Go Big Or Go Home

bennachie (17)

Go big or go home, or at least that was the plan!

Faced with a less than satisfactory Hoka Highland Fling performance, and with West Highland Way Race training that hasn’t exactly gone to plan, I knew that something special was required, both in terms of actual, physical training, and in terms of a much needed psychological boost, with the 96 miles of the West Highland Way Race looming ever closer.

The opportunity to ‘go big’ actually came around as a result of strike action by the University and College Union (UCU).

Given that I only work Monday to Thursday, the UCU’s call for 2 days of industrial action over the continual erosion of university staff pay meant that I was only going to be in work for 2 days.

A quick check by Leanne revealed that out favoured lodge, right in the heart of Coylumbridge, was available.

Another quick check, this time with a very understanding line manager, and my week off was confirmed.

The opportunity to go big was there for the taking.

Over the course of 8 days, I logged some 70 miles approx. Not much by many of my fellow runner standards but considerably more than the (very) low double figures that I have managed of late and, indeed, these weren’t just any old miles. These were hilly, often technical miles, with a good deal of ascent and descent. the perfect ‘hammering’ to ‘administer’ to the body day after day to try and compensate for some of the shortcomings of my training to date.

I’d just returned to work when a timely email from West Highland Way Race race director Ian Beattie informed us of the final opportunity to withdraw from the race whilst still getting a substantial element of our race entry fee returned to us (There’s not many races do this!).

I’d be lying if I said that I would even have contemplated this offer, regardless of how well, or otherwise, those 8 days of training (and holidaying!) went. However, buoyed by the relative success of my time away, it felt good to dismiss the notion out of hand.

Realistically, there is a single goal for the West Highland Way Race – finish.

It would, however, be ‘nice’ (understatement) to finish in less than the 31 hours that it took me back in 2012 and, further, it would be ‘really nice’ (massive understatement) to do it in circumstances that don’t involve explosive diarrhea, projectile vomiting and apocalyptic weather, which is essentially a description of my 2012 West Highland Way Race experience.

The vacation got off to a great start with the arrival of one 1/2 of my West Highland Way Race support crew, Allan Bruce, who had journeyed up from Newcastle for a weekend spent based in Ellon.

First off was a 5 hour stint on Bennachie, ticking off not only Mither Tap and the various other taps, but also Millstone Hill and, even, the discovery of new trails that extend far past the standard trails and, going by appearances, have yet to be finished.

Given the absence of snow, we can only really claim three seasons in the course of those few hours but the visibility was bad enough to leave us questioning whether we had actually been to some of the taps when we returned to them for a second time!

We were rewarded with a Nazma (curry) and my first visit to Ellon’s Brewdog pub. Funnily enough, Allan, visiting all the way from Newcastle, was a more regular visitor to the bar than I was!

Sunday saw us venture down to Banchory, to meet up with the other half of my West Highland Way Race support crew, Carolyn Hare, newly arrived in the country from Brunei.

If she was suffering from jet-lag, Carolyn certainly hid it well and the three of us, accompanied by one of Carolyn’s friends Craig, set off through the woods in the Scolty area.

Conditions can beat be described as ‘torrential’ and we were all soon soaked through. This did not, however, dampen the spirits of the runners and I’m delighted to report that the good natured banter that was evident between Allan and Carolyn on social media transferred well to real life. One less race weekend worry for me, though I always suspected that they would get on well.

Time constraints meant that Craig could not stay too long with the group and a quick run down into Banchory saw us dry off and refuel with a quick coffee stop. It wasn’t long before we were once again heading back into the forest, this time with the intent of getting to the top of Scolty Tower.

I can’t remember the last time I was up Scolty but I suspect it was long before I ‘discovered’ running, or, at least, long before I discovered ultra marathon running. What an excellent location, ideal for both hill training and as an excellent, not overly long, circuit.

Returning once again to Banchory, I said my goodbyes to Allan and Carolyn, who I will next see on race weekend, and made my way home with Leanne and Harris, who had braved the torrential rain, to journey all the way down to Banchory to pick me up.

An excellent weekend, regardless of the weather.

Monday saw an early departure for the Cairngorms, but that’s another post!