Ready to Go

Getting my gear ready, and food (!) for checkpoints

Getting ready for the big day (and night) tomorrow!

It was 10 years ago I first ran the West Highland Way. I told myself that main thing is to finish. However my competitive spirit (mostly against myself) planned to do it in 28 hours. Then and in subsequent races I have never achieved this. The nearest was a tantalising 28 hrs 2 mins and 58 secs. This time I am going for a more modest sub 30 hour time. Any better is a bonus and if things go awry I still have 35 hours to complete. Main thing is to endure and enjoy as much as possible. Below are estimated times at checkpoints. This race does not have GPS tracking so the only people who will have an idea where I am will be the organisers and Elisabeth when she either meets or gets messages from me. It will be a big effort for her as well. Weather looks favourable, warmer than it’s been lately. My previous post gives some more details of this iconic route if you have not read. It is demanding for all involved. If you pray remember the volunteer organisers, supporters and competitors.

Checkpoints, starting 1100 from Fort William on Sat 29th May

There is a travel restriction for people living in Glasgow but a permitted reason to travel is charitable service (fund-raising). I am running in aid of Starfish Asia and a big thank you to those who have already donated, very encouraging. Aim is to fund scholarships for matriculated students (over 16) of poor Christian families in Pakistan. If you would like to donate my fundraising page is open here till end of June (2021).

West Highland Way Challenge Race 2021

Luss hills, west of Loch Lomond, during a recent training run.

Excited at the prospect that at 11am on Saturday 29th May I can hopefully once again run the West Highland Way. Organised by another group than I normally run with there are a number of differences to what I have been used to. This is partly due to Covid restrictions and will make it a different challenge. For starters, going in the opposite direction from usual, north to south, makes it almost like a different trail! Everything looks different. However distance is the same 153 km from Fort William, at the foot of UK’s highest mountain Ben Nevis, to Milngavie on the outskirts of Glasgow. About 4,800m ascent and descent. A little bit more climbing from north to south as Fort William is at sea level (a mere 40m more!). The day time start means just one night out on the trail instead of two. 

West Highland Way Route (north to south).

A significant difference is that no support crew are allowed meaning you carry more gear for safety. You rely on a network of drop bags with food and gear which you pick up at checkpoints. From Glencoe to Rowardennan you also have to carry a sleeping bag and survival bag for any eventuality during the night. During the later parts of the race it currently looks like there may be some provision for a single support runner to accompany. My tentative hope is to do the trail in around 30 hours meaning an arrival at Milngavie town hall late on Sunday 30th afternoon. Max allowed time is 35 hours (10pm). As with all other ultras I have done grateful as ever for Elisabeth being on call.

I have now completed my last big training run and plan is mainly to taper for next 3 weeks. Tapering is runners speak for basically taking it easy before a big race. Am under no illusions that it will be challenging but trusting that mind, body and spirit are in the right place on the day. It has been 21 months since I have done a similar 26 hour race in the Alps. I have got a bit older but no wiser. If you wish to know more about what’s involved see my previous post.

As I have done in the past I want to sponsor Starfish Asia who do such a great work in helping educate desperately poor children from the Christian community in Pakistan. Specifically I am raising funds to enable young people to study beyond Matriculation (aged 16). Scholarships range from £45-300 / year. This is a big challenge so to help them get further in education really opens up the job market and hence a chance to break the cycle of poverty that so many are stuck in. If you wish to sponsor online you can do so here.

Looking south down Loch Lomond.

Grand Tour of The Kilpatricks

8 hr 46 min.  41.43km. Height gain 1,642m. 

A friend Martin Reid mentioned several weeks ago if I was interested in an idea of his. It was to ‘summit’ every hill in the Kilparticks over 300m in one go. Must admit it was not something I had been dreaming about. In fact if honest it had never even occurred to me in my wildest dreams. However as mentioned in ‘Lockdown Escapism‘ you have to be inventive and creative in the current restrictions so I signed up for it. Now Martin is a man who loves bagging hills. He has done all the Munros* and is on his way to doing them for a second time. I therefore left him to plan the route and locate all the hills, itself quite an obsessive past time.

We set a date and a few days before he sent me the list of hills and in what order. Up to that point in the back of my mind I thought there might be 9 or 10 such. When his forensic list came to 19 it suddenly felt this was going to be a challenge and not just a quirky thing to do. All these hills had names, many of them quite colourfully and we were aiming to set foot on some that were probably little loved and unknown but nevertheless had a name! Berry Bank and Brown Hill seemed realistic descriptions but Thief’s hill, Jesus Thimble and Doughnot hill leave much more to the imagination. Some were completely forested over making the actual summit hard to find. Others were flat, unmarked and featureless also making it debatable where the top is. We would also be guessing what would be best routes between hills as a good deal of the time there was no trail just wet bog or marsh. So overall distance and difficulty was also guesswork. I rather carelessly thought 6 hours would do it with no justification other than it sounded about right. 

So last Thursday we set off from Cochno car park at 0930 with me quite happy to trust Martin’s navigation skills. Many of the hills had trig points**, some had cairns and others had no indicators whatsoever. Although technically we were aiming to run, in actual fact much of the time when we were in boggy or wooded areas it was simply plodding through long grass. In order to get to the first and most eastern ‘peak’ we started out on a paved road before making a gradual climb to Jesus Thimble. Halfway to Birny hill (no. 2) we made a small detour to a cairn. It was below 300m but was there for a purpose. Great views sometimes trump ‘great’ height. After no. 3 we made our way round Burncrooks reservoir to head for the intriguingly named Thief’s hill (4) and a struggle to find where it was. I imagined with a name like that it would appear like a hideaway or defensive looking. Instead a featureless, flat plain with no ‘X’ marks the spot. 

We were starting to find a common problem in ascertaining which hill was which. Had it not been for Martin’s skills I would have got lost. Was also starting to wonder – it had taken 3 hours to do the first 4 hills. Although these had been far apart we still had 15 more to go. My time estimate was starting to look wildly optimistic. Sunset was 5:40pm. I began to think bringing my head torch as an afterthought had been a wise move. However the 3 Duncolm hills were quickly done so that was an encouragement. The forecast had been good but temperature most of day was not much above freezing and also wet and windy. Even had hailstones on a few occasions. The sun appeared a bit in the afternoon.

From Fynloch hill (no. 8) Meikle Saughen brae (9) looked a long way away over the bog. Amazing how distance in the hills often looks exaggerated. If not careful this perspective can lend itself to the impression that everything is harder than it actually is. What is on the horizon might in fact be only 20 mins. away. 10 and 11 were at the extremities from our start point so when that was done it felt we were turning a corner. Doughnot hill (12) is one of the more visited Kilpatrick hills. Reaching there also heralded sections with less bog and marsh. 13 and 14 I can’t recall much. Craigrestie (15) was difficult to find as it was in the woods and not at all apparent where it was. We had all but decided to give up when Martin reckoned on a way in. Upon reaching a particular tree he stopped and declared it Craigrestie. Who was I to argue. 

On to Berry Bank (16) where we got a great view of the 3 Duncolm hills lined up in the rare sunshine and which we had done earlier in day.

Then on to the popular Slacks and Cochno Hill (17 & 18). Midway between them at Greenside reservoir stopped to chat briefly with 2 young guys who were just setting out. They had walked from Glasgow and seemed not to be bothered that there was only about an hour of daylight left. Interesting how the hills can make people do things they may not be totally prepared and planned for (speaking to myself). Our last hill was ‘out of the way’ Craighurst (no. 19). It deserves a mention, mainly because it was the last, and not for any aesthetic or majestic impression made upon me. Was grateful to Martin for sharing some welcome biscuits as I had no food or drink left and was starting to feel a bit weary. 

Energised we descended to Jaw Reservoir where dusk was quite atmospheric. A clear sky with the moon over the water a good end to the day as we made the final descent down the muddy slopes to the car park. Thanks Martin for planning and navigating what was a memorable day.

*   A Munro is a Scottish hill or mountain over 3,000 feet (about 914 metres). There are 282.

** Trig points are concrete pillars placed at particular places usually the tops of hills or mountains.