An absolutely mind-blowing, epic challenge. Not much more needs to be said.
Having run one ultra before it’s definitely for the hard core and there are none more so than Jacqueline Glass and June Macleod who undertook the Three Lochs Way last month with good friend Karen Hattie. The camaraderie amongst ultra runners is the stuff of legend and this comes across in Jacqueline’s review.
Ultra Running is undergoing a boom at the moment. As a result more and more events are springing up with several multi-stage events extending the parameters beyond even single run events. Many well established races like The Fling continue to grow and have been complimented by new races on a diverse and intriguing ultra calendar with races such as The Wee Eck Ultra and The Cowal Way Ultra in Argyll.
Sadly preparations were not ideal with bad news 24 hours prior to the off but this did not deter our dream team or the near 200 plus runners and walkers from completing the gruelling Three Lochs Way. An unbelievable and awe inspiring achievement. Here Jacqueline recalls her race experience.
Loch Lomond, Gare Loch and Loch Long
It was in June 2017, together with my running buddies Karen Hattie & June Macleod, that we decided to take on a challenge – The Three Lochs Way on Saturday 7th April 2018. An event organised by Pure Challenge.
Less than 24 hours before the event we received an email advising the company had gone into administration and all future events were cancelled. As this information started to filter through to everyone who had entered, there was soon a Plan B in place as participants from all over the country took to social media. Soon there were alternative arrangements being made to ensure that the event would go ahead.
Training throughout the worst winter in years we unanimously agreed that we would go with Plan B! The challenge was still on!
Rewind several months – We started our training in January with none of us having run more than a half marathon distance. We decided we would adopt the Jeff Galloway run/walk/run technique. It meant we could increase our mileage by more than the recommended weekly 10 percent rule and so reduce the risk of injury and fatigue. This worked well for us and we settled into a 4:1 ratio.
Our longest run, three weeks before the challenge, was an out and back along the cycle path from Linwood to Longbar (just past Kilbirnie). We were elated to reach a milestone of 26.3 miles! We couldn’t believe we had run a marathon distance, (I know a marathon is 26.2!) complete with backpacks containing everything but the kitchen sink!
Tapering for me included the Tom Scott 10 miles the week before the event followed by a snowy Easter Monday Runbetweeners session a few days later.
Friday 6th April – The Night Before
June and I drove up to Balloch where we had booked accommodation for the night, a rustic and bijou B&B! Karen drove up with her husband Jeff, who was going to be our support on the day, and they were staying in Dumbarton. We arranged to meet for dinner in Balloch later that evening.
After a wee cup of tea, and getting our stuff organised for the morning, June & I toddled along the road to a local hotel to meet Karen & Jeff. We soon discovered that the restaurant was almost full of people who had travelled to Balloch for the event. Conversations soon ensued about the disappointment of the official event being cancelled but everyone was optimistic about Plan B and looking forward to meeting up in the morning at various times to set off.
Saturday 7th April – Race Day
1.15am – I was wakened by growling and rumblings in my stomach! I curled up and prayed it would pass but no – a mad dash to the loo! Fortunately, our bijou room had a bijou en suite. I emerged 30 minutes later cursing my choice of dinner, a gamey pate followed by tempura mussels and anchovies. I thought a ‘fish’ dish would be ok! As I crawled back to bed June appeared to be sleeping soundly and blissfully unaware of the volcanic eruptions!
5.30am – The alarm went off. Crikey, needless to say the last thing I felt like doing was a 34 mile run/walk/hike! I did feel better though and Etna had settled so I wisely stuck to my normal pre run breakfast of a bagel with peanut butter and a banana which I had brought from home. June went to the dining room where fruit, yoghurt and cereal had been left out for the early risers.
7.15am – Time for the off! We bundled our extra supplies into Jeff’s car and set off for the Visitors Centre where other runners/walkers had already excitedly gathered. We thought our Jeffing ratio of 4:1 would not be an option for the route and decided to run as much as possible and walk the challenging uphill sections. This proved to be a wise decision!
Stage 1: Balloch to Helensburgh 13.5km
Setting off from the visitors centre we passed through Lomond Shores, crossed a footbridge over the main road then a fairly steep climb to the ancient route of Stoneymollan road. This was an old coffin road used to carry the dead to a burial ground. Passing Goukhill Muir we crossed the Highland Boundary Fault with beautiful views over Loch Lomond.
The descent into Helensburgh was mostly rough track through open moorland and a deforested area with wonderful views of the Firth of Clyde. Our first checkpoint was in the car park of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House, aptly named as its quite a hike up the tree lined streets to reach it! We were pleased to see Jeff already waiting for us there. Our fellow Bellahouston Harrier, Colin, had joined Jeff to meet us too. We only stopped long enough to refill our water bottles, have a quick snack and a welcome rhododendron toilet break and then we were off again!
Stage 2: Helensburgh to Garelochhead 14.75km
Leaving Helensburgh we passed through woods, farmland and moorland until we reached some tarmac on the minor Glen Fruin Road. We met lots of other runners/walkers on this road and no one passed without shouting out a friendly encouraging greeting. The camaraderie was fantastic and helped to pass the time on this long stretch.
We met Jeff and Colin again at Checkpoint 2 which was at the Garelochhead Military Base. There were a lot more people gathered here than at our first checkpoint. This is where the local volunteers, on hearing of our cancelled event, dropped off water bottles, bananas, home made flapjacks etc. Again the mood of everyone was upbeat and it was great to meet up with others we had met along the way! By now we were being recognised everywhere due to our rather brightly coloured leggings!
Stage 3: Garelochhead to Arrochar 19K
This route took us through the Ministry of Defence Garelochhead Military training area. A tarmac road then mostly boggy forest roads with the occasional rocky trail. The route was undulating to say the least. We encountered an almost vertical hill by which time my legs were just about to give up and I thought I may have to crawl up it!
As this was going to be the longest part of the route we had a short respite at Craggan carpark where again Jeff was waiting for us with some welcome goodies. We also unloaded some of our waterproof gear & other things from our rucksacks, that we realised weren’t now essential (to relieve our poor aching shoulders), checked our feet for blisters, changed our socks and were soon on our way again.
More rough tracks, steep ascents and descents followed but soon we could see Arrochar in the distance at the head of the loch. The scenery was spectacular with wonderful views over Loch Long to the Arrochar Alps. It was just too misty to clearly make out the Cobbler though. Our legs by now were tiring with the relentless hills and it was a relief to reach our last checkpoint at Slanz Restaurant in Arrochar.
As the restaurant had not been advised until that day that the event had been cancelled they had already erected a small marquee where a BBQ had been set up in the car park. The smell wafting from there was so enticing but as we still had another 11km to go we settled for one of Karens white choc & peanut butter blondies and a lovely cup of hot tea. A luxury also to use the restaurant’s loos!
Jeff, as always, was there to psyche us up, top up our supplies and waive us off with a cheery ‘see you soon’!
Stage 4: Arrochar to Inveruglas 11km
We had been advised by the restaurant’s owner that there was a detour in place a little further down the road. We passed some walkers we had met earlier and then heard them shouting ‘you’re going the wrong way’. We walked for a few miles on forestry track passing or seeing no one else, growing concerned we may have taken a wrong turn. Suddenly a guy appeared from nowhere biking towards us from the opposite direction. We stopped to chat and he reassured us that we were on the right track to Inveruglas. We never did see the walkers again!
This was without doubt the toughest stage of the route. Weary with tired legs on a long track with more ascents. The trail took us through Glen Loin woodland where the path climbs up a narrow pass to Coiregrogain with Ben Vorlich visible in the distance. We finally reached a tarmac path and from there it was only a couple of miles and a welcome descent to the main footpath into Inveruglas.
About another mile along this footpath which runs alongside the busy A82 and then the Inveruglas Visitors Centre and the end was in sight! Jeff was there to greet us with a giant medaille en chocolat and a bottle of fizz!