Petestack Blog

31 July 2010

Weight and ‘Racing Weight’

Filed under: Cycling,Running — admin @ 9:27 pm

So you’re an ‘endurance athlete’ and lean is mean, but it’s not always easy to stay lean and mean when you’re built like a 5’11” brick and naturally greedy! Losing the weight once is easy because a simple rule like just saying no to everything is easy enough to understand, but keeping it all off when you start to realise you can still get away with greed if you’re active enough (to quote John L Parker Jr from Once A Runner, ‘If the furnace is hot enough, it will burn anything’) is much, much harder.

So what can you do when the greed’s taken over and you’re training for something important? Well, apart from the obvious ‘don’t be greedy’ (and I do try, succeed in, and even enjoy the discipline of that aim much of the time), I have various strategies to deploy depending on the scale of my fall from grace. The most drastic (so reserved for the very last resort) is to weigh absolutely everything I eat, calculate the calories and record it all. As I did throughout June 2006, when a pretty active month saw me losing a stone off an average of 2,750 calories a day (suggesting that I must have been burning well over 4,000)! Next up is writing down what I eat (still a pain) but not actually weighing it. But my preferred method (for when I need such a thing) of dealing with the problem is simply to track my weight, as I started doing this April with the West Highland Way Race in mind and have carried through to the end of July to maintain the discipline for my recent Ramsay’s Round…

Now, while I’d think that most of this graph is pretty self-explanatory, it might help to clarify a few points:

  • Since all weights were taken before breakfast with my SECA electronic scale (which I believe to be close to medically accurate and resolves to 0.2lb), all those interesting daily ups and downs (sometimes clearly influenced by hydration or lack of it) are genuine!
  • There are no readings for two days when I was camping with the school (the D of E expeditions), two days when I’d already been out running for hours by ‘breakfast time’ (WHW Race and Ramsay’s Round) and two days when I was away for the Cateran Trail Race (when I could have taken the scale but didn’t think of it in time).
  • While the obvious low point (158.6lb) of 23 May also marked was no surprise to me (being the day after getting cooked on the greater traverse of Cruachan), its companion a few days later (following a pleasant night run from Milngavie to Balmaha) is a little harder to grasp.

So that’s ‘weight’, but how about ‘Racing Weight’? That’s the title of a recent book (and website) by renowned sports nutritionist and triathlete Matt Fitzgerald that I’ve just bought and read. It’s primarily aimed at endurance athletes (not such a bad reason for me to be reading it, then?), but surely both readable and relevant enough to be of interest way beyond its target audience. Now, perhaps (like me) you’re naturally wary of something billed as a ‘5-step plan’ to anything (in this case ‘optimal body composition and better performance’), but there’s no need to be because it’s really good stuff and, as always with proposed ‘systems’, you can weigh things up (metaphorically speaking!) before making up your own mind how much of it to adopt. So I’ve got started with this lying toad of a hand-held Omron body-fat monitor (no ‘athlete’ mode, see?) trying to tell me I’m currently 16–17% body-fat (hope not!), which would place me roughly on the 75th to 80th percentile of 40–49 year old men as tabulated on p32 and probably make my initial target for improvement or estimated ‘optimal performance weight’ about 156lb. Which you might correctly deduce that I’d find tough to get to and even harder to maintain (although you should also know about the 8 Percent Rule… sorry, original web link now dead), but perhaps isn’t really so very far (lying ‘toad’ or not!) from my gut feeling that anything below 160lb would be a pretty lean, mean weight for me to make for big races and challenges. Except that I’m thinking of weighing in kilos in future (despite 72.7kg being sufficiently uninspiring to make targeting 72.0kg sound almost attractive!) because it makes cross-checking various references so much easier (have I lost you all yet?)…

Must also stress that this book is about so much more than just weight (like eating and training and all kinds of things), but I’d be struggling to sum it all up concisely here. So perhaps the simplest, strongest endorsement I can give it is just to say that I liked it so much (finding it so consistently interesting and illuminating) that, despite the stacks of running books already in the house, I’ve just ordered two more (Brain Training for Runners and Run) by the same author.

Have to say that’s us finished for tonight with the book reviews and history of a distance runner who finds weight tricky, but suppose I might tell you what I did today with yet more Lochaber rain. So, following Wednesday’s little MTB epic and two good, short hill/trail runs Thursday and Friday (not yet running as freely as I was before the Ramsay!), the bike had to get the nod again this afternoon (it’s proving to be really quite rejuvenating sometimes when I’m a bit run-out) and I set off to find out where the interesting-looking forestry track starting just short of Glencoe actually goes. And the answer is currently nowhere, although it appears to be still under construction (top part just rough hardcore awaiting surfacing?) and I might have missed a trick in not checking for connections to the mapped path apparently cutting across this dead end (hmmm, need to go back for that!).

28 July 2010

MTB mini epic

Filed under: Cycling — admin @ 11:32 pm

So here’s one from the lunatic fringe of Ramsay’s Round recoveries…

Three days after your weekend triumph, you’re tired of sitting ‘recovering’ in front of the computer, think you need some exercise and decide to go for a wee bike ride. So off you go up the stony track to Luibeilt (a wee bike ride, aye right!) but, instead of simply turning round when you get there, you decide it might be fun to take the bike through Glen Nevis (take being a more appropriate word than ride when much of the upper glen is unrideable) and come back by the Lairig Mor. Now of course that’s going to require a lot more effort and you didn’t bring anything to eat or drink but, hey, you’re Superman, you can run West Highland Ways and Ramsay’s Rounds, you do endurance and it’s going to be fun (36 miles of fun to be precise)!

So do I know anyone like that and would I tell you if I did? Dunno, but I can tell you that it was exactly what I needed and it was fun! ;-)

26 July 2010

My first and last Ramsay’s Round

Filed under: Running — admin @ 7:30 pm

Hard to know where to start with this one, so how about a couple of quotes?

Five years ago (after completing the Tranter’s Round that’s niggled me ever since for starting so well but breaking down badly towards the end), I wrote

Although the elite hill runners have now moved on to Ramsay’s Round, Tranter’s (at upwards of 36 miles and 20,000 feet of ascent) is still both a taxing expedition and a very worthwhile objective for the rest of us!

And, just a month ago (while ‘thinking aloud’ here), that ‘E’ word was still rearing its ugly head as I wrote

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.

So how am I going to get out of that one now I’ve actually done it? Can’t deny calling it ‘elite’ more than once, but I’m not an elite hill runner by any means. Just a guy who likes running, put in a lot of training (maybe too much in the end?), wanted something very badly, got some friends to help bully him into achieving it and ultimately just had to keep going because the thought of having to do it all over again another time was scarier than forcing himself to finish it there and then!

Now, planning these things weeks out when you’re at the mercy of the Highland weather leaves plenty of scope for uncertain outcomes and we got Uncertainty with a capital ‘U’ this weekend with low cloud in spades (no nearly full moon to light up the most crucial part of the night!), periods of rain and cold, gusty winds all stacked up against drier spells and one briefly glorious section of early morning sun from Stob Choire Claurigh to Stob Coire an Laoigh.

Setting off on our anti-clockwise round from Glen Nevis Youth Hostel at 12:10pm Saturday (we’d been aiming for 12:00pm but been held up by heavy traffic), Jon and I were almost immediately subjected to a heavy shower as we ran up the forestry track towards Mullach nan Coirean. But (whether despite or because of the persistent low cloud) running conditions stayed good for some time after that with pleasantly cool air and little real rain or wind contributing to a Mamores traverse that went like clockwork apart from my usual stunt of losing the path on the rocky descent of Binnein Beag (see map, 1). Times as follows:

  • Mullach nan Coirean 1:26pm
  • Stob Ban 2:01pm
  • Sgurr a’ Mhaim 2:47pm
  • Sgurr an Iubhair 3:07pm
  • Am Bodach 3:24pm
  • Stob Coire a’ Chairn 3:49pm
  • An Gearanach 4:08pm
  • Na Gruagaichean 4:55pm
  • Binnein Mor 5:17pm
  • Binnein Beag 5:56pm
  • Sgurr Eilde Mor 6:48pm

So on to the gloriously runnable descent NE from Sgurr Eilde Mor towards Luibeilt, a bonus crossing of the Abhainn Rath to pick up the better path on the north side when we’d have been happy to take the south had the river been up and a rendezvous with Gavin (who’d managed to read just four pages of his book before our unexpectedly early arrival!) at Creaguaineach Lodge. Then to Beinn na Lap in daylight and the steeper (and darker!) slog up Chno Dearg to take us an hour ahead of Charlie Ramsay’s original schedule, but it’s suddenly very dark (now, where’s that moon?), cold, wet and windy and we’re quickly spending that precious time we’d banked with half a sole off one of Jon’s new shoes and needing repair, more clothing required for everyone and tortuous navigation (map, 2) round the surprisingly indistinct ridge to Stob Coire Sgriodain. After which yet more time goes begging as our path ‘northwards’ off a dark, dark Sron na Garbh-bheinne (map, 3, taken because we thought we’d cut west to gnarly ground a bit soon last Saturday) turns out to be nearer eastwards and we have to loop right back towards the Loch and our meeting with Ritchie and Noel at the Dam. Some moon starting to show through the clouds by this time, however, and (with a fresh Ritchie to boost the running team to four) we’re still over the Easains and heading for the Lairig Leacach (and dawn!) about 20 minutes inside Charlie’s schedule…

  • Beinn na Lap 9:52pm
  • Chno Dearg 11:17pm
  • Stob Coire Sgriodain 12:32am (!)
  • Stob a’ Choire Mheadhoin 3:22am
  • Stob Coire Easain 3:46am

Now, while I’d been feeling so strong and full of beans throughout the Mamores that I’d been (prematurely) imagining myself telling folk, ‘och, it wasn’t really that hard’, and Jon had (very prematurely) suggested that I was ‘a good 20% fitter’ than him, I’d also been conscious at times that my legs felt quite dead from the knees down and just weren’t driving me on the climbs like they should be. So who knows whether I’d simply overcooked my five-week post-WHW Race recovery/training/taper cycle or what, but Jon simply kept getting stronger and faster as I began to struggle from about halfway on.

Coming off Stob Coire Easain in the remaining rainy dark was still quite tricky for at least the steeper, rockier top part (map, 4) as Jon found a short ‘cliff’ barring the way, I fell down it as I followed his slippery traverse line along the top and Ritchie and Gavin retreated to take avoiding action higher up. After which our gang of four came close to becoming two instead of the intended three as Ritchie came galloping down out of the mist and into the Lairig trying to relocate us as Gavin turned for Spean with his ‘shift’ done. But then a real treat to follow the grind up the second Stob Ban and Stob Choire Claurigh (still with c.20 minutes ‘in hand’) as the clouds parted to let that early morning sunshine through for an hour or so.

Haven’t really got much to say about the Grey Corries (with Ritchie and Jon now always that bit in front and waiting at every peak for me to catch up) except that I’d maybe forgotten over the five years since I last did that ridge how fine it is… and how Ritchie and I think we’d have been quicker to run over the second Stob Coire Easain (a non-qualifying ‘top’) than follow Jon’s rabbit-like dash down the bouldery scree to its south! Then, with Sgurr Choinnich Mor in the bag, Sgurr Choinnich Beag (another non-essential top) more pleasantly traversed, time running short and Jon so obviously strong enough to complete his round where (despite all Ritchie’s bullying) I could see mine slipping away, I quite simply told him to leave us and go for it. So of course he protested that he’d feel guilty, but I said not half as guilty as I’d feel if he didn’t get it now and that was that!

While we’d originally planned to make the big climb up Aonach Beag by taking the scrambly Stob Coire Bhealaich head-on as I did on my Tranter’s Round, dripping rock everywhere quickly led Ritchie and me to the alternative well-trodden ‘gully’ under the overhang towards Coire a’ Bhuic. But then another (small) mistake as we took the tempting path traversing the south of Aonach Beag (map, 5… done that before!) to leave us a slightly steeper ascent to the summit. Quickly on to Aonach Mor and a big saving on Charlie’s schedule (handy when there’s no way I’m going to emulate his 68 minutes from Carn Mor Dearg to the finish!) where we know he went wrong on the original round, a passing meeting with Jon on his way back from the summit and then a much bigger mistake (map, 6) and a parting of the ways as we took a grotty little ridge SW off Seang Aonach Mor into Coire Giubhsachan instead of the broad west shoulder we should have been on. So I’m getting down this gnarly ground quicker than Ritchie (who calls out of the mist for me to carry on), discover the mistake, can neither see nor phone him (no signal), but know he’ll sort it out for himself, should catch me easily when he does and simply have to keep going. Slowly up that long ridge to Carn Mor Dearg with neither Ritchie to egg me on nor my priceless Lucozade Sport that he’s carrying, but I’m able to get a signal and leave him a message from the top (‘if you’re ahead of me please wait, otherwise I’ll see you when I see you’). Across the Arete, taking the ‘chicken-run’ path to its SE side when I’d normally go over everything, still struggling desperately for speed on my own (guessing slower than I’d do it on a normal day out), but I’m simply pacing for a finish now (forget fancy times because anything sub-24 is good enough!), know what I have to do and know I’m almost ‘home dry’ when I hit the top of the Ben with 65 minutes left on the clock. So down the first few zigzags to get myself really going, then straight down to the ‘grassy bank’ (now with a far more obvious ‘flight’ of steps worn in than I can ever remember), two of the usual shortcuts below the aluminium bridges, past many, many walkers on their way up (some of whom mutter ‘well done’ thinking I’ve just been for a run up the Ben?) and down ‘Heart Attack Hill’ to the Hostel with my heart singing because I know I’ve done it now!

  • Stob Ban 5:23am
  • Stob Choire Claurigh 6:03am
  • Stob Coire an Laoigh 6:42am
  • Sgurr Choinnich Mor 7:18am
  • Aonach Beag 8:35am (Jon 8:28am)
  • Aonach Mor 8:56am (Jon 8:48am)
  • Carn Mor Dearg 10:03am (Jon 9:41am)
  • Ben Nevis 11:05am (Jon 10:31am)
  • Finish 12:00pm (Jon 11:17am)

So that’s basically it, with Ramsay’s Round completions for me in 23:50 and Jon (the pacer who stayed to outrun his ‘runner’!) in 23:07… although I mustn’t forget to tell you (completing the happy story) that Ritchie found his way off Aonach Mor (hoping I wasn’t waiting down there for him!) and over the last two peaks to arrive back at the Hostel just minutes after me. While the track I’d plotted beforehand in Memory-Map tallies exactly with the ‘official’ figures of 56 miles and 28,500 ft of ascent, what I actually ran comes out at 60.0 miles or 96.6 km and I’d suggest that longer length as a safer figure for planning when you’re pretty well bound to do something wrong. As for ‘my first and last Ramsay’s Round’, that means exactly what it says and, while I hope to run further Tranter’s Rounds in both summer and winter and could be persuaded to pace someone for part of the big one, I’ve no intention of ever confronting Charlie Ramsay’s monster in its entirety again (think Jon’s feelings are similar)! But that’s not to deny its significance to me for one moment when it’s the realisation of a cherished ambition I long believed to be beyond me and absolutely up there with two West Highland Way Race finishes and my (sailing) victory with Sandy Loynd in the 2003 Scottish Two-Handed Race as the greatest ‘sporting’ achievements of my life.

To Jon, Gavin, Ritchie and Noel, I really don’t know what I can say that’s adequate, so I won’t say anything more here. You know I couldn’t have done it without you, and I hope that’s enough. :-)

(All photos by Noel except full team photo + Beinn na Lap by Gav and Stob Choire Claurigh by Ritchie.)

22 July 2010

Ramsay’s Round ‘schedule’

Filed under: Running — admin @ 8:26 pm

Less than two days to go till Saturday’s Ramsay’s Round attempt and it’s getting difficult to sit and wait, but this week has to work as a ‘mini taper’ if my five-week plan of post-WHW Race recovery, some decent exercise (peaking at a slightly unplanned 68 miles/25,300 ft of proper hill running and some cycling last week!) and some necessary rest is going to come off. Which means nothing more strenuous since Saturday than some walking, an easy 5.4 mile/1,600 ft trail run yesterday and relaxed 20 mile road cycle today despite me pretty well climbing up the walls with that ‘can’t wait’ (don’t wish your life away!) feeling…

So what about this schedule Murdo asked me for the other day? Well, as I said in Saturday’s post, we’re talking broad brush strokes rather than fine detail but, after meeting Jon and Noel the other night to thrash it out, here’s the score:

  • I have four accomplices (three pacers in Jon Gay, Gavin McKinlay and Ritchie Cunningham + my ‘base camp manager’ Noel Williams), we’re going for a midday start (like Charlie Ramsay’s original round) and Jon will be pacing me through the Mamores to at least Loch Treig.
  • We’ve got team maps marked up with the route, Charlie’s times (which appear to be rounded to the nearest five minutes but already need treating with caution because at least one known mistake left him chasing an unbelievably fast finish) and 4km intervals (enabling comparison of what he did to a notional 4kph schedule). Maps will be laser-printed from Memory-Map (NB you can just get the whole round at 1:50,000 onto a back-to-back sheet of A4) and laminated to be folded once to carry at A5 size or possibly twice for A6.
  • We’ll be meeting Gavin (who’ll have brought us some goodies on the 5:50pm train from Spean Bridge to Corrour) at railway bridge NN 342 681 (or somewhere between there and Creaguaineach Lodge) sometime between ? and 10:00pm to tackle the Loch Treig peaks overnight.
  • We’ll be joined by Ritchie (who’ll have come in from Fersit with Noel) sometime between ? and 2:00am Sunday at the Loch Treig Dam, where we’ll be able to get more ‘proper’ food, clothing, shoes or anything else we need before continuing over the ‘Easains’ by night.
  • While Jon will be there primarily to pace me to Corrour, my original suggestion was that we try the whole thing together and he’s likely to continue for as long as he’s going well (possibly/hopefully the whole way).
  • While Gavin’s ‘shift’ officially finishes at the Lairig Leacach (leaving Ritchie as designated pacer from the Grey Corries on), he’s likewise welcome to continue further. But anyone holding up proceedings (hopefully not me!) will simply be left to find their own way off and contact Noel.
  • Whoever’s still on their feet should be arriving back at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel sometime between ? and midday Sunday, which I’m also predicting means arriving at Carn Mor Dearg with a little more in hand (say two hours) than Charlie’s 70 minutes! To which I might just add that I’d still be looking for a finish (thinking experience for ‘next time’!) if things don’t quite work out within the specified 24 hours.
  • Regarding the dreaded weather, things could be worse with MWIS now suggesting low cloud and spells of drizzly rain with some gusty south-westerly wind (not in itself too bad for an eastbound traverse of the Mamores). So I’d say perhaps the biggest thing there (assuming the wind’s no worse than forecast when MWIS tends to be ‘pessimistic’) might be the loss of anticipated help overnight from the nearly full moon. But beggars can’t be choosers, the whole thing’s been built round support team availability and (given what the WHW Race heat did to me) I’m not even sure I’d swap for the clear, blue skies and sunshine hopefully being enjoyed by Bruce Poll and Alan Smith (who are up there attempting the round right now and expected to finish early tomorrow afternoon).

21 July 2010

Sir Charles Mackerras

Filed under: Music — admin @ 9:43 pm

Just heard that the great Australian conductor Sir Charles Mackerras died last week. So, while this isn’t my typical blog post (actually the first I’ve posted under ‘Music’ despite it being central to my life), I must say that there have been few (if any) recent musicians I’ve admired more and I’m genuinely sorry to hear of his passing. Can’t remember now if I ever heard him live (while of course that should be a memorable experience, it would be many years ago now if I did), but his wonderful recordings of (amongst others) Mozart, Beethoven and Janacek will surely stand the test of time and I’m listening to Kat’a Kabanova right now.

Might also point the interested towards this official Linn Records video promoting his second double album (both are brilliant!) of Mozart symphonies with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, which is the last Mackerras recording I bought on its release earlier this year. He was one of the true greats.

18 July 2010

Loch Treig round

Filed under: Running — admin @ 1:08 pm

While I couldn’t describe yesterday’s weather as uniformly nice, my round of Loch Treig with Jon was never blighted by quite such foul conditions as Friday’s ascent of Mullach nan Coirean. More of a mixed bag, really, with some pretty stern stuff punctuated by more pleasant interludes when the wind and rain relented, the cloud lifted, the sun broke through and it actually felt good to be out!

Now, this pretty well had to be the last big hill day before next weekend’s planned Ramsay’s Round attempt, and the original plan was to take the train from Spean Bridge to Corrour, run the five Munros anti-clockwise (as planned for the round) and finish back down the Lairig Leacach. But, thanks to this last-minute ‘eureka’ moment (not in the bath, but sitting in the van waiting for Jon!), it suddenly dawned on me that we could do all the peaks in the right direction but ‘wrong’ order by skipping the train, driving to Fersit and taking the ‘Easains’ first. So that’s what we did, starting up Stob a’ Choire Mheadoin and Stob Coire Easain (aka the ‘Easains’, which should be the fourth and fifth of this group on an anti-clockwise Ramsay’s), knocking up a bigger mileage in the process and causing some mental confusion because I’ve now inevitably got the Easains before Beinn na Lap in my head.

Not too many details to report, but some numbered points to accompany the map:

  1. While it’s certainly possible to cut this corner from the Dam to the ‘pylon’ on the ridge, we’re happy with our line along the track and up the path (especially as we’re now looking at doing this bit by night).
  2. While it made sense (in the context of yesterday’s round) to take the long southern ridge off Stob Coire Easain, we’ll be heading westwards down to the Lairig Leacach on the actual round.
  3. There’s no need to worry about height loss in crossing the Allt Feith Thuill almost anywhere because it’s almost flat up to the watershed at Lochan Ruigh Phail some 1.7 miles SW of where we crossed and doesn’t drop significantly immediately to the NE of where we were. So keeping to the crest of Beinn na Lap’s NE ridge for longer before cutting straight across would be equally good.
  4. Perhaps we cut NW off Sron na Garbh-Bheinne a little too soon (my fault if we did!), but at least we were losing height quickly down the steep, rough, but otherwise slow ground.
  5. While we were looking for the track (6) through the trees, we came first to this easy way (with helpful horizontal batten to facilitate climbing the deer fence) through the narrowest part of the woods and are happy with that (easy to locate from above, passing an obvious knoll then a small, ‘whaleback’ crag) despite some holes in the ground at the bottom.
  6. See (5) above, noting that the track (?) doesn’t actually breach the fence alongside the railway.
  7. With current water levels still not that high despite all the rain, it’s possible (and therefore desirable) to cross the ‘beach’ south of the Dam.

All told, we covered 22.84 miles with c.8,300 ft of ascent in 7:21:46 (19:20 mile pace), with nearly 50 minutes of stops (discussing navigation options, lots of jackets going on and off etc.) giving a ‘moving pace’ of 17:09 miling. Which seems pretty satisfactory with the required pace for the Ramsay (assuming a 60 mile total) being 24 minute miling and my new rule of thumb (second ‘eureka’ moment of the day!) saying that, given a proportional amount of ascent per mile over the same terrain, your average mile pace in minutes equates to your finish time in hours. Which, in turn, is telling me that we can afford to (and should, with all of yesterday’s splits considerably faster then Ramsay’s) be backing off a bit on the ascents to keep body together for the long haul!

Just a few miscellaneous points left to round off for today, the first being that (due to a number of factors including the mistiming of the ‘early’ train to Corrour for the second pacer, second thoughts about potential time losses from tackling the Mamores in the dark, and generally easier ground over the Loch Treig group) I’m now strongly in favour of reverting to ‘Plan A’, which was the eastern sector by night. And, guess what (?)… looking back at Charlie Ramsay’s original schedule, that’s exactly what he did in running from midday to midday. I’ve also had an email from Murdo McEwan requesting me to post a start time and proposed schedule with pacers for each leg, so hope to do that sometime but must point out now that our schedule is likely to stay as broad brush strokes rather than peak-by-peak minutiae. And, finally, we’ve heard about yet another favoured way off Binnein Mor, starting down the NW ridge (which we’d rejected as taking us in the wrong direction) but cutting back into the coire by the two lochans. To which I can only say I’d check it if I could, but won’t be heading up there again this week and think probably ‘better the devil you know’! :-)

16 July 2010

More wild weather

Filed under: Running — admin @ 9:06 pm

So the MWIS was threatening ‘gusts as high as 65mph’, ‘significant wind chill’ and ‘bands of constant rain and showers […] focused on more western mountains’, but I really needed to check out Mullach nan Coirean (most westerly of the Mamores) by the northern approach I haven’t taken for years. And the MWIS was pretty well right!

Missed an important shortcut (1) because the ‘fire break’ I was looking for didn’t jump out at me from below (seems more obvious from above, but retrospectively clear enough in ascent being c.100m past a gate), so took an unnecessary diversion (2) up the track and a tempting path (3) up the Allt a’ Choire Dheirg that I vaguely remember falling for before. But finally located the crucial path (4) despite taking the more awkward of two starts from a prominent cairn and only spotting the more appealing flight of wooden steps east of that as I passed it on the way back down. Still made the summit in 1hr 27mins, but was slightly disappointed with that till I got home and worked out that my one mile diversion (longer than I thought) had cost me nearly quarter of an hour!

Had thought of continuing to Stob Ban, but knew long before I topped out on Mullach that I’d simply be turning round and getting myself off the hill as quickly as possible. So that’s what I did, finding much of the descent to the track quite awkward (rocks, roots etc.) in the wet and thinking it’s no easier/quicker than running off the Ben (NB I know that I’m often slower descending the rougher stuff than climbing it). But perhaps I should still be happy with a 10.3 mile/3,500 ft hill run (well, OK, some easy track!) at an average of 14:00 mile pace, and should certainly be thinking of easing up on the pace a bit (let’s call this a ‘mini taper’) for any remaining runs over the next few days.

Still hoping to do the Loch Treig round with Jon tomorrow, but depending on forecast of a ‘marked improvement’ to a horrid-sounding morning and have already discussed contingency plans for more wild weather. Looks like we’re in for more ‘unsettled’ conditions for days yet (perhaps not the end of the world when I do need to start easing up now), but there’s a glimmer of hope for next weekend with today’s MWIS outlook suggesting that ‘some computer models are beginning to point towards warmer more settled wetaher [sic.] slowly extending from the south during the middle and latter part of next week’ and tomorrow’s continuing that theme with ‘little change to the present unsettled and at times windy conditions until later next week’.

15 July 2010

Taking the green line

Filed under: Running — admin @ 10:33 pm

Nearly a fortnight into the school holidays and, after wall-to-wall term-time sunshine through June, we seem to have had little but wind and rain since (sure, I chose to live in Lochaber, but…). So it’s been getting really quite frustrating when I’m wanting to get out for some refamiliarisation with the Grey Corries and Loch Treig peaks but struggling to persuade myself to go charging off on long, remote, solo runs in horrid conditions (although I’ve got a Loch Treig round with Jon pencilled in for the weekend that may have to go ahead regardless). Which makes a great run snatched from the most unpromising of days all the more precious, and that’s exactly what I got when the rain started to look like clearing this afternoon…

Now, my original plan (once I’d decided it was going to be another local run) was to get up into the Mamores again to re-evaluate the options currently under consideration for Na Gruagaichean and Binnein Mor, but I’d hardly been going a mile before this wee voice was telling me it might be good to take in Binnein Beag and Sgurr Eilde Mor as well. So, after considering telling the wee voice to get stuffed because I wasn’t carrying any food, of course I did! And here are the things I really want to say about my four-hour blast round the eastern Mamores:

  1. The ‘short cut’ skirting the NW top of Na Gruagaichean is basically a counter-productive ‘long cut’, taking Jon and me about six minutes on Saturday when I took the stonkingly good path over the top in about four today.
  2. The descent from Binnein Mor starting by the east ridge and finishing down the ‘green line’ of yesterday’s blog post is definitely on, with this way taking me some 20 minutes to the lochan where we took more like 25 on Saturday (although I’d think the direct route by the north-east ridge is probably still quicker in ascent).
  3. As usual, I lost the path (but probably little time) coming back down Binnein Beag!
  4. My new thumb compass (Moscow 3L) is a winner on days like this for the easy speed which it brings to checking the correct route off cloud-shrouded tops.
  5. My unused, spare pair of Mizuno Wave Harriers that I’d been saving but needed to try before the big round are perfect straight out of the box.
  6. I’m pretty happy with averaging 17:19 mile pace round a meaty 13.9 mile/6,400 ft course like this… despite just missing a four-hour completion (4:00:44) after arriving at the old gateway at the top of the An Cumhann path with exactly 12 minutes left to get down (which I’d have done but for the deep summer bracken ruling out the direct route down the bank behind the house). But, with cracking splits of 1:22:24 to Na Gruagaichean, 0:20:12 to Binnein Mor, 0:33:40 to Binnein Beag, 0:49:02 to Sgurr Eilde Mor and 0:55:26 back home, it would seem churlish to complain!

For the interested, the second map is captioned to show:

  1. Saturday’s ‘short cut’ on Na Gruagaichean.
  2. Today’s route over the NW top.
  3. Saturday’s descent by Binnein Mor NE ridge.
  4. Today’s descent by Binnein Mor E ridge and ‘green line’.
  5. Saturday’s re-ascent of Binnein Mor.

14 July 2010

More thoughts about ‘shortcuts’

Filed under: Running — admin @ 1:04 pm

While my recent recces with Jon of some suggested ‘shortcuts’ on Na Gruagaichean and the Devil’s Ridge have initially led us in both cases to say ‘that’s worth having’, the maths just doesn’t seem to stack up so well on getting home, analysing the data and considering time saved against time taken. So you’re trading some minor savings in ascent for rougher going off the established paths, the net result is looking remarkably like ‘six and half-a-dozen’ and we probably won’t know what we’re going to do till we get there. Handy to know the alternatives, of course (wouldn’t even consider taking them ‘blind’ at night), but still absolutely inconclusive…

And yet, strangely enough, the one routing option that’s looking increasingly right is the one we originally rejected (on the grounds of increased distance) down the east ridge of Binnein Mor. But that’s because we took this ridge in ascent, missing the obvious line up as a ‘non-line’ from below (it’s indistinct and looks like it’ll just lead back onto the steeper ridge we’d descended) and adding what could be as much as half a mile to the best way (which has to be something more like the blue or green lines marked ‘4’ on today’s maps). So take the line we’re considering now to ditch some time-consuming scrambling ‘1’ and scree/boulder-hopping ‘2’ for a very runnable route ‘3’ of similar length all the way down and I’m liking that! :-)

13 July 2010

More Devil’s work

Filed under: Running — admin @ 11:52 pm

Last night the staircase, tonight the ridge…

Met Jon up by Lochan Coire nam Miseach this evening to check out another of Yiannis Tridimas’s outflanking manoeuvres (this time a way of skirting the Devil’s Ridge in one direction), but who knows whether it saves any time or not? On the anti-clockwise traverse we’re looking at, it’s basically substituting a contouring line and climb up a kind of grassy double trough (unmistakable when you get there) below Sgurr a’ Mhaim for the normal climb by zigzag stalkers’ path above the Lochan and run along the ridge. But the spacing of the arrows (one every five minutes?) on the GPS track seems to suggest that the ridge is every bit as quick as the avoiding line and the deciding factor probably boils down to whether or not it’s going to take longer than about 15 minutes up the path (marked in blue on the maps, with the toe of the ‘low rock outcrop’ affecting the contouring line shown as a blue dot).

So there’s some food for thought, with the benefits of following the established path over the top possibly just tipping the balance in favour of the ridge in both directions. Apart from that, tonight’s stats for me (with Jon returning north to Glen Nevis) come out at 10.55 miles and 4,750 ft in 3hrs 29mins, with just 3hrs 5mins actually recorded as ‘moving time’ due to some hanging about (GPS unusually lost signal on the way up!) and discussion of the route.

Something else I was looking at this afternoon was comparing my 2005 Tranter’s Round splits to Charlie Ramsay’s original schedule. And, while I’ve always known that my Tranter ended with more of a whimper than a bang as I squandered a good two or three hours on the second half, perhaps the comparison’s not as completely one-sided as I feared (green text shows where I was quicker and red where Charlie was quicker, with some adjustments made in final column to reflect known factors) with possibly only the ascent and descent of the Ben at the end remaining unmitigated disasters for me! :-O

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