time and this in itself would offer a considerable time saving.
3. Eat more (no excuses!)
Unpacking the carefully prepared food in the aftermath of the event, it dawned on me just how little food I had consumed. I did have the best of intentions, with a focus on eating real foods and a backup strategy of turning to gels. However, given that I couldn’t keep anything inside me, I gambled and chose to limit my intake. Looking back, this could have backfired spectacularly and I do think that my lack of energy by the end of the race was down to this. Lesson learned – regardless of how well (or otherwise) the day is going, you simply MUST eat.
4. Sports Beans are pure gold!
Sports Beans were the one thing that I could bring myself to eat in any volume, and especially from 50 miles onwards, when things started to really go against me. They will definitely factor into any future race plans. Mrs Mac was in town this week and came back with £20.00 worth of Sports Beans which certainly made me smile. Technically I made the classic mistake of trying them on the day as they were a late addition to my food supplies. However, this particular gamble worked and I am sure they kept me from running entirely on empty!
5. There will be weather!
As I have mentioned in previous posts, the race briefing was quite humorous, with the following gem in particular:
“Weather. There will be some. When the sun shines, it’ll be hot. When it’s raining, it’ll be cold and wet. If it’s windy, there’ll be less midges.”
Wise words! I had practically every bit of running kit that I owned in the motorhome and hardly used any of it. I went through 3 pairs of socks, 2 tops, 2 pairs of shorts and 2 waterproof jackets the whole weekend. There really was little point in changing too much, perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that my socks lasted all of 2 minutes after the first change before getting soaked through yet again! The lesson here is to expect the worst weather possible and then you can only be pleasantly surprised (or not, as the case turned out to be here lol!).
6. There will be chaffing!
Despite using BodyGlide and sudocreme I did get some chaffing. The worst region was an area I had not considered to be susceptible to chaffing, right at the top of the legs at the bottom of the buttocks. This totally new chaffing issue highlights what adverse weather conditions can do. The cause of the problem – 50 miles in soaking wet shorts, and yet, as discussed above, there really was little point in changing them given the conditions. The absolute worst way to ‘discover’ chaffing is to find out about it for the first time in the après event shower – definitely takes the shine off of a relaxing shower and introduces a whole new world of pain!
7. Your choice of support team is crucial
I think one of my biggest problems for the future is that there is surely no way I can improve on my support crew. I have no doubts that, without them, I would not have made it to the finish in Fort William. Despite everything that happened, they did not mention the dreaded DNF. My support runner Minty was without a doubt the man to keep me moving to the end and, unfortunately for me, Minty will likely be lining up on the start line of the WHW Race for himself next year. I wish him all the best and have no doubt that he will make it to Fort William.
Crew, I salute you!
8. I have a short memory
I think the most important lesson learned, and one that I think will be common to most runners, is that I have a very short memory where pain and suffering are concerned.
Last Sunday someone asked me what the best bits of the race were. At that point, I could only come up with the amazing send off that we all received at the start, and the race finish, basically missing out 94 miles of beautiful West Highland Way scenery! Fast forward a week and I was waxing lyrical about the events of the preceeding weekend – 3pm on Saturday to be precise. Last Saturday I was en route to visit relatives with Mrs Mac. 7 days previously, I was at rock bottom, covering the toilet of our motorhome with projectile vomit. ‘Reminiscing’ about overcoming this particular low I found that Mrs Mac was slightly less keen to cast her mind back and that she had obviously misplaced her rose tinted glasses!
Which takes me on to the next lesson learned – just how tough it was on all of our loved ones, friends, family and support crew.
9. It’s tough on your crew
In some respects, the job of the runner is easier. It is OUR goal to finish, OUR dream, OUR challenge to overcome. Meanwhile, our support crew endures pretty much the same levels of sleep deprivation without any of the benefits. Further, there is possibly even more stress on the support crews than on the runners. We run along to the best of our abilities. They, on the other hand, have to make the mad dash between checkpoints with no question at all over whether they arrive on time. Their runners race depends on it!
I don’t think I realised just how worrying it is for a loved one to watch you set out on something quite as arduous as the West Highland Way Race. I had briefed my crew beforehand about the possibility of seeing me at an all time low. Little did I realise at the time how true this would be. In all honesty, I thought I was merely going through the motions but, from speaking to all involved, I don’t think anyone would have placed money on me finishing after the events at the 50 mile mark.
The above realisation also makes the job of finding a support crew for the future that little bit more difficult. Do I really want to put everyone through this again next year and, more to the point, would they even contemplate it???
10. I am nuts (really, I am)
Despite all of my pain and suffering and despite the effect on my support crew, little more than 24 hours after the event itself I would not say no when asked if I would do it all over again. If anything, I had an instant goal for 2013 – Run the WHW Race again – only this time better and quicker and, with a bit of luck, without the problems that impacted so much on this years attempt.
11. I am selfish
I suppose the biggest lesson learned is the hardest one to take. In considering this event again, I am undoubtedly selfish, but I just cannot help myself. There is a passion, a fire burning inside me that needs to do this, that needs to constantly push myself, that needs to finish the event again with a quicker time. If only there was some way to make things easier for those who have to watch you put yourself through these things. As it stands, the only thing I can offer is that “it can’t be that bad again – surely” and “the first time is always the worst when tackling a new distance”.
The following quotation was, rather timely, posted on Facebook this week by ULTRAmarathonrunning.com
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to it’s old dimensions”, Oliver Holmes.
I think this is very apt as far as the past few weeks are concerned. Like adaptation in training, the mind itself adapts and expects, and it is with this consideration in mind that I now find myself looking forward to the next WHW Race, perhaps in 2013, perhaps later down the line.
The difference this time, is that I will step up to the line knowing that I can do the distance, that I have completed it previously, and with a little less self doubt than I had the other weekend. This in itself is an excellent adaptation and is possibly one of the best weapons that I could ever add to my psychological arsenal.