Thursday, September 22, 2011

West Highland Way

Okay, typically I'm overly verbose, tend towards the bulging emails, write a paragraph when a yes or no will do...  I think you get the drift!

I also tend to become preoccupied when "on a project", such as the pottery studio I'm building for Lee Anne, hence the 11 day hiatus from this blog.  So, rather than spend an acceptable (inordinate) amount of time dealing with an embarrassing lack of technical calendar reading (also known as scheduling), I will copy the article written about the West Highland Way.   The "Way" is staggering in scenery, wonderful to experience and a unique view of Scottish land and life.  The article does little justice to how glorious the experience was and how much we experienced.

But first, a succinct line or two on my glaring scheduling faux-pas...  Basically, I thought I had 2 weekends between now and the Run for the Toad!  For those calendarially challenged such as I, the Toad is next weekend (9 days from tomorrow).  Out the window go my plans to ramp up to 28K for 2 weeks before the race.  Unfortunately, the reality is that running 50K at the Toad is also not practically possible.

Let's get on to the Way:

Running the West Highland Way

Considered a rite of passage for the Scottish, the 95-mile West Highland Way (the Way) is a wondrous venue for exploring and appreciating Scotland.  It covers majestic landscapes in both the lowlands north of Glasgow and the highlands, culminating in Fort Williams.

There are many packages for hiking the trail, typically in 7 or 8 days.  There is also a race for those who would like to test themselves against the terrain.  In 2011, the race started at 1:00 AM on June 19th with a cut-off at noon on June 20th.  This provides a generous 35 hours to cover the 95 miles.

Most of the course is quite runnable, following well-marked paths or older roads comprised of gravel, pavement or cobblestone.  Some trail sections are more technical in nature, but these only represent about 15-20% of the course.

Planning to break the course record?  In 2006, Jez Bragg ran the WHW in 15:44:50.  The next year saw Lucy Colquhoun shave 20 minutes from the woman’s record with a time of 17:16:20.  The race started in 1985 with two runners and aside from missing a few years, continues to this day.  In 2011, 113 runners beat the 35-hour cut-off.

Are you interested?  Check out for details.  Entry for 2012 opens in September or October of 2011.  Read the rules carefully, for there are hidden gems, such as you must have motorized support and at least 2 crew on your team and you are not allowed a pacer if you are within 4 hours of the leader!

My wife Lee Anne and I hiked the Way in 6 days.  Although no day was as difficult as running a 50K race, we hiked up to 22 miles on one day, which took about 9 hours.  You truly deserve a dram of scotch after such a feat!    The Way starts at Milngavie, 12 miles from the Glasgow airport.  Milngavie is more or less a suburb of Glasgow and at the start, the Way reminded me of any crushed rock trail inside a city.  A very pleasant way to start a long journey.  Throughout the lowlands, the trail is mainly on groomed trail or road, but with enough technical bits to require some of your attention on the path forward.  The scenery is splendid; it seems everything in Scotland is lush and green, or historic.  I excitedly took pictures of waterfalls, until the tally superseded 50, and then tended to consider them as no big deal.  Loch (lake) Lomond figures prominently in the lowlands, with startling vistas from Conic Hill.

Once you arrive at Crianlarch, the trail turns more rugged and the Highlands start.  Viewing a country via a “horizontal” trail is new to us.  We tend to hike trails in the mountains and have done so in Scotland and other countries.  These “vertical” hikes are most impressive and provide beautiful vistas, but hiking “horizontally” brings you in touch with the history, architecture and natural beauty of a country.  Highly recommended!

Lee Anne runs about 90 miles per week and went for a few 10-mile runs after the shorter days, typically comprised of 14 miles of hiking.  I found 95 miles in 6 days just about right, thank you.  On 2 days, we both ran the last 6 – 8 miles and were quite surprised that it would have been easy to run part or all of the Way throughout the 6 days.  In retrospect, a very doable run.  Either as a 95 mile race in under 35 hours, or as a 2 – 4 day run / hike.  We booked with Macs Adventures, as we prefer B&B’s to camping.  It tends to rain in Scotland!  Macs Adventures ( was hassle-free.  They book the hotels and B&B’s, transport luggage to the next room and provide excellent maps and details of the hike.

For runners with Scotland on the bucket list, consider the West Highland Way.  The trail is a wonderful Way to see Scotland and run some interesting terrain!

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