Petestack Blog

28 March 2010

More shoes and heart rate

Filed under: Running — admin @ 7:12 pm

No, I haven’t being buying more shoes since yesterday! But I’ve been out again in the same ones, trying the same HRM pacing trick on a 14 mile round trip to Luibeilt that starts with a climb I’d rate more severe than any on the West Highland Way. So perhaps it was a mug’s game trying to keep to 125 when I was backing off big time and even 130 was only giving me an average of 2.9 mph up that first, steep mile, but the ease with which I was able to maintain mid to high 120s for the rest of the course suggests that I’m still running well within myself at that, which is basically what I was wanting to know. Since it also took the remaining 13 miles to drag the average speed up to just 5.4 mph, and said average was clearly still affected by two short stops (to don Pertex smock and trousers when the weather turned nasty and remove an annoying stone from my shoe), it seems stupefyingly obvious that you can never regain what you lose by moving too slowly (as likely to result from setting out too quickly and blowing up later as being too cautious early on) or not at all. Which leaves a WHW race strategy based on perfect pacing and minimal stopping (neither of which I achieved last time) looking crucial if I’m to hit my target (which I still regard as ‘on’!).

Might just add that the two obvious heart rate ‘spikes’ late on (approaching and starting the final descent) are possibly rogue readings and the Gel-Enduros seemed little more secure (although certainly no slippier) than standard road shoes on that same descent (which I’ve covered significantly faster with more serious studs and attitude to match!).

27 March 2010

Shoes, heart rate and serendipity

Filed under: Running — admin @ 11:56 pm

Since I’m running on rough ground all the time, pushing my road shoes beyond their designed remit on almost every outing and like to have several viable pairs on the go, I rarely buy running shoes a pair at a time. So, with the mileage steadily building towards June’s West Highland Way Race, my last two pairs of Asics GT-2130s becoming ever more bashed up and most of my existing off-road alternatives somewhat out of favour, I really needed to stock up, spent part of Monday evening trawling the net for good deals (aka sale prices) and now have five new pairs of shoes!

So what did I get, and why?

  • Two pairs of Asics GT-2150s because (bar a single failed experiment with ill-fitting Saucony Hurricanes in 2006), Asics 2000 series have served so well as my ‘main’ shoes over the years that I’ll quite happily take a new pair of UK 11/Euro 46.5s out of the box and run 30 miles or more in them just like that. But these are my first black ones (chosen because the white ones might as well start black with the usage they get from me!).
  • Two pairs of Asics Gel-Enduro 5s because I’ve kept looking for road-type shoes (which are generally kinder to my funny feet) with trail-type sole patterns, these were pretty cheap and (despite what I’d call a fairly ‘token’ trail sole compared to more specialist designs) had to be worth a gamble. Also in black, and maybe that little bit more ‘appropriate’ to some of my rougher local courses.
  • A pair of Inov-8 Flyroc 310s because they were also on sale and, out of the many different Inov-8 hill and trail shoes I’ve owned, the similar (but slightly heavier) Terroc 330s have probably fitted said funny feet best. To which I might add that the Gel-Enduros seemed a bigger gamble because I was banking on the fit being similar to my previous Asics 2000 series, and thought I was on pretty safe ground with the Flyrocs because all those different Inov-8s I’ve owned (think that’s Mudrocs, Mudclaws, Roclites and two pairs of Terrocs) have been UK 11.5/Euro 46.5s. But the Flyrocs are maybe feeling just a little short at that (although maybe still OK with a bit of wear since they’re not looking any shorter than my existing Mudclaws and Roclites), whereas I took out a pair of the Gel-Enduros today, popped in my magic insoles (with the 7┬░ sideways slope!), ran 17.2 miles on the West Highland Way and was well pleased with them.

Now that’s the shoes dealt with, what about the heart rate? Well, being absolutely convinced that 90% of the WHW field are setting off too fast and even pace (or perhaps more accurately even effort) will get you there quicker in the end, today’s run was an exercise in maintaining an even level of effort by monitoring my heart rate (IMHO so much better suited to this aim on anything other than flat courses than going by either minutes-per-mile pace or simply gut feeling). Which is basically what I did for the first 19 miles of the 2007 race (so who remembers that ‘four hours to Balmaha’ mantra?) before starting to let gut feeling interfere with the HRM’s infallible judgement. So today I was trying to keep the heart rate to something approaching (or just above) ultra-marathon rate, set a top alarm for 125 and lower alarm for 115 and happily achieved exactly what I wanted in covering the ground (from Blackrock Cottage to Inveroran and back) well quicker than I’ll need for the race while having to keep backing off to stay below my chosen upper limit. Which hopefully both makes this limit sustainable through some longer training runs and suggests that whatever sustainable limit I set myself for the big race should still produce the pace I need over the long run. And that would be the end of today’s story but for the late decision to make Inveroran rather than Victoria Bridge my turning point leading to a serendipitous meeting with WHW record holder Jez Bragg and friends there. So I stopped to chat for five minutes (about, amongst other things, his winter WHW run in December) before leaving to get running again when my heart rate had dropped to 75 and lips probably started to turn blue. And arriving home to open Jez’s blog account of that winter run and receive an email from Murdo McEwan (who was involved in it) about his published account of the very same. Now, how amazing is that?

To anyone interested in the heart rate trace below, I’d say ignore the opening spike and succeeding drop (causing false readings for longer than normal until I stopped to wet the HRM band), but note the evenness thereafter which brought me home on a predominantly uphill leg not much slower than I went out!

20 March 2010

A Tale of Two Lairigs

Filed under: Running — admin @ 9:30 pm

It’s a logical circuit I’ve had my eye on for years but somehow (despite having run just about everything else you can run in this area) never got round to doing as a whole. So this afternoon I ran round the base of the Buachaille Etive Beag by the Lairig Eilde and Lairig Gartain, and have to say that, if it was all as delightfully runnable as the Lairig Eilde, it might just be the best mid-level off-road circuit round here. But the Lairig Gartain, while not looking that much longer on the ground, is quite simply bigger, rougher, wetter and slower, and comparatively marred by a less continuous path that’s eminently losable through some quite awkward ground at the Etive end. So, while still well worth doing (and how could it not be in such spectacular surroundings?), it’s not the ‘best of the best’ it promised to be for the first three miles, and Dalness and back by the Lairig Eilde should be a more pleasant course to pick up the pace and maintain some rhythm for those more carefree days.

Edit (22 March 2015): having seen Susie Allison pick this up (as ‘The Two Lairigs’) for Scottish Trail Running and done some more Lairig Gartains myself to go with yet more Lairig Eildes, it seems that my initial judgement of the Lairig Gartain was harsh and the Two Lairigs really does stand up as the best run of its type (mid-level, through-hills trail) in the whole area. But might also defend myself by noting that Susie’s obvious refinement of skirting the deer fence rather than descending to Dalness takes out the toughest ground of the Glen Etive end (still a few awkward spots left on the reascent of the Lairig Gartain above that) and the path north-east back to Glen Coe is now both continuous and better/drier right down to the Glen where it wasn’t before. The old road back through Glen Coe (another ‘Susie’ tweak I’d missed) also makes a more carefree alternative to the A82 verge, though possibly slower through being quite soft and wet over the first mile.

Edit (10 April and 23 April 2015): take the higher path traversing from a start up the south ridge of Stob Dubh rather than descending to the one by the Allt Gartain and you remove the last of the awkward ground for a much more pleasant and runnable ascent of the Lairig Gartain. Simple as that!

14 March 2010

Point Five Gully

Filed under: Climbing — admin @ 11:40 am

While it’s no longer close to the monstrous undertaking that foiled many leading climbers prior to its controversial first ascent in 1959, Point Five Gully (V,5) on Ben Nevis remains one of the most prized winter climbs for the recreational mountaineer, described in Colin Stead’s Cold Climbs essay as ‘probably the most famous ice gully in Scotland, perhaps in the world’ and more concisely in the relevant SMC guidebooks as ‘[probably] the most famous ice gully in the world!’ (The 2002 Ben Nevis guide omits the ‘probably’.) It was also the ‘most wanted’ climb for both Johnny MacLeod and me, with both of us having been to do it before and turned back (several times in Johnny’s case) for reasons of queues (yes, queues!) or conditions. Although perhaps I should add that my retreat from the base of a soggy Point Five with Jamie Hageman last April now seems an even wiser decision than it did at the time when I’d probably have been attempting to lead the whole thing before I was properly ready for it. But yesterday was different…

Despite a slight thaw setting in, the route had been described as ‘fat’ by everyone who’d been on or near it and we knew it should be holding up well with the freezing level forecast somewhere round about its base. So we had to get out early and settled on a 4:30am meeting (I’d have gone earlier!) at the North Face Car Park, which saw me up at 3:00am and out of the house by 3:35am. And even that was barely enough, with the Minus and Orion Faces already busy as we turned up Observatory Gully some time before 7:00am, but luckily had the good fortune to overtake the sole Point Five-bound team ahead of us (who stopped to gear up later on more awkward ground) and find ourselves first on the route. And then we just climbed it (the whole 325m) in five long, long pitches (two of which we had to stretch a little), taking the steep initial sections in the first two and leading through. So Johnny got up to and including the chimney (above which he found the only visible in-situ gear of the day) and I got the stunning Rogue Pitch, then another easier pitch for each of us (although Johnny’s had quite a long, steepish step and mine a shorter one) before a long, long ‘ropelength’ saw Johnny over the cornice and walking towards the summit shelter, which he reached just as I came over the top! It was 12:15pm, four-and-a-quarter hours since he’d started up the first pitch, and we’d long since lost sight of any of the following parties (of which there were apparently now several).

So that was that, we’d got what we’d come for and have to say we weren’t disappointed (it’s a beautiful climb). Possibly easier then The Wand (my only previous Grade V), but perhaps that’s more to do with the confidence gained from that experience… or my new Vipers and Terminators (now set up as offset monos), which all performed impeccably (discovered there’s no great mystery to monopoint crampons, which I’d never tried before). It was certainly very steep in places, but all there… and never caused the jitters that marked the start of my lead pitch on The Wand although I’d still admit to a mild (but satisfied) sense of relief in pulling over the top of the Rogue Pitch. To which I can only add that we found little obvious rock gear with the gully walls well iced up (but accept that it must be there if you know where to look), experienced some of the famous Point Five spindrift and finished with just about everything (not just the soft gear like ropes, slings and rucksack straps!) absolutely caked in ice to a degree I’ve never experienced on any other climb. After which we dived into the summit shelter (which I’m not sure I’ve ever been inside before) for lunch before locating the top of Number Four Gully (which I’d never been down before either, but we found in very straightforward condition) for a quick descent back to the Allt a’ Mhuilinn.

And that’s it. We climbed Point Five in stonking conditions, I got to use those new tools at last, got my second V of the season (so satisfying, without diminishing the impact of the first, to know that it wasn’t a flash in the pan) and find myself able to look forward to anything else this ‘winter’ as a bonus. So I’m still hoping for some more action before hanging up my axes and crampons for the summer, and thinking about some more winter walking with next year’s WML Assessment in mind (Cairngorms at least should still be good for that at Easter), but this was the big one! :-)

7 March 2010

Gairich

Filed under: Walking — admin @ 11:23 pm

Today was supposed to be the climbing day I’d ‘earned’ after another tough week’s running but, with my prospective partner’s legs apparently screaming/shot from skiing yesterday and me not fancying yet another run on some purgatorially snow-compromised local off-road course, I had to find something else to do. So I headed up to the Quoich Dam (about 60 miles drive to the NW) for a walk up the good looking, isolated little Munro of Gairich, which I found largely bare of snow lower down, but properly wintry with good snow cover (and poor visibility) over the top 200m or so. Now of course it was worthwhile and I enjoyed it (have had my eye on Gairich for a while), but I’m still wanting to climb and sincerely hoping for the right combination of conditions and partner(s) next weekend!

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