Sunday, July 20, 2014

West Highland Way (or how to run an ultra without running one)

West Highland Way trail marker


In June I went to Scotland with my Dad and step family to hike the West Highland Way. The West Highland Way is one of Scotland's most popular multi-day walks, it is ~100 miles from Glasgow to Fort Williams. The hike starts in the low-lands but most of the hike is in the Highlands. You pass quite a few mountains, spend a few days walking along the forested shores of Loch Lomand. Towards the end of the hike the trail becomes more remote without a lot of options for shelter or escape routes, in case of bad weather or injuries. Luckily we had good weather our whole trip and never found the trails too crowed. Most people do it in 6-8 days, we decided to do it in 7 days. Most days were around 13-15 miles, but we did have one 9 mile day and a 20 mile day. 

I decided to run at least one leg of the West Highland Way, of course I picked the longest day (20 miles). Luckily all we had to carry were day packs, the rest of our luggage was transported to our next hotel. After years of backpacking in Oregon and trekking in the Alps, this felt like I was cheating, but it is nice not to have to carry all your stuff everyday. 

Our 20 mile day also happened to be the day the West Highland Way (ultra) race was going on.  The race started at 1am and we started around 8am at mile 51, I figured it would be towards the end of my 20 miles before anyone passed me, but it was a lot earlier than that. Apparently the guy who passed me won the race last year and was trying to break his record (which he did). Then it became obvious to me that all the hikers I had been passing all morning thought I was in the race. At one point I passed a photographer and his helper and I heard, "here comes the first female". I corrected them, but it was fun to think for a moment that people thought I was an elite ultra runner. So that got me thinking that you can run an ultra without really running one. 


The real ultra runner and winner of the race

How to run an ultra without running one:
  1. Plan a multi day hike with family
  2. Run the longest day which also happens to be the day an ultra marathon is going on on the same trail
  3. Wear a shirt from a previous ultra, just in case people had any doubt.
  4. Profit!



The start of the West Highland Way

Distillery stop mid-hike on the first day

Scottish Highland cows

Selfie with Gretchen after making it to the top of the hill on the 2nd day

View of Loch Lomond on Day 2

Forest! Which was rare, a lot of clear cuts. 

More hippie cows!

Recovery beer


Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

Gretchen and John at lunch

Iconic Scotland green hills

Rock wall crossing

Dad photo bombing me

Fox glove




Just like New Zealand, more sheep than people

Race photographer 

John and Dad telling me what they really think of me

Mountain on the 6th day, which I cannot remember the name of.

Gretchen on the 2nd to last day



Gretchen and me at the end, we were so happy to have finished

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