Petestack Blog

30 May 2010

Night and day

Filed under: Running — admin @ 9:26 pm

Hadn’t expected to be heading down the road this weekend, but Ian Beattie’s midweek proposal for a Friday night run from Milngavie to Balmaha was just what I needed three weeks before the West Highland Way Race (did the same with John Kynaston, Joe Sheridan and others at the same stage in 2007) so I arranged to stay Friday and Saturday nights with my parents in Cardross, pencilled in a hill run for the return journey on Sunday and set off after school on Friday.

Can’t remember exactly who turned up for this run in 2007, but the 2010 team comprised Ian, Phil Tipping, Stan Bland, Richie Cunningham and me, with us meeting at Balmaha at 10:00pm for Stan to drive us to Milngavie and me lined up to take Stan back for his car after the run. But here I made a big mistake, leaving my van keys in Stan’s car for safety (what was I thinking of?) and coming to with a loud expletive two miles into the run! At which point a quick discussion (to go back for them or not?) produced the consensus that it was probably better just to carry on and get Ian and Richie to toss a coin for the dubious honour of returning Stan and me to Milngavie later with the thrilling task of bringing me back to Balmaha for the van still negotiable. And that did indeed seem like the most sensible plan at the time, although things naturally took on a different perspective later to leave me thinking I shouldn’t have been so quick to decline Richie’s alternative offer to accompany me back to Milngavie by foot for a ‘fartlek session’ to catch the others up…

But who wants to hear about my brain farts anyway? (Yeah, everybody, I know!) So let’s get back to the real story and tell you that it was a grand night for running (being pleasantly cool and not terribly dark), although I’ll be checking all the signs and markers from Milngavie to Mugdock carefully on 19 June with this starting section of the WHW maybe being the easiest to lose and not all of us programmed to make Ian’s almost convulsive autopilot lurches (born of knowing the course back to front) onto the right path at every junction. And there’s not a great deal more to say here about the run to Balmaha except that I was hoping for a bit of a burn up Conic Hill, took Phil’s invitation for Richie and me to press on through Garadhban Forest literally, found myself oddly committed when it quickly became apparent that Richie hadn’t gone with me, tore up Conic (running all the way for no better or worse reasons than because I could and felt like it) at between 5 and 6 mph and arrived at Balmaha with plenty of time to feel stupid about not being able to get into my van. Some 25 minutes later, just as I was thinking it was time to send out a search party (aka running back to meet the others), Richie arrived with the news that Phil was sharing Ian’s torchlight over Conic, then the less illuminated (?) arrived about 15 minutes later again. At which point Richie offered to take us back to Milngavie, Stan went out of his way to return me to Balmaha and I just wished I’d taken Richie up on the key-fetching fartlek session I’d rejected through fear of being casually burned off!

Saturday was a quiet day for me as far as running’s concerned, with a 4.3 mile road run round the Red Road at Cardross enough to keep me happy after our 19.3 miles overnight. But I did still want that proper hill run today to complete my last ‘full’ week of training for the big race, and had settled on the Sgiath Chuil/Meall Glas group above Glen Dochart as being both a suitable length/character for that and the nearest Munros or Tops I’d never done. And it proved to be just what I was looking for, with these hills (like so many described in various guides as ‘tedious’, ‘undistinguished’ or ‘uninteresting’) being great to run on and the Corbett of Beinn nan Imirean getting thrown in for good measure to make up a 12.5 mile round with c.5,000 ft of ascent completed in almost exactly 3 hours, which I’d say is pretty good going for that. Might also say I was impressed by the helpful signs marking the paths onto and up the hills at Auchessan Farm, and suggest that the striking outcrop of quartz rocks and boulders on the way up Beinn nan Imirean is clearly there for a purpose (never seen better for a game of ‘snow, sheep or quartz?’). After which I must just sign off (in common with several of the other ‘West Highland Way’ blogs) by declaring that it’s ‘taper time’ and speculate that only the right taper, no debilitating bugs, some decent running conditions on the day and a few other imponderables (touch wood… only?) now stand between me and the result of which I dream! ;-)

23 May 2010

Slowly quick on Cruachan

Filed under: Running — admin @ 9:38 am

Think yesterday (despite being hot with only intermittent cloud cover) was probably the right choice for a meaty hill run because it’s been absolutely bucketing so far this morning!

Now, this one was planned as something of a ‘mopping up’ exercise having previously been up Beinn Eunaich but not Beinn a’ Chochuill, and still missing three peripheral tops of Cruachan (Sron an Isean to the east and the ‘Taynuilt peak’ Stob Dearg and Meall Cuanail to the west) that suggested a full traverse as the only tidy way to pick them up. So I hit on the idea of this greater traverse taking in Beinn Eunaich (first time since November 1982!), Beinn a’ Chochuill and the seven tops of Cruachan, with the fine Corbett of Beinn a’ Bhuiridh thrown in as the most aesthetic route back to my starting point on the Stronmilchan road. But that’s a fair way at 19.2 miles with c.10,000 ft of ascent, giving a run that’s shorter on the ground but as strenuous and time-consuming as a serious trail run of twice the mileage. And, if you ask me why I didn’t leave the road for this hefty round until 2:50pm, I can only answer that 1. I was waiting for the post (usually about lunchtime here) in the hope of getting my Nathan Elite 2V Plus (which did indeed arrive) to try, and 2. this is typically me (afternoon and evening runner!) anyway. Which left me finishing minutes before 9:00pm after just over six hours on the hoof for an average speed of 3.1 mph… which might not sound fast at all to the road runner but, as any hill runner can tell you, it’s not mileage but ascent that takes the time. And, with Naismith’s rule suggesting more like 11½ hours for this expedition, I’m really quite satisfied with six (hence the ‘slowly quick’) for terrain where steep ascents and awkward rocky descents are frequently demanding slower speeds yet.

So how about the Elite 2V Plus, and how did that do? Well, the moment I opened the package, I knew that it was quite simply one of the best-designed bits of kit I’ve ever bought. It’s comfortable, stable when running loaded up and just really well thought out with everything (bottles, front pouches etc.) so accessible and clever details like the tuck-back ends to the waist strap. While true (as you’ll see if you go searching for reviews) that some slimmer folk might find the bottles well-placed for elbow-bashing, I must say that I neither run with my elbows glued to my sides nor swing them that much at the kinds of speeds I’m normally doing, so didn’t find this a problem on yesterday’s pretty rigorous testing ground. And the bottles are so accessible in those angled holders that I’d suggest the occasional nudge is a small price to pay so long as it’s not happening all the time. (Might be worth pointing out here that, with 500ml Lucozade Sport bottles dropping easily into the holders made for Nathan’s 650ml bottles, I’m thinking of trying these on the run and keeping the originals for water only. Also that the rear pouch featured on the 2V Plus but not the 2V is most definitely worth having, comfortably takes a large Montane Featherlite Smock in its ‘ball’ and will swallow up the pants as well if both stuffed in loose.) To summarise, while I don’t recall being aware of Nathan before researching bottle belts the other day, I’ve already seen and experienced enough (can’t believe I’ve managed without this for so long!) to believe their kit is amongst the very best for what it does.

And so to a couple of almost random statements to round off…

Firstly, to John Kynaston, no, these hills don’t even bother me. At least, not that much, although the re-ascent to Beinn a’ Bhuiridh was a fair grind on a hot evening! ;-)

And, secondly, to Tracey and friends (on the slim chance that you see this, find it or someone points you here), another belated apology for selfishly abandoning you all to bag Ben Cruachan itself when you’d had enough after Stob Diamh or Drochaid Ghlas in November 2000 (?). I shouldn’t have done that then, and wouldn’t do it now.

18 May 2010

Sounds friendly, sounds good

Filed under: Running — admin @ 11:47 pm

So who could describe a 55 mile trail run as ‘an attractive-sounding short ultra’ and how attractive (or short!) might that still be sounding when you’re standing on the start line seven months later?

Hmmm… dunno (who, me?), but skip seven months and a day from posting my entry for the 2010 Cateran Trail Race (and writing here that ‘it sounds friendly, it sounds good, I fancy it and maybe the May target will help keep me on track’) to Spittal of Glenshee at 6:00am on Saturday 15 May 2010 and I might be able to tell you…

(Answers for those who can’t be bothered to read the whole post: 1. yes, me, but you knew that; 2. still attractive, but long enough!)

Now, this was supposed to be some kind of glorified training run and an 11 hour race might have been the perfect tune-up/tester for the West Highland Way, but something a bit faster (to see what I could do) was always going to be tempting so long as it was built on even effort/pace and not salvaged (or otherwise) from early misjudgement. So off I set with the heart rate alarm set to 125 bpm, constantly telling me to slow down despite quickly finding myself near the back of the 45-strong field and possibly irritating me even more than those round about me as they kept passing me, falling behind again or simply tagging along when all I wanted was to find my own space to run my own race. But imposing a set upper limit was probably unnecessarily strict when I knew 130 bpm on the climbs should be fine, and that nagging alarm eventually got turned off at just past one-quarter-distance with group sanity and battery life in mind and half an eye on the heart rate deemed good enough to monitor my continuing effort levels.

So that was that, but how about the other potentially crucial factor of refuelling strategy? How to get your drop bags right when you know you’ll never be able to take on what you should for a ‘5,000 calorie race’ but feel compelled to pack it anyway? Just think on the hoof, skip that first bag at Kirkton of Glenisla when collecting/stashing the stuff can only hold you up and you’ve got another waiting a mere 11 miles on at Den of Alyth! So I declined the bag, shot past the checkpoint and quite a few runners as I just kept chugging up the hill beyond (where I finally turned off the heart rate alarm), and might add that comparing my official split placings (30th equal, 27th, 13th equal, 9th, 9th and 8th at successive checkpoints) to my own Forerunner data (c.4:48 for the predominantly ‘downhill’ first half and 5:03 for the more obviously ‘uphill’ return to Glenshee) appears to support the supposition that I ran more evenly than most. But perhaps I’m digressing here, and should just be telling you how nice it was to catch up (pun intended after some good chat!) with John Kynaston over Hill of Alyth before collecting ladies’ winner Helen Johnson and a cramping Bill Hutchison at the Den of Alyth checkpoint to make a sociable gang of four which lasted until walking sociably up the long but runnable climb spanning the halfway point became too much for me to bear with the possibility of finishing in under 10 hours increasingly exercising my mind!

No doubt that I’d found my own space after that, and it was a very solitary run that took me on to Blairgowrie (which the marshals failed to persuade me was Pitlochry!) and over what seemed to be much uphill ground to Bridge of Cally, where I briefly picked up some company from a girl (sorry I’ve forgotten your name) training for the Edinburgh Half-Marathon. Then a wee bonus with another competitor (David Rogers) run down coming out of Blackcraig Forest before I was completely back on my own for the last quarter of the race and tackling the fabled closing hill, which finally reduced me (what, a hardened west-coaster who runs up bigger hills all the time?) largely to a walk before clearing the surprising little pass of An Lairig for the headlong plunge to Glenshee and satisfyingly abrupt finish in that coveted sub-10 time. After which I sat down — underfed and underhydrated — for the first time since starting, neither comfortable nor surprised to feel my legs stiffening up (something they’d been threatening for 30 miles or more) but more amused than aghast to see my calves pulsating in some amazing alien jelly dance! Which could all have been quite worrying, but responded positively enough to food, drink and a shower to suggest well-judged effort rather than too steep a price and produced some comment from Richie Cunningham to the effect that I was bound to be feeling it when I’d been hammering the miles in training (what, Richie said that… to me?) but should be fine after tapering properly for the WHW. At which point we started to discuss bringing cycling into the taper…

So what else can I say when I meant to get this out last night as a concise and readable little report, but have found wrestling with the words to keep it that way less successful than (and maybe almost as arduous as!) the race I’m attempting to describe?

  • I placed 8th in the official time of 9:51:40, with only the first three of Jack Brown (7:54:24), Paul Hart (8:23:17) and Richie Cunningham (8:44:08) more than an hour quicker.
  • My Forerunner recorded 54.59 miles in 9:51:48 at an average pace of 10:50 per mile (5.5 mph) and heart rate of 122 bpm.
  • I beat all the girls (something that doesn’t happen very often!), but have to be just as happy with running over 2 mins/mile faster than WHW target pace and not suffering for too long afterwards (walking on Sunday and back running comfortably on my normal, rough trails tonight).
  • The organisation by Karen D and team was superb (likewise hospitality by Spittal of Glenshee Hotel), and the finishers’ quaich is a great little keepsake.
  • My soles escaped without blistering (first time unscathed from 50 miles?).
  • My soft-strap heart rate monitor seems to be working much more reliably after tightening the strap and applying gel to the electrodes.
  • Having come back to bottles from Platypus/Camelbak-type arrangements but needing quick access to drinks because I hate running with my hands full, I’ve just been researching bottle belts and ordered the only one that looks adequate to me (Nathan Elite 2V Plus).
  • While still not totally happy with my weight (hovering about half a stone above my initial WHW target), it’s clearly not hurting me that much and I’m no longer set on meeting that target if I can’t get there quickly without running hungry all the time.

With thanks to Vicky Hart for the photo of me finishing. :-)

9 May 2010

Not Fyne but Shira!

Filed under: Running — admin @ 10:36 pm

So here I am, five miles up some private road up Glen Fyne when I should have been leaving it for the open hill after four-and-a-half max, acutely aware that absolutely nothing squares with my recollection of the map (which I haven’t actually looked at since leaving Kinlochleven). So why didn’t said road start from the east side of the bridge where I parked the van? Why did I run past a fairly substantial lochan when I don’t remember it being marked? And why is this road now taking me steeply and obviously east when I should be leaving it to the west? Time to dig out the map and check, but still nothing fits and, for the first time since getting my Forerunner 310XT, I’ve found a use for the British Grid ref that the 305 couldn’t give. Just need to work out how to get it now, so spend a few minutes fiddling and there it is… but it’s not in Glen Fyne and the realisation hits me like a sledgehammer… I’ve parked the van at the head of the wrong bloody loch, run up the wrong bloody glen and have nearly twice the distance to cover to get my peak (Beinn Bhuidhe) or I’ve simply driven all the way down here for a stupid road run in trail shoes…

What a pillock! :-O

So is this just a staggering display of piss-poor navigation by a qualified Mountain Leader? Well, no, I wouldn’t say so because it’s more a case of no navigation at all (can’t blame map reading/interpretation when the map’s not in use or sense of direction when I’ve been heading the right way so far). And should I simply keep quiet about it and pretend I meant to take Glen Shira all along (for the miles, you see)? No, of course not, because it’s really very, very funny and I’ve got the blog post title sorted (after considering but rejecting ‘Running up the wrong glen’) within half a mile of that sledgehammer moment. And do I care that I’ve now got to run an extra 10 miles or so that I hadn’t bargained for? Well, no, not really… so just tell myself that it’s all good training (hey presto, see my 70 mile week turn into an 80!) and if I can’t cope with that I can’t cope with an off-road ultra next weekend. So every cloud has a silver lining, I’m getting some free miles I’d never have planned, a fortuitous chance to test my resolve and, to cap it all, the long western ridge from Tom a’ Phiobaire over Stac a’ Chuirn to the summit turns out to be really nice to run on…

Result! :-)

20.4 miles and 4,100 ft of ascent (from Memory-Map as opposed to 310XT’s raw 5,093 ft or Garmin Connect’s incorrectly ‘corrected’ 3,352 ft) to bring my total since Monday to 82.4 miles and 19,400 ft. And that first 6.5 miles or so up to the little dam below the break in the forest would be a fast and easy cycle (had considered taking the bike, but really did want all the running miles I was going to get up Glen Fyne) if actually planning to go the long way another time.

5 May 2010

Surprised to be sailing

Filed under: Sailing — admin @ 10:49 pm

Sometimes these things are just so unexpected but, with Fly still out of the water needing work and Twig Olsen lined up to help get her sorted for 2011 (when I’m not going to be training obsessively for running ultras!), I was taken aback to get a phone call last night from a short-crewed Peter Watt inviting me to join Vaila for Glencoe Boat Club’s first race of the season tonight. So I thought aloud for about ten seconds (‘can’t afford to miss a night’s training… need to get out for a run straight after school… yes I’d like to come!’) before agreeing, then kicked myself out of the house for a quick blast up to the Penstock and back (4.6 miles/c.1,200 ft ascent) almost as soon as I got home this afternoon.

But this isn’t a post about running (!), and tonight’s sail was great. Peter had asked me to drive, leaving himself free to trim/manage sails with Jill Mills and young Ruaridh, and what sheer joy it was to be back at the helm of a thoroughbred racing yacht (this one’s a lovely, sleek, Scandinavian-designed BB10) again! With a steady (but never excessively fresh) breeze by Glencoe standards to make things easy for us and a boat that quite simply tracks beautifully, it’s also a relief to able to report that Vaila’s high standards were upheld and, despite a couple of fankles with gear (not to mention nearly joining two other competitors on the reef east of Eilean Choinneich after the buoy marking it was discovered to have drifted), we finished far enough ahead of everyone to save our time on them all and win the race. After which I quickly found myself agreeing to sail Wednesday evenings through May until Peter’s regular crew get home from university… which should sit quite tidily with the running when I can work things like I did tonight with a lighter training load already planned for the weeks either side of the Cateran Trail Race. :-)

3 May 2010

Not last year now!

Filed under: Running — admin @ 7:37 pm

It’s a year to the day since my post announcing my withdrawal from the 2009 West Highland Way Race, but it’s not last year now! From December 2008’s write-off to December 2009’s icy trail runs… from spring 2009’s sporadic, ‘pretend’ training to spring 2010’s solid, committed build-up… everything’s quite simply different. Last year the fire just wasn’t there (never really got lit and couldn’t be fed), but this year it’s raging and it’s now or never for that coveted PB because I never want to have to work so obsessively at this again!

So how am I doing, then? Well, having just thrown in a consciously lighter week after feeling tired from three much heftier ones, I’m looking for another solid week plus a lighter one before the Cateran Trail (15 May), then another lighter/heavier pair before thinking about a more sustained taper for the West Highland Way (19 June). So just need to stick to that, watch the weight (doing OK ATM), stay well and uninjured (?) and I’ll have done what I reasonably can…

Thought a proper hill run sounded like a good start to this week, so headed out into the Mamores today with the intention of running Sgurr a’ Mhaim, Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean, but conditions were so glorious when I got up there that I just had to take a wee diversion up Am Bodach as well! And the hills just seemed so easy (felt almost like I was floating upwards… to match that paraglider soaring above Sgurr a’ Mhaim?), the Wave Harriers continued to perform impressively enough (got the lacing sorted last night) to have me at the point of ordering a second pair (observant followers of this blog may have noted my predilection for buying running shoes two pairs at a time!) and it was all basically just a magic afternoon out. Although it was a mistake to let curiosity tempt me up the wrong (quickly extinct) path leaving the main Mamore track and I’d have to advise anyone taking that otherwise excellent route up to the ridge to hang on (as I knew I should have done) for the path beyond the bridge.

Also have to make another observation about the ‘Elevation Corrections’ applied to raw GPS data by Garmin Connect, which is to suggest that my suspicions (discussed in my post of 1 April) about their elevation data containing too few points of reference appear to be founded when the ‘corrected’ data for today’s track gives my max elevation as 3,520 ft and I know that Sgurr a’ Mhaim is 3,601 ft high! So my preferred method of cross-checking the recorded ascent/descent is now converting the track to a route (ignoring the shorter distance usually resulting from more straight lines) in Memory-Map and getting it from the route properties, which gives 7,051 ft of ascent and descent (compared to the Forerunner’s 7,150 ft up/7,135 ft down and Garmin Connect’s ‘corrected’ 6,294 ft) for today’s 17.3 mile trip.

One more thing I might mention before hitting that ‘Publish’ button to get this thing online is that I’ve been looking over my 2007 diary to see how this year’s WHW build-up compares, and noted that it was roughly mid-to-late May that year that I started to suffer from the knee problems that continued to plague me for months after the race. So naturally hoping (as I’ve believed for some time) that the magic insoles have got talismanic qualities there and, while it’s clearly not last year now, it’s not 2007 either!

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