Thursday, 28 June 2012

...and then, there was Magic.

I'm sure that's not what exercise physiologists call it but for me, that moment when exhausted legs come back to life after 70 miles of plodding will always be magic to me.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Milngavie to Balmaha.

 All set with the all important bin bag

In the beginning, there was rain, rather a lot of it.

I think all the folk who ran this year's race were watching the weather forecasts with some trepidation.  Rain was forecast and rain is what we got.

At the start of the race is was just a fine drizzle, nothing to worry about and my hopes were raised that maybe the forecasters had got it wrong but as we wended our way northwards, the rain got progressively heavier. The night had been quite mild so I'd started off in shorts and a longsleeved shirt covered with a large bin-bag.  Not terribly glamorous but it was effective in keeping me warm in rain without overheating.  The bag went on and off several times during the early hours of the race and proved very useful.

The back-scatter of light from my head-torch and the heavy rain was annoying and coping with that and wearing glasses was doubly annoying.  Eventually I had to just run without my glasses but fortunately I'm not that blind without them and the early stages up to the base of Conic hill aren't technical so it wasn't too much of a handicap.  I'd arrived at Drymen just after 2 hours of running which was about where I'd hoped to be.

Approaching Conic hill I was astonished to hear the skylarks singing their hearts out at half past three in the morning.  There was just enough light to get by on the forest roads without a head-torch now but it seemed way to early to be proclaiming one's territory!  Still, it's my favourite birdsong and it lifted my rather dampened spirits.

All the rain and puddles meant of course that my feet were soaked long before I got to Conic hill but I've never seen so much water coming down the hill before.  We were essentially walking up a river which was carrying silt and gravel into our shoes.  Consequently, for the first time ever, I decided to have an early shoe change and valseline reapplication.  Not that I was kidding myself that my feet would stay dry but there was just too much gravel in my shoes to risk continuing.  As ever, it was great to see my wife and all the other support crews and marshals. After a quick banana, chocolate milk and a shoe/sock change I headed out of Balmaha feeling pretty good.

Balmaha to Inversnaid

That feeling lasted all the way to Rowardennan and I was pleased to be a able to push a bit along the flatter sections.  The Balmaha/Rowardennan section is one where I've frequently hit low points and if can get past this section, I usually manage to carry on well.  Consequently, I was unprepared for what was to happen just after leaving Rowardennan.

I had stopped for some pasta & coffee and because of the midges, had sat down in the car.  With hindsight it's clear I hadn't been eating enough prior to that point because it took a huge effort of will to get out of the car and when I tried to run, I felt like a popped balloon.  There was just nothing in my legs.  Zilch. Nada.  It was all I could do to resist pulling out my phone and calling Muriel back to say that I was turning around.  For a while I couldn't even jog down hills.  Going for a sleep underneath the trees started to seem like a terribly attractive option.  I had to give myself a serious talking to but it was hard to remember why I had wanted to do this so bady for so long.  Now it seemed like the stupidest idea in the world.  No goblet was worth this amount of suffering and I was only just over a quarter of the way there!

The talking to must have worked as I shuffled on.  I just walked, and walked some more until gradually the pasta hit my blood stream and started to do some good.  As ever it was a relief to hit the end of the forest road and reach the single-track path.  I was beginning to feel a bit more human now and I always like this bit. I was back to running again and beginning to actually enjoy myself.  At inversnaid I swore that I wouldn't make the mistake of sitting down again and had more chocolate milk and some crisps whist standing and picked up some more energy bars for later.

Inversnaid to Auchtertyre

I was now feeling much much better, possibly slightly manic with relief that I wasn't in "zombie" mode any more.I remember catching other runners and yelling "A goblet will be mine today!" as I went past.  Goodness knows what they thought but yelling it out loud helped me. ;-)

Indeed, I was feeling so good the awful terrain after  Inversnaid barely impacted on my consciousness.  My mind was all over the place and periodically I'd look up and find that I was miles up the path without any memeory of having struggled particularly.  It was a relief though to come out of that knarly bit and see Dario's post up ahead.  I paused to touch the post and take in the fantastic view down the loch before heading off towards my next dropbag at Beinglas farm.

At last Auchtertyre was feeling close.  I stopped to use the toilets are Beinglas (which was a first for me, I've always had to make like a bear in previous races) before attacking my drop bag and pushing on up the road.  I was making steady if not spectacular pace and the miles seemed to go past without too much difficulty.  I had given Muriel instructions to provide a hot pie at Auchtertyre and the anticipation of this really helped me along.

At the top of Bogle Glen I met an unhappy looking Sandra in a lot of pain with her ankles.  Shortly after that I met Ian walking up to meet her and sadly she had to withdraw.  I've been lucky that so far, touch wood, I've never withdrawn from the race (although I've felt like doing it every time at some point).  Running it hurts, but failing to finish hurts even more I think.

I had a longish wait to cross the A82 but made fair progress pie-wards and before long I was at Auctertyre getting weighed and getting to my pie!  Only it wasn't a pie, it was a beef and onion pasty.  Still, by now anything warm and savoury would have done .  Muriel had kept it under the bonnet of the car on the exhaust shield as instructed to keep it warm and it was delicious!  My feet, although soaking, felt fine and as I only had one pair of dry shoes left, I stuck with my road shoes that I'd put on in Balmaha.  It was at Auchtertyre that I met Debbie & Sharon and I tried, rather incoherently, to congratulate her on her fantastic race on the Grand Union Canal.  My speech centres aren't too great at the best of times but when I'm running I can really struggle.  I think she got the message anyway.  I sure the big hug was a strong hint. ;-)

Auchtertyre to Glencoe

As I reached the A82 underpass I realised that the path under the bridge was completely flooded. I considered for a moment crossing the road but given how long I'd had to wait at the previous crossing I decided I would just take the "wet way".  It's not as if my feet could really get any wetter!

I hadn't planned to meet up with Muriel again until Bridge of Orchy but I'd left my cap back at the car so I was glad that they'd caught me by Brodies store to return it to me.

The wind was decidedly quixotic along the Tyndrum/BOO section.  One minute it would be in your face, the next giving you a welcome shove in the back.  Alas it was mostly in my face but I was grinding away steadily forwards and enjoyed the run down into Bridge of Orchy.

George Reid was waiting there for John Duncan and had been telling me along the way how John was catching me.  After refuelling, as I turned to go, George shouted out "Hi John!" over my shoulder causing me a moment's panic. Beating John was one of my unofficial goals in this race and George was taking great delight in winding me up. ;-)

I headed off to Victoria bridge and this was the only point at which we had a hiccough twixt runner and crew.  Muriel said that she'd meet me by the Inveroran hotel as the long hours of doing nothing were really getting to her.  I agreed to this and set off up the hill to see if Murdo the Magnificent was on jelly baby duty.  Once again, he was doing sterling duty cheering us all on and as ever, it was great to see him.

I jogged on down the hill toward the hotel but as I approached, I couldn't see any car!  This provoked a bit of unnecessary panic and I began to imagine that they had perhaps got the car stuck at BOO. I decided to carry on and pulled out my phone to ring them but there was no reception.  Well now I was worried that they'd arrive late at Inveroran and wait for me whilst I ran on ahead of them!  So I did what any crazed half mad panicking runner would do, I flagged down a passing bus.  What it was doing there I don't know but I asked the driver to look out for our car and if he saw it, tell Muriel that I had carried on.

Happier now that I had done all that I could, I carried on towards Victoria bridge.  Of course, in the next car park, there was Muriel who had decided to just go a bit further down the road.  Huge sigh of relief!

Now it was time to tackle Rannoch moor on my own.  I've done this with and without support runners and whilst I like it more with a runner than without, it always seems a bit like cheating and I wasn't sorry to be on my own.  I dislike the cobbled surface up to Ba bridge with a passion but the miles went by without dragging too much and when I reached the top of the pass by the Fleming cairn I phoned Muriel to let her know that I'd be there in about 10 minutes.  She told me that she had a hot baked potato with cheese waiting for me and that helped to put a spring in my step on the way down. ;-)

When I arrived the potato turned out to be huge but despite this I still managed to scoff about half of it.  I also changed my shoes and socks again (and more vaseline) and was now wearing a brand new pair of Adidas trail shoes.

Glencoe to Kinlochleven

 As I shuffled off down the hill with a bulging belly John danced into the checkpoint looking happy as larry.  I tried to pick up the pace but now I was affected by the "post-stuffing yourself torpor" and could only make slow progress down hill.  As I approached Auchtertyre I decide I needed to pee so after looking around, I stopped to pee with my back to anyone approaching from behind along the route.  There had been no sign of John or his support runner, Lorna McMillan, when I had looked back. Unfortunately, in choosing which direction to pee, I had neglected to take into account the wind and I was in imminent danger of soaking my new dry shoes!  Consequently I swung around to face back eastwards and lo and behold, John and Lorna hove into view!  Fortunately I think a combination of distance and the effects of cold on my nether regions rendered the risk of offence minimal. ;-)

Bill Gerrie, my support runner joined me at the bottom of the Devil's Staircase.  I was determined not to make it easy for John to catch me so I put in some determined stomping up the hill.  So determined in fact, I realised that we were catching several runners ahead.  My stomach was feeling less bloated and my energy levels were on the up.
Climbing the Devil

This was when the magic really began.

There were some runners ahead and I confidently said to my support runner that we'd pass them in the next half mile. In actual fact we passed them in the next 200 yards!  Words cannot really adequately describe just how much I love this section when I'm feeling good.  I was flying now in full downhill racing style loving every second of it.  Sometimes I do this and I'm spent by the time I reach KLL but at that moment, even though I knew the risk, I didn't care.  After so many miles of plodding it just felt so wonderful to have air under my feet and to be catching and passing folk all the way down.  I left Glencoe in 81st position and arrived in KLL in 64th place.  Three of those gains were down to retirements but it was still a good move in the right direction!

I checked in at KLL and had a great cup of tea and a couple of custard creams.  It's amazing just how good simple comfort foods can taste at times like these.  The community centre was absolutely hooching with midgies though so I didn't hang around too long.  I think I got all my bites during that one stop!

Kinlochleven to Fort William

Bill and I walked out of the community centre and I took my time easing back into a jog.  I really wasn't certain how much I had left in me.  I can never decide if the climb out of KLL is worse than the Devil or not but whatever it is, it didn't feel too awful that night.  Once up on to the Larig mor I was pleased to find that my legs still had some push left in them so we set off in pursuit of more runners.  It was still light enough to run without torches and I generally try to go for as long as possible without.  Not because I'm an Aberdonian concerned with the cost of batteries (well, not too concerned), but because I think you can see the irregularities in the path much better by the light of the sky, almost no matter how weak the light, than by torchlight.

Still, it was pretty late by now and we did have to give in eventually but wherever possible we were running rather than walking and passing other runners.  The lights of the Wilderness Response team did cause us some puzzlement as we approached.  For sometime now I had been seeing animals shapes in all the rocks and was beginning to wonder if my eyes could be trusted.  As ever though, the WRT are a welcome sight up there on the Larig mor.  It's a long and dreary stretch and I wasn't sorry that I couldn't see the path stretching out in front on me.

Lundavra at last!

It's not the end of course but it marks the beginning of the last stretch and it's always a welcome sight.  No Duncan Watson this year and just a small fire but perhaps that's just as well as it can be too tempting to linger here.

My memory of the next stretch from previous races is obviously a bit shaky as I told Bill that the next bit was more runnable.  Well it is, once you reach the forest road but I'm afraid we didn't do much running in the dark until then.  I think it's mostly down to the difference between torchlight and daylight.

As we'd left Lundavra George Reid had said that Andy Cole wasn't too far ahead.  Every year I hope that Andy will have the WHW race that he deserves and I was genuinely sorry to hear that he was doing as badly as me.  Still, that didn't stop me wanting to pass him (again). ;-)

We did catch Andy and went on to catch a few more runners.  One group that we'd passed earlier re-passed us and I told them that I'd catch them later but a look at my Bill suggested that this wasn't going to happen.  I had perhaps been a little "economical with the truth" when I'd asked Bill to be my support runner. He's a great hill runner and has a respectable time in the Pentland Skyline, a very tough and long hill race.  I had told him however that I hoped to finish around 24 hours and that he'd have no trouble keeping up with me by the end of the WHW.  Well, we were heading for a 26 hour finish and the unaccustomed miles and hours were beginning to tell.

I thought it wouldn't look good if I left my support runner out on an unfamiliar road in the middle of the night (it's probably a disqualification offence!) so we jogged down the glen together.  As we neared Fort William I could see that we would probably make it inside 26 hours, however "probably" isn't good enough so we upped our pace to guarantee a sub-6 finish.

As ever, I had to have a wee sprint at the end.  Looking a bit gaunt so probably significantly dehydrated.

I hit the doors at 25:55:53 feeling great.  I had a slightly sore foot from over tightening my laces but honestly felt the best I've ever done after a WHW race.  Amazingly, considering all the soggy miles covered, not a single blister either.
As you can see, Bill is look a bit worse for wear. ;-)

I think the choice of the right gear helped me enormously in this year's race.  From the feet up I was wearing my Adidas Kanadia Trail shoes which although not wearing terribly well, are very comfortable. I'd covered my feet in vaseline and wore ordinary short slightly cushioned cotton socks.  I had treated my "undercarriage" to a bit of Bodyglide and was wearing some seamless polyamide/polyester underwear beneath my Skins shorts.  On top I started with a long sleeved Decathlon "Kalenji" shirt which I've found great in many races.  Even when soaked the woven texture of if seems to retain enough air to provide just enough insulation for me.  I had a micro-fleece that I wore later in the race on top of my long sleeve top and a Montane Mimimus jacket to finish off.  I also carried (and used) a pair of fairly heavyweight Berghaus over-trousers.

Despite the wet, I finished in the same shirt, underwear and shorts that I started in and had no problems at all with chaffing.  The only thing I think I'd change if racing in similar conditions again would be to use a cheap hooded plastic poncho rather than a bin-bag.

Of course this is what it's all about, the pursuit of glassware. ;-)  That and testing oneself to the limit and breaking through barriers rather than breaking down.  I am hugely indebted to my wife and support runner, without whom I couldn't indulge myself in this madness.

My heart goes out to all those who tried and failed this year.  It wasn't an easy year and I hope you'll all be back to try again.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

A wise man once said...

..."it's never too late to start making excuses".

Given that it's only a few days until the West Highland Way race, I thought I'd start on the excuses now. ;-)

In my last post I was full of the joys of running 3 ultras in 8 days. In fact this year I've had my heaviest ultra racing schedule ever but I've loved it. Doing lots of racing really simplifies the decisions over training. Namely, you just try and rest and recover between races with just enough training to keep you ticking over so to speak.

Unfortunately, since my last race (the Cateran trail), I've had a bit of a yawning gap in my racing schedule and this, combined with the pain of a couple of cracked ribs, resulted in a major loss of mojo over the last 4 weeks.

My Garmin Connect dashboard tells me that I've run a rather feeble 56 miles over the last 30 days. I've not be completely idle though, I have been out on my bike a bit clocking up another 220 miles which still isn't much but better than nothing. I have, where possible, always made sure that those are *hilly* miles though.

This was my ride yesterday (Tuesday). It's a great run and for once the weather was perfect. I stopped on the way up the hill over to Barr to snap this picture which really doesn't do justice to the fanatic view of Ailsa Craig that day.

I was also lucky enough to accidentally meet up with another cyclist going the same direction and having company made the hills fly by.

Anyhow, by rights, I ought to be really panicking about the race this weekend but I'm feeling surprisingly relaxed about the whole affair. Even a call from my support runner the other day to say that he had gone lame didn't faze me too much. With a few phone calls I've managed to arrange a good back-up plan should he not be fit by Saturday so no worries there.

As to how I'll do, well that's the big question. Earlier on in the year I was thinking that a sub-23 should be easily doable (my pb is 22:58) and whilst I'd dearly love to do that, given the past month of sitting on my arse, I don't think that that is likely to occur. That said, I *am* well rested. ;-) Also in my favour is that fact that I don't seem to have put on any weight in the last month and am currently the lightest I've been for years so that's gotta help.

If I can get under 24 hours I'll be well pleased. Given the weather forecasts that might be hard. It was notable just how much the wet conditions seemed to slow everybody last year so perhaps I should just relax and concentrate on snagging another goblet and let my time take care of itself.

I'll finish with a picture of some rather delicious beans I cooked tonight. I've been 90% veggie since about February and feeling a lot better for it.

This is a blend of sautéed onions, red chilli & garlic in olive oil mixed with butter beans, olives, cherry tomatoes, roasted peppers, lemon zest, lemon juice, a tad of tomato purée and seasoning. Very tasty indeed if I say so myself.

Good luck to everyone running in this year's WHW race (and the WS100!) this weekend. If you're on the start line you've already made it further than a lot of runners this year so well done! All you have to do is just keep putting one foot in front of the other and a goblet is yours.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

8 days, three ultras

Is three ultras in 8 days a good idea? I suspect not but I think the photograph taken yesterday at Blairgowrie during the excellent Cateran Trail Ultra indicates that with good company, a good time can be had. That's Dave Catterick from Durham running his first ultra and we both had a great time.

Of course, having a great time didn't mean that any quarter was going to be given at the finish and in the end, I just beat him to the gate at the bottom of this hill and his fate was sealed. ;-)

To be honest, after the first 13 miles I was pretty sure I was going to DNF as I was struggling with groin pains (I've jiggered something down there, I know not what) but decided to push on to Alyth and then decide. Magically, after 20 miles the pain went and I really began to enjoy myself, particularly once I tagged up with Dave who had reccied the route which made life very easy for me. I had a bit of excitement following a heavy fall on to my chest, unfortunately with my fist between my chest and the ground so rather than falling with a "splat", it was more of a "crunch". Fortunately, the endorphins did a good job and it's only now decidedly ouchy. Pleased to finish in 11:35:08, about halfway down the field.

Huge thanks to Karen and all her cohort of helpers who have made this race what it is. Mustn't forget the Spittal of Glenshee hotel which fed, watered and accommodated us all at very reasonable prices.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A dirty weekend in Moffat

I'm just back from a great weekend in Moffat, running around the hills, lanes, forest roads, mountain tracks and bogs of rural Dumfries and Galloway. This was the Sandbaggers two day "Scottish Ultra", similar in format to some of their previous multiday ultras but slimmed down to just two days. Whilst longer event have always held a fascination for me practical difficulties about disappearing for a week to go racing had always stopped me from actually entering. A two day event however was eminently doable so as soon as I heard about it I entered, or rather I would have except it was on the same day as the Highland Fling race that I'd already entered. Oh well, a nice idea while it lasted but I dropped a line to the organiser explaining my quandary and the next thing I know it's been moved by two weeks. Woohoo! Game on! Having entered I then remembered that I'd also entered the Etape Caledonia, a cycling event the same weekend. Oops.;-) Fortunately I was able to defer my Etape entry for a year so alls well that ends well.

Anyway, after the usual restless night's sleep pre-race and getting up at 4:15 am, it was off to Moffat where we were met on the edge of town and ferried by car to our campsite, or rather "field" where were sorted ourselves out, put up tents, visited the camp loo and registered for the race. There didn't seem to be an awful lot of runners around and the pile of race numbers only went up to 24 but as it turned out, just 14 of us were running on the Saturday and just 8 hardy souls were doing both days. I recognised Andrew Murray and Donnie Campbell who formed the "elite" squad. I was also pleased to see Carol Martin and Carolyn both of who had run the Fling.

Maps and instructions were given at the briefing and I was a bit reassured to hear that no serious navigation would be required, not that I mind it too much but when it's a course I've not reccied, I'd rather just run and not have to worry about map reading too much. The course was indeed very well flagged and there was never really any time that I had any concerns about my whereabouts. At the briefing I confirmed that poles were allowed (I had already asked about this but didn't want to be at the receiving end of any glares from other runners for "cheating") and I decided that this would be a good opportunity to get some practice in with them. I have some lightweight folding poles that are very easy to carry and given the many long climbs on the route I thought they might be useful.

At 8:30 we were sent on our way and at 8:31, Andy and Donnie disappeared never to be seen again. Actually, we did see Donnie at the end but Andy "the quitter" Murray had flown off to London to attend some meeting about some sports event on down there this August and fled before the rest of us arrived back. They ran and finished together a bare 2 hours and 2 minutes ahead of me and I'm sure I could have clawed than back on day two if Andy had stayed for both days. ;-)

The route was a mixture of very minor roads, boggy trails, stony Landrover track over the hills and wider forest roads, and more bogs.

Apart from the two leaders, the women seemed to be setting the early pace but once we hit the hills I pulled away gradually and then gradually pulled away from the other men around me. I hadn't been paying attention to who had been around me at the start and fancifully believed that it might be possible that I was in third place, my highest position ever in a race! Still, I was only about 10 miles into the race at this point and still aware of folk not that distantly behind me so I couldn't let up.

About 18 miles in I found out from a marshal that I was actually in 4th position which rather burst my bubble but I was feeling good and enjoying the running. I had no aches or pains and my feet felt good. At 44km (about 27 miles) there was a checkpoint with a 4 pm cut-off but I needn't have worried as I was there by about 2:15. Hear I heard that the 3rd place man was 20 minutes ahead of me. :-(. Still, I had my bottle of Mountain Dew "rocket fuel" and this seemed like a good time to dip into it. The route turned on to a minor flat road at this point and I don't know whether it was the "rocket fuel" or a tail wind but I had a great run along this section before we climbed up and over a small hill to find ourselves at the top of a forest fire break with a rather incongruous "Scottish rights of way society" post at the top of it. Well I'm all for defending rights of way but I swear that the last person down there (apart from the course markers" was the man who put that post it. It was just a lovely trackless bog to squelch down. It was little bits like this that made you realise that the organisers "cared" and were determined to put a bit of "fun" into the route. ;-)

Anyhow, after my disappointment at hearing that I was 20 minutes behind the next man, my heart gave a little leap when I heard at the next checkpoint that I was just 10 minutes behind. This was doable! I could be on the podium with Andrew Murray and Donnie Campbell! I was on good forest roads now and none of the hills were steep and I took advantage of this to run up most of them as well as down and eventually I caught Colin Thornton who was struggling with his knee and walking. By way of showing my sympathy I increased my speed and hoofed it off down the road as fast as I could. ;-)

I mostly resisted the temptation to look back over my shoulder and pushed on all the way to the finish feeling elated. My elation was only dampened slightly when I found out that Andy had gone and my dream of a group photo of Andy, Donnie and myself wasn't going to be realised. Still, that was a very minor disappointment and it was only later that I found out that Colin was only doing the one day so technically, I was now in second position for the two days.

As soon as I stopped I commenced refuelling with chocolate milk, plain milk, a huge dish of veggy chilli and an avocado followed by dried fruit. I stayed up long enough to cheer in the rest but I was done in by 9 o'clock and headed to my sleeping bag.

End of Day 1.

I can't say I slept well that night but then I never do after an ultra but most notably, my legs weren't restless or aching which boded well for the next morning. I'd gone to bed in my skins tights. Whether these helped or not I don't know but I don't think they do any harm.

I got up at about 6:30 next morning for the 8 am start and had my breakfast of two pots of instant porridge and a big mug of coffee. I had time to to pack up and take my tent down before the start and at 8 o'clock, just 8 or us lined up for the start.

Donnie set off at a good lick with the rest of us easing into a slow jog across the field but within a few minutes I was easing away from the pack. The path started off on undulating forest roads before heading off through a small firebreak on to singletrack path. The whole of the second day route more or less followed the Southern Upland Way and consisted of a mix of paths, forest roads and a small (but long!) road. Because of the poor weather forecast the route had been cut short and the peak at the turnaround omitted due to the low cloud base. Fortunately the rain didn't start until later in the day but the wind which had been pushing us up the valley got stronger and really made us work on the return leg when any attempt to run up hills was alomost out of the question. Jogging on the level was hard enough!

Just after the turn around we were sent cross-country along a path that is marked on the OS map but in reality was pretty non-existent. This was the only part of the course that wasn't flagged but we had maps and it definitely added a bit of "interest" to the course, as well and the inevitable bog. ;-) Because of the loop at the top of the course I didn't see any other runners on the way back but there were plenty of marshals at critical points to keep us supplied with water and to keep our spirits up.

It felt like a very slow grind back along the road section as the valley had become a bit of a wind tunnel but eventually we hit a slightly more sheltered bit and I was able to pick up the speed a bit. All good things must come to an end however and I was lucky to get back before any significant rain. It had been pretty cold though and I had been very glad of my mittens. The finish was a bit "low key" but with only 8 runners I don't think we expected anything else. ;-) Donnie unfortunately had had to leave early so I didn't get to congratulate him on his run but I was able to relax in the Sandbaggers "yurt" tent whilst Dave Scott, the organiser, braved the wind and rain to brew tea and make bacon rolls for us all. Heavenly!

The final results for the two day runners were:

Name: First day time: Second day time: Total

Donnie Campbell 6.48.43 5.25.02 12.13.45 1st
Timothy Downie 8.50.11 6.57.20 15.47.31 2nd
Fred Hamond 9.43.08 7.32.03 17.15.11 3rd
Stephen Nisbet 9.30.22 8.21.03 17.51.29
Jo Kilkenny 9.54.02 7.59.52 17.53.54
Carol Martin 9.54.02 7.59.52 17.53.54
Paddy MacDonald 10.44.17 8.03.12 18.47.29
David Knox 11.02.26 DNF
Martin Myers DNF DNF

It was a shame to pack up and leave as it had been such a great weekend and I'd definitely try and do this again. The scenery had all been new to me and the course so well marked that one could relax and enjoy the running without having to worry about navigating. The organisation and support was top-notch apart from a slight hiccough which resulted in the medals and prizes getting left in Glasgow. ;-) I'd certainly recommend this event to anyone looking for fresh pastures.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Fling flung, but more to come...

Well this was my 5th Highland Fling race. One way or another I feel like I've been associated with this race forever. ;D Last year was the year of my nightmare race. My training had been interrupted by injury and whilst I was confident of finishing, it went much worse than expected. My report from that race is just below Murdo's report here.

This year I was feeling a lot better prepared. I'd mixed in a lot more cycling this year and changed to an 80% veggy diet which helped me to shift half a stone of excess blubber pre-race. I'd also run the D33 for the first time which was a very unfamiliar style of running for me (i.e. relentless with hardly any hills to have walking breaks on) and learned some useful lessons from that. The two day training run over the Fling route with John Duncan and friends was also a tremendous help. Lastly, a 100 mile cycle sportive two weeks before the Fling probably helped as well.

Anyhow, the race plan was to try to control my pace early on and to EAT REGULARLY AND OFTEN! That last can't be stressed enough in my opinion. I've often been guilty of not eating until I'm getting hungry or tiring but I'm convinced that by that time, it's too late to avoid a bit of a crash, usually after Balmaha.

The last four weeks before the Fling have been confusing from a training point of view though. Having done the two day run at the beginning of the month, I then had to start training in earnest for the Scottish Bike Show Sportive, a 100 mile event that started at Balloch, then around the Trossachs, up to Lochearnhead, around to Crianlarich, down Loch Lomond, over to Arrochar, down Loch Long, over the old Glen Fruin road and back to Balloch. There were some pretty serious hills in that lot! I survived it finishing in 7:14:30 which considering my training I was quite happy with. I did have to stop once to "admire the scenery" but I never resorted to pushing my bike. ;-)

The upshot of that was that little running got done in the two weeks up to that. Following that I was tapering and doing even less running. I always find motivation a problem during the taper but I felt pretty good and I was trying hard not to "dig up my tatties early to check on them" as Fiona Rennie put it in her blog (referring to runners' tendency to always go out and do one more hard run when they ought to be charging their batteries).

I started off with the 6:00 am group at what felt to be a comfortable pace and, as always, probably went a bit faster than intended, arriving at Drymen at 8:01 (after wasting 5 minutes on a toilet stop). I'm sure it pays dividends to go slower at the start but the miles were slipping past easily and I felt like I could run all day at that pace. Of course I couldn't but it was nice to dream! ;-)

Conic hill came and went with no dramas and I jogged into Balmaha feeling good. More to the point, I left Balmaha feeling good and enjoyed the run to Rowardennan without any deep energy dips that I'd suffered in previous years. I was in and out of Rowardennan quickly and heading on to Inversnaid still feeling good. As this point I was really glad that I had done the 2 day run over the HF route as I had really good memories of the run from Inversnaid to Tyndrum. Of course that was on relatively "fresh" legs and this time I'd have no overnight stop to recharge the batteries but it's amazing how much positive memories can help you along and it didn't seem long before Inversnaid came into view. When I arrived I had developed a deep craving for some coke and I hadn't put any in my drop bags. Fortunately, a bit of rummaging in the marshal's rubbish bag there produced some leftover flat warm coke and I didn't think twice about finishing it off.

I don't mind admitting that the next section really *didn't* match up with my memories, my legs were tiring and the stumbly section seemed so much more troublesome that it had done on fresher legs and it was hard to make good progress. Still, all good things come to an end and I arrived at Beinglas after about 8 and a half hours running (14:32).

I was probably paying for my early pace now as the final section took me 2:50 to complete but I felt good and was enjoying myself. Just after the second A82 crossing I caught Keith Hughs on his walk to Tyndrum who was just beginning to struggle a bit with his knee but as ever, he wasn't letting that get him down! Now I was onto the flat run in, a section that can feel like it goes on for ever if you're walking but one that seems to flit by if you've got running in your legs and that's how it was on the day. As I passed through Auchtertyre I spotted a runner in what looked like a Troon vest walking ahead of me. When I caught him I realised to my surprise that this was Bobby Miller, a very strong runner, from my club.

Well I *never* beat Bobby as a rule but I wasn't going to pass up this opportunity so rather than being a supportive club-mate and encouraging him along, I legged it! Bobby was immediately all over me like fleas on a dog and it took some determined pushes up the small hills to put some distance between us and even then, I was sure he was going to try and outsprint me for the finish so I couldn't let up.

In the end I opened up a gap of about 30 seconds and crossed the line after 11 hours and 22 minutes and 12 seconds, a vast improvement over last year's disastrous 13:48. Not as good as my 2008 time of 10:47 but it's a time that I'm not ashamed of.

Apart from the eating regularly business, I think the only thing that I'd change next year is to add in a bit more variety into my my snacks later on and include coke and crisps in my later drop bags. No matter how good something seems early on the in race, you can be pretty sure that you'll want something different later on. Oh, and next year, I really *will* try to go slower at the start. ;-)

Not long now to the full West Highland Way race but I've got the small problem of The Scottish Ultra this weekend (2x40 miles over two days) followed a week later by the Cateran Trail Ultra (55 miles), neither of which I've reccied! Training wise I've no idea if I'm training, recovering or tapering and I think the best plan is to just run these races "for fun" and to try and not injure myself. It's going to be an interesting couple of weeks. ;-)

Friday, 13 April 2012

Maybe Popeye was right?

...and spinach really is good for you.

I have a regular hill run route that wends its way through fields. It's about 65% cross country, the rest being on tarmac. My garmin reckons it has about 260 metres of climbing and it certainly makes me work running all the way to the top of the hill. I ran this yesterday, admittedly not pushing it and just putting in the miles and was quite happy to have completed it at an average of 10:01 minutes per mile considering the nature of the course.

I wouldn't normally consider doing it two days in a row but my legs felt eager to give it another go today and since the sun was shining, it felt rude not to let them go. My legs do lie to me sometimes so I don't always believe what they say. ;-)

Anyway, I just felt good from the outset today and I bounced along in the "pleasantly effortful" way that I used for my last WHW training run. Without really trying I found that I had run a new PB for the course and knocked 39 seconds a mile off my time.

Quite *why* things went so well today I'm not altogether sure (other than perhaps being a bit rested this week) but I can't help wondering whether the large helping of spanakopitta (spinach pie) that I ate last night didn't have something to do with it. ;-)

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

A weekend on the WHW (and "Where did 2011 go?")

Well I've been absent from the blogosphere for a long time now but I thought I'd try and resurrect it.

Last weekend I joined a gang of runners for a 2 day training run from Milngavie to Tyndrum with an overnight stop at the Inversnaid bunkhouse. My training has been going well this year and I've been working on my speed as well as my endurance but trying to actually cut back on my running mileage and doing more cycling.

I'd run the D33 two weeks previously (in an average sort of time) and had recovered really quickly from that so I was pretty happy that I was in good shape.

Here's the happy gang minus Lucy Downie who had sped off earlier in the morning from Inversnaid. (From left to right Antonia Johnson, Karl Zeiner, Carol Martin, Carolyn Rae, Andy Millard, Donald Sandeman, me, John Duncan and Lorna McMillan)

Despite feeling in good shape I was quite apprehensive when we set off from Milngavie as it seems a very long time since I've done this section. Anyhow, off we went and before long I found myself up at the front of the pack with Karl Zeiner who was great company. We chatted and the miles went by easily and I was a bit surprised to see that we'd reached Drymen in 1:58 relatively effortlessly. I won't bore you by using that word too often but that's really how much of my running felt over the weekend. If not effortless, "pleasantly effortful" would be a good way to describe it.

I was impatient to see the "devastation" of the forests beyond Drymen and whilst the tree-huggers might hate me for saying so, I think the tree felling is a huge improvement to the area. That forest road to the foot of Conic hill has always dragged (for me anyway) but now there are great views to the loch long before you reach Conic Hill and I found the miles passing quickly. Karl and I pulled away from the group a bit more on the ascent of Conic (to be honest, we didn't do a lot of looking back) and when we reached the top we were both seized by the desire to dash down the other side. My head was saying "Don't thrash you legs! Save something for tomorrow!" but my heart wasn't listening so we pelted down scattering trekkers in our wake.

We arrived at Balmaha 3 hours & 20 minutes after leaving Milngavie which was a bit of a problem as we'd arranged to meet my wife Muriel here to restock at 3:30 (elapsed time). Oops! We made use of the local shop to restock and then went back to the car park to await the arrival of the rest of the runners. We had a bit of a worrying time waiting for Carolyn Rae who had managed to get disorientated on the "forest" section and added an extra loop to her run. If you've run this section before but not since the storm it can be disorientating and I was beginning to think that we had missed a turning too when we ran it. Anyhow, she turned up safe and sound thankfully and we all set off again after half an hour or so.

The next section is one I always find hard and while I didn't find it easy, thanks to having adopted Karls eating frequency (every 25 minutes) I never had any of the deep troughs that usually have be questioning my sanity when I'm on this section. Karl skipped off into the distance but I found I could push on too (although not quite as fast!). I think I was about an hour and 25 to Rowadennan when I just stopped for water.

The forest roads out of Rowardennan are always a bit dull for me but it precedes my absolute favourite bit (for running) of the WHW which is the last few miles before Inversnaid when the forest road finishes and you're on to the undulating roller-coaster. My legs always get a new lease of life on this section and I galloped up and down the hills all the way to Inversnaid arriving just four minutes (and a pint of lager) behind Karl with an elapsed time of 6:13.

I wasn't just showing off for the camera, I really did feel that fresh and full of energy.

After wading thigh deep in the loch for a bit I was glad of a lift up the hill to the bunk house. It's a wee bit further than you think and it's pretty steep!

The bunk house turned out to be a great place for an unruly gang of runners to chill out and "rehydrate". ;-) Muriel and I paid for a nice room in the new annex whilst the rest roughed in in the bunk house. After far too much wine and beer, we retired to bed early whilst other carried on drinking in the outdoor hot tub. Wished I could have done that too but a comfy bed seemed more attractive at the time!

The next morning following breakfast we set off together, for about 5 yards. ;-) Somehow Karl and I ended up leading off again and once Karl had fully warmed up, he disappeared into the distance. My legs felt pretty good and on "fresh" legs, the post-Inversnaid section seemed much less daunting. In fact, I reckon there's probably not much more than a mile of it that's really bad but it weighs heavily on your mind if you're tired. I tried to repeat yesterday's plan of eating regularly loong before I got hungry, alternating sweet and savoury snacks which seemed to work for me the day before. I was quite pleased to arrive at Beinglas just an hour and 28 minutes after setting off (where Norry was waiting for the main pack. He'd run down from Tyndrum earlier on). I caught a glimpse of Karl briefly before Derrydarroch about 5 minutes ahead which inspired me to keep pushing on. I knew I wouldn't catch him but sometimes you have to kid yourself. ;-)

For the first time ever I remember thinking "it's not far now" when I reached Bogle Glen. I normal hate that section with a passion but I was really enjoying myself that day and I ran past a number of walkers who called out "Well done!" as if I was in a race. Again, when I reached the A82 crossing the section to Auchtertyre seemed shorted than I remembered it and I kept pushing on.

Before I'd left Inversnaid I'd given Muriel a "best case scenario estimate" of my time to Tyndrum of 4 hours and when I checked my watch I realised that I was actually going to be close. Well, "close" wasn't good enough so I picked up my pace again. Just after the lead mine by Tyndrum I managed to trip and fall straining my abdominal muscles which pretty much knocked the wind out of my sails but it wasn't far now. Now I was shuffling and generally looking the worse for wear but I arrived in Tyndrum a very happy man in 3:57 from Inversnaid.

All in all I couldn't have been happier with the way my running had gone. My nutrition seemed spot on and I was really pleased with my Adidas Kanadia TR4 shoes which were grippy & really comfortable. For anyone interested they're cheap too! only £40 from more on-line retailers. I've ordered a second half-size bigger pair for the WHW. You don't have to have them in orange by the way, I think that's an older model.

My new back (North face enduro 13) pack also worked well. It could perhaps do with slightly bigger pockets on the belt for storage bit I love to bottle positioning and the general comfort.

All in all a great weekend away and confidence booster for the Fling and WHW race.

Regarding 2011 (for anyone who hasn't fallen asleep yet) well 2011 was a year of big but unrealised plans. I entered the UTMB back in December 2010 and chose not to enter the WHW race on the grounds that I really didn't think I could do both. Anyway, I didn't get through the ballot for the UTMB and got offered a place in the TDS which I accepted. Having done that, my old back trouble flared up and I really suffered on and off with sciatica for most of the year. This disrupted all my training to a greater or lesser degree and I decided that there was no way I wanted to start a race like the TDS unless I could do it justice so I withdrew from that.

Despite everything, I still managed to hobble my way round 5 ultra races last year. The Fling (in a new PW), the Clyde Stride (as a sweeper), the Devil O' the Highlands, The River Ayr Way and finally the Glen Ogle 33. I was glad to have done them all but I knew that I hadn't really run well in any of them.

Anyway, eventually my back improved, possibly helped by a new mattress and I began to feel like my old self. After a gentle December with little running I felt refreshed and raring to throw myself into things in 2012. I've now entered FAR too many ultras (D33 (done), Scottish Bike Show 100 mile cycle sportive, the Fling, the Scottish ultra, the Cateran trail, the WHW race and the Glenmore 24. Who know what else I might do if I don't fall apart first. ;-)

Monday, 8 August 2011

Devil o' the HIghlands. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Well this year's Devil was always going to be a wee trip into the unknown for me with my very abbreviated training but I was feeling good apart from slightly sore quads due to a slightly over-enthusiastic session of hill bashing on my bike on the Wednesday prior to the race.

Still, I wasn't worried and I was really looking forward to introducing Dave, a newish club member, to the delights of running in the highlands. He's been is Ayrshire for years but never up past Loch Lomond so it was a grand day out for both of us.

As usual, I was up at about 4 am to fry up some bacon for a sandwich. I always reckon it sets me up well for the day. Whether it does or not I don't really care, I just like bacon sandwiches. ;-)

I won't bore you all with minutiae of my run but over the first section to Bridge or Orchy I was feeling strong and reached BOO in 1:05. My legs felt good on all the hills and I really do think that the cycling worked improve my uphill running. The next leg to Glencoe was going well too until I got a bit over-enthusiastic running down the hill to Inveroran when I stumbled and came crashing down heavily on my right arm and leg. I rolled and was up on my feet again in an instant but needless to say it took the wind out of my sails for a while and as I assessed the damage, I realised that I had blood dripping off my hand coming from a cut on my elbow. My leg felt a bit battered but apart from a few grazes there was little to show for it.

After a brief stop for a bit of a clean up and some milk at Victoria Bridge I carried on to Glencoe and was pleased to get there only a minute down on my time last year. Unfortunately as I approached Black Rock Cottage I was overcome with a *very* urgent call of nature and had to drop my shorts within a couple of hundred metres of the checkpoint. Apologies to anyone's sensibilities I offended if you saw me! All I can say is, if you gotta go, you gotta go. ;-)

From here on I was joined by Dave, my clubmate, "a running bear" in hirsuteness and size. I've been trying to point him in the direction of ultra running for some time now as he's one of those people who seem to glide over the ground making effortless progress so I'm sure that ultra running will be his forte.

Anyhow, it was a beautiful day although getting a bit warm by now but we enjoyed the views as we ascended the Devil's Staircase and beyond. Once at the top, I was aware that my legs didn't quite have the bounce that I usually have for descending hills but nevertheless we made good progress down to Kinlochleven. As we neared KLL I remembered thinking "Wouldn't it be nice if the race ended here?".

When we arrived in KLL I was now 18 minuted behind last year's time and this was indicative of how things were going to go from now on. I sat down to have a bite to eat before setting off on the last leg and as usual, the climb out of KLL felt longer and harder than the Devil's Staircase. That said, once we reached to top I managed to keep running the downhills and level bits reasonably well AND some of the uphills but I was finding the underfoot conditions hard, usually an indication of how tired I am. On fresh legs I can skip along but today it was becoming a bit of a stumblefest. Things probably weren't helped by my wearing my "mono-vision" contact lenses which give me one good eye for reading and one good eye for distance. The trouble is they give be one pair of eyes rather poor at depth perception which doesn't help on uneven ground. During the climb I realised that my elbow was leaking blood again and dripping off my fingers so I decided to take advantage of the Mountain Medics who did a grand job of bandaging my elbow up.

Anyhow, as it does, the Larig Mor eventually comes to an end and we met up with Muriel for a spot of refreshment before carrying on to the last leg. Just before we left I heard the dulcet tones on Anne (Noble - support runner) and Karen Robertson approaching. Karen has had miserable luck with the Devil (and this year's WHW race) so despite being upset about being "caught by a girly from my own club!" I was absolutely delighted that at last she was having a better run.

Being a gentleman, I hightailed out of the checkpoint without waiting but it did me little good and she soon overhauled me and left me for dead, which was pretty much how I was feeling by this stage.

My quads were by now seriously trashed and going down steeper hills (or steps in particular) was very painful and it was a slow and painful descent down Glen Nevis to Braveheart car park.

Still, one foot in front of the other gets you there eventually and after we passed the 30 mph sign I tried to pretend that I was a runner with a rather feeble sprint finish.

So, firstly the good things.

I think the cycling definitely helped with running up the hills. Considering the amount of running I've done lately that went well. I will be including cycling as part of my future ultra training.
It was also a great pleasure and a privilege to get to introduce David to this beautiful part of the highlands on such a great day.
My running went well (apart from my tumble)up until Kinlochleven. Dave was good company on the run and Muriel did a sterling job of trying to satisfy my whims throughout the day.

The bad things.
It doesn't take a genius to realise that I would have done better if I had started slower and I have to admit that I was really pushing myself in the early stages to see how close I could run to my times last year. It was always going to be a risky thing to do but I wanted to see just how well I could run on so little running in training. I would have enjoyed the race overall more if I had started slower I think. Also, having to drop your shorts in easy view of a check point isn't something I want to repeat in a hurry!

The ugly things.

My elbow doesn't look too pretty but it'll heal. I've some fairly impressive bruises on my thigh but I think they're all pretty superficial. I'll spare you the pictures of those. ;-)

NEXT year, I'll train properly, I promise. ;-) Unfortunately I'm going to have to find a new support runner as Dave is determined to enter the Devil next year, which at the end of the day, is a great result.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Running the Devil, on a wheel and a prayer.

It's been a funny old year and admittedly, it's not gone to plan running wise but I'm not too dismayed.

I've done less running in preparation for this year's Devil o' the Highland race than ever before but oddly I'm really looking forward to it. In fact, I'm even kidding myself that I might actually do quite well in it.

So where does this (very possibly misplaced) confidence come from? Well for a start, I've been doing a lot of cycling and most of that has included as many hills as I can point my front wheel up and nearly all of that has been done pushing a biggish gear (52x23 minimum) which I feel has really toned up my quads.

I've lost a good half stone in weight over the last few weeks thanks to the cycling and feel all the better for it.

Whilst I've hardly run I did do the sweeping for the Clyde Stride which was useful "time on feet" and I got talked into doing a hilly 7 mile leg of the "Round Arran relays". I think I done 2 other shortish runs as well and that's pretty much been it as far as running's concerned over the last month.

The other thing that's helped was watching the following video which has pretty much cured me of whinging about my sciatica!

Jamie Andrew: Mountaineering, Amputation, and Changing Nappies with his Teeth. from Alastair Humphreys on Vimeo.

So, whatever happens tomorrow, I hope I can finish with a smile.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Chim chimeny, chim chimeny, chim chim, cheree...

Well I've done some daft things in my time but it's been a while since I've done something quite as silly as this.

When I heard that Lee (the Clyde Stride race organiser) was in need of some sweepers (the folk who jog along at the back making sure that all the stragglers are accounted for) I thought it would be fun to bring my chimney sweeping brush for the photos at the start of the race.

Well, as you might imagine it caused a wee bit of a stir and folk were asking if I planned to carry it the whole way. I must confess I had thought about it and I decided that I would indeed find out what it was like to carry a chimney brush for 40 miles.

As it turned out, it was in in fact easy to run with (it's pretty light) and by the time I'd reached the first checkpoint I'd decided that it was going the whole way. Of course, when I say "run", I actually mean "a wee bit of running and an awful lot of walking". This suited me okay as I've done very little running in the last few months due to my chronic sciatica, which incidentally, is getting a bit better if you're interested. I'd been out on my bike for 4 rides in the week before the race (2x17 miles and 2x40 miles). Hard to be sure but I think they've helped me physically a bit. Whitout doubt thought they've helped me psychologically a LOT!

Today I had a really enjoyable 40 miler on my bike with no embarrassing walking breaks and plan to go out again tomorrow.

It been a very frustrating few months struggling to train in almost constant pain and having made the decision to forget the running for a while and just cycle, I'm really enjoying being able to get some decent exercise again. I'm now really looking forward to the Devil of the Highlands race which I was dreading before the Clyde Stride. I now feel confident of finishing at least.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Back in the saddle...


After yesterday's cathartic whinge, I decided that the only way forward at the moment is to try and forget about running and try some cross training. I know, I know, you're all thinking "Duh?", it's an obvious response and an obvious answer to my current malaise but it's a route I've been reluctant to follow. I mean, everyone knows that running is The One True Sport don't they? Why would I want to do anything different? Anyhow, I decided that if I can't run and not running properly is making me miserable, I just HAVE to do something different for a few weeks.

I thought about swimming but with the schools on holiday I decided that my chances of getting any uninterrupted lengths in were going to be near zero. So today, I ventured into the garage and peered into the garage pile and pulled out a sporty looking number with no mudguards and not enough gears. After wiping the worst of the cobwebs and sawdust off (I kid you not, it's been sat there for about 5 years) I pumped 100psi into each tyre, crossed my fingers and wobbled off on a 17.3 mile ride.

It's odd really that I should be so reluctant to embrace my bike these days as I used to be a very keen cyclist when I was younger (and thought runners were absolutely potty) but I've somehow fallen out of love with cycling.

Anyhow, it wasn't long before I was regretting picking the bike with no granny gears as I wheezed my way up hills. My worst moment came on a long (but not steep) incline when I wobbled to a near halt and realised that I was going to have to walk. This was when my trust in bike turned out to be a little misplace as my SPD pedal was darned if it was going to let go of my shoe! Fortunately, I managed to get one out before I fell but I think a little lubrication and adjustment is in order before I venture out again. ;-)

Not long after that the rain started and the lack of mudguards meant that my feet and back got a good spraying. Admittedly, by the end of the ride I was almost enjoying it so I suppose I can stand to do this for a few weeks. Goodness only knows what it'll do for my sciatica but i guess I'll find out soon enough.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

What do you do when can't do what you love to do?

First post in absolute ages and it's to have a self-pitying whine. ;-)

I'm having real problems with my running at the moment in that chronic back trouble is making it incredibly hard for me to train to anywhere near my potential.

Yes, I can still go out for shorter runs and enjoy them (after a fashion) but my sciatica constantly undermines my ability to do the longer runs that I need to do to train for ultras. Every day I'm thinking that if I wasn't a runner, my symptoms would be quite bearable and then I feel guilty for aspiring to something that most people wouldn't even dream of doing. It's not like I'm seriously disabled in the conventional sense of the word but and many folk would be grateful to have my present level of fitness, such that it is. Life would be a whole lot simpler if I wasn't a runner!

It's just that I so want to run next year's WHW race and while I know it's a long way off, this back trouble has grumbled on and off for months and months. It put paid to my plans to do the TDS earlier this year when I was forced to accept that there was no way I could put in the appropriate training to do justice to a course like that.

On the immediate horizon I have an entry for the Devil o' the Highlands race which is in August. I would love to run it but I'm having serious doubts about attempting it. It's not that I'm too worried about running with my pain (I've been doing that for ages) but that I know that I just can't get the training done that I'd like to do to run it "properly". I've never been a great fan of just achieving a finish for the sake of it.

I've seen my own physio who has given me mobilisation exercises to do for my lower spine but they've made no difference. I'm currently waiting to see an NHS physio so I suppose I should see what they can do. Although highly sceptical of surgery as a treatment for back pain my symptoms are very specific (single nerve root pain) and I'm beginning to wonder if that's the route I might eventually have to follow.

If any runners out there have been down the surgery route and have any comments they'd like to make, I'm all ears.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Strathaven Striders "Run with the Wind" race report

Well I tried, I really did. Ever since we got back from Nepal I've been working on my endurance and speed. Indeed, I've even tried training every day with no rest days but it was all to no avail.

There was just no way that I could drink my two pints of beer fast enough to justify a third before Muriel (designated driver) had finished her one pint.

It's not that I really wanted three pints [1], but when you're drinking with a certain London fireman, it somehow seems the right thing to do. It seems to me that if he's prepared to travel the length of the country to run the race, it would be rude not to down at least three pints with him. Alas, that goal has eluded me yet again. :-(

As to the race, well, for a change, it was glorious weather, if a trifle chilly. I really had no idea how I'd do after so little running over the last couple of months but with no real expectations, I was free to run how I felt and not worry about my time too much.

The first 4km were great and if it had finished there I would have been a happy man. Unfortunately, this "downhill" race then runs uphill from 4 to 6km. Despite that, I made good progress on the uphill section catching and passing several runners. After 6km, I more or less held my position as we headed gently downhill again. Sadly, at 8km there was another uphill and it was here that I discovered that I had probably worked a wee bit too hard on those hills as I went rapidly backwards and lost 3 places very quickly.

At about 8.5km the route went more or less downhill and I held my position despite the accelerating pace of everyone. When I turned the corner to the finishing line and hit the last little hill, my legs almost crumpled beneath me until I reached the finishing straight. I tried to put on a last ditch sprint to see if I could regain a place but it was not to be. All that happend was that I crossed the line gasping like a fish out of water and retching my guts up.

I'm not sure of my time other than somewhere between 43:00 and 43:10. I guess a sub-40 will have to wait for another day. ;-)

[1] That's a lie.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Annapura 8K report

I was going to do a really long write-up of our trip to Nepal to do the Annapurna base camp (aka sanctuary) trek but Muriel has already done that and it seems daft to do it all over again. Instead, I thought I'd write about the real reason I went to Nepal, to have a crack at Thomas's Machhapuchhare base camp (MBC )to Annapurna base camp (ABC) and back again record. ;-) You can read about it on his blog here.

The trek to Annapurna is a fantastic trip. I suspect it's no more than about 50km from where we started trekking to ABC but what a 50 km! Strongly recommended for any reasonably fit adult. Be prepared for stairs though, lots of them.

After 5 days of trekking we had arrived at MBC at 3,700m elevation in time for a spot of lunch.
Pretty stunning view from our dining table!

After lunch, the plan was to have a little stroll around, go look at a river and then walk a bit up towards Annapurna base camp to aid our altitude adjustment. Well I stuck with the group as we wandered over to see the river but when we got back to the teahouse I could contain myself no longer and took off towards ABC. Slow trekking does not come easily to a WHW runner!

At 3700m altitude, you very definitely know that the air is thin and the moment I hit the first hill I was reduced to puffing my way up all the climbs. As it's a 430m to climb to ABC this was a feeling I was going to have to get used to! That said, it was pretty much like any hill race, striding purposefully up the steeper bits and running all the flatter bits.

I started to pass a number of trekkers and porters. If they didn't hear me approaching a cheerful "Namaste!" usually had them making way for me. It didn't seem long before I reached a large rock with "ABC 1 hour" painted on it. (In the Himalayas, you never see signs with distances, it always done in walking time). This seemed a trifle pessimistic as I could clearly see ABC about a mile ahead but the times are based on wheezing trekkers, not WHW running supermen. ;-)

Those blues roofed buildings are ABC

As you can see, the land flattens out as you approach ABC so I was able to pick up a bit of speed on this stretch. As I neared ABC you pass a large "Welcome" sign.

I agonised for a few moments wondering whether this was Thomas's turn around point but decided that I really had to go the whole way to the camp rather than stop about 400m short. I pushed on until I reached the top of these steps (now looking back down) at 4130m.

I then did something I not particularly proud of, I defaced ABC. ;-)

I did look for "CG" and "TL" briefly but couldn't see any sign of his moniker. ;-) After that, it was a quick turn around and then racing like a loony back down the hill. This did cause a bit of consternation amongst the trekkers. One rather worriedly asked me why I was running to which I could only answer "For fun!" as I hurtled back down the trial. Although altitude makes ascents hard, the descent was easy although I did take a bit more care than normal as access to medical facilities is somewhat limited up there. I misjudged my route as I neared MBC and ended up running up a long flight of steps back to our teahouse, cheered on by a camping group of trekkers.

So, did I beat Thomas's 59 minutes for the round trip? Well, sad to say I didn't start my watch properly when I set off so I'll never know. I suspect I was over the hour though so until I go back and time myself properly, I guess Thomas's record will have to stand. ;-)

These next pics are just an illustration of what breathing air at only 60-65% of normal pressure does for you (and a bag of peanuts).

That top figure (a measure of how saturated my haemoglobin was with oxygen) would be reading 98 to 100 at sea level.

This was a floppy bag of nuts when we go it on the plane. Now it was as tight as a drum.

So apart from the generally amazing experience of trekking in the Himalayas, this little taster of what running at altitude is like has given me an appetite to do more of it. Can't wait for next year's CCC or UTMB!

Monday, 24 May 2010

A grand day out

Yesterday I ran my last really long run before this year's West Highland Way race and although it started off rather inauspiciously, it really couldn't have gone better.

I had hoped to meet up with Ian Beattie, Ellen McVey and a few other WHWers at Bridge of Orchy but as I planned to run further than BOO to Fort William I decided to start at Tyndrum and run the 43 miles from there. I've done very little training on the WHW this year and I've really missed the group runs so I was looking forward to running with old friends and acquaintances. I arrived at about 06:20 having driven through torrential rain (a rather big change in the weather from the day before which was scorching), the skies were still grey and it was drizzling steadily when I set off at 6:25.

I set off very gently, walking all the hills and took advantage of the portaloos that are by the side of the WHW about half a mile out of Tyndrum. I only mention them as I had a bit of a fright as I turned to lock on the door the whole portaloo wobbled alarmingly over towards the door! I had visions of being trapped inside the loo with the door at the bottom and getting covered in the unspeakable contents of the loo. I quickly shifted my weight to the back of the loo and fortunately it righted itself and I was able to complete my "business" without any further frights. Before I left I wedged a couple of rocks under the front so hopefully no one else will suffer the same fate. ;-)

As I carried on towards BOO the rain stopped but the skies stayed grey. To be honest, although I had been anticipating sun I was much happier with the prevailing conditions. As I approached BOO (about 7:40) I tried to contact Ian and Ellen on their mobiles with no luck. I checked in the hotel and then called out Ellen's name near a couple of the tents but again drew a blank. As I had originally expected to be leaving Tyndrum at 7:00 and arriving about 8:15 I wasn't sure what to do but in the end I decided to carry on alone in the hope that either I'd catch up with Ellen (who had aimed for an early start) of they'd catch up with me.

It turned out that Ian had sensibly decided to call it a day after one day's running when he got pretty dehydrated and the heavy rain and somewhat dampened Ellen's enthusiasm for an early start and her phone was off. I did manage to contact Ellen later on but I was well along the way by that point and decided that I'd just carry on alone rather than wait. As I said, a rather inauspicious start to my hoped for "group run".

As I carried on towards Victoria Bridge I was caught by Bob Steel and Lynn (I think) but they were clearly intent on going faster than I felt comfortable with so I bade them farewell and plodded on.

The run across the moor was pretty uneventful but I was enjoying running at my own pace with no pressures to run faster or slower than I wanted. As I approached Kingshouse I remembered something I'd long wanted to do but never quite got around to, namely wave to my wife via their web cam!

So there's me grinning like an idiot with my phone to my ear saying "Can you see me yet?" I think the chap at the picnic table behind me thought I was a right eejit. ;-)
I had been looking forward to a cup of coffee in the bar but had arrived too early and I felt too smelly to venture into the hotel so I carried on, but not before pausing to photograph a little slice of heaven.

A little slice of heaven

No, I'm not talking about the view or the Kingshouse hotel (which both have much to be said for them) but that half pork pie sitting on the wall there. I know there is much talk about nutrition for ultra racing just now but I think I have found the answer, namely pork pies.

I've tried lots of things over the years but yesterday the fourth bit of pork pie I had tasted every bit as delicious as the first (which was wonderful indeed) and as the day wore on my legs seemed to be filling up with energy rather than draining down.

The climb up the Devil's Staircase is always bit of a slog but once I got there I found myself running surefootedly down all the rocky hills, up many of the lesser hills and really stretching my legs out on the forest track all the way down into Kinlochleven. My quads were absolutely fine and apart for a niggle in one groin I had no real aches or pains.

Having run out of pork pies (I started with two snack sized ones each cut into two pieces) I decided to stop & buy some more but I was tempted by the coffee in the Ice Factory so I popped in there, dripping sweat all over the counter (at long last the sun had arrived during my descent) and ordered a pint of milk, a filter coffee and a plate of chips.

The milk and coffee went down really well and I nibbled at the chips until I couldn't eat any more. By now my craving for more pork pies had disappeared and I decided to carry on without. I'd got chatting to a group of mountain bikers who had ridden over from Fort William along the WHW and were setting off back shortly. As I left the Ice Factory they were sorting out their bike gear and I half expected them to pass me on the road before I started the climb out. As it happened I got there first and knowing how tough that climb was going to be for them, I decided to make it even harder for them to catch me by pushing on a bit harder.

I was now entering that wonderful "steady state" of distance running whereby one becomes a machine burning fuel and unconscious of fatigue. My legs felt better than they had done all day and I was really starting to motor across the moor. My niggles had all disappeared much to my surprise as I had been half expecting the wheels to fall off after my descent into Kinlochleven.

I've always found that surface on the Larig Mor tricky to run on but not yesterday. Again, like my descent into KLL, my feet were going exactly where I wanted them as I galloped down loose stony slopes, feeling like they had only run 3 miles, not 30.

Ultimately the bikers did catch me but it took them about an hour and a quarter and they commented on how hard they had had to work to catch me. It gave me a real buzz to have held them off for so long.

Even once they'd passed however I didn't lose impetus and I was even running uphill into the wind at times without being conscious of any fatigue. I really was on cloud 9!

The last section from Ludavra seemed to pass in no time at all. Before I knew it I was on the forest track and far from jogging down, I was stretching my legs out and flying past walkers with only the odd brief walking break. Even the road section into Fort William didn't feel too long or too bad!

I arrived in Fort William at 16:10, 9 hours & forty five minutes after starting. Not an earth shattering time by any means but if I can run half as well in 4 weeks time I'll be well pleased.

I love to say that I knew just why I ran so well yesterday and that I had found the "secret" to effortless distance running but I honestly believe that my strategy of eating a little something every hour to 90 minutes or so (especially pork pies) helped me enormously. I think because I was unsupported and not relying on drop bags etc., there wasn't the temptation to wait too long and then eat too much. It's probably no coincidence that my best Fling race (when I fluked my way into lifting the first male supervet prize) I was also unsupported and working without drop bags. To my mind this is pretty convincing evidence for the efficacy of the "little and often" approach.

I think starting slowly was also a big help and I'm convinced that the 25 minutes or so that I spent in Kinlochleven more than paid for itself in the energy that I had when running across the moor. I had also picked out a selection of my gear that was comfortable and was wearing my road shoes rather than my trail shoes and I can honestly say that at no point did I feel I was lacking any grip and my feet still felt good at the end.

After a night in my Skins tights my legs feel good today, certainly capable of another run and my feet are blister free. The only problem that I had all day was a failure of my hitch-hiking thumb to do its stuff and I ended up walking back through FW to catch the train back. Apart from the £15 I couldn't complain about that as I met up with Jamie Aarons in the station who was good company. I had to laugh at her nerves about doing the full WHW when she finished the Fling as 4th lady in 9:53. Of course I can understand her trepidation about the step into the unknown (this is her first attempt at this distance) with the full WHW race but somehow I think she'll do okay. ;-)

Between now and the race I'll do my usual panicking about taper strategies and probably do the Cairn table hill race next month for a bit of fun.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Finished the West Highland Way! Concept 2 rowing machine that is. ;-)

I started out with the plan back in February of rowing 5km a day until I'd clocked up 153km (which is the approximate metric distance of the WHW) and then see how I felt.

I quickly realised that 5km 7 days a week was actually a pretty tough schedule and decided to cut back to 5 days a week. This worked well for the first 5 weeks and my 5km times came down from 25:24 to 20:26 and I even managed to beat a certain "crazy German"'s 2km time trial time of 8 minutes with a 7:46.

So far, so good. Then we went on holiday.

I think that steering a canal boat for a cold week at the end of March with no running (most tow paths boggy wet & slippery) and lots of drinking wasn't the ideal way to keep my training going and although I managed to jump back on the machine the day after we got back, the impetus was gone and it no longer felt like an enjoyable challenge, just a drudge. Consequently, I concentrated a bit more on my running (and enjoyed a couple of good back-to-back runs on the River Ayr Way) and left the rowing another week.

It seemed daft not to finish the 153km before the Fling though so I've cracked on this week and clocked up 155.2 km, comfortably past the "official" end to the WHW and on to the leisure centre that is used for the end of the race.

Whatever else all this rowing has done I'm sure it hasn't *harmed* my overall fitness, I'm just not sure if it's going to have any effect on my running fitness. Maybe I shall find out on Saturday at the Highland Fling Race. At least I can say that I've reached the start-line injury free this year which isn't to be sneezed at

Speaking of which, I'm just back from the supermarket after one of my "pre-ultrarace shopping sprees" where I end up buying way more than I'll ever need in the hope that I'll have something that I do want when and where I want it.

I know from experience that I won't eat a fraction of it but this is what I have.

8 raisin & lemon pancakes
4 tubs peaches in juice
1 loaf white bread (for jam butties)
3x1.25 litres of Coca-cola (opened & being de-fizzed at present)
4-pack mini Toblerones
2 snack sized pork pies
2 large bunches grapes
1 bag apricots
2x475ml bottles Yazoo chocolate milk
1 bag Jelly Babies
1 bag salted almonds
4 cans ersatz "Red Bull"
Bunch of Bananas.
1 large bag salted Doritos

The next job is to work out how to divvy some of that lot up into what I eat on the morning pre-race, what I carry, what goes in my drop bags and what I want waiting for me at the end. One thing's for sure, a lot of it won't get eaten.

As some may have noticed, I've rather gone off gels & sports drinks. Cola seems to keep me going well on my long runs and I'll have a bottle for water (from streams) for when I get tired of the taste of coke. I'll probably use my "Succeed" capsules for electrolyte replacement. I've tried Nuun tablets (which are reasonably palatable) but I find I prefer my salts and my drinks separate.

I'll just finish by wishing all other Fling participants the best of luck on Saturday!