Last weekend I took my first trip back to the Southern half of the West Highland Way, since the West Highland Way Race in June 2015. The annual January training weekend was taking place once more at The Oak Tree Inn, and despite not running the race this year, to miss the annual January get-together was unthinkable.
After a hairy drive across Scotland going head-on into Storm Gertrude, we arrived at the Oak Tree around gin o’clock. Thankfully, despite passing one car accident and three over-turned lorries on the way, we achieved safe passage without incident. After a couple of drinks and a substantial meal to fuel the next day’s efforts, we retired to bed as the wind screamed through the trees around us creating ominous noises.
The next morning we awoke to a scattering of snow on the ground and continuing relentless wind. There was no two ways about it – the forecast was extremely poor…
The wind was pushing off Loch Lomond from the West in huge gusts and creating big waves on the water. It seemed like the weather was changing every five minutes – when I sat down to breakfast the sun was shining, but by the time I’d ordered my coffee it was hammering down with hail.
Somewhat reluctantly I swallowed some cement and hardened myself up, and turned out for the start of the run at 9:50. There was a huge turnout, with many more people arriving on the morning than had stayed the night before. After a brief introduction from Ian we set off en masse at 10am, being battered from all sides by the wind.
I had given some consideration as to how far I wanted to run, but after the weather forecast veered into dangerous territory, I decided to call it on the day. I knew at a minimum I wanted to run to Rowardennan and back (around 16 miles) which would be a sensible distance for my first ‘long run’ of the year; if I was enjoying myself more then I would continue.
Either way my priority was to socialise and enjoy myself, which is why I was disappointed to find myself running alone for the first 8 miles. As usual – too fast to be slow and too slow to be fast. I am also a pig for sticking at exactly my own pace, so unless someone else is running at exactly that on a group run, I rarely end up with close company on long runs.
The weather was very changeable, but careful dressing meant I was able to regulate my temperature well. On the sections away from the Lochside it was quite calm and snowy, but on the more exposed sections you really had to get your head down and shield your face from the hail. I’ve never seen the Loch look so rough as it did on Saturday!
I stopped at the war memorial at Rowardennan when I hit 8 miles and decided I would make my way back after a snack. As I wandered around eating some biscuits, I bumped into Fiona and Pauline who were heading back too, so I stuck with them on the return journey. It was the right decision to make as the intervals of sun became more and more infrequent and the wind and hail increasingly more violent! Violent is the right word; the pea-sized hail really stung your bare skin as it flew in sideways at speed. It got so bad it was fun – at least it wasn’t rain and we stayed mostly dry!
(link to video – click)
We made it back to base about three and a half hours after starting, just in time to get the last of the lunchtime soup at the Oak Tree. After defrosting and enjoying a couple of beers, I headed back for a lovely hot shower and a snooze before the evening’s festivities began.
The next morning, Kynon and I blew the cobwebs away with an ascent and descent of Conic Hill. I’d love to share some photos, but the cloud was so thick and low that you couldn’t see a thing. Here’s one of my favourites from last year instead…
It was interesting to be back on the West Highland Way for the first time since the race. I had a few flashback memories along the way of things that I’d forgotten about from the race, and as ever, the trail didn’t fail to shine despite the changeable weather. I’d forgotten how beautiful some of the forest sections near Rowardennan are.
After a few weeks of speed training I was satisfied with my first ‘Long’ run in a while and am looking forward to increasing my mileage in preparation for the Sri Chinmoy 50k at the end of March. Next up – 18 miles on the road, tomorrow!
Have you trained through the nasty weather recently?
What’s your favourite part of the West Highland Way?