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How to run the West Highland Way

Friends on Conic Hill, on the West Highland Way

The average time to walk the 96-mile West Highland Way is seven or eight days. However, plenty of people like the idea of completing the Scotland’s most famous long-distance trail, from Milngavie to Fort William, in a shorter time.

It is possible to aim to run the route over a long weekend or on a three or four-day mid-week break. Running the West Highland Way is a great thing to do with friends.

The West Highland Way starts in Milngavie.

West Highland Way record times

The record times for the route, achieved in the West Highland Way Race, are breath-taking. Rob Sinclair ran the full route in 13 hours, 41 minutes and 8 seconds, while the fastest female time is Lucy Colquhoun’s 17:16:20.

Being realistic: Running the West Highland Way

The fastest times are the stuff of dreams for most runners, so a more realistic goal would be to split the distance into four days of around 24 miles each day, or three days of some 32 miles each.

To make the trip more realistic, it’s a good idea to look at where you’ll overnight and ensure you have luggage transfers organised between accommodations.

4-day West Highland Way schedule

Splitting the West Highland Way route into four days gives runners three days of completing a distance similar to a marathon, plus one slightly shorter day. You’ll need to be prepared for long and hilly days, with day three as an "easier” day.

  • Milngavie to Rowardennan: 27 miles; 640m of total ascent

  • Rowardennan to Tyndrum: 26 miles; 965m of total ascent

  • Tyndrum to Kingshouse: 19 miles; 644m of total ascent

  • Kingshouse to Fort William: 24 miles; 905m of total ascent.

3-day West Highland Way schedule

Three days to complete the West Highland Way is challenge for fitter runners, with all the days longer than a marathon and significant total ascent on days two and three.

  • Milngavie to Rowardennan: 27 miles; 640m of total ascent

  • Rowardennan to Inveroran: 35 miles; 1295m of total ascent

  • Inveroran to Fort William: 34 miles; 1219m of total ascent.

What to pack to run the West Highland Way?

If you are using a luggage transfer company for the West Highland Way, they will tell you the limit on your overnight baggage. Highland Transfers allows up to 20kg. This is where you’ll pack items to change into after each day’s run, as well as toiletries, food snacks, a book to read, phone charger etc.

For each day, you’ll want to keep your running pack weight to a minimum but also with safety at the front of your mind. Remember that even in summer in Scotland, you can experience four seasons in a day.

Your kit list should include (as a minimum):

  • Comfortable running clothing (check the weather before setting off each day)

  • Waterproof jacket and over-trousers

  • Trail running footwear

  • Hat and gloves

  • Insulated jacket or extra windproof layer (for warmth when you stop)

  • Food and water (there will be places to access extra food and water but it’s a good idea to have plenty to keep you going throughout the day)

  • Midge repellent and midge net

  • Route details

  • Mobile phone

  • Emergency bivvy bag or foil blanket

  • Sun cream

  • Small first aid kit including blister plasters, tick removal device and painkillers, such as ibuprofen.

  • Sunglasses.

The weather can be changeable on the West Highland Way.

A few items to think about

Tights or shorts?

Many people choose shorts or a skort for running in Scotland but if you are not used to cooler temperatures it might be a good idea to wear three-quarter or full-length tights.

The longer tights will keep you warmer and also provide protection from sunburn. Another issue can be ticks, so if you know that you are one of those people who is attractive to tick, choose tights for a fun leg cover.

Shoe gaiters

Some people add lightweight running shoe gaiters to the top of their footwear. These will provide some protection from trail debris, such as small stones and vegetation, and, if they are waterproof or water-resistant, will help to keep out some rain and water from puddles.

Running poles

Lightweight running poles can be a great aid on uneven ground and also when there is a lot of ascent and descent. They have been proven to reduce fatigue in the legs and when running long distances with lots of ascent this can be key to going the distance.

Trail running shoes

Many runners ask a bout what trail shoes to wear to run the West Highland Way. You will be on mostly trails and paths but these will be rough. The route can get wet and boggy in places, too, so you might prefer shoes with Gore-Tex liners for waterproofing. GTX running shoes are not essential however.

You do not need overly aggressive soles on your trail running footwear. In fact, a bit of cushioning could be an advantage because the trails are hard packed and stoney. Choose a shoe with a medium amount of grip.

Comfort is crucial so make sure you have worn the footwear in training. This is not the time to be trying out new footwear!

Route details

There are plenty of apps, such as OS Maps, that allow you to upload GPX route files and use them off-line. It's useful to have reference to the West Highland Way route even though it is signposted. You'll cross a newly installed bridge, too.

Make plans for the West Highland Way

If you want to discuss any plans or ideas you have for running, walking or cycling the West Highland Way in Scotland, please do give Highland Transfers a call. We can help with luggage transfer between your overnight accommodation and we have a wealth of other information that we can discuss with you.

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