Petestack Blog

24 June 2010

To ‘Ramsay’ or not?

Filed under: Running — admin @ 10:44 pm

So let’s get one thing straight right at the start of this post… we’re talking about an absolutely elite hill-running challenge in Ramsay’s Round, and one that’s maybe beyond me even at the top of my game. It’s certainly something I’d regarded firmly as the preserve of altogether better runners before reading a few years ago of Richard Askwith’s long battle with the Bob Graham in Feet in the Clouds. But that got me thinking that maybe these things are just about possible for the more average of us (NB Richard finished immediately behind me in my first Ben Nevis Race) and, despite Ramsay’s generally being regarded as the harder challenge, concluding that perhaps I could do it if he could!

Now, in case you’re wondering why I’m talking about it here, it’s because I’ve been guilty of some speculation in the run-up to this year’s West Highland Way Race that I may never have a better chance at it (see all those months of rough hill and trail miles in the bank?) if I can arrange a swift recovery and some more good training for a mid/late July attempt. But of course it’s not as simple as that, so let’s look at some of the factors that might influence my chances either way…

For a start, I’d need to maintain something like the pace that took me briskly over the Mamores on my 2005 Tranter’s Round without the later loss of time over the Grey Corries (attributable to night running with an inadequate headtorch), descending from Ben Nevis (for which we can blame the tortuous descent to Achriabhach that forms no part of Ramsay’s Round) or, perhaps most significantly, just general, cumulative fatigue. To put all of that another way, an 18 hour Tranter’s is no way good enough for Ramsay’s and you’d really need to be looking at no worse than the 16 hour round I should have done as a marker for the bigger challenge. But then again, my 2005 Tranter’s came just 20 months or so after saying goodbye to my overweight thirties and before I’d run two decent West Highland Way Races, a good Cateran Trail and (my first really big distance) a quadruple Lairig Mor.

To continue balancing negatives against positives, I’m well aware that the great sextuple Ramsay’s completion of 25 June 2005 (in times ranging from 23:30 to 23:58) includes Mick James (who I’m not sure I’ve ever raced anywhere but has a significantly quicker WHW time), Olly Stephenson and Jamie Thin (both significantly quicker in any normal hill race but with slower WHW times than either of mine). So make of that what you will… to me it means I’m maybe out of my depth and maybe not! And, to keep musing in a similar vein, hardly any of our good Lochaber hill runners have done it (or even tried it to my knowledge), but it’s probably also true that equally few have done the big ultra trail races that I’ve done. So who knows?

To look on the bright side for a moment, covering c.60 miles with 28,500 ft of ascent (it’s always the ascent that tells in the end) in 24 hours surely requires good pace judgement rather than outright speed and I’m supposed to be good at that (or was before this year’s WHW!). So let’s take 18 hours to triple this year’s greater traverse of Cruachan (with its similar severity of terrain), give myself the remaining 6 hours to let the pace slow and consider whether it sounds possible?

To conclude the rationalisation on a fairly positive note, I’ve done all the hills before (most of them multiple times), know the route from Luibeilt to Corrour well and would only really be needing to recce the optimum route over Beinn na Lap and its neighbours round the north of Loch Treig to the Easains (likely to be done at night with the long eastern section being the most obvious place to be during the hours of darkness) to be sure of where I’m going. But then I’d still be needing that swift recovery from the WHW (looking reasonably likely after surviving a premature 2.9 mile jog last night and easier 4.6 mile walk up to the Penstock and back tonight) and some help from running friends to provide the pacing, support points and backup now regarded as both legitimate and highly desirable for this particular challenge.

So what to do, and how soon to start actively seeking assistance when I might just be wasting everyone’s time if I’m not fit to go? Anyone want to consider the case for and against before trying to talk me into or out of it? :-/

The new WHW pics below are from Angus…

22 June 2010

Not quite the whole story?

Filed under: Running — admin @ 11:35 pm

Some new experiences in WHWR 2010 (not least being overtaken by others late on when no-one’s previously threatened my sense of closing-stage control in my limited ultra career to date), with so much to ponder that all I’m trying to do by blogging it here is to record a series of ‘snapshots’ from along the way. So here we go, more or less in order but neither starting at the start nor attempting to tell the whole story…

  • Conic Hill (where I caught John Kynaston and enjoyed a good chat) climbed at a good clip (though emphatically not the mad dash of three weeks ago) and descended with joyous abandon.
  • Feeling strong and fresh enough to be easy about being well ahead of ‘schedule’ early on, but still aware of some unexpected niggles (the kind that could happen at any speed) that I seemed to be running off but maybe came back to haunt me in the end?
  • A lengthy section in company with Dirk Verbiest, who just had to match my personalised, ‘patent’ running/walking gait up the inclines after Rowardennan when I explained what I was doing and why!
  • The ‘singing’ runner, who appears to have been Marc Casey (as also noted in John Kynaston’s race report).
  • The oppressive heat and trying headwinds, which appeared in that order (although I couldn’t say exactly when) to compromise the later stages of the race.
  • Some sustained yo-yo swapping of places with Gavin McKinlay (of the remarkably few training miles), who managed to suggest I was a ‘machine on the hills’ and declare himself impressed with that before ultimately leaving me for dead.
  • Topping out the hill beyond Bridge of Orchy to be greeted by Murdo, his Saltire and the news (which possibly just filled me with false hope when I was beginning to struggle myself) that Marco was not that far ahead and ‘looks knackered’!
  • My only sit-down stop, when Angus insisted on trying to massage some life back into my ailing quads at Glencoe Ski Centre, Flora and Paul Williams turned up to encourage me and I also met John Grieve on my way out.
  • Catching a last glimpse of Gavin disappearing up the Devil’s Staircase (which I normally run in training) as I limped after him in a style that just doesn’t square with my usual ‘strength’ on my home ground.
  • The mystery of the disappearing vaseline and its resolution… being a gross tale of ladling dollops of the stuff into my shorts at every checkpoint since Rowardennan (or maybe even Balmaha?) to combat, um, chafe, but wondering where the hell it was all going until the removal of my sunglasses on the way into Kinlochleven revealed a hitherto invisible halo of vaseline soaking right through to outside of said shorts and looking for all the world like a beautifully symmetrical ‘pee’ job! At which point I had to request a fresh pair of shorts and hope I got the chance to change into them before any school pupils or other fellow villagers (yes, it’s where I live and work!) started asking awkward questions. Speaking of which, I must mention my strange dream (related to Angus, Jon and Eileen on the way down to Milngavie) of a night or two before, in which I’d somehow (but why?) started the race with no shorts or anything and just an overlength T-shirt for ‘cover’, and was running helplessly vulnerable in the knowledge that we had none in the support vehicle (in reality there were three spare pairs as well as the ones I was wearing) with none available until we could collect them from my house (at 82 miles into the race!). So, some kind of wacky premonition or what?
  • A sense of resigned shock at seeing Debs arriving at the Kinloch checkpoint as I left when I thought I’d ‘buried’ her north of Rowardennan (so sorry for the uncharitable thought, Debs, because it’s now obvious from studying the splits that you were never really that far behind!).
  • An equal sense of shock on seeing Hugh Kerr take off through the Lairigmor (after sticking to me like glue as I hobbled up the climb out of the village that I’ve run so many times) at an apparent Mach 1 with me incapable of responding in my own ‘backyard’ as I recorded two killer miles of 16:21 and 19:08 on easy ground I’m habitually ‘jogging’ at 10-minute pace.
  • More resignation on confirmation that Debs was still visible close behind (stop looking, Pete, stop looking… just focus as normal on what/who’s ahead!).
  • My Forerunner 310XT battery giving up after 18:50:28 (first time I’ve run it that long) and 88.2 miles, after which I chose just to run ‘blind’ despite the possibility of picking up my spare 305 or a watch from my crew at Lundavra.
  • The deflating news at Lundavra that I was now entitled to a support runner with Richie having passed through the checkpoint just over four hours previously. To which I must add that (despite feeling guiltily grateful for Jon’s support all the way from Bridge of Orchy in 2007) I chose to see the thing through myself rather than take him with me now… although simultaneously happily agreeing to let the boys join me at Braveheart.
  • A mad dash (probably not as fast as it felt, but still absolutely flat out) all the way down Glen Nevis from the Vitrified Fort on the assumption that Debs was still around (on which note, she later suggested that she’d have hunted me down if I’d been a girl!).
  • Flora and Noel (with camera) out at Braveheart, a wheezy, ‘just can’t dig deeper’ run through to the Leisure Centre with Angus and Jon and the pleasant surprise of seeing Eppie having joined Eileen to welcome me home.
  • Scaring everyone but myself by my appearance (which I couldn’t see, but was variously described as white, grey or pale) at the finish!

And that’s more or less the story of my race, but there are still some things to be said that don’t quite fit into the chronological scheme…

  • My calves got badly sunburnt (like absolutely the worst sunburn I’ve had in years) because we clearly didn’t get them adequately covered when successfully applying sunscreen to the rest of me.
  • Despite my quads feeling absolutely trashed for 30 miles or so and apparently holding me back on the very stages where I’d expected to be strongest, they’re almost better already and the more severe left ‘quad’ pain has now resolved itself to a minor strain at the top of the leg (probably the niggle that I thought I’d run off up Loch Lomondside!). So I’ve been jogging a little bit about the school today and expect to be running properly (but gently) again this week, suggesting a pleasingly prompt recovery from my ‘trashed’ state of Saturday night.
  • My feet survived completely unmarked from 95 miles in a single pair of shoes (Asics Gel Enduros) and socks (More Mile), so I’m crediting the magic insoles with saving my soles as well as straightening my Achilles tendons and keeping my knees intact! :-)
  • My time of 20:49:32 was outside my aspirational sub-20, but still 1hr 26mins quicker than my previous effort on a day when there were apparently few PBs and provisionally good enough to take me back into the all-time top 100 at #97? So perhaps the heat and headwinds just ultimately took their toll or perhaps (despite being fitter and stronger than ever after so many good hill and trail miles in training) I just wasn’t good enough, but I’m confident that (having averaged over 5 mph for the first 65 miles or so) I gave it absolutely everything on the day.

Some special mentions coming up for…

  • Richie Cunningham for a well-deserved win and time of 16:36:04 which IMHO stands comparison with Jez’s 15:44:50 record given the conditions.
  • Thomas Loehndorf for his 18:49:42 finish after two previous late DNFs and injury despair of just a few weeks ago.
  • The four ladies (Kate, Donna, Jamie and Sharon) who beat me handsomely and one (Debs) who didn’t quite hunt me down in the end!
  • Absolutely everyone involved in the organisation and running of the event, both for such a good job in its own right and honouring Dario’s memory so well.
  • Angus, Jon and Eileen for being there the whole way when, as I’ve said before, thanks are not enough! :-)

The photos here are by Noel Williams, but I hope to have more soon from Angus, Eileen and Noel.

12 June 2010

Quite the dullest hill

Filed under: Running — admin @ 10:13 pm

So I wanted an easy hill run for the weekend before the big race, took Irvine Butterfield’s description of Meall Ghaordaidh as ‘quite the dullest hill in the Southern Highlands’ as a cast-iron recommendation and set out to run it this afternoon. Took some time to get down a busy A82 (Dalmally/Oban traffic still being diverted through Glencoe following Sunday’s derailment) with big tailbacks at the Ba Bridge roadworks, but the A85 and A827 were quieter and I got there in the end. And Butterfield was right, with the south side of Meall Ghaordaidh being devoid of character and the neighbouring Corbett of Beinn nan Oighreag little more interesting, but both somewhat redeemed by fine views far and near (nice prospect of the Tarmachan ridge and Ben Lawers range from Beinn nan Oighreag) and being an absolute romp to run with the gentle, grassy ridges that tend to be such predictable components of the ‘dull hill’ package. So that was 10.3 miles and 4,100 ft of ascent dispatched with minimal effort in under 2 hours 19 minutes to give me exactly what I’d been looking for, and now I’m thinking no more than a couple of low-level runs (maybe Monday and Wednesday) to complete a textbook taper (still wondering when the wheels are going to come off after months of getting things ‘right’!) in the six days remaining before the big one…

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