Ultra Marathon

Virtual West Highland Way Race 2020

Stage 2: Inversnaid to Victoria Bridge (27 miles)

One of the best things about this virtual race was the support from the Facebook group and the Strava community. After I had uploaded Sunday morning’s run, a lot of fellow club members who were also doing the race congratulated me. And some said “Enjoy your rest day tomorrow.” I did think about taking a rest day, but for various reasons it didn’t seem like a good idea. I was worried if I took a rest day my muscles would have time to stiffen up and get even more sore. I was also worried that the third stage didn’t really have enough time to do the final 32 miles. The other stages averaged 9 miles per day, so 32 miles in 2 ½ days would be ramping it up at the finish, when I was pretty keen to have a shorter final run. There was a bit of confusion regarding whether you could “bank” miles ahead of the checkpoint deadline. But the questions thread on the West Highland Way website was unequivocal about the fact that you could keep going once you reached a checkpoint, so I decided to run on the Monday.

Part of the river route.

For some reason, I decided to head back to Skatås. I was aware that I only had to meet the mileage total, not the elevation, but it seemed fairer to do the miles on terrain that was more similar to the West Highland Way than a largely flat, mostly tarmac river route. It proved to be a bad idea. My hips had been getting increasingly sore with the sudden sharp increase in running volume, and unlike during the flat weekend runs they did not ease off during my single loop of the Skatås 8 km loop. The blister on the big toe of my left foot was hurting, and I seemed to be doing something odd gait-wise to compensate. The uneven path was not helping any of this, and, having worn road shoes, I didn’t have any protection when I tripped over a branch or large stone and stubbed a toe on my right foot quite badly.  ‘This is it’, I thought, ‘this is how I die’.  It turns out though that falling on a virtual West Highland Way isn’t as dangerous as falling at 3am in the real one.

I also had the same GPS issues as on Friday, with the pace reading wildly fluctuating as it tried to work out where I was and how fast I was moving. It was definitely cutting a few corners and not counting all my steps (parkrun usually measures about 100 – 200 metres short here), and I calculated that, over 95 miles, I could end up having to do an extra 9 or 10 miles as a worst case scenario due to GPS inaccuracies. Since my feet and hips didn’t seem all that keen on doing 95 miles, I didn’t want to have to do even more than required.

I decided to leave the forest and head towards the hospital. That might seem like an overreaction to a sore toe, but was route related.  t would give me the distance required before heading home. I thought my pace might increase a little on leaving the nature reserve, but out of the cover of the trees and away from the water, it was clear just how warm the morning was. The Gothenburg heat wave continued unabated, and that’s not a sentence I expected to ever write when we prepared for our move here.

I often cycle across the other side of the river, in Eriksberg.

It was also morning rush hour. It’s nothing like what you get in UK cities because the public transport and cycling infrastructure are both so great here. Plus, a lot of people are still working at home as much as they can.  It still meant I had to wait at a couple of road crossings. I had planned to do around 12 miles, but reached home at 10.2 miles and couldn’t face adding on anything extra. My average pace for those 10-and-a-bit miles was 09:42. And I had a horrible blister under the middle toe on my right foot. It was pushing my toenail away from the nail bed and I was concerned the nail may fall off. I also now had a blister on the side of the big toe on my right foot. Clearly doing the remaining 48 or so miles on hilly, uneven trails was not going to be good for my foot health. I decided it would be the river route from now on.

Tuesday morning was when things started looking up. I’d been waking up at 4:30am or thereabouts for the past week or two. But for some reason I kept trying (unsuccessfully) to get back to sleep, and not going out for a run until 7:00 or 7:30am. On Tuesday I realised it would be best to just get up and get the run done whilst it was still relatively cool. I wasn’t sure how many miles I wanted – 10 or more – but the advantage of the river route was I could just run and see how I felt, and turn back when I decided it was time. Or I could always run to Saltholmen and take public transit back. I did keep following the path to Saltholmen initially, but I couldn’t work out where the route went after Nya Varvet so I made what felt like the sensible choice and turned back. This was the first time I had run under the Älvsborgsbron: I’ve cycled over it a couple of times on a two bridges cycle route, but I usually cycle on the northern side of the river, and once back on the south side head away from the river, so it made a nice change of scenery. I thought I would probably enjoy it more on a gentle bike ride though. I turned around at about 7.2 miles, which would easily give me 14 miles. Somehow I took a slightly different route at one small section, which meant I still had 0.2 of a mile left to go when I got to the steep climb to my apartment. I couldn’t face running up it, so did a small loop on a flatter section to get to 14 miles.

Part of the reason I was too tired for the final hill was that I had managed to keep this run relatively fast-paced. Maybe it was that it was slightly cooler (though still humid). Maybe it was knowing that I really did want a sub 15-hour time, even though it was a bit late in the day to try and take 50 minutes off the original vague pace goal. I’d calculated that I needed to average 9:16 per mile pace from this point on to complete the race in 15 hours. Somehow, the first three miles were all comfortably faster than this. Mile 4 was a little slower at 9:19, so I consciously picked it up a little and each mile stayed faster than that magic number until mile 9, which was a slower 9:22. I think this may have been where I got overtaken by a couple of runners who sped past me looking strong whilst I was feeling every bit of that miniscule incline towards the ferry terminal. Again, I forced myself to pick it up again, and even managed a couple of sub 9-minute miles. I decided 14 miles was about as far as I could manage, and did the loop before ending the run and walking slowly up the hill back home for my usual stretching and recovery chocolate milkshake routine.

The Leg 1 results had to be in by Monday at midnight. I’d put mine in on Monday, but some were still outstanding when I went to bed on Monday night. I searched the leaderboard for a couple of clubs and athletes. I was pretty impressed with how everyone was doing. Chris and Jagoda were obviously much faster than for the actual event last year. And Keith Black had recorded a pretty impressive time. David and Ann-Marie were both completely smashing it so far! David was clearly sticking to his marathon pace plan, and was currently second in his age category. Ann-Marie was faster than her marathon PR pace and was fourth in her age group.  It was hard to work out where she was overall because you couldn’t filter it for all women, only by age category. I was obviously well off the pace, but still in the top third of the field. I calculated the average pace of the leading guy, and worked out his average pace was 5:46 per mile! There’s no way that would be possible on the actual West Highland Way terrain, surely? I’ve never even managed sub 6:30 for a single mile, so no matter where he was running it, it was mightily impressive.

Because I’d run further than initially planned on Tuesday, on Wednesday morning I had only 2.8 miles to go until the second checkpoint. I headed out just after 6:00 am repeating 2.8. 2.8, 2.8 in my head and continually checking my watch after it buzzed 2 miles. 25 minutes and 1 second after I left the apartment, Leg 2 was complete. Excellent. No time to stop and celebrate though. I didn’t want my leg muscles seizing up. On to Leg 3. Of the race that is. I only have the standard two legs myself.

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