Monday, 18 July 2011


Great weekend. Shitty weather – but a great weekend.
Anne, Ian and me joined HELP for their annual West Highland Way relay. The route had been split into 14 “stages” that pretty much mirrored the sections between check points/feeding stations of the official race and one runner was assigned the “timed” runner for that stage – setting off when the previous runner arrived.
However, as well as your official timed stage you could opt to do as many or as few other stages as you wanted.
The mini bus set off from Haddington at 1:30 on Saturday morning and by the time we got a few miles down the road to Tranent to pick up Eddie, George and Jimmy the rain was coming down like stair rods… pretty much setting the scene for what was to be a very wet day.
George Armstrong was the first runner off on a 95 mile game of leapfrog where the minibus had to drop off, pass and pick up runners as we made our way to Fort William.
I had one “official stage” between Balmaha and Rowerdennan but opted to run a couple of stages as “fun” runs (Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy and Lundavra to Fort William).
When I started my first (and “timed”) leg it was from a very, very wet car park at Balmaha. My “warm up” consisted of nothing more than a wee jog out of the car park and along the road a bit to ensure I knew exactly where to turn off onto the way.
Eddie came in from his leg and I was off. The first couple of miles of this leg were fairly straightforward, but there was quite a few short but tough climbs along the way. It also “meanders” across the road a few times and I did start to wonder at one point if I’d missed a turning.
I had my new Gortex jacket with me and decided to give it it’s debut. It more than earned its keep. However, all my other kit was absolutely soaked within about the first mile.
Thankfully I’d brought a change of gear with me and after an impromptu “sink-bath” at the car park at Rowerdennan I was able to get changed into dry gear. The sight of me trying to dry out this gear under the hot air hand dryers at the Green Welly in Tyndrum drew some funny looks later in the day though.
By the time I started the leg between Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy the rain had eased considerably. I’ve never run this route before and, while there aren’t any “easy” stretches of the WHW this must surely count as one of the easiest? A manageable climb out of Tyndrum then a well defined undulating path that crosses over and under the railway a couple of times before turning off under the railway station to the finish. If memory serves me correctly the sun even shone through a few times on this part!
By the time we headed north to Kinlochleven we were running ahead of schedule – though the weather had taken a turn for the worse again.
Ian had opted to run all the way from Kinlochleven to Fort William as the official timed runner (unfinished business with that part of the way) and headed off looking pretty determined.
Earlier in the day a few runners had expressed an interest in joining in the last stage at Lundavra for the last 7 miles into Fort William. However, tiredness and the weather took their toll and by the time we got there, there were only two daft enough to go for it. So… when me and Anne got off the bus we weren’t even sure if Ian had passed by already or was still making his way here. Either way it was his time that would count so we might as well just head off anyway. Some had done "multiple stages" but had done them back to back. I'd opted for three stages but with a break in between each one. Not sure I made the right decision.. I think every time I stopped and then sat for any length of time on the bus I just started to seize up. Anne had opted for this approach as well.
A combination of other things – the early start, the weather and the fact that we’d both already done a couple of stages meant that we just bimbled along at a fairly sedate pace. We passed a couple of girls out hiking and I asked if another runner had passed by this way a little earlier. Just as the girl was telling me “no”, Ian came round the corner to meet us, although given he was “on a mission” he didn’t stop and just went on his way to, as he put it, beating his PB for that stretch by 4 hours!
The last part of this stage just seems to go on and on and on…but eventually, after meeting Ian Carrick, we got to Fort William.
Between 13 or so runners we had managed to cover the Way in a little over 15 hours.
A very welcome shower and a change into warm clean “civvies” back at the hotel and then a really nice meal followed. And, for those who partake, alcoholic beverages were on offer at the bar till the early hours.
A great weekend away and a fantastic way to get a flavour of the WHW without having to do the whole dam thing.

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