Scotland has been showing off recently. Last week, in a change which was almost unimaginably welcome, the strong winds and driving rain which have been the theme of this winter decided to take a breather. In their place came clear, crisp days of calm, of blue skies…and perfect running conditions.
What a difference to be running with your head up, taking in the surroundings, rather than trying to fend off whatever it is the elements have decided to throw at you. When the cloudy curtains part in my wee native country, the landscape really does start to properly do itself justice.
With the going so good, I decided to take the chance to build a microadventure (I’ll explain later) into my Boston marathon schedule for my latest long run. I didn’t quite have to at this stage, but I wanted to hit what I always feel is the psychologically important 20-mile mark in training and I had two route options to ponder.
For various reasons, my run had to involve commuting into work. Conveniently, work lies just over 20 miles away from my front door. My first option was to follow a route I know well. Very well. It involves following the Loch Lomond to Glasgow cycle route and latterly runs alongside the Forth and Clyde canal, which is the venue for many of the speed sessions I take part in with a Lunchrunners training group of like-minded souls who emerge from all corners of the city to get in some decent training.
I know just about every bump, incline, descent and puddle of that path so, for the sake of avoiding a mentally challenging trudge, and in the name of trying something new, I opted to take a completely different path into the office.
Option 2 involved starting on familiar ground by starting on a route known locally as ‘The Horseshoe’ – a quiet country road in the rolling hills just east of Loch Lomond. You’ll never guess what sort of shape that route is! On this occasion, however, I would turn off the Horseshoe roughly halfway round and head for the village of Croftamie. It was there that things would get really interesting, given that just beyond the village I would hook up with the West Highland Way – the 95-mile path which travels from Milngavie just north of Glasgow through some of Scotland’s most stunning scenery and finishes up in Fort William in the Highlands. I would join up with it around 10 miles outside Milngavie and head south towards the town and the city beyond…as tempting as it was to turn north and sample the delights which unfold in front of you in that direction.
That’s not to say there weren’t treats in store for me after turning right rather than left – and my decision to tackle a microadventure was more than vindicated.
‘A microadventure?’ I hear you cry. Let me explain. The term is the brainchild of and the idea behind an excellent book by the adventurer Alastair Humphreys – a man who has been on some truly remarkable journeys in various corners of the globe, but argues too that adventures can be had on your doorstep and are there to be found in the everyday – whether that might involve a night camping out under the stars or by simply following a road less travelled. He can explain it better here, on his microadventures website but it’s an idea – and a book – I’d heartily recommend.
It was with that in mind that I switched on my head torch (running into work meant an early, dark start) and headed out through the front door. As forecast, there was not a breath of wind and the first flecks of daylight were starting to emerge on the horizon. Nothing quite wakes you up better on an early morning run than cold air hitting the back of your throat and the day beginning to wake up in front of your eyes. The fact that I was headed for a new running route – and therefore a new running experience – only added a little extra bounce to what was a surprising spring in my step.
There was no need for the torch by the time I hit Croftamie, the first few miles involving the view of a snow-capped Ben Lomond and the surrounding hills. Through the village and the West Highland Way signposts began to emerge. Soon I was running through the lovely area of Glengoyne, in the shadow of a brilliant little hill called Dumgoyne, at the foot of which lies an equally brilliant whisky distillery.
It was little early to stop for what is a lovely dram – energy drink doesn’t have quite the same effect, mind you – so I pressed on along the trail which was bouncy, responsive and just perfect for getting the miles in without completely battering my legs.
There were some testing little climbs which involved some inner dialogue to persuade my increasingly tightening hamstrings to overcome but the final stretch through Mugdock Country Park and into Milngavie was still nothing but a pleasure. I must have looked quite a sight when I casually trotted into the train station just along the road from there covered in sweat enduced salt and attempting to give off the air that everyone goes to work wearing a head torch, a gel belt and various other running accessories!
With my 20-mile target hit, I jumped on the train into the middle of the city and it struck me, as I re-entered the hustle and bustle, just how much of an adventure my day had started with. A microadventure it may have been, but it was a big deal to me.