By Haute Volée, Devon Yanko
My love affair with distance running is deeply intertwined with my love affair with Scotland. 11 years ago, before I had completed a marathon, but was contemplating doing one, I traveled to Scotland for 10 days with a bunch of my roommates in my London house. The moment I set foot in the country, I was in love. The more days I spent there, touring around the country, the deeper that love became. I decided instantly that I HAD to come back and the sooner the better. When we arrived back in London, I looked up races in Scotland and found that the Edinburgh Marathon was 3 months later. I took the plunge and signed up. I wanted to go back to Scotland so much, I had been training for a theoretical marathon at some point, it just seemed fated that I would run my first in Scotland.
June of 2005, I successfully completed my first marathon. I ran through the streets of Edinburgh, I had no idea what I was doing, I paced myself terribly, it hurt thoroughly. But when I crossed that finish line, I knew I was hooked and my running career began.
During my first visit to Scotland, I had gone on a 6 day tour of the country and explored the Isles, Highlands and many many Lochs. I was inspired by the scenery and couldn’t help look out our bus window and long to be running up the Munros. Our tour guide had told us about the West Highland Way, a 95 mile foot path, that many hike over the course of a week, going through some of the most amazing landscapes in all of Scotland. He joked about being so naive that he filled his backpack with heavy cans of beans and beer and whiskey. They only managed 20 miles of the path. But right then and there, I became determined to one day come back and run the West Highland Way.
But for some reason, over the last 11 years, I never made it back. And then last year, fellow San Francisco Running Company teammate Matt Laye went to Scotland for holiday and while he was there ran the Highland Fling, a 53 mile race on the West Highland Way. I was instantly keen to sign up for the race and return to Scotland at long last for the race on April 30th.
And so I made the journey back to Scotland. Back to where my running career began, back to a place that means so much to me. And once again, it felt like home. There are places in this world that call to me and places that literally drive and inspire me to run and push myself. Places that remind me of the intrinsic reasons that I love to be able to run. Scotland reminded me of my core values as a runner, its simple beautiful essence.
The race didn’t go how I had envisioned it. I had imagined that I would float happily along absorbed in my surroundings, but instead struggled with my energy, my frustrations and ultimately my day ended early after I had a nasty fall going up the first major climb up Conich Hill. I crushed my arm and hit my head on a rock. But even in that sad moment, when I knew my day would end, when I was crying big crocodile tears of pain, I looked out across Loch Lomond and the amazing sweeping views and felt no regret. I had come back, I had come full circle. I had found another place that I can and will return to time and time again. Now, more than ever, I want to have my feet carry me the length of the West Highland Way. I want to run to the top of Ben Nevis.
My trip to Scotland reminded me again that running is so much more than miles and paces and even plans. On my last day in Scotland, en route back to Edinburgh, I drove up into the Cairn Gorm mountains. I parked the car and started running up to the summit. I didn’t need the miles, I didn’t have a plan, I just wanted to be on the snow covered mountain. I wanted to not just look out my window at the snowy peaks, I wanted to feel my feet on them. I climbed and climbed, snow pelted my face, wind whipped around me. My heart was full and I knew running truly is a way of experiencing the world in an incredibly special way.