West Highland Way Training Weekend

This is the fifth time I have been involved with the training weekend at Balmaha. We have stayed for the weekend three times and decided to treat ourselves and take advantage of the half price offer to stay at the Oak Tree.

We arrived about 8pm and joined David, Ros and Susan as they finished their meal. I followed David last year on the podcasts so it was interesting to hear his plans for this year. He has a coach, Neil MacNicol, who is helping him prepare for the race.

Katrina & I enjoyed a good breakfast at 8am and we were ready to start the run at 10am. Ian Beattie gathered everyone together for a quick briefing and photo before we set off.

Saturday 28th January 2017



A few more arrived just after the photos so I reckon there were about 50 runners. The full route was to run to Inversnaid and back which is just over 30 miles but people chose to turn back when they wanted.

Balmaha to Rowardennan (7.77 miles)

I wanted to take some video clips so I started right at the back as I videoed everyone starting off. I was really happy with this as it meant I could run my own pace starting comfortably and chatting to friends as I caught them.

I had set myself (and anyone else who I spoke to!!) the challenge of doing a negative split, which is to run back quicker than the way out.  I knew to have a chance to do that I’d need to go out comfortably.

I paused a few times early on to take some more video clips and I enjoyed chatting to friends on the way out. The weather was damp with a slight drizzle rather than heavy rain. I wore my West Highland Way grey top the whole day and didn’t need a jacket at all.

I caught up with Katrina and Lesley who were running together after a couple of miles. I was running with Donald at the time who was telling me about his various races last year and his plans to run the Gobi desert race this year.


I was feeling really comfortable and when I checked my heart rate every now and then I was happy to see it was around 132 which meant I wasn’t anywhere near the red zone.

I like to have my mini-splits and the next one was at Sallochy. I arrived there in 52:18 against my rough plan of 58:00 so I was going a little quicker than planned but still feeling good.

Not long after Sallochy I caught up with a couple of guys using poles which initially surprised me as they aren’t allowed in the West Highland Way race but I soon realised why as they said they had left Milngavie at 6.20am and were doing the full route.

They were Antony Brown and Graeme Reid and I had met them at the Lakeland 100 last year when I went down to support friends in the race. I took a video of them and will include it in my video dairy of the run. They were moving well and aiming for around 23hrs.


When I woke up on Sunday morning I was please to see a post on Facebook to say they finished in 23:16. A very impressive run.


I ran into Rowardennan on my own and was quite surprised to see I had run it in 1:22:43 which was 7 mins faster than I had planned and I did think I’m making my negative split challenge harder for my self!!

I asked a forestry guy who was with his van to take a photo of me before carrying on.


Rowardennan to Inversnaid (7.42 miles – Overall 15.19)

I could see a runner in red not too far ahead and was happy to see that it was Ian Beattie so I decided to try and catch him which I did just before the new lower path. I had wanted to do a video clip of that so Ian was more than happy to explain the new route on camera.

Ian and I ran together on the new path chatting about various things. I’ve know Ian for over ten years now so it’s great to have a chance to chat and catch up up.

I really like the new lower track. It is more in keeping with the rest of the path on the loch side. It is definitely harder going and adds on 5-10mins against the wider higher path.


Once we got on to the single track with just over 2.5 miles to go to Inversnaid I pushed on chatting to another couple of runners.

It wasn’t too long before we met some of the runners who had been to Inversnaid and were on their way back. I tried to video as many as I could but I inevitably missed some because I didn’t have time to get my phone out in time.

I arrived at Invernsaid Hotel just as Kilbarchan club mate Robert Snodgrass was leaving so he wasn’t too far ahead.

It had taken me 1:29:34 to do the section from Rowardennan so the 15.19 miles out had taken me 2:52:17. So that was my challenge to run back quicker!

I stopped for 4 mins to eat my mashed sweet potato which went down very well. Ian turned straight round so I would be chasing him again on the way back!

Inversnaid to Rowardennan (7.42 miles Overall 22.61 miles)

I met quite a few runners as they headed out to the hotel. I reckon about 20 did the full distance.  The last runner I saw was Cammie who looked as though he was working quite hard. He asked how far it was to go.  It was 0.7 miles so I was effectively 1.4 miles ahead of him.

It would be the furthest Cammie had run since the Devil o’ the Highlands race in 2015 so would be a good run to tick off in his training programme.

Once I was passed everyone I concentrated on trying to catch up with Ian. Sean on his mountain bike came along and he said he was about 1 min ahead so I knew that would take awhile to catch up.

I was still feeling quite strong and tried to settle into a steady rhythm.  I refilled my water bottle (plus Tailwind) in a fast flowing stream and was sipping away regularly on that.

I was wondering whether Ian would go the lower or the higher route on the way back. I had decided to go the lower route as I didn’t want to cheat my negative split attempt!

As I came off the single track to the wide road I saw Ian not too far ahead and caught him just before we reached the signpost pointing out the new track. Ian did turn right and so I followed him.

I caught up after a few minutes. Initially I was going to run with Ian but he asked whether I wanted to go past and conscious of my negative split aim I decided to push on but I fully expected Ian to catch up at some point.

I once again enjoyed the lower path with its twists and turns and ups and downs. I did a video clip just before rejoining the main path.

As I came to the path a couple of runners (one male and one female – sorry didn’t get your names!) came down from the higher path.


We ran into Rowardennan together. After half a mile or so I realised I hadn’t pressed my split button at the signpost so thought I’d do it now and adjust it later.

We ran strongly all the way into Rowardennan and I thought if I had a chance of a negative split I would need to be in Rowardennan for about 4:20. I glanced at my watch and it said 4:10 and I thought great but then I realised I was 4:08 at the signpost and that was 1.70 miles away!

I then realised that I had passed my watch rather than taken a split! I was able to work out my splits afterwards so it wasn’t a disaster!! Strava shows my straight line on the way back.


I reckon the 7.42 miles had taken me 1:26:23 which was 3 mins faster than the way out.

Rowardennan to Balmaha (7.80 miles Overall 30.41)

I stopped briefly for one of my favourite Greek style yoghurts and then set off on the final leg. I was on my own but the two runners I had run into Rowardennan with weren’t too far behind so I assumed they would soon catch me but I never saw them again.

I was keen to try and run as much as I could ever this final leg but I had to walk a few of the hills. I did attempt to run at least half the hill before walking!

I was thinking about my Ring o’ Fire race in September where I will be running three days on the trot and how best to recover. I think one of the key things is to prepare mentally so I started thinking about my run tomorrow.

I planned to run from Balmaha to Drymen and Katrina kindly agreed to drive round and meet me there. It is only 7 miles rather than the 65 I’ll be doing on Day 2 of the Ring o’ Fire but it would give me an idea of what it would feel like.

From Sallochy onwards I started catching runners who had turned before Inversnaid and were now heading back to Balmaha. One of them was Donald who looked as though he was struggling a bit.

He asked how far Katrina was running and when I said 20 miles he replied that she was flying when he saw her so that was good to hear. Katrina and Lesley did have a great run but didn’t manage a negative split! It seems they discussed it and decided it didn’t bother them so obviously my pep talk talk wasn’t much good!

I checked off the various landmarks and my mini-splits and with 2 miles to go I knew it was going to be very close to a negative split. As I had paused my watch for 12mins or so I was working on the real time.

We had started running at 10am so I reckoned I would need to finish by 3.50pm. I climbed the final hill to the fort where I married Ryan and Bekki and headed down as quick as I could.

I arrived at the Oak Tree bang on 3.50pm. Ian came in a few minutes later. If I’d realised he was so close I would have waited but then I would have missed my target!! Norma who finished just after me took a photo of Ian & I.


I’m sure you will be keen to know whether I made my negative split????  I had to wait until I got home and worked it out but the answer is no … I missed it by 4 seconds!!  I ran back in 2:52:20!! But a pretty good effort.


I had a couple of things I wanted to try regarding recovery. One was a suggestion from Jamie which was to have a cold bath. So I decided to stand in the loch for a few minutes. I took off my shoes and waded in and lasted just over a minute. It was freezing but maybe the one minute helped!


The other idea was to go for a short walk after my shower which was did. We walked down the route and saw Cammie finish running in with Allan Grant. They had had a good day out to.

We enjoyed a lovely steak and mushroom pie and chatting with friends though we headed to our room about 9pm while the hard core were still going strong at 1am!!

Sunday 29th January 2017

After breakfast I set off for a run to Drymen. I was really pleased to realise my legs were feeling fine and I was ready to run again.  I was only doing 7 miles but I reckon I could have done a lot more if I had to!

I caught up with Ian & Sandra who were going for a walk up Conic and then David and Ros who I think were planning to do a couple Conic.

It was very very icy and slippy at the top so I was very cautious. I met quite a few runners coming the other way.

Once I headed down and off the ice I was able to run a bit faster and more confidently. I paused for a photo with Loch Lomond in the background.


I caught up with a couple of guys who had run from Drymen to Balmaha and back. They said they would love to do the West Highland Way one day but realised it would take a lot of time to train properly.

I ran the 7.35 miles in 1:31:45 so I was more than happy with that. I met Katrina at the Kip in the Kirk B&B that is run by our friend Frances. I was able to get a shower before heading home via Loch Lomond Shores where we had a lovely soup for lunch.

So a great weekend. I have ran 59.67 miles this week which takes me to 214.16 miles for the year. I’m almost 50 miles ahead of my red line to run 2017 miles for the year. I’m going to have an easy week this week.



  • Saturday: 30.41 miles in 5:50:18 (average HR 131)
  • Sunday: 7.35 miles in 1:31:45 (average HR 125)
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1 Response to West Highland Way Training Weekend

  1. Lesley says:

    Nice one John…well done. Katrina and I were only 10 minutes outside a negative split – honest!! We tried our best – honest on that one too :0)

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