Petestack Blog

12 July 2010

Bikes, dogs and a Devil’s dram for Dario

Filed under: Cycling,Running — admin @ 11:56 pm

Today was important. It’s a year to the day since Dario Melaragni died so suddenly on Lochnagar and, by decree of the Subversive Firefighting Pirate (sorry… forum link now defunct), West Highland Way Race followers everywhere were going to be taking a wee dram in his memory at 8:00pm. Now, I’d decided to take mine at the top of the Devil’s Staircase (scene of my own little memorial run last July), but was also out for a ride on the mountain bike earlier…

Not got much to say about the bike ride except that I was working hard (nearly 20 miles round the Loch with an additional 4-mile diversion up and down the forestry track above the mausoleum in under 100 minutes door-to-door) and the main ’round the Loch’ part (three times topping 30mph according to the GPS) taking about 68 mins. Which sounds OK for a MTB, but positively pedestrian compared to our young Olympic hopeful Ben Miller’s recent sub-41 on his road bike (something I somewhat disbelievingly have to believe when he was averaging about my top speed today)! But today’s ride was also noteworthy for me getting ‘bitten’ by a dog, as this wee collie about halfway up the forestry track managed to get a nibble (‘she’s never done that before’) at my lower left leg before her owner could get her on the lead. Fortunately (and unusually for me) I was wearing leggings and with no skin broken there seemed little real intent to take my leg off, but it was still a slightly disconcerting experience for someone who’s naturally scared of dogs and I can still just about feel it hours later.

And so to tonight’s dram up the top of the Devil’s. It was pouring just before I set off (giving myself 80 minutes to jog up the ‘long’ side when I’d normally make it over and down to Altnafeadh in about an hour) so I was somewhat overdressed for summer evening running in leggings (another pair), half-zip top, waterproofs, WHW Race buff (the 2010 one with Dario’s name on it) and gloves, but mindful that I might get cold and wet hanging about up there. And, while it didn’t actually rain again, I was quite tired from the hard bike ride (no coasting when you’re pedalling downhill as well as up!), arrived with 15 minutes to spare (during which some walkers came past heading for Kinloch) and was ultimately quite glad of the extra clothing. Then, at 8:00pm on the dot, I breached the hip-flask (filled with Highland Park), made a silly wee speech (yes, really!) and wandered to-and-fro between the twin cairns for about eight minutes until the flask (bigger than it looks?) was empty. And then I jogged back to Kinloch, passing the walkers just beyond the Allt a’ Choire Odhair-mhoir and getting home just before 9:00pm.

For the record, the photos are awful because I took them on my phone and I never take photos with my phone because phones are for phoning and cameras are for photography! But perhaps we can forgive them their awfulness when it’s the spirit (literally in this case!) that matters here. And, more importantly than that, perhaps we can spare another thought for the wee man whose race is still changing lives a year after he left us. On which note I could tell you what I said up at the cairns, but would rather point you towards Keith’s poem (originally posted to his blog on 21 July 2009 but now also to the WHW Race Forum topic linked above), which says it all so succinctly.

10 July 2010

New tricks for old dogs

Filed under: Running — admin @ 9:41 pm

With more miserable weather forecast (MWIS threatening 60mph gusts, persistent rain and lightning although the BBC suddenly/mysteriously changed their guess to ‘sunny’ this morning), today didn’t look like a good bet to check out the Loch Treig hills for my Ramsay’s Round. So Jon came down from the Fort to discuss some detailed routing options for the whole round and then (with things looking ever so much better than expected and us thinking we’d maybe missed a trick by not going for Loch Treig) we set out about midday to see what we could still learn about the Mamores after more hill-running days on that ridge than either of us can remember. And here’s what we sought and found (list numbered to match map below)…

  1. The best line to bypass Stob Coire a’ Chairn (to avoid going over it twice) on the way from An Gearanach to Na Gruagaichean. Which is something I’ve never got quite right in the past, typically losing the path, contouring too far into the hill (see map from this October 2009 blog post) and popping back onto the ridge too high and too far west. But, in taking the shortcut from point 783 to the bealach before An Garbhanach and back again, we did better today.
  2. A contouring option to avoid the NW (non-Munro) top of Na Gruagaichean proposed by Yiannis Tridimas in this FRA Forum topic. So normally I’d take the purist approach and go over everything, but the Ramsay’s Round requirements are quite specific in naming the 23 Munros + Sgurr an Iubhair (which has been a Munro) and we had to look at it. On which note we found it easily enough and thought it worthwhile, but I’d say the jury’s still out on this one after getting home and comparing my 2005 Tranter’s split of 50 minutes (taking in said NW top) from An Gearanach to Na Gruagaichean to a combined ‘split’ of 13 minutes from An Gearanach to the bealach mentioned above (15 October 2009) and 36 minutes from there to Na Gruagaichean (today).
  3. Whether to take the direct route (involving some light scrambling and awkward scree/boulder fields) down the NE ridge (sometimes called NNE ridge?) of Binnein Mor, or…
  4. The longer but easier (no hands required) alternative by the E ridge (sometimes called NE ridge?), with the direct route emerging as the clear winner [edit, 14 July: not any more… see my comment below and follow-up blog post!] on the assumption that the extra speed required to cover the extra length of the undoubtedly attractive E ridge in the same time is an unlikely proposition.

With today’s stats coming in at 14.52 miles and c.6,500 ft of ascent completed in 4:38:20 (19:09 mile pace), we’ve calculated that (from the more significant ascent figure rather than the mileage) to be about ’21-hour Ramsay’ pace. Which seems fair enough for a shorter training run, but doesn’t (I say again doesn’t) mean I’m predicting that for the big one! To sign off on an upbeat note, however, I’m starting to believe the 24 hours is realistic and I can (should?) do it if my quads hold out (no problems today). And we just beat the rain!

6 July 2010

Waiting for the weather to deliver?

Filed under: Running — admin @ 11:27 pm

So we might have had some sustained sunshine through June but, predictably when you’re a school teacher and don’t get on holiday till July, it’s been raining pretty well ever since and windy enough with it at times to make proper hill running a seriously unpleasant prospect (on which note, kudos to the 60+ runners who turned up for the Half Ben on Sunday when I couldn’t even persuade myself to open the door!). But at least I’ve been getting some things done about the house, spending much of the time between Saturday’s soggy cycle to the Dam and today’s run tidying up the bombsite that’s stayed largely untouched through weeks (nay, months!) of WHW Race training and summer term business…

Now, Sunday was fair enough as a write-off and I pretty well had to wait in Monday for the delivery that didn’t come till today (horrible evening, too!). So, after my (strange but true) ‘buy one get one free’ colour laser printers arrived mid-afternoon today, I was desperate to get out. But a quick scoot at the MWIS forecast (predicting deterioration to widespread rain and 70mph gusts this evening, with worse to come tomorrow) suggested that a big hill run in the Mamores might not be the optimum choice when a quick blast over the Devil’s Staircase to Altnafeadh and back should get me home before the worst of it. So off I set, running (as usual these days) the whole way over the hill and back apart from stopping along Wade’s Road for a quick chat to Chris ‘haven’t you had enough?’ Ellis, to whom I then confessed to planning the Ramsay’s attempt. And it was while I was out today, enjoying this section of the WHW that many runners seem to hate but I love to run more than any other, that I had (thinking on my feet as usual) this interesting idea about said Ramsay’s attempt… which is, why not take the original anti-clockwise direction that’s so aesthetically pleasing if slightly tougher (?), start in the evening (say 8pm) and do the Mamores (the part I know best) by night to leave daylight for the rest? So let’s just look at what that might do for me…

  • Get the inevitable night hours out of the way first on the ridge where I’ve done every peak at last five times (including three complete traverses) and most a great deal more.
  • Give me a choice of Friday or Saturday night starts.
  • Let me run the rest of the round (some bits of which I’ve only done once or twice before) in daylight.
  • Leave me a descent (from Ben Nevis) I’ve done many times in the dark if falling behind the qualifying 24 hours but still wanting to ‘finish’.

Of course other factors might yet change things. Like deciding to start midday Saturday and do the eastern sector by night as previously mooted. Or finding out that it’s impossible for anyone to get the train in to Corrour (haven’t checked yet) to meet me if I get there too early, or Friday night’s too soon for any of my pacers. Or whatever. But I’m liking the concept at the moment.

Oh yes, and it rained again this afternoon. And blew. So I was glad I was only out for a couple of hours, with the wind on my tail once I’d turned for home!

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